Soulcalibur II: Still As Good As It Was, But No Better

By Jack . December 1, 2013 . 12:30pm

Here’s an easy way to feel old: SoulCalibur II was released on consoles ten years ago, back when I was just a kid who just wanted to mash buttons. Now I’m an adult who presses buttons with a little more finesse, and SoulCalibur II has been given the HD re-master treatment. A little older, I was excited to get the chance to rediscover the game and hopefully develop a new appreciation for it.

 

For those who have managed to avoid it all these years, SoulCalibur II is a weapon-based 3D arena fighter. Actually, for many, it’s the weapon-based 3D arena fighter. Sure, SoulCalibur V was alright, but it also added a lot of things I felt were unnecessary like meter management and super moves. I found myself wanting to go back to simpler times, where all I had to worry about was whether or not to swing my weapon horizontally, vertically, or just kick my foes in the face.

 

Of course, there’s a lot more to SoulCalibur II than just that. Sidesteps, blocking, parrying and guard breaking moves are all there to increase the strategic arsenal. Battles revolve around making the right decisions to catch the other player off guard, through either defensive or offensive means. The opponent isn’t the only thing to watch out for, however, as the stages can be just as deadly. Almost every arena is precariously perched above a bottomless pit, and if a fighter is knocked off it counts as an instant-kill. The skill ceiling can reach quite high, but it’s rewarding for those willing to climb it.

 

Fights move quickly, as damage can build up fast, and a few bad decisions (or just one depending on how close to a cliff a player is) can put someone in a very unfortunate position. The fast pace of the matches makes the game feel fun to play, as well as easy to jump right back into. At its core, the simplicity and fluidity of the game are still what make SoulCalibur II a classic. And really, hitting things just feels good. There’s lots of flailing, impact sounds, and sparks that make every blow feel like a little victory.

 

While it’s entertaining to play with friends and foes alike, one of the more interesting things about SoulCalibur II is its vast amounts of single player content. There are tons of modes, characters, stages, and weapons to play here, and it’s one of the few fighting games that I could recommend playing purely by oneself.

 

The driving force behind that recommendation is Weapon Master mode, a story-driven series of missions that test your abilities. There are big globs of text to read, but truthfully it’s not that interesting and pretty easy to ignore. The main draw is a combination of compelling missions and an ever present incentive looming in the distance. Many of the missions present situations like an enemy’s top half being invisible or having to pass a bomb back and forth between fighters, while others are more grounded like landing a certain number of hits before the timer ends. All the while, experience points, gold, and unlockable content pile up. There’s a constant sense of progression in Weapon Master, and when combined with the addictive nature of the fighting, I ended up getting ensnared in the mode all over again.

 

Gold in particular is alluring because it allowed me to purchase weapons, which serve as a way to customize my characters. These days SoulCalibur is known for its robust character creator, but this was the start of it. Every character has about a dozen weapons, each with their own unique properties like longer attack reach or the inability to block. After being purchased, the weapons are then free to be used in both Weapon Master and unlockable versions of the other modes like Arcade and Survival. They add uniqueness to the characters, as well as some extra depth for those bored with the vanilla game. Unlocking all of the weapons is a driving force for making progress in single player mode.

 

Something to note: the AI is a lot more brutal than I remember. This is a game where a few mistakes can easily end a match (or even just one, depending on how close one is to the edge of the stage) which makes it easy for the AI to dominate. For many of the later missions in the game, I found myself having to repeatedly attempt a mission until my opponents took pity on me and became dumb enough to even the odds. As I bought more weapons and developed better strategies this became less of a problem, but getting stuck can make the game feel like a grind.

 

An experienced player might notice that I’m not talking about anything new this port has to offer. Simply put, there isn’t much. There is of course the HD part of the title, and while it’s nice, SoulCalibur II never looked bad to begin with, and it doesn’t feel like a huge upgrade. Really, the best thing HD Online brings to the table is the return of two of the three console-exclusive guest characters: Spawn and Heihachi. As someone who mostly played the Gamecube version of the original (featuring Link, who understandably sits this one out), it was nice to see what I was missing.

 

What should be the biggest feature, though, is the addition of online play—emphasis on “should”.

 

The Online part of SoulCalibur II HD Online implies that the online component was a focus, but compared to Namco Bandai’s previous efforts it feels surprisingly like an afterthought. There are no lobbies to be found in HD Online, instead only single, two round matches against one person before being booted back to the menu. No customization is allowed for rounds, time limit, or finding someone at your skill level. There isn’t even an option to rematch with the same person; something I assumed was standard for online fighting games.

 

Finding a good match is in direct opposition to the quick, addictive nature of the game.  Every match had to be searched for individually, I had to sit through the opening dialogues (which cannot be skipped online), hope the connection is playable, and do it all over again every few minutes.  To put this all in perspective: SoulCalibur IV came out five years ago and had a vastly more robust online system.

 

Worst of all is that the netcode doesn’t seem very stable. Every single match I played had noticeable input lag. I’m not entirely sure if it was just the connections of people I was playing or not, but the game sure doesn’t make it easy to find good ones. I went all out and searched for the best connections possible, and was getting paired with people from Japan and France. I’m from the Midwestern United States, so I doubt the accuracy of those results. Even when I actually was fighting people in the same country, however, it still never felt that great.

 

I have some issues with this update, but they do drive home an unfortunate truth: this game is ten years old, and its time has mostly passed. Even if the online was stellar, the communities for these rereleases rarely last long. What’s left is a very strong game, but one that its fans could have played without a $20 ‘upgrade’. This isn’t really a revival of an old classic; it’s more like a shiny new memorial. It was nice to go back and relive some nostalgic memories, and for those interested in SoulCalibur’s origins it’s still a very well made game. Sadly, the improvements this port offers are ill-equipped for transcending history.

 

Food for Thought:

 

1. One thing that really makes the multiplayer suffer is that all of the secret characters and stages are locked. While I don’t mind having unlockable characters, it’s not like they’re spoiling any surprises at this point. Going through the entirety of Weapon Master is a lot to ask of someone who just wants to wreck people as Lizardman.

 

2. Spawn is up there for most bizarre guest characters in a video game to me. It’s pretty surreal to see him walking around like he’s (semi)relevant again. My favorite part about him is that he will occasionally yell “What is Soul Edge!?” upon victory, as if he has no idea why he’s even in the game.

 

3. There’s no option for Japanese voice acting here, despite it being offered in the original versions. Personally I prefer the English dub because it’s hilarious, but the choice would have been nice.


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  • Rafael Martines

    I never played SC2 in Playstation 2, and I’m playing this right now on PS3, but in the original game there was dual audio? I hate Xianghua “Just Kidding” my ears bleed u__u C’mon Namco!

    I hope they make an HD Version of Soul Calibur III (based on Arcade Edition) with all of modes and options (dual audio) from Playstation 2 version

    • CptPokerface

      It’s odd but Namco doesn’t seem to have much faith in SC anymore. V was good but noticeably rushed, there was little care given to make its netcode reliable( which is inexcusable seeing how good it was in 5) in this hd update..

      • Rafael Martines

        Strange I felt the netcode in SC2 better in SCV… So many times when I was trying ranked battle, after enter in the battle the matche ended with “connection lost” :(

        • CptPokerface

          You were probably playing people far from you. SCV online i loved because i was consistently able to do combos or block when necessary.

          Input lag sucks because if its noticeable enough you can actually feel the heaviness and sluggishness. I hated it in Injustice..

          • rurifan

            SC5 had some kinda of weird faking going on though. It pretends bad connections were fast (by not slowing down the speed) but your moves would overlap/clash in annoying ways. I didn’t like it at all.

            I actually prefer how SC4 actually slows down instead.

        • Gojira Twit

          It may be frustrating but SC2HD reminds me that there are much worse things than losing a connection. I’d rather lose a connection than be forced to play a frustrating match with terrible lag. It doesn’t help you improve and it’s not fun, just a waste of time for both players. At least with dropped connections you can immediately search for another match.

  • Roberto

    No japanese voice that sad ;-;

    • rurifan

      Yeah it is sad. I was expecting to buy this all along, just hadn’t gotten around to it. Now I won’t even consider touching it.

      • Chiupon

        god forbid you buy a game and support us voice talent or even the company that i’m pretty sure you’ll complain about later for not localizing something

        • rurifan

          Why would I want to support horrible us “voice talent”? I want to do the opposite.

          • M’iau M’iaut

            Enough folks. Leave the name calling and political diatribes somewhere else. Everyone move on.

  • 永次

    - Without japanese voices
    - Digital
    - Online bugs
    HA, HA, HA.

    • http://queensblade.net/index.php/characters/cattleya gulabjamuns

      Damn… I was really looking forward to this too, especially in light of being so disappointed over SC5… how could they screw THIS up too? :/ What happened to you, Project Soul…? You’ve really gotta do something to keep the soul burning!

      I’ve still got it on GC, but I would have liked it in HD and with the two guests I never had the games for, not to mention a proper onlne mode. Hopefully all of this can get patched eventually, then I’ll definitely be on board again.

  • ギャビン

    I’ve been playing about 8 hours online, the netcode for this is no where near as good as SCV or TTT2.

  • ivanchu77

    The main point of this game is the online, if that fails then i´m not gonna bother, i still have my ps2 version and it works.

    and holy shit, 10 years already! I feel old

  • ReidHershel

    Yeah, for someone who has been following the Soul Calibur series since birth, this is a terrible port.

    I really hope they make a new one soon, the community behind V died fast.

    • rurifan

      I hoped that the miserable failure of SC5 taught them a lesson (i.e., scrub SC5 from history). But then I played the demo for that nasty F2P soul calibur game. They haven’t learned much.

  • Afternoon Intergalactic

    I still have my SCII Gamecube disk lying around here somewhere. Guess I’ll have to dig it out and bring it back home.

    • Raltrios

      Also still have mine (well, my father’s). Link was my main, too… ;__;

    • Crimson_Cloud

      I still have my ps2 disk but after two saves being corrupted I’m not touching it again. Years of playing and unlocking, just went away…

  • rurifan

    I like the idea of returning the franchise to its roots (i.e., forget SC5 ever existed). But when I see video of SC2 HD it makes me wonder why not just play SC4 instead.

  • Crimson_Cloud

    The second one is definitely regarded as the best in the series, but I would still love to see 3rd game in HD edition. Chronicles of the Sword, for me, is probably the best offline mode I found in the fighting game.

    • Time Sage

      IMO, third is probably the best. If you considere all the custom character fighting styles as “charcters”, or count charcters who are premade for them like Amy or Revanent, it had the largest selection the series has to offer. It also had a huge side story mode, a decent main story mode and a charcter creation. Honestly it’s probably the largest game in the series and that kept it from getting boring,

      • Crimson_Cloud

        Not to mention that you had shops with different ladies to service you. That might seem unimportant but shows how much time they invested in every single thing. It was loaded with content. It breaks my heart to see how empty the new games are…

        • Time Sage

          And the shopkeepers were unlockable characters representing the “Staff” “Grieve Edge” and “Tambourine” weapon styles. They weren’t just fluff and had bits of background info about being taken in by the orginal owner of the shop.

  • MagisterXII

    I would so buy Soul Calibur III HD. That one was my favorite, but they would have to fix the damn corrupt data issue in Chronicles of the Sword. It was the best mode, but it wiped my saves.

    • Ty Arnold

      Even better: Make it the arcade version. They fixed a lot of the game’s problems in the arcade version of Soul Calibur III that never made it to consoles.

      Take the actually balanced game, combine it with all the modes and content of the console Soul Calibur III, mix in some decent online play and I’d be perfectly willing to pay $20 for it.

  • VenerableSage

    Looks like I made a good decision to stick to my copy of the original, then.

  • http://s1.zetaboards.com/Espada_of_Alexandria/index/ konpon568

    To me, the best part about this game was the entire soundtrack. Even when I used to own the GameCube version. Other than that, and aside from some of my mains, this game feels like it was done for the nostalgic value felt by most of the old players. For the new players, without online being functional, this would fall flat into a Ring Out. All we can hope for now is that Namco tries to fix that through updates.

    • rurifan

      IMO, for people who want to play online, SC4 is the best choice. SC2 has the classic single player modes everybody liked, but otherwise it just looks worse and has less characters than SC4.

      • Zeik56

        SCV is a way better choice for online IMO. SCIV’s online was pretty sub-par in my experience, and frankly I thought 4 was the weakest Soul Calibur. Although that part is pretty subjective.

        However 5 definitely had the better online.

        • rurifan

          They ruined the gameplay and took out tons of characters/moves in SC5. I wouldn’t recommend it to anybody who likes SC2.

          • Zeik56

            Characters are one thing, but the gameplay is significantly better in 5 than 4. I really did not enjoy playing 4 very much at all, and 2 was previously my favorite.

        • fayt255

          I just couldn’t get int SC5 I mean they took out all my favorite characters. I liked how SC5 played but quickly went back to SC4.

          • Zeik56

            To be fair, most of my favorite characters made it in and I actually liked a lot of the replacements and new characters in 5.

            But if I felt like playing with those characters I’d go back to 2 or 3. Almost everything about 4 just rubs me the wrong way.

  • http://thespellcraftcolumn.wordpress.com Rudolph Consuegra

    Why’d Soul Calibur have to be good just for its dress-up now?

  • Brion Valkerion

    Its a bare bones port, but what did you guys expect. The “single player omg wheres blah blah blah” people crapped all over SC5 and its AMAZING online and combat, just because it did not have a freaking distraction mode. When every comment about SC5 results in “pft. SC2 was the best, just slap online in that and re-release it” and BOOM thats what they did, everyone still complains lol.

    Even more hilarious are the people who touted that edge master or w/e stuff as the best thing ever, are now complaining about how tedious it is… those rose colored glasses suck huh.

  • Yan Zhao

    Might’ve bought if Link was included. But I guess they couldnt get the license from Nintendo to do so :

  • Syn

    Okay, Now lets bring the most robust game in the series to HD…Looks at Soul Calibur 3 and its many many many modes as well as the unique character creation system. It baffles me how fighters this gen had less in them than their PS2 counterparts, particularly the later naruto generations series and SC IV and V, it really baffles me.

  • Gojira Twit

    SC2HD is not a definitive port because there are no JP voices, and it’s not a good upgrade because the netcode is crap. I would get a refund if I could.

    I don’t want to believe that SC5′s failure taught Namco-Bandai that competitive play was unimportant to the series’ success, but their actions lately seem to indicate that this is exactly what they’re thinking.

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