Namco's classic weapons based 3D fighter, Soulcalibur, finally makes its much anticipated debut on the PSP. Despite the unfortunate abscence of an Arcade mode, Soulcalibur: Broken Destiny is an otherwise full featured Soulcalibur title with some great exclusive features.
Broken Destiny? More Like Broken Awesome -- Wait, What?
Expecting anything less from Soulcalibur: Broken Destiny (SCBD) than a very compelling Soulcalibur title would be a mistake. Having gotten to play the game at E3, I was impressed with the silky smooth framerate and responsive controls. Having followed the game over the past few months, it had all the makings of a must-have, and having spent several hours with it now, I still believe that.
SCBD has a handful of features that make it unique to the PSP, not the least of which is the inclusion of a very special character that many millions of gamers have come to know and love -- Kratos, from SCEA's wildly popular God of War series. Whoever had the idea to merge Kratos into the Soulcalibur universe deserves a hearty handshake and a thank you. Controlling Kratos in SCBD isn't something you have to unlock or purchase separately or anything like that -- he and the other twenty-seven characters are all available to you as soon as you pop the game in. And before diving into the various modes and gameplay of SCBD, it's a good idea to Install the game first. This takes about fifteen minutes and 255MB on your memory card, but it's well worth it.
The install complete, it was time to pick from several modes of play. While there is no Arcade mode available, there are several new and/or expanded modes of play that will keep you coming back for more (lots more). Eager to give Kratos a go, I hopped into the Training mode first, which is packed with customization options to help you get the most out of it. Players choose their character and their opponent, what stage, and have the typical gamut of options including changing settings on the fly for how the CPU player behaves and what position players start in. Players can also view their character's move list, which is also available in the pause menu of other modes. The training mode shows how much damage you are dealing to your opponent, too.
Okay, so Training is as complete as you would expect it to be, but real practice and reward comes from challenging live opponents. SCBD includes a Versus mode for exactly that, but it only works with Ad Hoc. So if you've got a buddy with a copy of the game, you can challenge each other wirelessly to see who the better fighter is. I wasn't able to test this feature for the purpose of this review, but I have no doubt that it works as advertised. It is a shame that online play isn't supported though...
Another mode worth your attention is Quick Match. This single player mode has the player facing random CPU enemies. These random CPU creations look and act like human created ones, down to funky names and character designs. Besides good practice, winning Quick Matches unlocks Titles that you can apply to Versus Mode to help show off your skills.
These Quick Matches are entertaining, but for me the real replay value and challenge in SCBD comes from The Gauntlet and the Trials modes. If you've played Mortal Kombat Deadly Alliance or Deception, you might remember the Konquest mode; SCBD's Gauntlet is similar in that it weaves together a story of a new warrior, you, who must complete dozens of challenges (over eighty total) to reach his goal. This isn't a new feature for the Soulcalibur series, but it's nice to see it revamped and included in BD. Players can choose from any of the available roster or use created characters. The story unfolds with plenty of bizarre characters and some humor -- including defeating a Wolfman and eating the wild animals he's protecting as well as fighting a very scantily clad Dampierre look alike -- but the overall plot is to help Hilde find a cure for her ailing father. I'll admit the story is almost distractingly goofy, but it's better than no story at all to be sure.
Most of the story is told in text in between missions, and in between sets of missions (chapters), a series of still images and text explain new developments in the story. Each chapter is made up of four or five missions, all designed to take seconds to complete. While this mode can be tedious, playing through the Gauntlet is rewarding in that it does make you a better player. In many ways it is like the training mode, but it's a much more interesting and you pick up additional Honors while playing through it.
Honors, Creation, Roster, Trials
Honors and other accomplishments and stats are all available for viewing in Records, selectable from the Main Menu. With Records, players can view their unlocked Honors and see the requirements for Honors not yet unlocked. Your all time standings in Versus Mode as well as your Friends List, which includes the Battle Profile for anyone you have ever played, is viewable as well. Records also keeps tabs on your favorite fighting style and what your Battle Record is for the single player modes.
Earlier I mentioned that the Gauntlet mode is about a new warrior, and with SCBD, you can create that warrior with the Creation mode. In Creation, players can build a player from scratch or modify one of the existing characters. You can actually modify Kratos, but only his pose and the color of his weapons. When you choose to create a new character, you're asked what gender and what existing character this new one should be based off of, although several characters aren't selectable for this, again including Kratos. I chose a male character based on Kilik. The customization options are numerous; you can alter a variety of clothing from head to toe, including customizations for the head, neck, shoulders, chest, lower half, and feet. While you can't change the character's height and weight, you can alter just about everything else about them. Dozens of clothing props are included, many based off of existing characters. For example, you can make your character have the wicked spine of Nightmare if you want, while simultaneously having a mohawk for hair -- the options are plentiful to say the least.
After editing clothing, voice type, accessories, fighting position, and tweaking colors, you get to name and then snap a photo of your creation. The photo is used during character selection. You can save up to sixteen characters and choose from any of them during character selection by going to the Custom tile.
You know I've mentioned the roster of characters a few times now, but outside of Kratos I have yet to elaborate. There are twenty-eight playable characters, not including any created ones you make. Besides Kratos, the God of War, Dampierre has been added to the Soulcalibur roster. Dampierre, according to his character description which you can view for any character from the selection screen, is a self-proclaimed genius conman. He's an interesting character, utilizing twin daggers and some very agile movements to psych out his opponents.
In addition to these two newcomers are many familiar faces including Ivy, Hilde, Cervantes, Nightmare, Kilik, Talim, Zasalamel, Algol, Mitsurugi, Taki, Yun-Seong, Maxi, Siegfried, and more. All characters include new moves and animations, too.
I've gotten a bit off track here as there is still one more mode to talk about. The Trials mode, quickly becoming my favorite, gives players three options: Attack, Defense, or Endless Trial. As you might surmise, the difficulty increases from one to the next. In the Attack mode, the goal is to defeat your opponents by the biggest margin possible. The bottom of the screen shows a percentage tally that goes up and down as you deal and take damage. This value is sustained until you are defeated in a best of three battle, at which point the Trial ends. The idea then is to rack up the most points by running up this percentage as high as you can by the time you get through the Trial. This Trial lasts for five random battles.
The Defense variant of this Trial is very similar, but the goal is to be more defensive and use mechanics like Guard Impact and counter attacks to defeat your foe. Lastly, there is the Endless mode, which operates much like you would expect. Players face off against randomly created characters. Each character has a descriptive name beneath their character name to indicate what type of character they are (Violent, Blocks Only, etc)., to help your strategy. Every fifth fighter is a Legend character, i.e., one from the official Soulcalibur roster, and these are challenging fights. I enjoy this mode, but I do wish there were some kind of checkpoint system or tiers. As you might imagine, it's a real pain when you get to the tenth fighter, for example, and lose -- you have to start completely over again. Your score to that point is recorded, however.
Other Thoughts And Presentation
SCBD features several Soulcalibur mechanics like the Soul Gauge, Critical Finishes, Ring Outs, Guard Impacts, Inserts, Ukemi, and Active Purge, amongst a few others. The Soul Gauge is a meter that is useful for dealing with those players who like to constantly block, or guard. A meter will change to red as the guarding character continues to abuse the Guard mechanic. To balance this, whenever their meter is red, they are vulnerable to a Critical Finish maneuver. Guard Impacts are executed when you press back or forward and Guard at just the right instance when an attack is coming at you; doing so creates a quick flash and an accompanying sound, and gives the defending player an instant to counter, known as Inserting. Ukemi is used to recover and dodge an attack while Active Purge allows a player to forfeit their own armor in exchange for recovering Soul Gauge.
Concerning the presentation quality of SCBD, it's top notch. I liked not only the graphics and sound, but I also liked the extra information that was included in various areas outside of actual gameplay, like the highlighted instructions during the missions in Gauntlet and the ability to read character descriptions from the select screen. Visually, it's a gorgeous game with a super smooth framerate, featuring a ton of character animations, very brief load times, and plenty of colors. The fact that there are twenty-eight characters, plus another sixteen that you can create yourself, and eighteen playable stages is simply impressive. The audio is also excellent, featuring recorded dialogue for every character, including your created ones. The classic narrator voice from the Soulcalibur series is here, and the proper voice actor for Kratos is on board, too. Effects and the soundtrack are all typical Soulcalibur quality, so no complaints there.
Ultimately, Soulcalibur: Broken Destiny is a superb adaptation on an established and great franchise. Soulcalibur continues to be one of my favorite fighting franchises and Broken Destiny only adds to that by making a complete, deep, and very enjoyable debut on the PSP.