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Fighting games are ridiculous. No other game allows Yoda from Star Wars to fight an undead pirate captain. Soulcalibur IV does though and that’s what made it so special to my 13 year old self back in 2008. I had barely any knowledge of fighting games outside of Mortal Kombat and Tekken back then. Even Street Fighter was off my radar. But Soulcalibur IV put fighting games on my radar. Maybe it was all the bright lights or the ludicrous character roster or the sheer nonsensical fun of it all. For whatever reason Soulcalibur IV has stuck with me for over a decade.
Few events of Soulcalibur III are considered canonical in Soulcalibur IV. The ancient King Algol has appeared along with a massive tower. He is somehow connected – like every other character – to the ancient and mysterious sword known as Soul Edge. Fan favourites Siegfried Schtauffen and Nightmare remain locked in an eternal battle to reunite both sides of Soul Edge by killing their alter ego. Sophitia is now fighting with the bad guys to protect her corrupted daughter Tanya. That’s about it though. The Soulcalibur chronology – like most long-running fighting games – is always being interrupted by time travelers, apocalyptic events and visitors from a galaxy far, far away.
Guest characters were nothing new to the Soulcalibur series but before and after Yoda, Darth Vader and the Apprentice from Star Wars: The Force Unleashed it had only been video game characters. One of the biggest stretches was probably Ezio from the Assassin’s Creed series although Geralt from The Witcher series in the upcoming Soulcalibur VI tears at the game’s already paper-thin reality. The Star Wars characters tore it apart altogether. The Soulcalibur series is set on an alternate version of Earth in and around the 16th Century so the appearance of the likes of Yoda and Darth Vader really throws all caution to the wind and enhanced the game’s already maddening canon.
Every fighting game has its gimmick. Mortal Kombat has its bone-crunching violence. Street Fighter has its intense and complicated moves list. Soulcalibur also has the latter but with swords. Most of the characters use swords anyway. Others use scythes, axes, hammers, light sabers, whip-swords, ring-blades and then there’s Voldo. One of the most unique and strange characters of the series Voldo became a fan favourite because of his claw weapons, spidery movements and fondness for BDSM gear. Playing as Voldo at the age of 13 thankfully didn’t awaken anything in me but it did wake me up to how flexible the Soulcalibur series could be.
Soulcalibur – like Street Fighter or Tekken – is known for its complexity and depth in regards to its moves, combos and juggles. To master Soulcalibur’s intense mixture of strikes, throws and blocks required the dexterity and concentration of a concert pianist or just the dedication of a veteran fighting game player. But it’s also a game that anyone can pick up and play. Admittedly if online competitive play is your first port of call you’d want to have a good deal of experience but within the single-player modes Soulcalibur could be forgiving as well as mercilessly challenging. It lacked the violence that had me so hooked on Mortal Kombat but it made up for it with colourful characters and a bizarre premise.
Every character has their own story in Soulcalibur IV. Whether it’s Lizardman who is a man who has been turned into a lizard, the vengeful samurai Yoshimitsu with his clockwork arm or Hilde the brave knight-princess the Soulcalibur series has a character for everyone. Even when they don’t have a character for everyone they bring in the most popular ones from other series like Darth Vader or Kratos from God of War or even Heihachi Mishima from Tekken. Despite the fact that developer Team Soul craft a story for every character almost none of them make sense. It’s always a quest to find the legendary sword Soul Edge, use it for good or evil and they usually have to kill a God to get it.
Killing a God or Gods isn’t that unusual for a video game. God of War made seven games about the act of deity slaughter. Japanese games tend to be a bit more subtle though usually having you only eliminate one omnipotent being as opposed to ten. In a lot of Japanese RPGs you start off as a plucky young hero who gathers a ragtag team of fighters and sets off to end a religion. In Soulcalibur IV though it was Algol. Algol was the final boss for nearly every character’s story except Siegfried and Nightmare who fought each other. Even your own personal character fights Algol.
Character creation in fighting games is an absolute necessity, after having a roster stacked with all the favourites of course. Fighting games aren’t RPGs but they do have similarities. When we play RPGs we’re always trying to find the right weapon or spell or armour piece that will do or absorb the most damage. In fighting games – especially those with character creators as detailed as Soulcalibur IV’s was – it’s pretty much the same.
Find the right armour that doesn’t slow you down but that still absorbs the most damage. Find the right sword, scythe or axe that devastates the enemy health bar while not swinging like a stick through mud. I spent hours in the Soulcalibur IV character creator juggling my stats to try and achieve that perfect balance. I never could quite get it but I’m older and (maybe) wiser now so maybe I won’t struggle as much when Soulcalibur VI comes out on October 19.
What I remember best from the Soulcalibur series was the Announcer. A serious, deep voiced man he would say things like: “Slashing through the shadows, she defeats the evils that lurk behind history” and “If the love for her family is power, then no one is stronger”. His is the first voice you hear whenever Soulcalibur IV boots up. The Announcer encompasses all the bluster and grandeur that comes with the Soulcalibur series and I wouldn’t have it any other way. I was never good at fighting games and I’m still not. It’s a lot of work to put in for very little reward but the epic fantasy of it all drew me in and I never quite left behind that eternally retold tale of souls and swords that transcended history and the world.