Transcending History and the World: Has this Soul Dulled its Sword?

User Rating: 7 | SoulCalibur II HD Online X360

With current technologies available to us, it comes to no surprise that downloadable titles have thrived and become a common convenience in gaming. This convenience is not exclusive to new releases either; many gems from gaming’s past have resurfaced as ports with hi-definition makeovers, and Soul Calibur II HD Online is one of the newest contenders to appear amongst the wave of veteran titles. As the name suggests, this is not a cut-and-paste port; full online capabilities have been added to this classic weapon-based fighter. However one question remains important: has this fan-favorite title been able to transcend history and the world?

The truth is, there is no short answer to this question. While Soul Calibur II’s home console release dates back to the year 2003, HD Online leaves all game play elements untouched, and what you have is a fighter that has fast-paced, gratifying action with mechanics that take minutes to learn, but a lifetime to master. Those who may have felt underwhelmed by Soul Calibur V’s cast of newcomers will find the return of all the original classics refreshing, though to the dismay of some, Link, the character exclusive to the Gamecube version of the original, is not returning alongside Heihachi and Spawn, from their PS2 and Xbox counterparts. Despite this, the great number of vibrant, colorful stages and memorable musical scores are sure to hit that sweet spot of nostalgia.

With the release of Soul Calibur II HD Online, it proves one surefire thing: the game has definitely aged well. Not only are the mechanics still responsive and as fun as ever, there is also quite a bit of content in the offline modes that can keep you occupied. In Original Mode, there are your standard modes such as Arcade, Time Attack and Versus, but there are also modes here that we haven’t seen in the Soul series since this game’s original release: Survival and Team Battle. These modes also carry over to the Extra Modes, where you can play while having special weapons equipped that give you great advantages or disadvantages. There are a total of 12 weapons that can be unlocked for each of the 20 characters through the game’s Weapon Master Mode, so it opens up a degree of experimentation for the player. Some weapons are stronger in attack power but cause damage to you with each swing, while other weapons have more drastic effects, like removing the player’s ability to block in exchange for greatly increased speed or health regeneration.

Speaking of Weapon Master Mode, this is another mode that we have not seen in the Soul series for ten years. Following a somewhat complex story with lots and lots of text, Weapon Master keeps things interesting in battles by throwing all sorts of hazards your way as you fight to complete each mission. Some missions are one-on-one while others have you fighting one-versus-many. With each successful mission you gain experience and gold, and with that gold you can purchase weapons, costumes, and items for the game’s Museum, which displays artwork, character profiles, and more. As you progress missions tend to become more difficult by creating more extreme conditions; there are instances where if you are knocked down, it results in an instant K.O. There are also a number of dungeons you must navigate while defeating enemies. This is certainly a good idea to keep the endless number of battles fresh and exciting, but some dungeons simply overstay their welcome due to having too many rooms, which will leave you loathing this mission type as you get closer to completion.

In short, expect anything to happen while playing through Weapon Master, and more importantly keep your cool; there will most likely be a few missions you encounter where you’ll want to pull your hair out.

Now, the most important (and only) addition to HD Online, is of course, its Online Mode. However, this portion of the game is bare bones and leaves you quite underwhelmed. This is because this mode only entails one-on-one Ranked and Player Matches with very little options to choose from. In Soul Calibur V, the series’ most recent iteration, there are player lobbies where you can chat and watch others play, view your opponents’ profiles and keep track of another player’s stats by registering them as your rivals. However, none of that is incorporated in HD Online. The Replay Theater is absent as well, which is important for not only for competitive players to watch their competition, but to simply have an archive for memorable battles. It just strikes one as odd that a game with a great selection of offline modes to not include an equally abundant amount for online play as well.

Another issue with online multiplayer is the inability to skip character introduction and victory sequences during battles; this interrupts the pace of a fight and can be quite frustrating when you lose a round and want to jump right back into the action to make a vigorous comeback. Online fights are also troubled with lag, despite using its optimized search settings for opponents; meeting another player with four bars of connectivity does not guarantee lag-free play, and freezes and disconnects occur more often times than not.

Soul Calibur II HD Online is certainly great fan service; this ten-year-old beast still has plenty of fight left in it. However, the poor execution of its online capabilities will leave a sour taste in your mouth; especially since online multiplayer is the biggest selling point for this HD makeover.