I’m Done with Soul Calibur
Contributed by DJMMT
I have played many fighting games, and continue to, but never at a super serious level. As a person who doesn’t care much for multiplayer games, fighting games have always been short-lived experiences for me with a few noteworthy exceptions such as Smash Bros. Personally, I consider the modern trend of making more robust and plot based single player experiences in fighting games as a great development for the genre. While not the most visually appealing single player content, one cannot overlook how robust the single player campaigns have become in the Soul Calibur series.
I have been a Soul Calibur fan for a long time. I’ve been playing the games in this franchise since II. I jumped in on the Gamecube, because I loved the idea of using Link in a “real fighting game”. This was before I finally acknowledged Smash Bros. as a legitimate fighting game franchise. What I always liked about Soul Calibur was the fact that the gameplay was a bit more robust than most other game franchises. Your weapons and gear mattered. You could knock armor off opponents. It also felt a bit more accessible gameplay wise. My least favorite thing about Street Fighter is how complicated and rigid it always felt to me. One of the reasons I prefer Mortal Kombat to a lot of other fighting games is because of how fluid the gameplay is. I’ve always felt like Street Fighter was the exact opposite of this. Soul Calibur also always felt very fluid to me. It’s a franchise I’ve liked for a long time in a genre I’ve never taken too seriously, so I was excited to finally try out Soul Calibur VI, after picking it up in a PSN sale.
After just over 20 hours in one of the two single player story modes, I finally had to stop. I couldn’t play another minute of Soul Calibur VI. In fact, I think I’m done with the Soul Calibur franchise for good after this one. Not because of burnout, mind you. My issues with Soul Calibur VI come down to design. What should have been a balanced single player mode with a fairly robust amount of content ended up being a slog to get through for completely unnecessary design choices and a complete lack of balance.
Few things piss me off more in a game, of any genre, than a lack of balance. I don’t fully understand why balance is so hard in video games. It seems like it should be the easiest thing in the world to do for a fighting game. Especially a fighting game like Soul Calibur that has clearly visible numbers tied to literally everything. Soul Calibur has character levels, weapon mastery/proficiency levels, weapon levels with damage ranges, and a very simple, well defined move set that applies to all characters. And yet the story mode is one of the most unbalanced fighting game experiences I’ve ever had. It doesn’t even make sense. Just looking at the damage ratios in different fights was so frustrating because it didn’t follow the visible numbers that the game provides the player with. How can a level 80 player with a level 60 weapon be dealing less damage per hit than a level 40 NPC with a level 40 weapon? I’m not saying that the level 80 player shouldn’t be able to lose the fight. But with a 40 level advantage, the level 80 player should be doing at least two times as much damage per hit, at a minimum. Yet there were countless encounters in that mode where much lower level NPCs were doing massive amounts of damage, relative to the damage my much higher level character was doing. What is the point of having the numbers at all if they don’t reflect the performance of the characters in battle?
I was very impressed by the amount of story driven content in Soul Calibur VI’s “Libra of Soul” adventure mode. It worked very well. It followed a clear narrative while giving the player freedom to explore and come back to challenges later. While I wouldn’t call it perfect, there was a really good foundational structure for this single player experience. But it is just riddled with flaws and contrived inconveniences that just don’t need to be there. For instance, the game’s super limited weapons development system. Each weapon has a level and a damage range. Weapons can also have special buffs added to them. The ideal weapon is a weapon of the type want with three buff slots and a high damage range. The problem is that you can’t level weapons up. Say you’re a level 43 and you get a really good level 50 weapon with the perfect set of buffs and a great damage range. Once you level up to level 50, you can use this awesome weapon. But the game doesn’t take into account what you’re supposed to do when you quickly hit level 51. You can change weapon buffs, but you can’t level weapons up. So if you find a really good weapon early on and want to keep using it down the road, you do so with it being under powered once you’ve leveled past it and have no way to make it stronger, even though the enemy levels continuously rise as you progress.
Everything about Soul Calibur VI’s adventure mode can be described as good foundation with poor execution for the sake of difficulty. The balance issues, the weapon level problems, the unclear returns on leveling; all of it should work properly but doesn’t because they didn’t want the game to seem too easy. This is a big problem with a lot of fighting games, when it comes to single player content. There seems to be a fear of letting the player win with a normal level of play. It’s one of the only genres where you have to truly master the gameplay to progress once you’ve made it about 60 – 70% of the way to the end of whatever single player challenge gimmick being used. The towers in Mortal Kombat games. The special rooms in Injustice. This genre always seems to go out of its way to make sure the average player can’t make it to the end. Even Dark Souls doesn’t require perfection from the player to reach the end of the game and experience all the content. And this is really what ultimately put me off of Soul Calibur.
I’m not a competitive player. I don’t want to spend 10 or more attempts on a single fight. I went into Soul Calibur VI’s adventure mode with the goal of beating every non-reoccurring fight. Once I hit the latter half of the game and started struggling with fights I was 30+ levels higher than, I just stopped caring. I basically stopped doing side quests and focused on the main quest missions. But it didn’t need to be like that. Something is wrong when a level 70 main quest fight is considerably easier than a level 40 side quest fight. Something is wrong when the only way to win a fight is by spamming counters rather than just fighting organically. This is bad design. It makes the game less enjoyable for people who just want to experience the story and clear the fights in a reasonable number of attempts. By the time the credits rolled, I was completely fed up with Soul Calibur. Two decades of enjoying the franchise and looking forward to the next installment completely ruined by arbitrary padding and unbalanced difficulty. And why the need for multiple fights in a single player story mode? Yes, in a PVP scenario, first to two wins is customary. But this is unnecessary in a text based single player adventure mode with more than 100 fights. Every fight should be a single victory scenario. Some of the fights in this mode require you to win as many as three times. Why? What possible reason is there for that other than just to make the game take longer?
The “Libra of Soul” mode is cool because it lets you create your own character and follow a story where you travel the world and interact with different characters from the Soul Calibur roster. There’s also a second single player mode in Soul Calibur VI that ties directly to the Libra of Soul mode but focuses on the game’s roster characters. Originally, I had planned to fully complete both modes but by the end of the Libra of Soul mode I was fed up. I tried to play the character driven story mode and barely cleared the first chapter. Not because it was hard. In fact, it was actually balanced the way the game should be . . . for at least the first chapter. But I just couldn’t play the game anymore. My enthusiasm was completely gone. It is a real shame to have been so thoroughly soured on a franchise I have been a long time fan of, but I really just don’t see myself buying Soul Calibur VII after this lackluster experience. Fighting games will never make it past their current mostly niche audience if they continue to only appeal to competitive level players.