Though Dead or Alive may still hold the crown as our favourite beat 'em up from back when we were little(er), it was probably Soul Calibur on the Dreamcast that came closest to stealing the title for itself. As one of those "weirdos" who's not all that taken with playing fighting games against other people competitively, Soul Calibur held a unique appeal thanks to its beefy story mode, which saw you completing various battle-based missions around a map, collecting artwork cards as you kicked, slashed and jiggled your way forward. It was much more extensive a single player mode than we'd ever seen in a fighting game before, and was something we've long wanted to see revived. Thankfully, it seems someone at Bandai Namco has been listening, as the latest instalment on the stage of history, Soul Calibur VI, comes bosting a stonking great story mode, along with a whole bunch of added bells and whistles to boot.
In fact, it kind of comes boasting two. Libra of Soul and Soul Chronicle are Soul Calibur VI's dual story modes, although instead of telling two different stories, it covers the same tale, but from two different perspectives. A sort of retelling of the story of the original Soul Calibur game, the plot here follows two fated blades, named Soul Edge and Soul Calibur. Soul Edge soon fell into the hands of some ghostly pirate bad guy by the name of Cervantes, who split the blade in half, shattering part of it in the process. Fast forward a few years, and the now-incomplete blade has found its way into the hands of Siegfried, corrupting his soul and releasing a pillar of light known as the 'Evil Seed' in the process - a light which created a rift in space and time, and began to corrupt anyone who came in contact with it. With its effects now being felt across the land, the whole cast of Soul Calibur VI have their own parts to play in its tale, as does a currently unknown hero...
The main attraction (at least for us) in Soul Calibur VI is the Libra of Soul story mode - a fully-fledged quest with a bit of a difference. This time around, you're playing as your own custom-created character, who's in a bit of a pickle thanks to the old Evil Seed thing. Unfortunately, you've been infected by the darkness too, but due to being a #strongindependentwoman (or man), it hasn't driven you crazy… yet. Gradually sapping away at your life force, your only hope of survival is to hop around most of Europe and Asia in search of the mysterious astral fissures, whose great power can counteract your death. Or something like that anyway, as it's your usual somewhat confusing and convoluted plot that can be a little hard to follow at times - although that isn't to say the gameplay isn't worth your time.
If anything, Libra of Soul is the best bit of Soul Calibur VI, giving some semblance of reason to the umpteen fights you'll get into along the way. And of course, there are plenty of them, often with different stipulations and alternative rules to mix things up a bit, such as having only kicks do damage, giving your opponents extra health, or making the floor of the arena slippery. As you go, your created character will level up, gaining more health and power, and you'll be able to buy and equip better and better weapons too. There's even side quests to complete, giving it even more of a role-playing game feel.
From time to time you'll also be faced with a critical decision to make - one that will alter the path of the story, from good to evil or vice versa. Turns out the titular 'Libra of Souls' is essentially a magical set of scales, which reflects your character's current alignment, based on the various decisions you've made along the way, with different missions, endings and story segments unlocked depending on your current allegiances.
But no discussion about Libra of Soul would be complete without a word on Soul Calibur VI's character creator, which is surprisingly in-depth for a fighting game. There's a multitude of races, outfits and accessories to pick from, and almost everything can be tweaked in terms of colours - and in the case of stickers and accessories, shape and position too. You'll also be able to pick your character's weapon/fighting style from a sizeable list, all with their own unique strengths, weaknesses and play styles, although your choice will effectively turns your custom character into a clone of the existing Soul Calibur character who wields said weapon. So, for example, if you chose the sword and shield, your character will play much like Sophitia; likewise, using a snake sword turns you into a mirror of Ivy; or dual katars for a Voldo-alike (as if anyone would want to be like that creepster though…). It's a bit unfortunate that you can't tweak their moves a bit more, but on the upside, it does give you a head start if you have a particular character you really like.
Even better is the ability to share your creations online, and download other Soul Calibur players' creations. As is always the way when you let the community loose on things, there's a huge range of characters available, from the incredibly impressive, to the stupidly funny. However, while the created characters are arguably one of the best parts of the game, how you go about actually downloading them really isn't. For starters, the ability to browse community creations is hidden away in a tab somewhat illogically labelled 'Customize', which appears to be totally blank, until you click on one of the empty slots. Only then are you privy to all the kooky characters people have made, and even then, there's no menu or list - instead, you have to scroll through them one by slow one with L1 and R1, waiting ages for the next to load - and woe betide those who decide to download one along the way, as they'll have to start from the beginning of the list again. It's clumsy and clunky, and something that does put quite a downer on what is probably one of the funniest parts of the game.
The other story mode, Soul Chronicle, essentially runs in parallel to your created character's quest, letting you see the story from the side of the Soul Calibur cast instead - many of which you'll meet during the course of the Libra of Soul story. Much more linear, heavier on the cutscenes and story segments and lighter on the battles, the Soul Chronicle takes you on a fairly short run through the part each character plays in the tale, often giving you some background into your favourite characters at the same time. It's not quite as in depth as the Libra of Soul, but it's a nice addition that helps flesh out some of the segments a bit more.
Apart from the dual story modes of the Libra of Soul and Soul Chronicle, Soul Calibur VI has your fairly standard smattering of fighting game modes on offer - training, online battles, and an arcade mode that sees you taking the character of your choice on a back-to-back brawl through a number of opponents. Both online and offline, in local multiplayer, your only real options are standard versus fights, which is a little disappointing - the ability to go through the arcade mode in two player, or as a tag team is something that's always great fun in fighting games, and one that would have been a nice addition to Soul Calibur VI. As it stands, its multiplayer offerings are a little lacklustre.
All in all though, Soul Calibur VI is great fun, especially when it comes to the character creator and the extensive Libra of Souls story mode. A bit more variation for multiplayer would have been nice, but you can still have a blast showing off all your dodgy creations to each other. And, if you look online, there's plenty of dodgy creations to be found, from a muscle-bound Pikachu, to a horrific Marge Simpson to a Sanic rendition of Sonic, with added nipples - all of which you can download and add to your game, if you fancy adding a bit of nightmare fuel to your brawls.
If you're looking for a silly, over-the-top fighting game, then it's hard to go wrong with Soul Calibur VI, whose single player story modes should keep you occupied for a good while - while the character creator is a good source of laughs too.