It’s been a hearty ten years since the original release of Soul Calibur II back on the PS2, Xbox and GameCube. Often regarded as one of the best entries in the series by the fans, it’s a welcome return to see this game get the HD makeover many games of its generation have been receiving. But how well does this game hold up against the test of time?
The HD treatment for this game was handled extremely well. As opposed to just getting a couple of retouches to help the game look better on HDTVs, a lot of work went into the detail for each character, as well as the game’s environments. The additional detail to everything makes it a lot easier to see various obstacles on-stage (such as the subtle areas between the sand and the bordering stone in certain stages) and utilizing it to your advantage during matches.
What’s nice about this version, in particular, is the return of two exclusive characters: Heihachi (from Tekken), the PS2-exclusive character, and Spawn, the Xbox-only fighter. Notably missing is Link, but considering the re-release only appears on the PS3 and 360, his absence makes sense.
Controls are still incredibly easy to pick up and with arcade fight sticks being easily available for both systems, it’s even easier to recreate the arcade experience from home. The 8-way run the game is famous for is still as smooth as ever, as well as the simplicity of commands making this one of the easier games for beginners to get into and acquaint themselves with 3D fighters.
This game, however, is a port of the home versions. So unlike a lot of fighters today, this game does not have every character unlocked. Unlocking the eight additional characters requires you to play through the game’s Weapon Master mode, which is the main draw of the game. Similar to the first Soul Calibur’s Mission mode, the game presents you with varying tasks in order to complete the stage to move on. One of the bigger draws of this mode was the introduction of various weapons for each character, each with their own attributes that help you turn the tide on the battle, as well as sporting unique designs. Playing through Weapon Master also unlocks additional variations of the game’s default Survival, Time Attack, Versus and Team Battle modes. More likely than not, the bulk of your experience (or revisiting) will be spent here, as all the characters unlocked here can be used online.
The biggest draw of this re-release, and the portion you’ve probably been waiting to read in this review, is the online component. While later Soul Calibur games (and many fighters today for that matter) have lobby systems to check for an opponent’s connection, as well as being able to reject an opponent should they have a terrible connection, it’s something that’s oddly lacking in this game. Even if you want the game to search for five-bar quality matches, it’s no guarantee that the match will even run smoothly. A lot of the losses I received playing came from horrendous input lag due to weak connections, despite asking the game to search for four or five-bar matches. After some time, I figured it wasn’t worth the frustration of running into the same opponent repeating the same cheap move over and over again because I couldn’t say no to fighting him from the start. Hopefully a patch comes along to add these missing features, because online play is a hopeless cause without it.
Oddly enough, the game lacks the choice to switch to Japanese voices, a feature that was available in the original release of the game. While it’s just a preference issue to some, since a lot of fighters having awkward English voiceovers, the omission of the features is something worth noting. To add to the awkwardness, Heihachi received an English voiceover for Soul Calibur II, but only speaks Japanese in the Tekken series. Not being able to access his natural language just makes it a little weird.
Despite the online issues, Soul Calibur II HD Online is definitely worth re-visiting, or even introducing to a generation of gamers that might have missed the original release. Fixing a lot of the awkward mechanics and highlighting the things that made the first game great, it’s easy to see why this game is often regarded as one of the series’ best. The game features a ton of modes to challenge yourself and test your abilities and see if you’ve gotten rusty since 2003. Until the online gets fixed, experiencing the features of the original release will definitely hold you over, and help see why it kept gamers busy for so long.
Pros: HD graphics done right, ton of challenging modes, great for beginners
Cons: Poor online, no Japanese voice option, no Link