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Soulcalibur Legends


A tale of souls, swords, and Carpal Tunnel Syndrome...
Namco is no stranger to expanding fighting games into other genres. You only need to look as far as the Tekken series for proof of this. Back in 1998, Namco released the PlayStation version of Tekken 3 and it had a new gameplay mode, called Tekken Force mode. The Tekken Force mode was a shameless clone of games like Final Fight and Streets of Rage, with the main characters being fighters from the Tekken roster. Tekken 4 and Tekken 5 would later build upon Tekken Force, with more intricate gameplay scenarios and a lengthier experience each time. These beat-‘em-up minigames were add-on modes, though, mainly for diversion after long sessions of one-on-one fighting.

With Soulcalibur Legends for the Wii, however, Namco attempts to flesh out a standalone beat-‘em-up from its secondary fighting franchise. The reasoning behind choosing Soulcalibur over Tekken is the use of weapons—- specifically swords-— which the Wiimote should theoretically be able to emulate with little problem. Unfortunately for Namco, however, the repetitive motion of waggling your Wiimote around for a few hours grows dull quickly and the boasted storyline that supposedly explains the time frame between Soul Blade (or Soul Edge, depending on where you live) and Soulcalibur is dull. Playing this game will only make you want Soulcalibur IV, and for Wii owners, that’s not looking like an option.

Gameplay

Quest mode, which is Soulcalibur Legends’ main draw, follows Siegfried and explains his desire for the cursed sword Soul Edge and his interactions with other characters from the series, such as Ivy, Mitsurugi, Taki, and Sophitia. Dialogue is displayed before and after each mission, but there is very little speech in the game at all… so be prepared for lots of reading. The dialogue is weak and the story winds up being a detractor; in fact, after completing a few missions, most players will want to skip the dialogue altogether. The only thing the dialogue screens are good for, arguably, is to rest your aching arms and wrists after flailing them around during the previous mission.

There is a lot of flailing to be had in Soulcalibur Legends. Since the game is a beat-‘em-up, this means that it’s basically you versus an army of enemies that you’ll need to strike down during each stage. In order to swing your sword, you’ll swing your Wiimote like a sword; vertical motions are good for a vertical attack, and horizontal motions make your character swing in a side-to-side swipe. You can also thrust your sword toward your enemies to knock them back or lower their defenses. Combos can also be pulled off by swinging your Wiimote quickly, such as up and down or side to side a few times in a row. The controls are fairly responsive, but after doing the same thing for a couple of hours, you’re just going to be tired—- and not feeling all that fulfilled. There’s simply too much focus on Wiimote waggle and not enough on the actual game itself. In fact, the first walkthrough of the game can be completed in less than five hours.

The onslaught of enemies can be too much for one person to handle, so Namco added the ability to switch between two characters for most stages. Before the mission begins, players can select two characters with which to deal loads of carnage to enemies. Similar to Tekken Tag Tournament, when a character gets low on health, he (or she) can be swapped out for the fresher character. There may also be situations where one character may be better-suited to play as, due to inherent abilities. For example, Siegfried is powerful, but slow… while Sophitia is quicker and can handle more enemies at once with ease. This can add a bit of a strategic element to Soulcalibur Legends, but in most cases, it’s a second life bar for difficult battles and boss encounters.

In order to try and break up the onslaught of waggle and enemies, Namco threw in some traps and puzzles for many of the stages. Traps include cannons, catapults, arrows, and pendulums. In fact, the traps seem like they were pulled from Tecmo’s Deception series. The falling rocks are especially cheap, with little choice of avoiding getting hit in later stages. The stage puzzles generally consist of doors that can only be opened by lighting or extinguishing torches or manipulating statues to face a certain way. None of the puzzles are all that taxing, although the last stage before meeting Barbaros, the final boss, will require a little extra thought to get through.

There’s also a Party mode so that more than one player can take part in the Soulcalibur Legends experience. There are Co-op stages, Competition stages, and Versus stages. Co-op lets two players work together to take down enemies. Competition pits players against each other in terms of getting higher scores or completing the stage faster. Versus stages pit one player against the other in an experience that is closest to a fighting game as you’re going to get here. The Party mode adds a little to the overall package, but can still be fully enjoyed within one rental period.

Graphics

Soulcalibur Legends is by no means an ugly game, but the graphics will not wow you. There isn’t a leap in quality here over Soulcalibur II, and that was released some four years ago. To its credit, Soulcalibur Legends does animate smoothly, maintaining 60 frames per second consistently. Part of the reason for this may be the decision to not flood the screen with enemies, but it works here. The stages are set in varying locales, from castles to snowy mountains to Cervantes’ pirate ship. While the character designs for fighters are solid, the lesser enemy designs are weak and rather bland. The Guardian (boss) characters fare a bit better, although Barbaros looks suspiciously like Ares from God of War.

The camera in this game can also be problematic, especially in lock-on situations. Where there are enemies surrounding your position, or there are cannons or catapults that are damaging your character from a distance, it’s difficult to locate them immediately or to progress over to them in order to destroy them. The lock-on can be turned off, but it’s actually helpful in most situations and shouldn’t have to be deactivated. There also aren’t any camera control options at all, which is a poor design decision for a game like this. A traditional side-scrolling beat-‘em-up might be able to get away without camera control, but it hurts Soulcalibur Legends at inopportune times.

Sound

Soulcalibur Legends, like earlier titles in the series, has a solid soundtrack. There’s a grandiose symphonic quality to be heard on many of the tracks, and fans of the series may even notice some nods to themes from earlier games. It’s a bit surprising not to hear full-on reprises of earlier themes here, but Project Soul should be commended for going with an all-original soundtrack as opposed to recycling existing tracks.

There’s a lot of written dialogue here, as mentioned earlier, but there’s very little voice work. There is some, especially during the missions as opposed to in-between, but in this day and age, games of this ilk should not have to be read like novels. What voice work there is in this game is well done and doesn’t sound forced at all.

The Final Verdict

Soulcalibur Legends is an interesting concept. The game showcases what the Wiimote can do, and, initially, it’s a rush to strike down waves of enemies with sword-like motions, as opposed to just beating on a button… like in Koei’s Dynasty Warriors series. There was also a lot of potential in the story, but it gets dragged down by dialogue that is painful to read. The killer is that the game only lasts about five hours or so on the first playthrough. Sure, you can replay it to unlock new weapons, but there’s really very little incentive beyond that.

It’s not possible to recommend Soulcalibur Legends for a purchase at full price. At the end of the day, the game is a mindless hack-and-slash that has the added (dis)pleasure of being tiring to boot. If this is supposed to be an apology to fans for not developing Soulcalibur IV for the Wii, it’s more of an insult. A rental may be an option, just to check the game out, but this is more for fans of the series or a fairly easy game to beat in a weekend.

Here’s a better idea, though: Find a cheap used copy of Soulcalibur II for the Gamecube and play that on the Wii. It’s the fighting game that you expect Soulcalibur to be, it’s a deeper game, and hey… it’s got Link.