Originally known as Soul Edge in 1995, the SoulCalibur series really found fame when it was ported to home consoles, starting with the very first Dreamcast and then spreading across all platforms in less than five years. With its medieval fantasy theme, weapons-based combat, and memorable characters, SoulCalibur is a '90s kid favorite. Fans are eagerly awaiting the sixth installment in the series due this year. But which ones stuck out from the rest?
Here they are in my own preferential order over the years, according to my own experience with the franchise.
Continuing around 17 years after the storyline of SoulCalibur IV, new characters and heroes were introduced to the franchise in SoulCalibur V. However, SC V was unable to deliver an enjoyable, solid story mode for gamers to pursue outside of combat.
While the improvement in graphics and the online mode were expected with the times, most longterm gamers were let down by the episodes regarding the tales of Patroklos, the new, apparently sloppy protagonist. It was and still is considered a downgrade from the past installments.
The third installment was the first to hit the PlayStation platform exclusively, meaning there was no subsequent arcade game to accompany it until later. Bandai Namco had found a solid following in console users. This one was the most enjoyable party game for those who wanted to play one-on-one, sticking to classic characters and combat similar to that of its beloved predecessors.
Again, dragging the game down was the dull and repetitive story mode, which is obligatory for unlocking extras, the generic playable characters, and custom characterization options. It also suffered from long loading times, which were a huge hassle in both single and multiplayer modes.
Bringing new skills, battle upgrades, weapons, and combat along with refreshing but classic graphics, SC IV managed to stay true to the franchise while introducing online gameplay. The story mode and voice overs were mediocre, but users didn't seem to complain too much about them. Pitfalls included a tacky and unresponsive AI and rather stiff controls for the game. Again, the long-awaited online play and the guest characters from the Star Wars franchise gave the series a boost.
Keeping fans happy after what seemed to be a flawless debut release was not an easy task, but Bandai Namco managed to do so with SoulCalibur II. This version was released on all three platforms -- Xbox, PlayStation 2, and the Gamecube -- and proved to be more enjoyable than Mortal Kombat and Tekken combined.
That said, it was also the first to offer guest characters. It featured Zelda's Link for Gamecube, Tekken's Heihachi for PlayStation, and Spawn from the comic series for Xbox. The only fine differences between the original SC and this version were the enhancements in eye-candy graphics and the improved, dynamic control system.
The overwhelmingly positive reviews for the original SoulCalibur were largely due to the sheer nostalgia for the Dreamcast. In fact, core gamers suggest that a good reason to purchase a Dreamcast would be solely to enjoy this game once again.
Released for the arcades initially and complete with a competitive leaderboard, the brilliant graphics were surprisingly ahead of their time, and the hyperactive battle mode offered a great deal of adrenaline and excitement. The weapons were simply awesome, the combat smooth and dynamic, and the characters lovable.
After digging through the rubble, old is gold after all. However, no matter how old the franchise grows, it never ceases to entertain us with its one-on-one combat, unrealistically attractive characters, and the undying mystery of the Soulcalibur itself.