A tale of soul and sword
The series that has pretty much dominated the weapons based beat-em-up genre since its inception is back for another battle, Soul Calibur 3 is the latest slice of the series which including its original PS1 incarnation as Soul Blade is now on its fourth home release, actually the only place you can catch the title is on home console as there is no arcade counterpart this time around.
The fact that this is a home only release would immediately suggest that Namco have concentrated on the character development and quasi-rpg parts found bolted onto prior console releases and this to a large extent is true.
The combat system remains virtually untouched though so the question being asked is - is there is enough new content to make SC3 a worthy entry in the series?
In part this is due to the old logic "If it ain't broke, don't fix it". The simple but effective kick, block and two strike buttons system is in place and works as well as ever, these basic commands combined with direction presses create a diverse range of moves and combos per character as well as allowing for varied fighting styles across the range of combatants and the games second star cast - the range of weapons on display. The fluid ducking and diving, throws and unblockables along with the guard impact sytem all return faithfully too.
So, returning fans will be at home right away while newcomers get the same easy to get into but difficult to master system that has been present in the series and pretty much unchanged from the start.
The usual suspects have been rounded up again and some welcome newcomers added, in a good move Namco have gone for the more exotic and custom weaponry with a couple of these newbies, Tira comes packing spinning metal discs which spin about her body and tear into her opponents in a style similar to Voldos but with tonnes more flair and class while Setsuka comes out wielding an innocent looking umbrella which of course conceals a more offensive device which in this case in an Iai blade and is unbelievably fast.
Taking note from their Tekken series Namco have ironed out some of the overlaps in the cast of SC3, gamers may remember that Namco used to defy common sense by thinking that it was clever to make new characters who were essentially clones of existing ones but give them a different name and backstory and expect that nobody would notice, thankfully this has been ironed out as I say and now every fighter is different enough to be a worth having there.
The series has been long applauded for putting a lot of top drawer eye candy on the screen and it would have been foolish for Namco to drop off in this area, thankfully they haven't and the characters their weapons and their moves are all displayed in jaw dropping quality as always, because there is not a great leap forward since SC2 however the visuals do feel a bit recycled at times but as I say if it ain't broke don't fix it, regrettably many of the victory poses and animations have been copied verbatim into the game which adds to the recycled feel.
As usual the weapons are given light trails and flashy hit effects particularly for the more powerful moves, this does add to the games visual punch and goes to back to the original PS1 days and while not that graphically different from in Soul Calibur 2 is still a welcome feature, but still it kind of sticks out as something which could as least do with a bit of a change from release to release.
The backgrounds upon which the bouts take place are crammed with detail, gorgeous animated backdrops are the norm and the way they have been rendered is great, objects that are meant to be made of material will flow and behave like the materials they are meant to represent very accurately.
As with the graphics the musical score is par for the course in a Soul Calibur game, the dramatic orchestral score returns for another outing and so do the weapon sound effects although they do sound very standard now after so many previous uses and so the 'recycling' can be felt here too
Some of the moves and their accompanying sounds come across like they should really hurt but somehow the action still seems a bit cartoony rather than outright brutal.
The 'Tales of souls' mode is where players will find the way to play through each characters storyline, this has been shook up a bit in SC3 though with the addition on branching paths and interactive cutscenes in place to determine the exact journey of each fighter, basically your skill at winning consistently and cutscene button presses ultimately determine which boss character you will face and how the story ends.
There is also a 'Quick Play' mode which would have probably been called arcade mode if an arcade version of the game existed, this is the straight forward slog through a series of progressively harder opponents affair common to just about every beat em up ever released, if you want to do away with all the story and cutscenes and just fight then this is where you'll get your kicks (and slashes).
The semi-rpg bolt on has returned as the 'Chronicles of the sword' mode. This time around players get to create their own fighter to play as and as you'd expect the fighter can be customised as you wish, the custom fighter can be restyled at will in all areas except for their gender and their class which are permanent choices, as you make progression through the Chronicles mode you will be able to buy more accessories for your fighter.
The character customisation seems a bit limited though, you can't really go to town and tweak each aspect of your fighters move set and the ommision of online play takes away what would have otherwise been the main point of creating and training your own fighter, that being the ability to take your fighter into the arena against other peoples creations but unfortunately you can't, if there is something that should definitely be thought about for SC4 then its online play.
Soul Calibur 3, while the best entry in the series to date is not a massive leap forward over Soul Calibur 2. As is almost mandatory for a beat-em-up sequel they have of course added new characters and moves but the way how the game looks and plays almost exactly like its predecessors takes away from its punch a bit, if you loved Soul Calibur before you will still love it now, if you disliked it before you probably still will. The overall logic behind SC3s release seems to me to have been "If it aint broke, don't fix it" as I metioned earlier.
The revamped RPG section in the form of Chronicles of the Sword is better than it was before as you can make your own fighter but if you've played other titles where you can really go to town on customising your player you may find SC3s setup a little restrictive.