Never before has a game of any genre had me so engrossed in the first thirty minutes of play than Soul Calibur II.
Released in August 27, 2003 for the States (and both developed and published by NAMCO), Soul Calibur II is a sequel to the smash hit, Soul Calibur, released in the arcades in '98 and also on the Sony PlayStation and the SEGA Dreamcast in '99 - though Soul Calibur II is technically the third game in the series. The first game was Soul Edge/Soul Blade, which landed on P-Stations and arcades everywhere in 1996.
To relive those memories, I picked up Soul Calibur II on the Nintendo GameCube just recently - after remembering all of those good times I had with friends beating the living crap out of everyone as Link, Voldo, and Charade. After I popped it into my Wii, the next thirty minutes were really nostalgic and addictive times. Everything - nearly flawless.
What really sets Soul Calibur II apart from other fighting games is that each console version has its own exclusive character, which makes each version unique from the other. Released on the PS2, the Xbox, and the GameCube, the PS2 gets Heihachi Mishima from "Tekken", while the Xbox gets Spawn, a character from a comic book - created by Todd McFarlane.
The GameCube receives Link, who is from - you guessed it - The Legend of Zelda. NAMCO's effort to strive to make each home console version unique is really something to marvel at, because research was done for each character to please fans of the cameo. Link feels like Link. He's got his Master Sword and the Hylian Shield. Each console version receives Necrid, who was also created by Todd McFarlane, though he seems out of place in the game, if you've ever seen him.
There are many characters in Soul Calibur II that return as playable fighters. Mitsurugi, the Japanese swordfighter returns. So does Voldo - the creepy and overly-flexible fan-favorite. Other characters such as Cervantes, Ivy, Kilik, Maxi, Seung Mina, Sophitia, Taki, Xianghua and Yoshimitsu make a return as well. However, don't expect Rock or Hwang to come back from Soul Calibur II's predecessor, because they're absent from this title. However, their movesets can be seen on different characters. New characters such as Cassandra, Raphael, Talim, and Yun-seong (or Yunsung) make their debuts in this game. Cassandra has Sophitia's moveset, while Yun-seong has Hwang's moveset. There are unlockable characters as well, all of which are worth unlocking.
Like a typical fighting game of its day and age, Soul Calibur II has its Arcade Mode and VS Mode. However, NAMCO went the extra mile, including other immersive modes such as Time Attack, in which you have to go through several stages of two- or one-round battles to try to achieve the best time, and Survival Mode, in which you must defeat as many opponents as possible in one-round matches. There's also a Practice Mode, if you want to hone your skills or take a peek at the Command List.
These modes are bound to last you a long time, because within each of these modes (and I haven't even listed them all), there's an "Extra" mode. In these different variations of the aforementioned modes, you can play with different weapons that you can collect in the Weapon Master mode.
"What's 'Weapon Master mode'?" you ask? Well, I'll get into that.
Weapon Master mode is one of the most unique things about Soul Calibur II. It is pretty much a story-based mode, with stages spanning through many chapters across a large map. This mode is extremely fun, with rewards that are abundant with the more expertise and experience you have at the game. Weapons can be purchased here to be used in the Weapon Master mode, or they can be also used in the Extra modes, for example - Extra Time Attack, or Extra Survival. There are even dungeons, which are different maps containing several rooms, and you must navigate your way to the boss. Each room is pretty much a one-round fight with a character from the roster.
Weapon Master has its own storyline, but to be honest, it isn't really much to care for, because it is told through long and wide walls of text that really isn't interesting. It's a darn shame, because if it was told a different way, Weapon Master would be a lot more immersive the first time. Weapons that can be collected here can range from offensive to defensive, or having long-to-short range. NAMCO has even included "Joke Weapons" - which are ridiculous items to use as weapons, but are used anyway by the fighters. An example is a bug-catching net to be used in place of a sword, and upon impact on an opponent, makes a funny sound.
To put it short, the game is really stunning, from a visual aspect. It's hard to not notice the beauty of the game and the amount of effort NAMCO put into every aspect of every stage in the game. Characters move with fluid and effortless animations and the scenery of every stage makes it unique and enticing.
The controls are easy to get used to on the GameCube version. The system of the Soul series, to those that are familiar with it, works like a sort of "rock-paper-scissors" game. Guarding whilst standing up can leave you prone to attack by a low kick or a low strike, while guarding whilst crouching can protect you from low hits or hits meant to strike the head or upper chest, but leaves you vulnerable to attacks intended towards the hip. The system works flawlessly, and the game is just so easy to just pick up and play without even knowing what a fighting game is.
Combos can be easily performed, but one thing to note about the physics of this game, is that button-mashing will get you nowhere. Artificial intelligence will do everything and anything to get the upper hand, and if you screw up, they'll hammer you for it. However, that's on the harder difficulty settings. On the normal difficulty, the CPU is pretty much lame, as they will leave themselves open and vulnerable to attack, since they don't bother guarding half the time. However the difficulty is pretty balanced. The characters are balanced as well, with no characters feeling "broken" or "cheap" - which is a fault that is present in many fighting games today.
The music in this game is one of Soul Calibur II's highest points. As usual, NAMCO Sound Team composes the music from this game, so the geniuses who composed the music for Ace Combat are pretty much back for this game's soundtrack. Each and every single song is memorable in this game, and you'll probably be humming some songs in the shower, especially Nightmare's theme, "Raise Thy Sword" - which is ridiculously catchy, considering how epic of a song it is.
Soul Calibur II is simply a stunning game when viewed at any angle, though look too deeply into the game and you might find some very minor faults. However, the game is still one of the most immersive and amazing experiences that can be found anywhere, so anyone who still owns a GameCube or a Wii should definitely owe it to themselves to pick up this classic title.
Just a little over a week ago, friends of mine came over to check out Soul Calibur II. You would not believe the nostalgia and the good times we had. It was 2004 all over again.
Thanks for the memories, NAMCO.