Soul Fighter looked like it had a lot going for it. The notion of a Golden Axe-like game in 3D had enormous appeal. Sadly, the 3D component of this seemingly simple concept is what keeps Soul Fighter from being anything more than a mediocre hack-'n'-slash fest.
Sporting quite possibly the lamest introductory FMV in the history of gaming, Soul Fighter gets off to a bad start. The intro contains the hammily heartened soliloquy of a poorly rendered, overly gesticulating king. After detailing ad infinitum about a variety of characters and story background that no one will ever care about, he finally gets to the point - you must kill a lot of monsters so you can collect the souls of the former townspeople and return peace to the land of Goma.
It's easy to see why people thought Soul Fighter had Golden Axe-like potential, but Soul Fighter doesn't really play anything like the coin-op classic. At its core, Soul Fighter is brawler. Each of the three characters - Altus the fighter, Orion the Wizard, and Sayomi the Assassin - punch and kick their way through each level. As they bash skulls in, their weapons sit idly on their backs as a weapon meter builds. You can draw your weapons at any time, but each strike will reduce your weapon meter. When the weapon meter is drained, the heroes will resheath their weapons once more. For all practical purposes Altus' sword and Sayomi's daggers are the same, dealing lots of close-range damage. Orion's cane is a welcome change, as it hurls spinning waves of flame. Other single-use projectiles, such as throwing knives and axes, can be found as well, along with a variety of other helpful items.
Playing Soul Fighter is a chore, thanks to tedious gameplay and even worse control. To start, you cannot complete a level until you've rescued every soul, often requiring you to backtrack quite a bit to find a couple of stragglers. Even with the handy radar/map, this is unnecessary and tedious. To make matters worse, you will fight variously colored variations of the same handful of monsters over and over again, adding to the feeling of tedium and repetition. Many areas of the game's locales are overly dark, making it difficult to navigate and fight, as well. Most notably, however, is the lack of a two-player option. While it was probably omitted due to difficulty implementing a good two-player camera system, the game just screams for multiplayer support and doesn't even deliver an attempt. Soul Fighter's biggest flaw, however, is its control. To start, picking up items or unsheathing your special weapon require an annoying and often difficult-to-pull-off maneuver that combines a direction button and an action button. This is more of a problem when picking up items, as mistiming will cause the your character to move away from the item. What often results is an annoying dance around the desired item, occasionally ending with the item timing out and blinking away. While the punch and kick controls are simple enough, using them within the confines of the game's camera is not. Soul Fighter's camera is best described as "wonky." Constantly wobbling in some fashion, the camera never seems to do what the player wants, and this oftentimes results in cheap hits from surrounding enemies. More often, however, the result is pure frustration.
Aesthetically, Soul Fighter is a mixed bag. While the game is crisp and moves smoothly, a lot of this has to do with the low polygon counts of the character models and terrain. While the animation is fluid and realistic, the motions themselves are so ridiculously exaggerated that you will undoubtedly end up laughing in a few instances. Dropped into many of the game's levels are FMV sequences that actually look much worse than the game itself. Aurally, however, Soul Fighter is frightfully bad. The music, when one actually notices it, is stale-to-bad. The sound effects are repetitive and scratchy. Additionally, the game's voices are extremely annoying. You will likely be reaching for the volume control after the fourteenth time you've heard "Oh no!" when you're fighting a boss.
Soul Fighter might be worth a rental and nothing more - there's just too much wrong here to justify ownership. While there are definitely worse games out there, Dreamcast owners would be advised to spend their money on something else.