CSG Retrospective – The Soul Series
“Transcending history and the world, a tale of souls and swords, eternally retold”.
YouTube video uploaded by Boulotaur2025
These are the words uttered during SoulCalibur II‘s opening cinematic, and to me they perfectly sum up the Soul series. The Soul games are a series of weapon-based 3D fighters developed by Namco. The series is set in the later part of the sixteenth century and focuses on a conflict between two legendary swords: Soul Edge and Soul Calibur. Soul Edge is a blade of absolute evil that corrupts its wielders into slaughtering people in order to consume their souls. Soul Calibur, on the other hand, is a benign sword specifically forged to shatter Soul Edge. All of the fighters are interested in these weapons in some way and are willing to battle each other to get them. Another interesting aspect about Soul‘s character roster is that they are all easily recognizable by the weapons they wield. For example, the series’ protagonist, Siegfried, can be identified by his gigantic sword reminiscent of Cloud Strife’s buster sword; while Mitsurugi, the samurai character, can be identified by his katana.
I feel this franchise deserves the CSG Retrospective treatment because it has been dead since 2012 without counting spin-offs. It is such a shame too because the Soul games are really fun fighters, perfect for people who are looking for an alternative to Tekken or Virtua Fighter. All of the Soul games follow a four button layout that consists of a horizontal strike, a vertical strike, a kick, and a guard. An important thing to consider when playing these games is the weapon your character uses. Characters with heavy weapons are slower with good range and characters with smaller weapons are faster with rush down attacks. Moreover, the Soul games introduced their fair share of innovations to the 3D fighting genre that shouldn’t be overlooked. One of the biggest innovations stemming from the franchise is the 8-way-run, first introduced in SoulCalibur, the 8-way-run allows you to move in any direction you want at any given time, making maneuvering and attacking your opponent so much easier. Another innovation is the implementation of “forgiving buffering”, which basically means executing a fast string of moves without strictly timed button presses. This feature is innovative because it allows players to actually enjoy the game instead of worrying about its controls or character command lists.
The tale of souls and swords officially begins with Soul Edge (alternatively known as Soul Blade on the PlayStation 1 port). Initially released in 1995 for arcades then re-released in 1996 due to difficulty issues, Soul Edge never exploded like Tekken, but it managed to garner a loyal fanbase and had plenty of uniqueness to it. For one, Soul Edge was one of the earliest weapon-based fighters, trailing just behind Tamsoft’s Battle Arena Toshinden. Secondly, Soul Edge placed a heavier emphasis on its plot which was something arcade fighters strayed away from.The game is set in 1584 AD and revolves around a fearsome pirate captain named Cervantes who obtains Soul Edge then mysteriously vanishes. Later, many warriors from around the world take up arms to find the legendary blade. What I like about the characters is that they all have different motivations for seeking out Soul Edge; some want its power, others want its blessing; some want it to take revenge, and others want to destroy it completely. Even though Soul Edge would later be overshadowed by its sequel, it nevertheless was a strong game that set the groundwork for the entire franchise.
Soul Edge performed well in arcades; however, Namco wanted to steer the next game in a brand new direction. And in 1998, they did just that with the release of Soul Edge‘s sequel, SoulCalibur for the arcades. SoulCalibur revolutionized the series entirely by offering better graphics,refined gamplay, and, most importantly, more characters including my favorite bo-staff wielder, Kilik. The game’s popularity peaked when it was ported to the Sega Dreamcast the following year, and it quickly became one of the best fighting games on the console. The Dreamcast version received a slew of brand new modes like a mission mode and an exhibition mode that would become staples in later console releases. Set three years after Soul Edge, SoulCalibur focuses on Siegfried, who has now become corrupted by Soul Edge’s foul influence, turning him into the being known as Nightmare. Nightmare goes on a murderous rampage until a new group of warriors band together to stop him. SoulCalibur improved upon everything from Soul Edge and gave the Soul series a clear identity for the next sixteen years.
Now we come to what is in my opinion the holy grail of the Soul series, SoulCalibur II. I adore SoulCalibur II because it is the game that started it all for me; it introduced to me the Soul games and for that I will always be forever grateful to it. Released in 2002 for arcades and in 2003 for the Nintendo GameCube, PlayStation 2, and Xbox, SoulCalibur II brought the Soul series into the mainstream. Its broad appeal was in large part due to the inclusion of console exclusive guest characters, a first for the series. The Xbox version had the comic book character Spawn, the PS2 version had Tekken‘s Heihachi, and the GameCube version had the hero of Hyrule himself, Link.
Set in 1591, SoulCalibur II follows the rampage of Nightmare from the previous game. Before the game’s events, Nightmare was defeated by a group of three young warriors, resulting in the blade being shattered into fragments by Soul Calibur. Now, new warriors grab hold of these fragments in the hopes of drawing closer to Soul Edge. SoulCalibur II retained most of the modes from SoulCalibur with the addition of a new mode called Weapon-Master Mode in which you move on a map and fight battles to gain money and experience points. Overall, SoulCalibur II‘s gameplay is faster and smoother than its predecessor, making it the shining gem of the franchise. If you want to get your hands on it fast then I recommend checking out SoulCalibur II HD Online for the 360 and PS3. Sadly, the only way to play Link is on the original GameCube version, but Heihachi and Spawn are available in this version along with online play.
It would be hard to top the success of SoulCalibur II and sadly none of the remaining Soul sequels came close. After SoulCalibur II, things began to go slightly downhill for the series. In a surprise move, Namco decided to release their next Soul game, SoulCalibur III, exclusively on the PlayStation 2 in 2005. This was a very problematic move because it marketed the game to a niche audience, excluding people who were fans of SoulCalibur II on the Xbox and GameCube from enjoying a new game. Despite this shortcoming, SoulCalibur III did include some new, welcome features like a character creation mode, a fully fleshed out story mode called Tales of Souls, and almost double the characters. This game, set in the same year as SoulCalibur II, follows Siegfried in his quest for atonement after destroying Soul Edge and riding himself of its foul influence; however Soul Edge took a mind of its own, assuming the form of a new Nightmare to consume souls once again. SoulCalibur III lacked the speed of SoulCalibur II, which made it very mediocre and bland. The game managed to get an arcade release in 2006, but it was no saving grace for this forgettable title.
Namco finally got their act together when they released SoulCalibur IV in 2008. SoulCalibur IV marked the Soul series’ transition over to the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360. The game was also the first in the series not to see an arcade release. SoulCalibur IV brought guest characters back into the fray with the inclusion of Darth Vader and Yoda from Star Wars and the Apprentice from the Force Unleashed. Most people gripe about the Star Wars characters being out of place, but I found them to be cool additions. What is not to love about playing as Darth Vader and Force choking your opponents. SoulCalibur IV once again follows Siegfried as he goes head to head with Nightmare and Algol, the man responsible for creating Soul Calibur and giving Soul Edge most of its power. This game went back to what made SoulCalibur so great in the first place with fast gameplay and action. It even included finishing moves and retained the good old character creation system. Although by no means spectacular, SoulCalibur IV would be the last time all of the classic Soul characters would be together as SoulCalibur V would change everything for the series.
SoulCalibur V is the weakest of all the Soul games in my opinion. Released in 2012 for the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, SoulCalibur V is set in 1608, approximately seventeen years after the events of SoulCalibur IV. The game’s new protagonists are Patroklos and Pyrrha, the children of Soul veteran Sophitia, who are trying to unite with each other. I did not like these two characters at all. Both of them are very whiny and obnoxious, making it hard for me to actually care about their struggle. Another narrative problem is the unjustified timeskip. It would have been better if only seven or eight years passed since the last game, that way it would give room to add new characters while at the same time allow the veterans to retain their place in the roster.
Now, I don’t have a problem with adding new characters, but most of SoulCalibur V‘s new characters use the same weapons of past characters. For instance, Xiba, an insane monkey-like boy, is now the bo-staff wielder instead of Kilik. Xiba is alright, but the more I played as him, the more I wished I was playing as Kilik instead. What is worse is that Kilik is put in the game as a mime character, a character who mimics the styles of all the other fighters; in fact, there is a total of three mime characters in this stinker. Why couldn’t have other new characters or veterans taken those slots instead of the mimes? Thankfully, the game’s featured guest character, Ezio Auditore from Assassin’s Creed II, was a blast to play as, and he fits perfectly in SoulCalibur‘s world. All character issues aside, SoulCalibur V did greatly enhance the gameplay with the addition of new fighting techniques and a beautiful soundtrack. However, this small handful of pros doesn’t save the game at all. I would recommend playing any of the other games (except SoulCalibur III) first then going to this one if, and only if, you are legitimately curious about playing it. Otherwise, don’t even waste your time with it.
The Soul series has had a lot of ups and downs throughout its history, but its core of being a fun and, at times, strategic fighting game has always persisted. Its unforgettable cast of characters and phenomenal soundtrack is what always has me going back to these games. What about the series’ future? How can it continue forward since SoulCalibur V pulled a big timeskip. Well, Namco should should stop the series dead in its tracks and reboot it with a game that returns to Soul‘s roots like NetherRealm Studios did with Mortal Kombat. This would effectively allow them to retcon SoulCalibur V and tell a new, fresh story. Furthermore, the reboot should be released on all three current generation consoles: Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and the Switch like SoulCalibur II, with exclusive guest characters for each one. Of course, this is all wishful thinking on my part. I have no idea what plans Namco has in store for the Soul series, but I can only hope that the next installment will transcend history and the world.
Source: SoulCalibur Wiki – Soul series