It’s been roughly six years since Soulcalibur V came and went. It was a title with a surprising lack of fanfare considering the prestige of the legendary fighting game series it belongs to, with a somewhat middling reception due to its unpopular roster and lack of extra features. Luckily, with Soulcalibur VI it feels as though the franchise has made something of a comeback. Naturally the game has the possibility to attract many new players to the series, such as myself, and because of this I will attempt to document my experiences as a beginner.
As it goes with the genre, climbing the ranks of the online arena will likely take a great deal of practice. You must figure out the neutral game, learn your character’s combos, figure out how to utilize the particular offensive and defensive mechanics, and internalize how to read your opponent. This is easily said, but not so easily done, and the nature of Soulcalibur as a 3D fighter makes the neutral game very complex. Unlike anime fighters (think Dragon Ball FighterZ or Blazblue) hundred hit combos aren’t the focus. Instead, because you are able to move in 8 directions, the emphasis is on movement and the ability to weave around enemy attacks. For instance, horizontal strikes can be dodged by crouching, vertical attacks can be avoided with sidesteps, and there is a great deal of focus on counter hits and predicting your opponents strikes to open them up to damaging punishes.
To be honest, the combination of defensive and offensive options in neutral is the most overwhelming aspect of the game, as each character has access to a large number of normal attacks which have applications in a wide variety of situations. The fact that every enemy has a huge number of different moves can sometimes make defensive decisions hard at first as well. Luckily, this is at least partially mitigated by the fact that Soulcalibur VI is a very intuitive game. It is a three button fighter, and the multitude of moves maps to the controller in a way that is easy to grasp. There is a button for vertical attacks, a button for horizontal attacks, and a button for kicks, and by combining these with any of the five movement directions you get the vast majority of the normals. After you’ve memorized what the moves look like, it’s fairly easy to intuit what move will come out when you combine one of the primary attack buttons with a direction (if I combine some downward motion with a horizontal attack, I can probably expect some sort of downward horizontal strike). There’s more than just these moves of course, but many of the other attacks are fairly universal inputs, such as pressing the horizontal and vertical attack buttons at once, or double pressing in a direction and then hitting a button. There are no complex input moves like half-circles, or dragon punch motions, making things very controller pad friendly, and while I would argue that the movement feels a little better on a stick than on a d-pad, the inputs were clearly designed with controllers in mind.
While there are a great deal of underlying mechanics at your disposal, these are similarly intuitive. There are defensive systems, such as a parry called Guard Impact, and an anti-spam block called Reversal Edge, but these moves are trumped by attacks that are triggered through pressing the horizontal and vertical attacks at once. Additionally there is meter, a resource which builds up as you beat on your opponent and can be used to triggered Critical Edges (supers), and can also be used to trigger a temporary powered-up state which improves damage and unlocks new moves. These systems all expand on the typical rock-papers-scissors relationship between attacking, blocking, and grabbing that exists in the genre, but since the inputs for all of these systems are very straight forward, it puts more emphasis on mind games than laboriously practicing execution.
With less of a focus on combos, and more of an emphasis on neutral game and reading your opponent, the best way to improve is through online matches. Online matchmaking is divided into ranked and unranked modes. Unranked allows you to join or create a room with customized rules to fight other opponents. Since you can create a room with just one other spot and play against whoever joins as many times as you want, this makes it easy to grind out practice matches. Thankfully my experience with connecting to other players has been nothing short of fantastic. With around 20 MB/s down in the Eastern US, I haven’t had any problems finding unranked matches and I’ve experienced very little latency. While it’s obviously impossible to generalize the quality of the net code from personal experience, my own has been quite good thus far.
While in general I believe that the latest Soulcalibur is a beginner friendly fighting game, its lack of good character specific tutorials is a fairly large disappointment. While there are a few text entries that give some character specific tips, the lack of interactive instructional content geared towards teaching how to best utilize the cast makes learning a new character more difficult than it needs to be. Similarly, although the training mode is generally robust, allowing you to record enemy attacks, and setup certain situations to practice, its lack of frame data feels like a notable omission. The lack of this information is important because frame data reveals the length of time it takes for an attack to come out, as well as how long you are vulnerable afterwards, data that is somewhat essential to understanding the potency of your quicker attacks, how safe moves are on block, and more general information.
The good news is that the general tutorial for the game’s mechanics is solid, and does a good job of explaining the layers of mechanics and how they interact. And if you’re uninterested in the grind of trying to perfect your play and just want some light fun, the single player modes are surprisingly robust. There is the Libra of Soul mode, a quest in which you create your own character, and complete a lengthy set of story missions in which you must help end the destruction caused by the Soul Edge. Running in parallel to this is the Soul Chronicle, another mode in which you play through the backstories of every member of the cast. Even these modes are beginner friendly, as the game is set during the events of the first Soulcalibur, functioning as a series reboot. The single player modes offer a good way to get acclimated with the various mechanics, as different mission objectives encourage experimentation with different fight styles through damage boosts and boons.
While it is undeniable that Soulcalibur VI is a complex game (it is a fighting game after all), its straightforward systems, clearly defined mechanics, and intuitive play make it a great entry point into the franchise. Namco Bandai has followed the trend set by many of its contemporaries, introducing concepts like autocombos and a controller oriented control scheme to ensure that the game’s audience can be as wide as possible. And luckily none of this decreases its prospects as a serious competitive game, with clearly defined counters to autocombos, and an absurd degree of nuance in the neutral game due to the sheer number of normals combined with its nature as a 3D fighter. 2018 has been an excellent year for fighting games, and Soulcalibur VI caps off that trend with a visually impressive, and fully featured genre entry that is deep while also being immediately engaging.