Soul Calibur IV

REVIEWThe fourth installment to the Soul series features an all new graphics engine, improves on the Create-a-Character Mode from SC3, and takes its highly acclaimed gameplay online for the first time ever. As a fan and loyal player since the beginning, I can honestly say that Soul Calibur 4 is the next-gen Soul Calibur that many fans of the series have been waiting for (in my case since the epic SC2, which I put countless hours into). Nearly everything about the classic 3D gameplay engine has been refined and polished, and most of the infamous changes this time around were for the better.

First of all, let's talk about the new graphics because they simply must be talked about. The first SC game in HD does not disappoint, and is surely one of the prettiest 3D fighters to date. The character models and background detail really make a statement. It brings back memories of the graphical statement that Soul Calibur made when it launched with Sega Dreamcast in 1999. SC4's graphics engine makes everything incredibly sharp and intricately detailed, from the moody backgrounds to the shiny armor (which reflects the actual backgrounds), down to the bare bone character models themselves, which are indeed some of the most seamless character models ever.

In fact, there's hardly a trace of any actual polygons anywhere. Darth Vader's helmet and Ivy's ass, for example, are both amazingly round...  it's just scary! Skin and muscle detail has simply never been done quite so well in a fighting game. Next-gen lighting/shadowing effects, background blurring effects, and sparks on weapon clashes add an extra touch to the visuals and really put the icing on the cake. Each of the new stages also highlight some sort of graphical element, and all of which are brilliantly designed from every angle.

SoulCalibur IV character selection screen.

As a console-exclusive fighting game, Soul Calibur 4 features the staple Story, Arcade, and Training modes. The new Tower Mode is also introduced, offering a a variety of single player challenges, pitting the player against multiple enemies one after another, and is also the path to unlocking some of the game's rarest goodies. In Tower Mode, you're allowed a partner at certain times and can tag them in during the battle. Instead of your current character tagging out and running off screen (a la Tekken Tag Tournament), your partner simply "takes the place" of your current character in a "magical" flash of blue light... uhh... teleportation if you will. The tag system looks a bit strange and doesn't make much sense, but it's actually kind of fun if you give it a chance, and is the key to beating Tower Mode.

Story Mode is a surprisingly condensed five chapters long and really leaves much to be desired. The character endings, done with the game's sharp real-time graphics, are also on the short side and honestly fail to impress in most cases (but at least they're there). In fairness, Story Mode does have a few cool features such as specialized dialogue between related characters which you won't hear in other modes. Also, if you create a costume for one of the main characters and use it in Story Mode, that character will be wearing the same costume during their ending! The computer AI also does a good job at representing the gameplay and making things as epic as possible. For example, the first time I went through Siegfried's story, I was quite impressed. Since I hadn't used Siegfried yet, I decided to back up and just practice for a bit. That's when I noticed Siegfried's father just standing there, waiting for me to attack.  So I just kind of circled him and practiced my stance transitions for about 2 minutes... it was epic.... Well, you just had to be there.

The graphical polish and detail that SC4 shows off is accompanied by possibly the best fighting animation ever seen in a video game, hands down. Namco's fighting games are widely known for their fluid animation and accurate depiction of authentic & unique fighting styles, and SC4 takes it a notch further. A handful of classic moves and hit effects have been reworked, making them appear even more fluid and/or more brutal than ever. Even classic stance and walking animations have been touched up. It actually takes a keen eye to notice some of the smaller details of the animation that were tweaked from the prequels.

Still the prettiest and deepest 3D weapon-based fighter out there. 

Of course, the deep characters of Soul Calibur are why many players love the series so much. The diverse selection of fighting styles and personalities is what Soul Calibur has always been about, and now with over 30 characters, the series has seen its most diverse cast yet. The first new character to join the roster is a female knight by the name of Hilde, who fights with both a short sword and a spear. Like in the home versions of SC2, Namco has widened their roster yet again by bringing in some recognizable guest characters into their franchise. With Namco obtaining the rights to LucasArts, Darth Vader and Yoda have crossed over to the series! Darth Vader is a slow, yet powerful opponent... seeing him in action is always epic, and his accurate (badass) depiction in SC4 is just brilliant. On the flipside, Yoda has some cool moves for a small green fellow, and is annoyingly immune to throws and certain high attacks (but easily beaten if you know his weaknesses). The Apprentice from The Force: Unleashed also appears as an unlockable bonus character and shows off a unique light saber based fighting style.

Along with the bonus Star Wars characters, several other new faces designed by guest manga artists also make their fighting game debuts in SC4 including: Scheherazade (designed by anime illustrator Yutaka Izubuchi known for his work on Patlabor, RahXephon), Angol Fia (designed by Mine Yoshizak), and Shura (designed by Hiroya Oku of Gantz fame). These bonus manga-inspired characters unfortunately don't offer their own unique fighting styles, but instead "borrow" fighting styles of some of the classic Soul Calibur veterans. While it's somewhat disappointing that they don't bring any "new" styles to the series, they are at least entertaining "alternatives" to use for several fan favorite weapon styles. These bonus characters (all female) at least have their own voice-overs and unique introduction sequences, but overall they leave something to be desired.
Along with tweaking classic gameplay elements like Guard Impacting, the wall game, and Ring Outs, Namco added several brand new elements that assist SC4 in feeling like a completely new game and not a rehash. Critical Finishing Moves make their debut and can be used to KO your opponent if they're blocking too much (AKA turtling). Critical Finishes promote more aggressive gameplay and using Guard Impacts, and are quite cool to use against players (or the computer AI) who blatantly overuse that block button. From a gameplay standpoint, I think Critical Finishes suit the gameplay system fairly well, but several of them could've been done better visually.

Unfortunately, each character only has one Critical Finish, and some of them are about as boring a finishing move from a 3D Mortal Kombat game. During most critical finishes, the background "fades out" and is followed by an array of flashy lights before anything even happens... that said, I wish most of the Critical Finishes didn't "take you out of the game" so much. Some are well animated and bring the ouch factor, but others seem like afterthoughts. On the flipside, it's pretty cool when you connect a Critical Finish on the last round, because your character will strike a "special" win pose... adding epic insult to injury!


Armor Breaks are a big part of SC4's gameplay.

Armor Breaks are another new system in SC4. After being hit by certain attacks, different parts of armor can be destroyed (in either a high, mid, or low area). After an Armor Break occurs, the effected character will take extra damage if the respective area is hit. This new gameplay mechanic isn't only cool on paper, but it makes for a unique & cool visual presentation. Helmets, masks, and various pieces of armor will break, fly off, and even stay on the ground during the fight, sometimes even getting kicked around. Clothing also gets ripped to shreds, exposing the inner details of the awesome character models. Character attire can become quite minimal, and player-created characters can even be stripped down to their underwear...  it's pretty hilarious.

Soul Calibur's gameplay engine has always been at the top of its class, but the big changes from SC2 to SC3 left many hardcore fans disappointed (myself included). Personally, it's hard to "let go" of how some characters used to play, but after opening my mind a little... I definitely found many characters in SC4 that I enjoy using. Overall, SC4's gameplay is a considerable improvement over SC3's, but is still a far shot from my beloved SC2. The 8-Way Run and overall movement speed is as smooth as ever, but noticeably "slower" than the first two installments. Characters look larger and even "feel" heavier to move around; which makes more sense considering this "style" of fighting, but takes some getting used to. Many characters have been toned down, some with "slowed down" moves and others missing alternate stances & cancels from past games. That said, there is a learning curve to mastering any character in SC4 even if you've been a hardcore player since day one.

Returning characters, of course, were given some interesting and generous updates to their movelists. Unlike returning characters in other fighting game sequels, the characters of Soul Calibur have become "subject to change" in recent times. Namco seems to be aiming for "balance" and clearly wants to make characters more accessible to new players. Even though the characters don't play exactly like they used to, there are a plethora of awesome new moves, combos, and strategies to be discovered and mastered (and by the way, the character movelists in the game don't show all of the moves in the game). 

Don't get me wrong, a lot of characters still have a handful of their classic moves and can be used similar to how they were used in past games, but a lot sure has changed since SC1 & SC2 (No, I won't stop talking about SC2). Overall, characters seem easier to pick up and also easier to fight against due to the fact that there seem to be fewer moves and cancels than in previous installments. In my opinion, the streamlined movelists actually seem to be a good thing in the long run, especially when it comes to the subject of character balance and competitive play.

Next-gen character detail and animation!

One of the biggest flaws of Soul Calibur 4 is that it isn't packed with extras like some of the prequels were. For one, Weapon Demonstrations and Character Profiles are missing all together!  Most of SC4's extras revolve around the Create-a-Character Mode, which is pretty much the best fighting game customization mode to date. Not only can you create your own character from scratch using a countless array of coloring options and various clothing & armor layers; you can even edit the default Soul Calibur character's costumes from the ground up... which I usually prefer doing over creating a character.

For each new color scheme or outfit that is made for a default character, an icon is created which accurately depicts the customized outfit, along with the weapon you chose for that outfit... pretty cool if you ask me! I've been waiting for a fighting game to do something like that for quite some time now. Thankfully, Namco is smart and didn't include any sort of silly "create-a-movelist" feature in the game, which I believe would defeat the purpose of getting good at the game. Rightfully so, your created character can use any of the main character styles featured in the game (minus the Star Wars characters), and I'm glad that they left out those utterly ridiculous Create-a-Character fighting styles from SC3.

SC4 also takes the series online for the first time ever! The online modes are pretty basic and straight forward; you can either lay a ranked match against a random opponent or a non-ranked match against any of your online friends. There is also the option to fight with weapon/created character effects on or off (serious players will prefer off of course). One of the coolest things about SC4's online mode is the fact that you can take your customized or edited character into battle. It's always entertaining to see what other players have come up with. Gameplay runs pretty smooth online for the most part, although that impolite lag still pops up occasionally, which in a game like Soul Calibur can be pretty annoying to deal with. Thankfully, before you engage in a match with another player you can view the quality of their connection. My advice is to never play against anyone with a 3 bar connection or less... if you ask me, SC4 is only "playable" online with a 4 or 5 bar connection. Thus, the majority of matches I've played online have had little to no lag (I got FIOS!). Even with a little lag, I have no trouble with GIs or combos, so I'm happy with it.

Overall, the online experience is decent, but of course I have a few gripes. First and foremost, there doesn't seem to be a strict enough penalty (or any at all) for bailing out of a match early, as I have encountered quite a few "sore losers" who purposely disconnected while I was, well, destroying them... funny, because I noticed they're usually the ones that suck at the game the most. Also, the ranking system overall seems a bit flawed. It's relatively easy to get high up in rank just by beating novice players to level up, granted you have some sort of skill... and beating high ranks sometimes just doesn't pay out like it should. 

They really went and put Star Wars in Soul Calibur! Why not...

As good as it is, SC4 has it's fair share of quirks. Firstly, the intro wasn't nearly as impressive as SC2's or SC3's. Some might even say it sucked all together. I for one was disappointed that they used a mere six characters in the intro. It really should have been longer and more drawn out, especially considering that they used real-time graphics for the intro. Come on Namco, too busy working on other "high profile" games to make a fleshed out intro for your own series?   

Next, clothing and armor sometimes "clips" through characters' body parts, hair, and even faces from time to time, especially on created characters. It is a tough thing to eliminate from a 3D fighting game completely, especially since in Soul Calibur there are a plethora of "dynamic" animations; and on top of that comes the amazing character detail that Namco's artists imagined. That said, it's a forgivable flaw. The good news is that it's really only noticeable on the close ups of certain characters, and mostly created ones at that. I also miss the pre-match taunts during the VS screen... yeah, those one-liners and grunts were always silly and unnecessary, but now that they're gone I actually kinda miss them.  I also miss the ability to wall jump from Soul Calibur 2... why haven't those been put back in the game?!? They weren't cheap or anything, and they were fun to do. Ohh, and what's up with "replays only for the last round?" And NO replays online? 

On the flipside, there are even more "little" details that I like about SC4. Firstly, I love the new slow-mo/gray scale effect during the KO! I also thoroughly enjoy the new "splash" sound (and visual effect)... when a character gets knocked out of the ring into water, they hit the water hard There are a ton of other awesome new sound effects, all of which are intense and satisfying. Some characters' intro taunts and win quotes still sound funny & awkward at times, but others are actually quite badass. The voice acting in both Japanese and English are decent and are possibly the best of the series. The soundtrack of the game, probably overlooked by many, is also deeply inspiring and simply put, epic... gotta love those Star Wars tracks! Namco also released the original Soul Calibur soundtrack for download, and any of the tracks can be set for SC4 stages of your choice! Badass!

No, I'm not done promoting this game... did I tell you that I actually work for Namco? Jk. Other positive details I want to point out? Hmm... I really like the selection screen this time around, and I was enthralled to see that they used actual 2D character art for the character slots... which looks amazingly sharp in HD. I also love how reflective armor looks different on each stage, because it truly reflects the colors and light from the stage itself... and if you look even closer (in edit mode), you can actually see some of the background details reflected on certain armor (check out the "Close Helm" and you'll see what I mean)!  The shine effect used for hair catches the eye, and hair animation during movements is also done well for the most part. The new character "tracking" animations are also noteworthy. Not only will stagnant characters turn their heads while watching their circling opponent, but they will now twist their entire upper torsos as well, which alters their stance animation... Maxi's is a must see.  Details like the ones I just mentioned really make SC4 stand above the crowd, and lead the way for the next generation of 3D fighting games.

Page Updated: August 13th, 2020
Developer(s): Namco (Project Soul)
Publisher(s): Namco Bandai, Ubisoft 
Designer(s): Hiroaki Yotoriyama     Producer
Mitsuo Kashiwagi        Producer
Masashi Tommy
Noriyuki Hiyama
Artwork by: Hideo Yoshie          Art Director
Takuji Kawano
Masashi Kubo
Yasuyuki Kobori
Platform(s): PlayStation 3, Xbox 360
Release Date(s): July 29th, 2008     
July 31st, 2008
      / /
Characters Mitsurugi, Taki, Ivy, Hilde, Kilik, Siegfried, Nightmare, Maxi, Cervantes, Yunsung, Seong Mina, Xianghua, Tira, Setsuka, Lizardman, Sophitia, Cassandra, Raphael, Astaroth, Rock, Talim, Voldo, Yoshimitsu, Zasalamel, Amy, Darth Vader, Yoda, Starkiller, Angol Fia, Scheherazade, Ashlotte, Shura, Kamikirimusi, Algol

Featured Video:

Related Games: Soul Calibur: Broken Destiny, Soul Edge, Soul Calibur, Soul Calibur 2, Soul Calibur 2: HD Online, Soul Calibur 3, Soul Calibur 3: Arcade Edition, Soul Calibur 5, Soul Calibur 6, Soul Calibur: Lost Swords, Soul Calibur Legends, Star Wars: Masters of Teras Kasi, TEKKEN Tag Tournament, TEKKEN 6

Gameplay Engine  9.5 / 10
Story / Theme  7.0 / 10
Overall Graphics  9.5 / 10
Animation  10 / 10
Music / Sound Effects  9.5 / 10
Innovation  9.0 / 10
Art Direction  9.5 / 10
Customization  9.5 / 10
Options / Extras  7.5 / 10
Intro / Presentation  6.0 / 10
Replayability / Fun  9.0 / 10
"Ouch" Factor  10 / 10
Characters  9.0 / 10

 9.0 / 10

 Review based on PS3 version    


Final Words:

Not only should Soul Calibur IV please most fans of the series, it might even turn the heads of many "mainstream" gamers back in the direction of fighting games... possibly even away from those repetitive first person shooters? (yeah right)  The Soul series has become one of the more well known and respected fighting games out there, and it's easy to see why.

There's a lot to love about this game and the deep characters, but I understand Soul Calibur isn't for everybody. Maybe that's why Namco changed up the characters so much, giving both expert players and casual/novice players alike the chance to somewhat start over and re-learn the classic characters. Characters do seem easier to use, thus are more accessible to new players this time around, which isn't really a bad thing... Namco always wants to widen their audience, of course.

The good news is, due to the solid and dynamic gameplay, veteran players of the series are still able to dominate novices and those dreaded button mashers with ease, with a little practice of course. On that note, I absolutely LOVE the fact that you can actually win a match using a Guard Impact (to break their armor). The new Armor Break & Critical Finish systems give an advantage to aggressive players and players who can perform GIs on a regular basis. With a Guard Impact at the right moment, skilled players can take advantage. Don't let anyone tell you different...  (*cough* IGN *cough*)...  Soul Calibur IV is NOT button masher friendly, not by a long shot. Seriously, if you lose to button mashers, you suck's not the game.

Soul Calibur IV offers a lot to hardcore players, but also has enough going for it to give casual players a reason to play and keep coming back... I'm sure a handful of Star Wars nerds picked up SC4 just to play as Darth Vader and/or Yoda. I'm not the "biggest" Star Wars fan, but I must say, Vader in particular is portrayed as quite the badass. For not fitting in, he fits in surprisingly well and has a cool fighting style. On the flipside, I never really liked Yoda, but he does have an entertaining fighting style which stays true to his iconic movie fight scenes.

As in any quality fighting game, the experience of SC4 is immeasurably more appreciated and impressive when watching two skilled players go at it. I actually think SC4 is quite underrated for that reason, as most fighting game players probably haven't experienced a proper high level SC4 bout. When button mashers try to play... the game obviously looks much different and less impressive. As with any quality 3D fighting game, once you actually memorize a few character movesets and get your parrying and defense game down, SC4 truly shines for the players and spectators. In closing, SC4 was ahead of its time and an unde-rappreciated gem if you ask me.
~TFG Webmaster | @Fighters_Gen

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