Best Games - Soulcalibur
Sure, it doesn’t have the banger of an intro cinematic that kicked off the previous game, Soul Edge, but Soulcalibur is an absolute masterpiece. Soulcalibur did more to elevate the fighting genre than any other game of it’s time.
In a year that also saw the release of Super Smash Bros., Street Fighter 3: third strike, and Marvel Super Heroes Vs. Street Fighter, Soulcalibur stands apart. You see, fighting games are way too hard to play. I love them, but they are absolutely impenetrable to new players. I love that they are complex, and rich with nuance. I love that fighting games are very free-form and fluid. No matter how many times you have played a fighting game you can always work out new techniques and timings. Everything that I love about the genre makes them terrible for people new to them.
Of course difficulty in games is nothing new and a certain amount of learning is expected every time you play an unfamiliar game. The main problem is that most fighting games are absolutely obnoxious in their refusal to teach you anything at all about how to play them. Of the other major fighting series I mentioned up there, only Super Smash Bros. makes an attempt. Poorly.
Soulcalibur started as an arcade game. Simple, straight forward, 1 on 1 combat designed to eat quarters. When it made its way home as a North American launch title on the Sega Dreamcast, the developers could easily have left it at that. Basic 1 on 1 fighting, and maybe a tournament mode or something.
Instead, they added Mission mode. A massive sprawling story based around different types of fights with different rules and requirements. It would be easy to think that this was just a way to extend the playtime of a basic fighting game, but Mission mode does something fighting games just don’t do. It teaches you how to play the game. Not in a tutorial “hit this button now” kind of way, but in a deep many hours of practice kind of way. You won’t be able to mash your way through all of the fights and you will have to use different techniques and characters to pass the challenges. It’s fun, it’s engaging, and you won’t realize how much better you are getting at it until you play against another person and chain together some massive combo, or sidestep a potentially devastating blow. This is a fighting game that makes you better at it while you are playing it. Truly a rare bird.
I can set aside how I was obsessed with the Kilik kata animation before the game even came out and how I must have watched it a thousand times since. I can set aside how I played it on the Dreamcast until my thumb hurt and I burnt out a VMU while playing it. No, I’ll go with this; Soulcalibur is a fighting game that makes you better at playing it while you play it, and for that it will always be one of the best games.