Tuesday, December 28, 2010

SoulCalibur II

What's the best Zelda cameo in a video game? Super Smash Bros? Melee? Brawl? Most people probably will pick a game from the Super Smash Bros series to answer this question. And while they're not wrong, there's another great game you should consider when it comes to Zelda cameos: SoulCalibur II for the Nintendo Gamecube. Each version of the game had it's own big cameo, the XBox Version had Spawn, the PS2 version some guy from Tekken and the Gamecube version none other than Link from the The Legend of Zelda series. I guess for a lot of Zelda fans including myself Link's appearance was the main reason to get this game. And I love it.

For those of you, who are not familiar with the SoulCalibur series, it's a fighting game, which heavily utilizes different melee weapons like swords. Unlike in most fighting games, you can move around freely in the environment, while you face the enemy. You can strike horizontally and you can strike vertically, with lots of different combos and variations of course. You can kick, you can guard and you can press multiple buttons at once for different actions. For example pressing attack and guard near the enemy at the same time results in a throw. There are quite some "paper, rock, scissors" dynamics between all those actions. Moving around your enemy usually dodges vertical strikes, while horizontal strikes are effective against those dodges and vertical strikes beat horizontal ones. There is also the "Soul Charge", that powers up your offense or defense, but leaves you vulnerable while you're charging. It's overall quite simple and you don't need any complicated combos to win, but that's what makes the game so fun.

SoulCalibur II offers familiar fighting game types like Arcade, Time Attack, Survival, Team Battle and Practice, but there's also the amazing Weapon Master mode. It's an adventure mode, divided in different chapters, where each chapter covers an area of the map. Those chapters/areas include multiple missions, which have their own story and rules. These fights are much richer in variety than in the default gametypes. You may fight against the clock, your health might be draining or the enemy regenerating. The arena might be trapped with mines or caged or there might be special rules like increased knock back. Or some enemies can only be beaten by using special techniques and so on. But not only that it offers more variety than playing the normal game types, it's also much more rewarding. The Weapon Master mode is where you unlock new characters, arenas, costumes and weapons, as well as some galleries, videos and extra gametypes, which are like the default gametypes with the difference that you're allowed to use the unlocked weapons. Character, additional arenas and the extra modes are unlocked by beating individual missions, all other stuff can be bought in the shops. Each chapter has its own shop with different weapons, costumes and maybe other extras like videos. You receive gold for every fight, even if you fail, and it's not hard to culmulate all the necessary money to buy everything. But some weapons and costumes can also be won in some missions to save some money. Most of the playable characters have a set of ten unlockable weapons, which includes their own version of the disgusting Soul Edge, a legendary blade and a joke weapon. Of course each of the unlockable weapons has its ups and downs, so you have to choose wisely which weapon suits your playing style the most. The Weapon Master mode also has a 2nd Quest, where each mission becomes harder and where you can play two additional chapters with the hardest dungeons.

Talking about dungeons, they are definitely the coolest part of Weapon Master mode. Those are special missions, where you conquer a maze. You start with one room and each room features a fast 1on1 fight. If you beat one room, the neighboring rooms become accessible. The dungeons usually offer some choices where to go next and your goal is to fight your way to the boss room, which finishes the dungeon. But it's always wise to fully explore the dungeons, because there might be hidden weapons. The rooms additionally may have special environments, like an ice floor, quick sand or mines. But the fights are always fast and fair, unlike some later missions in the game, which can get quite frustrating. If you fail to beat a room, you can easily repeat it without any consequences. Only leaving the dungeon is considered to be mission failure. It's a lot of fun to beat the dungeons with Link. You might even joke about how the dungeon experience of Soulcalibur II beats the dungeon experience in modern Zelda games. It actually reminds me of the classic NES Zelda dungeon ways. It heavily focuses on combat and there are multiple ways through the dungeons, while it lacks on puzzles.

I've beaten the entire Weapon Master mode and unlocked everything by only using Link, the secret star of the game. Namco used the Hero of Time for Link's story, which is about a mage who attacked Hyrule and was controlled by the Soul Edge. Link then seeks out to destroy the evil blade. That's basically it, but it suits the game well and it doesn't conflict with the Zelda storylines, even though the game isn't "canon" anyway. Link is quite the exceptional character in this game, in many ways. Well, first of all, he looks a little misplaced. They used the Ocarina of Time art as a base for Link's model, however the other characters have realistic proportions, Link is usually a little smaller than the other characters, while his head is bigger and so on. But you'll get used to it and won't notice this after a while. Also, he's the only character with more than one unlockable alternate costume. However, all his costumes just feature the same familiar tunic in the different colors from Four Swords. Other characters' costumes are far more creative and may let the character look completely different. And Link is the only character to use any other weapons than his melee weapons and even ranged weapons during a fight. He can throw his boomerang or bombs and use his bow to shoot arrows. But I have to say that they're quite inconvinient to use, I usually just rely on a good combination of vertical and horizontal strikes and guarding, like you would with all the other characters. But bombs can be fun if your enemy is on the ground. Link's weapon set is awesome and reminds me how cool blades used to be in Zelda back in the day, today all you get is some Master Sword copy cat. , Well, of course the Master Sword and Hylian Shield are his default weapons, but you can also unlock ten others coming from the N64 Zeldas and the classics. The first one is the Razor Sword from Majora's Mask with shorter reach and lower defense, but higher damage. Then there's the Armos set, which is a really cool idea. Link can also use the Megaton Hammer for heavy damage but short reach. The Cane of Byrna from A Link to the Past heals you during Soul Charge, perfect for missions with low health, but it's weak against other weapons since it's not a real weapon. The Biggoron's Sword offers higher reach and higher damage, which can be really deadly combined with Link's fast stabbing attack, but it also causes some self damage. The Mirror Shield from Ocarina of Time on the other hand causes your enemies to get take some damage when they hurt you. The Magic Sword and Shield set from the NES classics is not only awesome fan service, it also damages through guard. It used to be my favorite weapon before I got the Great Fairy's Sword from Majora's Mask. The latter is Link's legendary weapon, it heals you constantly, offers great range and high damage. It's guard is lower though, but since I'm more the offensive player, it suits my playing style perfectly. I used it in all the later missions of the Weapon Master mode and I love it. And then there's the Bug Catching Net from A Link to the Past as Link's joke weapon. It's obviously not a real weapon and makes funny noises, but every character has a weapon like that. Each of the weapons is well designed and has it's own little story in the Weapon Gallery. (For more information look here.)

Well, expert SoulCalibur players say that Link is low tier, but he's definitely my favorite character in the game. I've beaten the Arcade mode with all characters and Link is the one I'm best with. I can't beat the final missions in the Weapon Master mode with anyone but Link. But I'm bad at this game, I don't know any combos, I rarely kick or use the Soul Charge. I usually don't get the Guard Impact technique working right and I don't use any special attacks like Bombs or Arrows. I would probably suck hard against a skilled SoulCalibur player, but I was never really good at fighting games and I don't like the Gamecube controller, it's very uncomfortable and not suited for a game like this in any way. However, I still could beat the Weapon Master mode and unlock everything with the help of Link and his awesome Great Fairy Sword. But I have to say the game doesn't demand any brutal stuff for unlocking everything. Challenges like beating the Survival mode would have been impossible and extremely frustrating for me.

While there's just Link, his weapons and some Zelda tunes in this game, no Zelda arenas or any other Zelda characters like in Super Smash Bros, it's still an awesome cameo. I could imagine that many copies of this game just were sold because of Link. I know that I got the game just for that, because I wanted it for my Zelda collection. And it's not a bad strategy from Namco, this game might get you interested in the Soul Calibur franchise that way. They even kept the strategy of including big cameos until today, SoulCalibur IV for example features three characters from the Star Wars franchise. But while Star Wars might be more popular than Zelda, I don't think it fits the game so well, Zelda was much more awesome and fitting. Of course the newer Soul Calibur games weren't released for a Nintendo system, so there was no place for a Zelda cameo. But SoulCalibur II definitely shows how a well made Zelda cameo looks like.

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