It isn’t without some missteps, but this enhanced version of Soulcalibur II is worth replaying thanks to the inclusion of some inviting new features.
Soulcalibur II remains as one of the best three-dimensional fighting games thanks to its accessibility, fantastic-looking visuals, colorful roster of characters and hard-to-master gameplay. Originally released for the PlayStation 2, GameCube and Xbox, Bandai Namco’s fighting game received a high-definition update that features more than just a visual upgrade. It isn’t without some missteps, but this enhanced version of the classic fighter is worth replaying thanks to the inclusion of some inviting new features.
Let’s start by describing the mode where people will spend the most time. The single-player campaign is called Weapon Master and is eminently satisfying despite using a lot of text to convey the story. In the campaign, you play several missions in the form of challenges and as you progress, you unlock characters, weapons, costumes, stages and other secrets. The best part about the Weapon Master is that it encourages you to approach fights in different ways, so you’ll have to defeat a series of opponents in a quick succession, fight invisible enemies, perform ring outs, do guard impacts or clear a dungeon filled with enemies and so on. Also, a slew of extra modes can be unlocked and while the sheer number can be overwhelming at first, they are just variations of traditional modes. Some of the unlockable weapons have additional abilities (extra damage, life absorption,) but they can only be used in certain modes which makes a lot of sense, since they would make the game unbalanced.
Although I like the Weapon Master Mode, its story is absolutely meaningless and soon after I started playing the game, I lost interest in its plot. Even if I ignored the story, the mode succeeds because it has an arcade mode that players can play by themselves and gives you reasons to approach a series of fights differently and the best part about it is that if at any point you get stuck, you can change characters and try again.
Apart from the original and unclockable extra modes that were included in Soulcalibur II, there’s also an online mode. Unfortunately, this feels like a missed opportunity, since the online portion lacks basic features such as replay mode, invites and tournaments which is probably why there’s not a lot of people playing it. As part of the online mode, you can play ranked matches, player matches and see the online leaderboards and that’s about it. When you do find people online, the game suffers from lag which makes it impossible to pull of some of the more advanced moves, such as parrying.
As most of you know, Soulcalibur II is a three-dimensional fighting game. The control scheme is quite simple to grasp, but as you keep playing, more complex layers are revealed. So you can perform horizontal and vertical strikes, kick your opponent, block, parry (called Guard Break) and momentarily increase the power of your attacks. But that’s merely the beginning, since each of the different characters has its unique set of combos and quirks that you need to learn before you can defeat some of the most powerful opponents out there.
Astaroth, Cervantes, Ivy, Kilik, Maxi, Mitsurugi, Nightmare, Tsung Mina, Sophithia, Taki, Voldo, Xianghua and Yoshimitsu return as playable characters from the first entry. Soulcalibur II introduced four more characters: Cassandra, Raphael, Talim and Yunsung, as well as unlockable character Charade who matches the style of other characters from the series randomly and all of them are available in this version. But that’s not all when it comes to playable characters.
The Soulcalibur series is notorious for including protagonists from other franchises and the second entry was the one that became famous for its guest characters. Soulcalibur II originally came out on three consoles and each version had an exclusive character: the PS2 featured Heichachi from the Tekken series, the Xbox featured Todd McFarlane’s Spawn and the GameCube featured Link from the Legend of Zelda. HD Online features both Heihachi and Spawn, but as you’d expect, Link is nowhere to be found (it’s worth mentioning that this game didn’t come out on the Nintendo Wii.) I don’t think anyone expected a Nintendo character to appear in the Xbox 360 and PS3 versions of the game, but in case you were wondering, it’s not here.
In conclusion, Soulcalibur II HD Online is a terrific update of a classic fighting game. The online mode leaves a lot to be desired, the Weapon Master mode (although well-presented) features a boring story that’s hard to follow and Link is nowhere to be found. But those are minor issues considering that the visual upgrade looks fantastic, the gameplay has definitely stood the test of time, Weapon Master mode will keep you hooked for hours and the roster of characters feels cohesive and complete. Regardless if you played this tale of souls and swords back in the day, Soulcalibur II HD Online gives you an excuse to play it all over again.