Welcome to fighting game nirvana.
As the fighting game genre plows forward, it continues to evolve, adding layers upon layers to the old arcade experiences that we all once loved. But no game has combined all those layers quite as brilliantly as Soulcalibur 6.
The latest-swashbuckling fighter from Namco Bandai skillfully blends the precision that's long defined the franchise with elegance and accessibility. It does it all while also being as visually arresting as any fighting game we've seen, filled with solid details and a cohesive look. Menus are easy to navigate, and the entire experience is intuitive and fluid.
You've seen pieces of what Soulcalibur 6 does before, but never with these levels of immersion. The excellent Injustice franchise told a terrific story and added some character customization depth, but Soulcalibur 6's story mode, Libra of Souls, does more.
Backed by a potent score (yes, we're talking about music in a video game), it manages to feel like some sort of RPG quest, a fighting-game-version of Baldur's Gate, loaded with NPCs and side quests. You're always settling things in one-on-one bouts with your weapons, of course, but even that feels distinct, with several fights featuring unique conditions for victory.
Need more RPG ideas? Eat before a battle to get special bonuses. Or there's one of Libra of Souls' cooler ideas: you can "hire" a fighter from a guild to start a battle for you, either beating or weakening an opponent for you. If you're struggling in most fighting game story modes, you just drop the difficulty; here, you have a more interesting option.
The lone shortcoming of the mode is that it's text-heavy; all of Soulcalibur 6 is, in fact, so following the story involves plenty of reading. That's especially true if you know Soulcalibur well and you start using levels to your advantage, knocking your opponents out of the ring for quick victories. You're then left to read; as solid as the story was, I began drifting away after just a few quick fights.
Still, the pageantry of Libra of Souls gives Soulcalibur 6 a unique framework. It's bolstered by a second story mode that's more akin to what you've seen in fighting games, Soul Chronicle, and by plenty of other goodies. Forget character customization; Soulcalibur 6 also includes an truly robust character creator that lets you customize everything from appearance to fighting style.
And then there's the gameplay. Soulcalibur has long been both a tremendously simple fighter and one overflowing with challenge. That continues here, and combat feels excellent. Battles are fast-paced but slightly slower than Tekken, allowing you chances to study and evaluate the opposition.
Still, Soulcalibur takes awhile to learn, especially at the highest levels; the use of weapons can be tricky, and if you're not familiar with the franchise, you could face an uphill battle. The library of characters is deep and includes a few unique presences, such as Geralt from Witcher fame.
Soulcalibur 6 understands the challenge of learning fighting games, though, especially in today's online climate, and it works hard to make that learning curve as light as possible. TO that end, in addition to move and command lists, each fighter comes with a general guide that explains the various ways the character can be played; think of it as a strategy guide built right into the game. Yes, this involves still more reading, and then plenty of practice, but it better prepares you for online matchups, giving you a basic idea of Soulcalibur strategy.
You're then better prepared for Soulcalibur's online lobbies, which are easy to use and terrifically stable. Like most fighting games, you can lose hours in cyberspace battling it out.
What's unique about Soulcalibur 6, though, is that you don't have to do that: There's plenty of addictive fun to be had without ever going online. Whether you're taking your battling to the lobbies, or playing alone, you'll spend plenty of time with this fighter.
5 out of 5 stars
Reviewed on Sony PlayStation 4
Available on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC
* PlayStation 4
This article is written by Ebenezer Samuel from New York Daily News and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.