Beyond the obvious visual enhancements are the sound and soundtrack supporting it. Making good use of the Dreamcast's powerful Yamaha soundboard, Soul Calibur cranks out crystal-clear weapon effects, recorded at the highest sample rates. While certain effects (like falling in the water) lack some clarity, it's hardly as important as the metallic clanging you hear. Other ambient sounds like footsteps take on a different tone depending on whether you're running on stone or wood. Voice samples are also extremely clear, currently spoken in robust Japanese. The music is an appropriately medieval-sounding score, presumably recorded with a full symphonic orchestra. The numerous compositions have been written with a dynamically epic feel, although there are moments when the cacophony takes a backseat to quieter, more florid pieces.
As far as the line-up is concerned, original members Mitsurugi, Taki, Voldo, and Sophitia return for another go, while newcomers Xianghua, Kilik, Maxi, Nightmare, and Astaroth bring up the rear. The majority of the newcomers are enhanced clones of the characters they replaced from the Soul Edge (Xianghua = Hwang Sung Kyung, Kilik = Seung Mina, Maxi = Li Long, Nightmare = Siegfried, Astaroth = Rock), although those characters (with the exception of Li Long) are all hidden in the game as secret combatants. Other notable additions to the roster include Lizardman, Edge Master, and Tekken stalwart, Yoshimitsu. The interesting thing about Yoshimitsu is that this is probably the first time you'll ever see him effectively use his weapon. In Tekken he looks more like he's punching with a sword in his hand. Here he really goes for it, slicing and dicing with his sword, although some of his throw moves are the same. Edge Master is essentially like the final boss, Inferno, in that he uses a different weapon and move set every time, making your knowledge of each warrior's arsenal important. He's also fast as hell, making him an extremely dangerous opponent. Also improved from the original arcade release is something Namco's designers wanted to implement, but couldn't, due to the System-12's hardware limitations: improved character motions and an increased number of moves. While this may throw off some gamers used to the arcade version, it quickly becomes apparent that these changes are subtle, keeping the original gameplay intact, while enriching the experience.
What most gamers curious about Soul Calibur will want to know are what sort of exclusive features are included. Namco, after all, is known for its superlative home conversions, adding awesome modes and numerous other features, which vastly increases the replay value of the usually short arcade experience. Aside from the usual arcade mode, there are versus, team battle, time attack, survival, extra survival, practice, Internet, mission battle, and museum modes. While the majority of these modes are by now considered staples in the fighting game genre, the mission and museum modes that will pique most people's interest. Like the Edge Master mode in Soul Blade (the PlayStation version of Soul Edge), mission battle tests your all-around skill in a variety of settings. You execute the fundamental moves (throws, guard cancels, etc.) against the Edge Master, who acts as your tutor, or fight against numerous opponents. Unlike Soul Blade, which rewarded you with a wide assortment of weapons with practically every task completed, the mission battle mode instead rewards you with points. These points can then be "cashed in" at the museum. The museum mode features an extensive art gallery filled with black-and-white drawings, anime-style artwork, and CG renders. To unlock all the artwork, you will be playing for a very long time indeed. "Buy" enough of these pictures and you'll unlock all kinds of things, including new character outfits, new stages, a character-profile option, and a lot more. The character-profile option lets you view the characters in any of their costumes, from almost any angle, while checking out the stats on their weapons, their history, and their stage. You can also listen to their voice samples while watching the characters faces lip-sync, as well as view their endings. Very, very cool stuff. Another point of interest is how well the Dreamcast controller would emulate the arcade control. The answer is: incredibly well. Considering the DC pad has roughly the same layout as the PlayStation controller, which is what the Soul Edge/Calibur button layout is based on, it's hard to imagine anyone having problems with this setup. You can use either the analog pad or the digital pad. The D-pad seems to work a little better since the game relies on precise inputs, making the analog pad seem a little too loose for this game. However, some may find it preferable, so, thankfully it is an option. Response times are right on the money, with sole character Maxi seemingly a problem. The difficulty in using Maxi (the nunchaku expert) is that his motion-capture sequences often continue without your deliberate input, making him a tricky character to control. This is a game-design issue, rather than a controller issue, so once you master Maxi, anticipating his quirks will most likely be compensated for. Team-battle mode allows you to choose anywhere from one to eight characters, for a possible eight-on-eight melee (King of Fighters style). Internet mode, unfortunately, does not permit you to play your friends online, but instead forwards you to a Soul Calibur web page where you can view more gallery-style images and whatnot.
With all this technological wonder going on, you might wonder if there are any quibbles at large. Not really. Perhaps the only areas of the game that are mildly disappointing are the endings, which consist of some text and a couple of black-and-white drawings. This, however, is more of a wish than a detriment, and doesn't take away from the game at all. An extensive weapons collection, like the one in Soul Edge, would have been nice, but perhaps there's one buried deep in the many layers of this game. As it is, this is truly a flawless game. In years past, Namco has built a bulletproof reputation for delivering arcade-perfect conversions of their already excellent arcade games into your home, with a gaggle of consumer-exclusive features that made you want to cry out of happiness. In the case of Soul Calibur, Sega should be crying tears of joy. Namco has amply displayed exactly how conversions of this nature should be done. This time, however, the "house that Pac-Man built" has done even better. This time around it has taken the best 3D fighter out of the arcades, given it a major facelift, and reshaped it until it was light years beyond the original, both graphically and in terms of value, and then brought it home for under 50 bucks. And the company has made only scant changes to bring the game to the states. The voices in the US version are indeed the same as in the Japanese version, but now there is an option to turn on English subtitles; one of Voldo's outfits has had its crotch spikes removed; and the Internet mode is gone. So Soul Calibur has reached US shores virtually unscathed, keeping it the game that will show the world how powerful the Dreamcast really is. Kicking out an unprecedented number of special effects at an unassailable 60fps, all in mega-high resolution, with supercharged gameplay nailing it all down, the only way this game will look any better is to play it using Sega's PC monitor-compatible VGA box. If you have one of those, the game is on a completely different visual level than anything else out there. While it may seem bandwagon-esque to say this game is worthy of a perfect score, it really isn't much of a stretch to say it is. Yes, it is a fighting game, a genre with a fairly limited scope, but insofar as fighting games go, Soul Calibur is mind-numbing perfection. Namco has taken the best and made it considerably better. The level at which the company has done so is practically unprecedented. Think state of the art. Absolutely brilliant in all aspects, as far as games of this type go, Soul Calibur is the undisputed king of the hill. It is essential in any gamer's collection.
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