A new semester of my college experience is coming up and I'm struggling at my summer pool job to make sure I've saved enough cash to live on. And by that, I mean saving enough cash for the fall rush of games. So as I'm reeling from ordering a PS3 off of eBay and putting aside every penny I earn for the coming months, my one indulgence as of late is buying SoulCalibur IV Premium Edition for the Xbox 360. Did I waste my money? I sincerely hope not, since that extra money could be going towards something else, like some fine digitally distributed games or downloadable content.
If you need an in-depth review of how well Ivy's tits bounce, there are plenty of other reviews already published, so in usual fashion, this is not a review of the game itself, but the packaging and bonuses included with this special edition release. There is a Premium Edition release for both the PS3 and the Xbox 360, both adding $20 to the price of the game ($60). Finding the game may be touch and go, as Gamestop no longer sells it on their site and likely have very few copies for sale. As of this blog's publication, Amazon is still selling the 360 variant, but PS3 owners are out of luck unless they want to go through Amazon's Marketplace. My advice? If you want it, buy it fast. But do you want it? Let's start at the beginning.
(My apologies for darker than normal pictures, but the lighting in my house isn't as neon-bright as dorm room lighting.)
Damn, that's a handsome face. As is the standard in the industry, SoulCalibur IV Premium Edition comes in a metal case with a slipcover featuring the game's logo, text, and all that good stuff. It's a pretty box, with SoulCalibur's blue glow prevailing over Soul Edge, as opposed to the more prominent Soul Edge red glow on the PS3's art. However, I do think it is a little too busy and could use some simplification. One thing you'll sadly note right away is that the tin is big, in the vein of the special editions of Assassin's Creed or Prey, meaning it will stick out like Ryu's penis. This is because the tin holds the full retail copy of Soulcalibur IV, mutant green case and all. I can't help but wish they would have considered how other special editions like Gears of War and Mass Effect were produced; even if a cardboard sleeve within the tin isn't the coolest way to hold a DVD, it surely would be nicer to have it not command the attention of any guest inspecting your gaming shelf. Unless that's what they were going for, in which, good yob, mengs.
The back of the slipcover is the usual sales pitch for the game, but that's not what I want to talk about. Why is half of it in French? Keep in mind that this is the American release. If anything, I'd expect there to be Spanish on there, like most of Nintendo's recent Wii boxes, since Spanish is the most spoken language in the country besides English. I noted that I'm about an hour away from Canada, so this could just be different art to account for my region. However, checking with other Dtoiders, there is French text on every box released in the US. Namco Bandai, you have perplexed me. It's neither good nor bad, it's just...confusing.
Allow me to say one more thing about the slipcover: it stays on! Holy fucking shit! Give this game a medal! I'm tired of othergames falling out of their slipcases like a greased pig whenever I pick them up, but this slipcover stays on there nice and tight. In fact, you could almost say it's too tight, but if that's the price I have to pay for having a slipcover stay on the tin, I'll roll with it.
The tin itself looks quite classy when the slipcover is removed, making it look much less busy and giving you a clear picture of SoulCalibur and Soul Edge clashing. The art actually feels more European in tone, as opposed to the American style of prominently featuring characters so the average consumer has someone to "connect" with. It is a little unnecessary for the tin to remind you that you have bought the Premium Edition, in case you somehow missed it on the slipcover, but it's not intolerable by any means.
The back of the tin portrays the opposing natures of SoulCalibur IV's two main characters, Siegfried and Nightmare, as well as the dichotomy between the newly designed SoulCalibur and Soul Edge. I would vote for this art to be featured more prominently, but the blunt line between the blue and red sides is too jarring to allow this to be cover art.
Now that I've analyzed the tin to the point where it might as well have its own Wikipedia entry, let's move on to its contents, most importantly, the game itself. As noted above, the disc comes in the exact same case as the retail copies of the regular edition. So keep in mind that to play the game, you have to take the slipcover off, open the tin...and then open another case. I'd much rather see a DVD holder on the inside of the tin, similar to the Halo 3 tin (but without the disc scratching). Note what's on the back? More French text. Seriously Namco Bandai, what's up with that?
First things first: yes, the manual is in color. But...it barely makes a difference. The design is incredibly Spartan and simply functional, laying out the fighting mechanics with little embellishment. Past SoulCalibur manuals were colorful and had a classy art style, but this manual is mostly white space with very small accents. Even the amount of screenshots seems strangely low. There is a silver lining, though: the manual is twice as long to account for a reprinting of the pages in French immediately after the English section. Thank god for that, right? It's sloppy, though, that the empty Notes section in the back of the manual is only in English.
Now let's examine the various goodies you get for slamming down an extra $20 at the cash register. First up to bat is a combination comic and artbook. For some reason, I forgot that this was in here, and so I was pleasantly surprised to find it included, since the artbook is usually my favorite part of any special edition release. The cover is a wraparound of the comic book art style, produced by Udon Comics, also known for the Street Fighter comics.
The comic itself is not going to win any awards. In terms of style, it's the usual art style from Udon that's richly colored mix of anime, Western, and video game influences, with the characters mostly staying on model. As for the story, it's nothing more than a random team-up between Hilde and Mitsurugi to defend an attack made by Tira and Astaroth, who has apparently given up any pretext of appearing human in favor of looking like a rock demon. Is it horrible? No, and it was alright for a quick read. But don't go in expecting some hidden gem of a comic, as this is purely for the fans. As a side note, I have to point out that I really miss Tira's old green motif from SoulCalibur III. This new red and brown color scheme seems too subdued in tone for such a crazy character.
The art book portion of the book, however, is much more desireable, displaying character sketches, both colored and not, alongside up-close sketches of the details adorning the characters' clothes. I've always loved SoulCalibur's art, so this is my favorite part of the Premium Edition. The one thing they could have improved would be to include some weapon and environment concept art, like the book I have for SoulCalibur II.
The next bonus is a big poster featuring newcomer Hilde, Vader & Yoda (even though the former isn't in the game without rumored DLC), new boss Algol, and various other series mainstays. A nicely done poster, and the red-blue color scheme has a much smoother transition than the art used on the back of the tin. I do have to wonder why Hilde is important enough to be front and center instead of a more popular character, but I guess Namco Bandai should get some points for focusing on a female character devoid of giant knockers or bare ass cheeks. To go off topic for a moment: since when did SoulCalibur need women with ridiculous proportions? It's always survived just fine as an excellent fighting game staple without the need to resort to Dead or Alive-level tactics, but apparently that wasn't good enough.
Flipping over the poster reveals a tournament bracket, despite his present absence in the 360 version. It's coated so that you can write on it with a dry erase marker multiple times. It's a nice gesture from Namco Bandai in recognizing that this will be played to death at tourneys, but I believe most organizers will ignore this in favor of their own brackets that accommodate more than eight people. And if you've only got eight or less people playing, chances are it will be more casual and not necessitate the need for a written bracket. So if you can use this, more power to you, but I believe that most people will just ignore this side and put the poster up on their wall.
The largest goodie in the bundle is a white t-shirt with Siegfried and Yoda striking poses. Namco Bandai intends for this to be the prize for the tournament you're supposed to hold with the bracket poster, but it's a shame you can only give the same prize once. Furthermore, if I was the one who bought the Premium Edition (which I am), I most certainly would be the one keeping anything inside it. The biggest downside of this shirt is that it's an extra large. Great Namco Bandai, thanks, I wear a small. I realize you have to account for anyone buying the game, and betting on fat gamers isn't a horrible idea, but why not just a large? I'd be swimming in a large, but even that would be better than drowning in an extra large. Unfortunately, there is no way to trade in this shirt for a smaller size, so I'll have to settle for just not wearing it. (Keep in mind that if you're "large and in charge," all this whining doesn't apply to you, so adjust your opinion accordingly.)
The next item is a small card with an Xbox Live code on the back that allows you to get some exclusive downloadable content. And what would that be, you ask? You unlock special character customization options, including SoulCalibur and Soul Edge. In terms of costumes, you're looking at uniforms and blazers for the guys and schoolgirl and maid outfits for the girls. Oh yeah, Namco Bandai knows their audience very well. Still, it's nice to have some exclusive in-game content for plopping down some extra cash, though I would have liked to see this include the soundtrack as well. As for the card itself: it is made of glossy paper that is not bent. There is colorful art on one side, with the printed code and brief instructions on the back. It also gives you a blowjob if you persuade it with sweet talk.
Also pictured is the final and most important part of the Premium Edition, the dry erase marker. It is both white like the 360 and black like the PS3, making me wonder if Namco Bandai is trying to do some cross-marketing here. It's sadly missing the SoulCalibur IV logo that they affix to every single item in the bundle, making it feel like a random inclusion that doesn't quite fit with the rest of the items.
Actually, I have to give Namco Bandai credit for making an entirely self-contained tournament kit, complete with this marker. They obviously expect you to buy the game on the way to a tournament you're holding that night on the spur of the moment. I won't be using this stuff myself, but at least it's the thought that counts.
After some superfluous detail analysis, I bet you're thinking "tl;dr, what's the verdict?" Well, SoulCalibur IV Premium Edition has some notable flaws, yet it's presented well enough to lessen the impact. I clearly am not the target audience for the tournament kit, but I can still use the bracket as a poster. If you need a t-shirt to be your size, you may take issue with the XL shirt included, but I know a lot of people won't mind. The tin, while overly large, is a beauty to look at and competently designed. And of course, there is the art book, which gains points with me. Bucking the recent trend, there is no "Making Of" DVD, but I don't think this is a game that really merits one, so it's no big loss.
Should you buy it? Yes, I'd still recommend the Premium Edition over the regular edition. I think $80 is a tad pricey - I'd rather see this for $70-75 - but the bonus DLC, art book, and beautiful tin are worth it. If you're really don't see yourself getting into the game like most people have, the regular edition will suffice, but for most gamers, try to secure yourself one of these babies soon, because they're going fast.
On a scale of one to ten winged-unicorn-bear-knights, SoulCalibur IV Premium Edition gets:
Pros: Gorgeous tin, all-in-one tournament kit, great art sketches
Cons: Tin is too big, t-shirt is way too big