My favourite fighting series of all time is Soulcalibur, with Soulcalibur II on Gamecube being the highlight as you can be Link! What I didn’t realize was that before Soulcalibur was actually a sequel to Soul Edge – an arcade and Playstation weapon-based fighting game. I recently sat down for an afternoon with the game and thought it would be fun to review given how much I have enjoyed previous entries into the series.
In terms of story, the game takes place in 1584 and follows a number of warriors on their journey to find Soul Edge – the ultimate sword! The only thing known about the sword is that it brings misfortune to whomever holds it – but that does not sway the warriors from searching it out. I was actually quite surprised that a game from the PSX era actually had a robust and engaging story for each of the ten playable characters, accessed through the Edge Master Mode (to be discussed in more detail later). It was groundbreaking for the fighting genre as many games prior to this spent little outlining narratives for their playable characters apart from some background in the manual.
The game itself is a 2D/3D weapon-based fighting game, and the the roaster of characters is awesome! Many of my favourites from Soulcalibur were actually original members of game series including Seung Mina and Mitsurugi!
The actual fighting has many resemblances to the Soulcalibur series although is not as refined as later games. Each player has horizontal and vertical attacks, alongside kick attacks, and guards. Different combination of gamepad directions and attack buttons leads to the execution of different moves like slashes, throws, and unblockable power moves! Unblockable moves might seem overpowered, but they take time to execute so are quite balanced. The guard button also provides great opportunities to blocks enemy attacks and counter-attack – but again, is well balanced as using the guard button too often will cause your fighter to drop their weapon and rely on their fists for the rest of the match – NEVER BRING FISTS TO A SWORD FIGHT! I really liked this feature and am a bit sad that it never made it into further entries into the series.
While the game is still fun to play, the “feel” of the characters and how they move were less satisfactory and they feel stiff and at times odd. When players jump, their avatars jump over 100% of their height which both feels and looks strange. Dodging into or away from the background doesn’t feel too responsive either. I was also a bit disappointed about smashing your opponents while they were already laying on the ground. While it is realistic, I had too many battles where my computer-controlled opponents pummelled me before I even had a chance to get up off the floor – it felt a bit unfair.
The game offers a couple different types of modes – some of which were really groundbreaking for the time! Arcade mode allows players to face-off against 10 opponents sequentially, eventually battling Soul Edge as the final boss! The Edge Master Mode is where this game really pushed the fighting genre into a story-driven experience. In this mode, players select their characters and take them through a series of unique battles found on a world map. Each battle has different modifies (e.g., defeat the enemy in 30 seconds, defeat the enemy with only kicks, defeat the enemy by ring knock-out,et cetera) that make them different from a regular 1 vs 1 battle. Following each battle, players are treated with some story that flesh out the character and their motivations for wanting Soul Edge. New weapons are also introduced for each character that have unique looks and different stats that have actual impact on gameplay! Players are finally rewarded with a unique ending for each character they complete the game with.
I was really impressed with this mode. I don’t think there was a deeper story-driven fighting game prior to this game. While the stories were simple, they were fun and fleshed out the characters nicely!
In terms of graphics, the game looks pretty plain by todays standards but still has a certain charm. The battle special effects looked good. A couple of the arenas were also recognizable from later entries in the series, which was fun to discover. The character designs were great although I feel the limitations of the console really effected how well the developers were able to execute their true vision for the characters. The music of the game was good but not great, but the sound effects and voices were fantastic. I loved the clanging of weapons as it really helped me feel like these characters were battling with steel! Each character is also voiced, which I felt further contributed to fleshing out these characters throughout the story mode.
In summary, this is a 2D/3D PSX fighting game that while still fun, is more of a game of historic importance than a must-play PSX game. This game made huge contributions to moving fighting games forward as a story-driven experience, but the gameplay has not aged well. This is not a must-play game, but for hardcore Soulcalibur fans, its great to see where the series originated from. I give this game a final score of 7/10, but with the historic video game tag!
Final Score: 7/10