I am the Everyday Legend, and I am a male, 30-year old, Florida native and videogame fan of the most epicurean order. I'm also the father of a very precocious two-year-old.
I got into gaming when I was 5, and my Aunt and Uncle had an NES that they had bought because they thought it was the coolest thing ever. As a matter of fact, they weren't too far off of the mark. I was introduced to Super Mario Bros. and Duck Hunt (naturally), and soon followed up with the very first Zelda. I remember the very first game I beat by myself - Megaman 2, in 1989. I was six at the time.
Shortly after that, I played Street Fighter II for the first time in a local skating rink and was hooked. Bad. Like, smack-habit bad.
I remember playing against the college kids that would come in there to hang out and chill - there was a lounge connected to the place that you had to be 18 to get in - and a lot of these guys used to come in and spend a ton of time and money on playing SFII. I learned how to play from these guys, and within a year, I had become just as good as they were. I was hanging out with people almost twice my age, and conversing with them on their level about a mutual passion - and that's where I've been ever since.
Videogames don't make up my entire life: I cook, I write, I sing, I have a full-time job and am still attending college for a degree in Computer Science. Nothing beats a good trip to a good bar where they serve good beer and have a good selection of good tunes. Also, chilled Junmai Ginjo (unfiltered) sake is the nectar of the gods, in case you weren't aware. Of course, those trips are very rare these days, because there is always another diaper to change, and leaving your kid at home in the crib is never an option if you want to be able to look at yourself in the mirror.
Oh, and I really, really love sushi. I can put away amounts of that stuff that some may label as borderline genocidal.
I don't review games often, if at all - I apologize for the long intro, but this has to be said so that you can have a very specific frame of reference for this review. I'm going to get this out of the way right now:
SoulCalibur II is one of my favorite games of all time. Ever. Like, I have been playing videogames for twenty-eight of my thirty-one years, and out of all those experiences, out of all those systems and platforms, out of all the games I could possibly play, SoulCalibur II still stands as one of my absolute, near-and-dear, desert island, you-can-keep-your-(insert title here) games I have ever played. Period. Outside of genre. Outside of theme. Just as a game alone, it stands on high.
I've played each new installment as it came out, from Soul Edge in the arcade to SoulCalibur V, and everything in between. And sadly, nothing ever touched SCII in my eyes. Sure, there was better mission modes and content in SCIII, there was better character customization in IV and V, but to me, the core gameplay has never felt better and more tightly tuned than in SCII. I don't look at SoulCalibur games for extra content just like I don't eat a cheeseburger for the ketchup - the meat is the most important part, bar none. It makes the sandwich, so to speak. Everything else, like great vegetables, gourmet cheese, artisan bun...it all goes to waste if the meat sucks.
SCIII had no arcade playtest to precede it, so there were glaring gameplay problems and glitches in the mission mode (I've lost saves numerous times, to the point where I simply gave up). SCIV tried to take steps into being 3D Guilty Gear, with a focus on combos and instant-kill attacks. SCV added Street Fighter-style meter management into the mix. Everything past II seems to have lost more and more of the "core gameplay is the focal point" ethos, which is a shame, because nobody else was doing what SoulCalibur was doing in terms of gameplay, even ten years after the original SoulCalibur. Nobody copied their formula. Nobody did it better.
Imagine my joy when I heard that SoulCalibur II would get an HD re-release, the full home version of one of my all-time favorite games, complete with online play.
Imagine my sorrow when I see glaring problems and many, many missed opportunities that completely mar an otherwise competent port.
Now that you've read that, you know where I'm coming from, and hopefully my point of view can remain as objective as it possibly can be considering my abnormally high level of fandom for this very particular entry in the franchise.
SoulCalibur II HD Online is upon us. The gameplay itself hasn't changed from 2003, and that's a great thing. This is classic SoulCalibur, where awareness of your positioning, proper reactive defense and fake-out mindgames are the true keys to victory, with no meter management aside from your very own lifebar. Attacks are the same as they were, tactics are the soup du jour, and the controls might take some readjusting to get your sea legs back, but once you've acclimated, you'll find that it's the same game you loved way back when. And what's best is this - no more arguing about which guest character was better. Now you get to fight them to the death in order to settle the score for sure. Or, at least 2/3 of the score, since Link isn't in this game, while PS2's Heihachi (Tekken) and XB's Spawn are.
This brings up plenty of fanboy ire on news stories, social networks, comment sections and message boards. And truthfully, it's understandable. However, if Nintendo didn't want to release Link to other consoles via a licensing agreement, or Namco didn't want to support Wii U for whatever reasons, there should have been no reason why they couldn't have modified the character model, called him "Kiln" and called it a day. You'd have had your I-Can't-Believe-It's-Not-Link version of Link, and some people would have been made extraordinarily happy by this inclusion, because something always beats nothing, hands-down.
As a side note - the Japanese voice option has been removed. Not a dealbreaker, but sad, as I liked their dub far more than the ham-'n-cheeze English one.
With that said, this port is made from the PAL version of SCII, which has a few bugs and glitches in gameplay that allow for specific character infinites and a few nasty properties on certain moves that make for unblockable attacks, etc. Namco really screwed the proverbial pooch here, because using the NTSC version wouldn't have had these problems, but we're stuck with this version, and no casual player will have their experience shattered over these things. Only eagle-eyed vets and serious competitors will take note of these changes, but I feel that they are worth mentioning.
This version also brings the same modes as the 2003 home versions. Weapon Master is back, and needs to be played in order to unlock the characters, costumes and weapon sets, just as it used to. I have to applaud their decision to do this, as they could have done the standard Namco practice and easily offered a "Unlock It All" pack for an undisclosed sum as paid DLC. However, I can't shake the notion that this is the reason why they're charging $20 for this game instead of $15. I mean, sure, they did add an online component and upscaled the texture models, and there are two out of the three system-specific guest characters (one of which is licensed), but with the state of the online netcode, I'm not sure $20 is justified.
Online play isn't necessarily bad in SCIIHDO, it's just not good. Matches are playable in the sense that you are able to play with other people online. That's it. The netcode simply isn't good enough to hang with the split-second timing required to execute Guard Impact parries, or shift stances with proper timing with Ivy, or even block Taki's rising B=>B (knife goes up into the face, knife goes down into the foot - good luck with guarding your foot in time). Even on top of this, joining online games is nothing short of a joke, and playing with friends is practically nonexistent. There's no lobby system at all, something that's a standard of all online fighting games. Here, you just search, and join. Once it's done, back to the main menu you go to repeat the process. Whatever "3-4-5" means as far as connection quality, it doesn't matter - I've had better, smoother matches of online checkers.
It's also worth noting that it's just one-on-one versus. No Team Battle. No online Tournament mode. Nothing like the legendary (and I mean LEGENDARY) Conquest mode from the arcade version of SCII. Just join, fight, and drop. Because of all these deficiencies, I can say for a fact that SoulCalibur II HD Online only carries the right to have the word "Online" in the title on sheer technicality alone, and the pieces currently in place are shameful for anything besides an internal test build. Project Soul should be ashamed of themselves for letting this out into the wild, and Namco should be mocked for putting it out with a smile on their face.
I feel like a little more deference should have been given to this re-release, especially for an inflated price point of twenty bucks. The graphics are nice, the gameplay is still solid (minus the few annoyances present due to picking the wrong damn version to port), and the original game is 95% intact (no Japanese voice option bugs me a bit). However, there's nothing new outside of the shinier coat of paint, and nothing extra added onto the original package to justify its asking price. It comes equipped with an online mode that functions without functioning well, and has none of the creature comforts of current fighting game offerings, like lobbies. It's the equivalent of saying that doors are optional in a house - front door, privacy doors, all of them. All optional.
(Yes, I know, it's SCV, but it expresses my disappointment perfectly.)
This leaves me with a very bittersweet feeling, one that I can't quite stomach. I can't honestly recommend this game to anyone, and it's the game I've been evangelizing for a decade. I finally understand what my father meant all those years ago when he looked at me after doing something terribly stupid and said: "Son, I'm not angry at you - I'm simply disappointed in you." That's the exact feeling I have for Namco Bandai at this present moment, because such a high-water mark for the franchise deserved so much better of a treatment than the one they gave. This is the videogame equivalent of a job done by a high school volleyball team car wash - half-hearted and content in the fact that they already have your money, leaving you driving away with something unfinished and full of obvious spots.
With zero hyperbole, I can honestly say that this is one of my saddest days as a videogame player. Nice job, Namco. I can only imagine how good this game might have been if it were given more care and attention, and I know there are lot more people than just myself waiting on patches to help the situation...but considering this is a re-release, I won't get my hopes up. Especially so after you've raised them with the mere announcement that one of my absolute favorite games was returning, better than ever before.
Next time, if there even is a next time, try actually focusing a little more on the "better" part.