Soul Blade (1997) [PS1]

Soul_Blade_NA_PS1_Boxart

Transcending history and the world, a tale of soul and sword, eternally retold.
– Opening FMV – Soul Blade

 

 

coffeemage “This is a contributor post by the Hyperactive Coffee Mage.”

2018 is looking to be another stacked year for gaming. As E3 has come and gone, details have emerged regarding some of this year’s most hotly anticipated titles. Included was new information from Bandai-Namco on the next edition of the Soul series, SoulCaliber VI. This latest installment is said to be released later this October with the focus of exploring events from the first SoulCaliber game to uncover hidden truths. The game will also feature Geralt from The Witcher III as a guest character and will mark 20 years since the original SoulCaliber was released in arcades, back in July of 1998.

While SoulCaliber is indeed a great fighting game, Bandai Namco’s failure to properly recognize the very first game of the series is, in this writer’s opinion, a complete travesty and is something that I hope to rectify within this write up. The game in question and the true first entry of the Soul series is titled Soul Blade (or Soul Edge in Japan) and is the subject of today’s #magecrit.

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Originally released in the arcades in 1995, Soul Edge was initially an experiment conducted by Namco to determine the feasibility of a weapons-based fighter made in the vein of its popular Tekken series. It’s credited as one of the first games to use motion capture technology, particularly, passive optical system markers. This technology consisted of using cameras to track the position of specially coated spherical markers attached to a bodysuit worn by an actor.

Soul Edge isn’t the first 3-D weapons-based fighter – that honor goes to the long-forgotten Battle Arena Toshinden series. Battle Arena Toshinden was also one of the first fighting games to both have polygonal characters in a 3-D environment and to implement and pioneer the side-step maneuver – a move that would be used in various fighting games introduced in the fifth generation of gaming. Side-stepping into the fore or backgrounds would eventually be retooled to become the ubiquitous “8-Way Run” system implemented by Soul Edge’s sequel, SoulCaliber.

A short time after its release, following complaints about the game’s high difficulty and the final boss being too difficult to defeat, Namco released a new version labeled Soul Edge Ver. II. This fixed version re-balanced the difficulty and added a new character in Hwang Sung Kyung. Hwang was originally a palette swap of Mitsurugi, but in this new version he was given a brand new moveset and backstory. The game’s penultimate boss, Cervantes de Leon, also became playable and thus bumped the roster up to a total of ten characters.

For the PlayStation release, Namco released the game based on Ver. II and packed it with lots of extra content to keep players engaged. In North America, the game was released under the title of Soul Blade (this title will be used throughout the remainder of the write-up). This was due to EDGE Games (a little known developer based in the US) and their trademark use of the word “Edge,” infamously enforced by CEO Tim Langdell.

The most substantial addition to the port is the introduction of the Edge Master Mode – a story-driven, single player campaign where the player chooses one of the ten characters and follows their journey around the world, battling opponents and earning weapons along the way to find Soul Edge. Each character’s backstory was fleshed out in detail, including glimpses of their personalities and their motivations for finding the sword. This mode is what separates this game from all other fighting games, in that it gives the player incentive to both continue playing on their own after they’ve exhausted the Arcade, Time Attack, Survival and Vs. modes and get a closer, intimate look at these characters.

Additionally, three different soundtracks were added to the home release: the original arcade BGM, an arranged version using orchestrated elements and the Khan Super Session soundtrack, created exclusively for the home console release.

As of Soul Edge’s Version II release, the character roster included ten characters available from the start: Heishiro Mitsurugi, a samurai warrior seeking Soul Edge in hopes of countering firearms, which were introduced in this time period; Taki, a ninja seeking Soul Edge to destroy it as it was weakening her favourite demon-slaying sword, Rekkimaru; Rock, a large man wielding a battle axe, who was raised in the New World after being shipwrecked as a boy, his memories lost. He seeks Soul Edge to regain his lost memories, as he feels the sword may be connected to that fateful day.

There is Seong Mi-Na, a tomboy who is skilled with weapons and who seeks the sword to prove herself to her country, after failing to join the National Guard due to her gender; Hwang Sung Kyung, the gifted Korean swordsman tasked by his country to find the Patriot Sword (A.K.A Soul Edge) and use it to defend the homeland against Japanese invaders; Li Long, a Chinese assassin wielding bladed nunchucks (Sword-Chucks!) who seeks the wielder of Soul Edge to avenge the death of his lover, Chie; Sophitia Alexandria, a Grecian woman who was tasked by Hephaestus, the God of Forge, to destroy Soul Edge as it was considered a threat to the Pantheon of Olympus; Siegfried Schtauffen, a young German knight who was driven to insanity after killing his own father during a raid with his gang of bandits. Believing that Soul Edge would be the key to avenge his father, he ventures out to find the blade.

There’s Voldo, the crazed, katar-wielding Italian assassin and right-hand man of the arms merchant, Vercci, who protects his master’s fortune at the bottom of a deep pit on an unmarked island off the coast of Sicily. Voldo, gone blind and insane from his many years of isolation, hears his master’s voice telling him to find Cervantes and return the sword to the pit. Last but not least is the aforementioned Cervantes de Leon, a Spanish pirate who looted Soul Edge from Rock’s family twenty years ago (subsequently causing the shipwreck that would lead Rock to the New World), became possessed by the demonic weapon, and was forced to feed its insatiable hunger for souls.

On top of those ten, five additional unlockable characters were added to the PlayStation version. One of those includes the final boss character and physical manifestation of the demonic sword, Soul Edge, with a similar moveset to its host, Cervantes. Three of the characters are actually alternate outfits for Sophitia and Siegfried, but they are treated as secret characters nonetheless. Finally, the fifth character included was Seong Han Myong – Seong Mi-Na’s father- who uses an alternate moveset from Hwang’s. This makes sense seeing that he’s the master of the style of combat that Hwang uses. So, as you can see, Namco didn’t shy away from adding lots of extras to the home release!

Personally speaking, Soul Blade was an incredibly fascinating game for me growing up because, as I quoth a certain Fighter from 8-Bit Theater:

Image result for fighter i like swords

I had a fascination with swords and swordsmanship growing up, of which I place the blame on Final Fantasy VII, the anime Rurouni Kenshin, and the romanticization of knights, samurai warriors, and ninjas in popular culture. When my cousin showed me this game, I immediately borrowed it from him and didn’t return it for… about a year or so? He was pretty miffed about it. Eventually, I got my own copy that my brother and I played to death, blazing through the arcade modes, earning weapons in Edge Master Mode, and then subsequently using them against each other in the versus modes. He always played as the female characters and he was exceptionally good with them, to the point where I usually threw my controller at him for beating me.

What I was really impressed with in Soul Blade was the weapon selection. Some of the weapons obtained for characters are highly fictional and are fit for a video game, like Hwang’s Phantom sword – an invisible, Masamune-like long sword – and Sophitia’s Blue Crystal Rod (a nod to the Tales series, also by Namco), but Namco also interspersed real weapons used in ancient times. One instance of these historical weapons are Voldo’s Katars; they were a set of dagger-like weapons that were worn on the fist, similar to a knuckleduster. They were first created in southern India in the 14th century. At one point in history, these weapons were elevated to a status symbol in the Indian subcontinent, similar to that of the Japanese Katana.

Speaking of katana-like swords, a weapon used by Mitsurugi, the Falx, is based on the actual weapon of the same name; a curved sword who’s origins are steeped in ancient Greece, specifically the Dacian kingdom, before being conquered by the Romans in 106 AD. Taki’s weapons, the Tanto and the Kunai, are weapons traditionally used by shinobi in Feudal Japan. Other weapons, such as the Flamberge (Siegfried), Rapier (Sophitia), Two-Handed Sword (Mitsurugi), the Claymore (Siegfried), the Morning Star (Seong Mi-Na) and the Falchion (Hwang) all have their origins in various regions around Europe. It’s refreshing how the game used real-life historical weapons as it added some authenticity to a fighting game set in the 16th century featuring a demonic, soul devouring weapon of chaos.

As for its release, Soul Edge was only moderately received in the arcades. The PlayStation release under the name Soul Blade, on the other hand, was well-received, with publications praising the port for retaining all elements from the arcade version, the inclusion of the Edge Master Mode, the additional weapons, and the brand new Khan Super Session Soundtrack. Its success paved the way for SoulCaliber and the start of a new fighting franchise to rival that of Tekken, King of Fighters, and Street Fighter.

As I have stated at the beginning of this write up, I’m still highly disappointed that Bandai-Namco has not shown enough appreciation towards this particular game, given that it started the Soul franchise and established the backstories of many of its recurring characters. It’s my utmost hope that the developers rectify this with a remastered version of the game, but I highly doubt that it will happen.

Although, if anyone from Bandai-Namco is reading this review, I only ask this one thing: Please remaster this game!? Or at least release it on PSN!?

Image result for soul blade

 

The 8-Bit Review
visual Visuals: 7/10
While the graphics are dated (the game was released in the early aughts of 3-D gaming after all), Soul Blade’s visuals are still very nice to look at. The character models look pretty good and move fluidly thanks to the motion capture initiatives Namco undertook to develop the game. Each character’s costumes clearly reflect the culture and nationality they represent – Japan, Korea, China, Europe, the New World (America), etc. Characters are well-proportioned and their in-game models are fairly similar to the official character artwork. The only exception here was Cervantes: his character art shows him with purple skin, but his in-game model has the same skin tone as the other characters.

Arcade Mode Screenshot 2018-08-14 19-42-16

On top of that, a trailing effect is shown on each attack that characters perform. Each character’s weapon trail has a different colour associated to it. It’s a neat visual effect that really emphasizes character movements and draws the eyes towards the action. This is especially prominent when characters use their Unblockable attacks or their Critical Edge specials, which I’ll talk more about in the Gameplay section.

The stages also look well-done and have some interesting effects to them. Some stages have a day to night transition effect. It only affects the aesthetics of the stage but nevertheless, it’s quite impressive. This transition is highly apparent if you pay attention to skies above and the shadows each player casts on the stage; as time passes, not only does the sky change colour, the shadows of each character move in relation to the sun’s position in the stage. The night-day transitions really gives off the illusion that the game world is alive, as opposed to the static backgrounds in other fighting games, such as Street Fighter or even the first three Tekken games. It’s one of the many visual quirks that I appreciated in this game.

While I’ll talk about their mechanics in the gameplay section of the review, the weapons look fantastic. I’ve mentioned above that most weapons look fairly similar to their historical inspirations, but the weapons with original designs also look very attractive. The Soul Edge variants available for three characters look especially menacing, with the blood red and ivory colouring looking like the weapons are made of demonic flesh and bone. However, while Soul Edge is indeed a fearsome weapon, I dislike the textures on Cervantes’ and Voldo’s versions of the weapon. I find that they don’t stand out as well as Siegfreid’s version of the weapon, which coincidentally is an alternate 2P version in the sequels.

Where this game loses points in the visual department are with some animations and graphics looking choppy at times and some textures looking dated. There is some lag whenever a character loses their weapon. However, these issues are minor and do not detract from the overall experience.

audio Audio: 8/10
The home console version of Soul Blade boasts not one, not two, but three soundtracks: the original arcade version, an arranged, orchestrated version, and the Khan Super Session version. The music is very fitting for the game as it is high tempo and energetic enough to keep players engaged. At the same time, it’s not so overbearing that players would want to disable the audio altogether. While the arcade version tunes are pretty nice, I have to say the arranged versions are far superior.

The game’s intro music, “The Edge of Soul,” is very upbeat. If you listen to the lyrics, you’ll find that they are quite inspiring!

The stage music is fantastic. Some of my favourites include “Recollect Continent”(Rock), “Dragon’s Call”(Li Long), “Horangi Arirang” (Hwang), “Soul and Sword” (Siegfried), and “Bravely Folk Song”(Cervantes). All in the arranged version, of course!

The PlayStation exclusive Khan Super Session soundtrack is no slouch either, as it contains some fantastic fighting music of its own. Some highlights include “Darkness of Fate” (Siegfried), “HAGAKURE” (Mitsurugi), “An Oath to the Sword” (Character Select) and “Castaway into Darkness” (Cervantes):

Soul Blade is one of the few games released in the late 90’s that featured full voice acting and while it’s not the greatest, it’s also not terrible either. The Japanese actors voicing Hwang, Mitsurugi, Taki, Seong Mina and Li Long sound pretty good. On the other hand, the other five characters voiced by an English cast are just OK. Out of them all, Rock’s VA sounds the best and really captures the essence of a man raised in the wild. Cervantes’ VA goes the stereotypical pirate route and while it sounds great, it’s a little too humorous to be taken seriously. Siegfried’s VA sounds like he was trying too hard and Voldo doesn’t have any spoken lines; he communicates through hisses, grunts and moans. While it fits his character, it also makes him sound similar to Darth Vader. Finally, Sophitia’s VA treads the middle ground: not too annoying but certainly not award-winning either.

Continuing on, the sound effects are also well done. The sounds of steel meeting steel and of weapons cutting through the air with a whoosh are very satisfying to hear.

gameplay Gameplay: 8/10
The goal in Soul Blade is to defeat your opponent in single combat. You can win a round either through knock out (depleting their life bar) or by ring out (knocking them off the stage). The default length of a match is three rounds, but this can be changed in the Options menu. Further, a double K.O. is possible if characters hit each other at the exact same time when they both have little health. Gaining a double K.O. in the final round activates a sudden death mode, where the first person hit loses. Winning in Soul Blade requires an basic understanding of the fighting mechanics.

Soul Blade’s fighting mechanics center around a four button layout: three for attack and one for defense. The basic attacks consist of a horizontal attack (Square), a vertical attack (Triangle), and kicks (Circle), and they work in a Rock-Paper-Scissor format: horizontal attacks are beaten by vertical attacks, vertical attacks are beaten by kicks, and kicks are beaten by horizontal attacks. The Cross button engages a characters guard and allows them to block many attacks, except unblockable ones. In game, these moves are noted as A (Horizontal), B (Vertical), K (Kicks) and G (Guard) and I’ll be using these notations throughout the remainder of the review.

Characters can move left to right, duck, jump and can sidestep into the foreground or background by double tapping down down or down up on the D-Pad. Sidestepping is vital in dodging incoming attacks, specifically vertical attacks and kicks, but the sidestepping character can still be clipped with a well-placed horizontal attack. On top of that, double tapping the D-pad either left or right will allow a character to make a short hop towards or away from their opponent, setting up for various attacks. Running is a simple matter of double tapping and holding left or right towards your opponent, depending on which side of the screen they are on. Pressing K while running will execute a low sliding kick which is fairly difficult to counter.

Combat itself is not limited to the actions described above; there are a variety of advanced moves that the player can perform for each character. For instance, pressing A+G or B+G together while close to an opponent will execute a throw. Throws are both powerful and incredibly entertaining to watch, though one of Sophitia’s throws makes me wince in pain every time it’s used.

Sophitia and Li Long Screenshot 2018-08-14 19-58-56.png
At least she’s sorry about it…

A few characters also have throws that are follow-ups to other attacks, such as Siegfried’s stab into an over-the-shoulder throw. It’s a great move for ring-outs.

Also, depending on the character, pressing A+B, A+K, or B+K, either on their own or combined with a directional input, yields various special attacks, such as Mitsurugi’s sweeping double launcher slashes or some of Voldo’s rolling and spinning attacks. It’s worth it to note here that Voldo has one of the most technical movesets of all the characters in the game, requiring the use of some interesting button combinations and positioning (which can make him extremely vulnerable at times) to perform his attacks.

Pressing G while inputting a direction towards an enemy simultaneously executes a Guard Impact, a staple in the Soul series. It is an offensive blocking maneuver that intercepts incoming attacks and allows a player a window to counterattack. It’s a highly advanced move that can turn the tides of battle when executed properly. Three characters – Sophitia, Li Long and Mitsurugi – also have the ability to parry and counterattack along with the standard Guard Impact move.

Arcade Mode Screenshot 2018-08-14 19-34-11.png
Catch n’ Slash!

An interesting feature that was removed from subsequent entries is the fact that characters can clash with one another and lock weapons. Once this occurs, players must press one of the three attack buttons before the clash is broken to counter. Again, this works in a Rock-Paper-Scissors format as described above. If both players press the same button, then the clash ends with both players striking each other’s weapons and pausing from the recoil before the fight resumes.

One of the biggest highlights of the combat system (and my personal favourite) are the Critical Edge super combos. Initiating a Critical Edge is as simple as hitting A+B+K, but it doesn’t end there. Once the first attack connects, the player must input an additional command to extend and finish the combo. The window to execute the command is fairly small, but manageable to perform. Each character has at least one Critical Edge combo and initiating the move costs 1/3 of your characters Weapon Gauge, which means you only have three chances per match to use your Critical Edge.

What’s the Weapon Gauge you ask? It’s your weapon’s life bar. As you guard against attacks or use Critical Edge combos, the Weapon Gauge decreases. If it runs out, you’ll lose your weapon and will have to fight unarmed for the remainder of the round. On the next round, you’ll recover your weapon but the gauge will only be partially recovered. To top that off, certain special moves used by either Cervantes or Soul Edge will also consume a third of the Weapon Gauge. These are devastatingly powerful, extremely fast, and completely unpredictable moves that, when used by the computer, will aggravate a player to no end.

Arcade Mode Screenshot 2018-08-14 19-38-07
The setup prior to using the aforementioned move I spoke of above. Manipulating the CPU character to do this at the same time was the highlight of this review – it’s extremely hard to do.

All ten characters have the same unarmed moveset, with the exception of those characters that have unique kicks, like Taki, Hwang and Seong Mina. Unarmed player’s health is also chipped when they block attacks, since they have no weapon to defend with.

Sophitia and Li Long Screenshot 2018-08-14 20-02-33.png

This feature was removed in the later entries and it’s a shame it was because it forces the player not to depend solely on blocking. Rather, it makes the player think about how to avoid attacks by dodging, sidestepping or anticipating a weapon’s range. This mechanic is especially important to keep in mind if the opponent has a weapon designed for breaking other weapons, like Sophitia’s Sword Breaker or Mitsurgi’s Iron Slasher. On that note, we’ll talk about weapon mechanics.

Along with their default weapons, each character can obtain seven additional weapons in the PlayStation exclusive Edge Master Mode. Each weapon’s effectiveness is broken down into five core statistics rated from 1 to 10: Power (affects damage output), Defense (affects damage taken), Strength (affects the damage output on the Weapons Gauge when an opponent is defending), Durability (affects how quickly the Weapons Gauge decreases while you’re defending), and Weight (affects how fast or slow attacks are performed; the lower the number, the faster the weapon). Some weapons also have special properties associated to them that can either help or hinder the character. Examples include weapons that restore or drain the life gauge, weapons that can cause chip damage to guarding opponents or weapons with longer or shorter reach than the default weapon.

Siegfried & Taki Screenshot 2018-08-14 19-52-05

Earning weapons is as simple as playing a character’s story in the Edge Master Mode. You select a character and begin their journey as they look for Soul Edge. A character’s story is divided into several chapters and each chapter has an opponent the player must defeat in order to proceed to the next chapter. In addition, each of these battles has a strict win condition that must be adhered to in order to proceed, such as hitting an opponent while they are in the air (use a down-forward B launcher move, followed by an A, A, A combo for best results), defeating an opponent using throws or using a Critical Edge or surviving for an allotted time. Some battles handicap the player, such as giving them low health or inflicting poison on them, forcing them to think strategically and be defensive. Finally, there are certain battles in which a character must defeat a string of opponents before proceeding onward. Once a battle is won, you will earn a weapon which you can then use either within the Edge Master Mode to proceed onward, or in other game modes. Battles in this mode can be difficult at times and require a great understanding of the game mechanics to succeed. It’s nevertheless a very fun mode for the single player and a great move by Namco to keep players engaged long after they beat the Arcade mode.

My only gripe about the fighting mechanics is the use of half circle forward/back (back, down-back, down, down-forward, forward) movements to perform certain Critical Edge moves. I personally detest that since you’re only given a short time to perform the movements, but to each their own.

Bottom line, the controls are simple to pick up but require some work to master. It’s not a perfect system, but it’s works. The game also gives players a multitude of opportunities to practice moves and work on strategies in game, thanks to the Edge Master Mode and its victory conditions.

storyNarrative: 8/10

***Spoilers for story***

Soul Blade tells the story of nine characters who seek the owner of the titular weapon to claim it for their own, each with their own motivations for obtaining it. Some want it for personal gain, others believe it is a weapon of salvation and there are even those who know of its true nature and quest to see it destroyed, lest it falls into innocent hands.

On the surface, the narrative isn’t all that impressive – fight through ten stages before taking on the sword and its current owner and win – but its the motivations each character has to find the sword that stands out. For instance, Li Long’s story is that of happenstance; his story initially starts out with him tasked to assassinate a Japanese pirate lord. The attempt failed miserably and left him badly wounded, where he was taken in by an innkeeper and his mute daughter named Chie. Chie and Li Long eventually fell in love and the assassin renounced his profession to live his life with her, until she was severely injured by a wandering swordsman. Believing that the wandering swordsman, Mitsurugi, responsible and knowing that he seeks Soul Edge, he pursues both him and the sword. He believes that if he gets the sword first, then he and the samurai would eventually meet. If he wasn’t the attempted murderer, then surely the allure of the legendary sword would eventually draw them out. This is just one of the ten stories that make the game – and the search for the sword itself – interesting.

When you complete the Arcade mode for each character, you’ll be treated to an ending movie, a fine reward for all the fighting you had to do. Each ending is fully voiced, showing what the character does with the sword once the physical manifestation of Soul Edge has been defeated. What’s interesting here is that, under certain conditions, an alternate ending can be unlocked by mashing buttons. Notable ones include Siegfried breaking through his insanity, realizing that he did indeed kill his own father and thus seeks redemption and atonement for his sins. Another really good one was Cervantes, finally freed from the sword’s grasp, being horrified by his actions and sacrificing himself to destroy the sword once and for all.

Mitsurugi’s ending stands out as the most unique of them all. Instead of button mashing, you are pitted against the Tanegashima – the matchlock gun. The advent of guns and gunpowder in the 16th century greatly alarmed the samurai warrior, who correctly predicted that the era of samurai was coming to the end with this new invention. This was the sole reason why Mitsurugi sought out Soul Edge, after hearing rumors of a sword that was stronger than a gun. He eventually learned of its true, evil nature and cast it away, disillusioned at the outcome of his journey. Once home, in a state of recklessness, he challenged the gun and its wielder to a duel in front of a powerful lord, complete with an audience. In this moment, the player assumes control of the samurai warrior in a first person perspective, in which he can move forward, side step left or right and attack. Getting shot results in the normal ending, while dodging the bullets, getting in close and scoring a clean hit results in his alternate ending. Regardless of the outcome, the ending concludes with Mitsurugi vowing to train harder and seek out challenging opponents to test his skill, which is his character arc in subsequent entries of the series. I really liked the interactive concept presented here, it was very original and made me want more of the same.

In reality, Siegfreid’s and Sophitia’s normal endings are canonically correct, in that the latter destroys one of the two swords that make up Soul Edge, with Taki’s assistance. Some of the shattered sword fragments were embedded into Sophitia, while Taki took a few to use in order to repair her sword. The former claimed the second sword for himself after defeating the physical embodiment of the sword, starting him down the dark path that eventually transformed him into Nightmare, one of the major antagonists in the SoulCaliber series. These two events set the entire SoulCaliber story in motion and it’s a story that is yet to be resolved, given that the sixth numerical iteration of the series is to be released this October.

If this was the arcade version that I was reviewing, I would have stopped here and this section would have been a solid seven out of ten. However, the PlayStation version of the game dove deeper with the Edge Master Mode and notched an extra point thanks to its story mode. Edge Master’s story is presented in a book format. Players can read the entries associated to each stage of the story to get an understanding of what each character’s raison d’etre is, along with why they arrived at their current destination (rumors, information gathering, following individuals, etc.). Through the book, players learn that Taki was a wandering demon-slayer of a secluded ninja clan, that Sophitia was a humble baker married to a blacksmith before destiny called her forth and that Siegfried once idolized his father, until the Crusades took him away and left the boy without a father to raise him, leading him to fall in with the wrong crowd. The Edge Master Mode fleshes out all the characters, presenting them as fully realized individuals and not one-dimensional cutouts.

multiplayerMultiplayer: 7/10
Soul Blade is a good game to pick up and play with a friend. Along with the standard versus mode, there is a Team Attack mode in which players can select up to five characters and duke it out in an elimination contest. What makes multiplayer great though is the use of the special weapons obtained in the Edge Master Mode. The weapons can be used either as a handicap for players who are either new to the game (Let newbies use Rock’s Great Ax for ultimate cheese) or for experienced players who want to challenge themselves against another human player. Also, a second player can jump in while player one is in Arcade mode (a la “Here Comes a New Challenger!” from Street Fighter) and duke it out to see which player should continue onward.

One thing I would have added to the multiplayer is the ability to set special win conditions or handicaps like within Edge Master Mode. Examples could include win with throws, defeat opponents while they are in the air, fight while poisoned or have low health to start the match. Adding that in would have given the multiplayer much more variety.

diffChallenge: 7/10
The difficulty can be adjusted for Arcade and Time Attack mode, either to make things easier for new or struggling players or harder for veterans or those looking for a challenge. The difficulty in Survival mode, however, ramps up as players continue fighting, starting at Very Easy and ending at Very Hard.

Along with the generic Practice mode, the Edge Master Mode serves as an excellent live training ground for players to practice specific moves and techniques, while getting them used to game mechanics like the Weapon Gauge, Guard Impacts and throws. Some of the latter fights in story mode, especially the battles against Cervantes and Soul Edge, can be quite difficult. Those fights are the culmination of all the skills the player should have practiced in the fights leading up to it. As such, they are the true tests of a player’s understanding of the game and its mechanics. At the same time though, these fights are not so challenging that it would make one want to throw their controller at the TV in utter frustration.

uniqueUniqueness: 8/10
Up until its release, there was only one other 3-D weapons-based fighter on the scene – Battle Arena Toshinden. Beyond that, the only other weapons0based fighter on the market was the Samurai Shodown series by SNK, which few have heard of, let alone played, which makes Soul Blade a very unique game. An additional thing that made Soul Blade unique was that it was set it in the backdrop of the 16th century, a period of history where European and Asian empires looked beyond their continents to expand, while innovation in warfare started to ramp up. This despite the fact that melee weapons were still in vogue during those times, so overall it makes for an interesting setting.

Namco’s big experiment could have ended in failure, regardless of their previous successes with the Tekken franchise. Instead, Soul Blade pushed the envelope; the controls were simple , the story was engaging and the combat was smooth. It showed the world that a weapons-based fighter was indeed something a player can take a stab at (pun somewhat intended) and enjoy immensely. All of these would be refined in the sequel, SoulCaliber, considered one of the best fighting games ever made and the progenitor of an endless amount of sequels complete with guest characters.

pgradeMy Personal Grade: 9/10
I’ll be frank: I love Soul Blade. I have so many good memories playing this with my younger brother that we still talk about it to this very day. The battles were fast and furious, the controls were tight, the audio was smooth and the visuals were very well done. However, it’s the story and its focus on history that I enjoyed immensely.  Perhaps this is the nostalgia talking, but this is a gem of a game and again, I have to express that it’s a shame that this wasn’t re-released on PSN.

Aggregate Score: 7.8

 

Engineer by day, adult-responsibility juggler and caffeinated gamer dad by night, the Hyperactive Coffee Mage is a coffee-fueled writing machine and expert gaming historian. Check out his cool beans at gameswithcoffee.com.

 

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9 thoughts on “Soul Blade (1997) [PS1]

  1. Loved Soul Edge, but I still consider Soul Calibur II the apex of the series. I’m really excited to see what they do with the upcoming entry though. Hopefully it’s a return to form as IV, and V kind of altered the formula a bit much.

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  2. Now this is what I call an exemplary long-form review! I love that you delved deep into the mechanics. The most significant part of this review that hit me personally, since I’ve never played Soul Blade myself, was the mention of Battle Arena Toshinden. I thought “gee, that sounds familiar” and when I looked it up, lo and behold, it was a game I played the heck out of in tournaments in high school. I’d completely forgotten about it and that old man with the claws that I used to slay with!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Glad I was able to remind you of that! It was fun delving into both the mechanics and the history of the game, as I find both those things extremely fascinating. I’m extremely pleased that you enjoyed this write up!

      Liked by 1 person

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