"The greatest weapons based fighter ever?"
The fighting genre on home console systems is an interesting one due to the fact that it isn't easy to innovate in a genre which has so many norms that people have come to expect. For instance the most innovation that a game such as Street Fighter 2 has had in its decade existence is new characters, new environments and new fighting modes. If you compare that to other genres then fighting games really have fallen behind in terms of changes. Soul Calibur II is different from most fighting games available at the moment (Tekken, Street Fighter etc) in that it is weapons based and this adds a different element of strategy.
Whereas in most fighting games the story is very shallow for each character, in Soul Calibur II you will encounter detailed stories about the characters past and path through the Weapons Master mode. Soul Calibur II no doubt features the most in depth story telling for a fighting game ever. This increases the replay value ten fold, because instead of all the characters after the World Championship, they all have different objectives they want to complete on their quest.
Soul Calibur II has five main game modes; weapon master, arcade, survival, practice and time attack. Arcade is a direct port from the arcade game where you will be tasked to fight through a number of characters to finish the game and find the famed sword. Arcade includes destined battles in which two characters who have an emotional attachment fight each other, just like in Dead or Alive 3 on the Xbox. You will find that these fights are the toughest to win. In terms of game play, arcade can best be described as the most shallow mode and can be directly compared to games such as Street Fighter II.
Survival pits you against numerous characters until you either defeat around fifty in a row, or succumb to the enemy. After each round, a small amount of health is replenished but the odds are you will eventually be defeated. Practice allows you to perfect your characters special moves (which are actually listed in a menu inside the game, very useful) with a dummy character on the receiving end and time attack is the arcade section against the clock.
The main game is definitely the weapons master mode. This is where all the character storylines are portrayed and various objectives must be completed. Weapons Master is divided into chapters, and in each chapter numerous objectives must be completed to progress. Objectives such as hitting a character twenty times in twenty seconds, defeating an enemy by ring out, and traversing dungeons to find a boss character. As you progress through the quest, more weapons for other characters, new characters and other battle grounds are unlocked. Without this mode Soul Calibur II would be over in little more then an instant. Whilst if you are proficient at fighters, weapons master can be completed fairly quickly, playing it through with each character will take a substantial amount of time. You can also gather gold to buy new weapons and shields for your character.
Soul Calibur II features twenty three playable characters but only a few are available at first. Characters such as Talim, Xianghung and Maxi can be picked off the bat but to unlock others, weapons master mode must be played. The Playstation 2 version of the game features Heihachi from Tekken and to be honest he really doesn't fit in. Unlike the other characters he doesn't feature a traditional weapon such as a sword and he doesn't feature in weapons master mode (unless you play as him). In terms of challenge, Soul Calibur II caters for both new players and veterans. With difficulty levels ranging from easy to extremely hard, you should be able to find a decent challenge without being over powered by the AI.
Soul Calibur II uses a 3D engine and thus can produce various different environments for the characters to fight in. Environments featured include a dungeon, courtyard, underground and library just to name a few. They are heavily detailed and look great but nothing can be destroyed in them, so boxes etc can't be picked up and thrown at each other. Some environments lend themselves to special victory conditions such as ring out, and others become a different challenge in the weapons master mode. Such is the variety in Soul Calibur II.
The control system is quite easy to use. The face buttons on the controller perform tasks such as kick, high hit, horizontal hit and guard. One great thing about the controls is various button combinations can be bound to the shoulder buttons. The action in Soul Calibur II is fast paced and some moves are tough to pull off. The controls are easy to use but will take time to master.
For a Playstation 2 game, Soul Calibur II is very impressive visually. Featuring detailed characters and environments rendered in the aforementioned 3D engine, the game looks quite superb. Possibly the best looking fighter on the system yet. Visual effects such as a guard block are all in tact and the replay system after a fight is featured as well. On the sound side of things Soul Calibur II is fairly impressive with a soundtrack which has many different styles of music. Character voices are in English and the sound effects of weapons etc are great. After each fight characters will smack talk each other but sometimes will be empathetic.
Soul Calibur was one of the most revered games on the Dreamcast and the sequel will probably become one of the most wanted games on the next-gen consoles. With numerous game modes, lots of characters and many things to unlock you will be playing this for quite some time. If you want a weapons based fighting game then this is it, but if you're after a game in the vein of Tekken and Street Fighter perhaps its best to look elsewhere.