PopMatters is moving to WordPress in December. We will continue to publish on this site as we work on the move. We aim to make it a seamless experience for readers.


Soul Calibur IV

Jason Cook

Soul Calibur IV is a deep, rewarding and -- most importantly -- downright fun fighting game.

Publisher: Namco Bandai
Genres: Fighting
Price: $59.99
Multimedia: Soul Calibur IV
Platforms: Xbox 360 (Reviewed), PlayStation 3
Number of players: 1-4
ESRB rating: Teen
Developer: Project Soul
US release date: 2008-07-29
Developer website

2008 is shaping up to be a big year for fourth installments in popular game series. From Metal Gear Solid to Grand Theft Auto to the hotly anticipated Street Fighter IV -- four is the magic number.

While it may not carry the same clout as Metal Gear Solid or GTA, Soul Calibur IV has landed on the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. Soul Calibur also may not have the same name recognition that fellow fighters such as the aforementioned Street Fighter, Mortal Kombat or even Tekken, but the series is peerless in terms of weapon-based fighting.

The Dreamcast version of the game is hailed as one of the best fighters ever and ranks number eight on GameRankings.com (a review aggregate site) in the list of the highest scoring games of all-time.

If you had any lingering doubts about the series' first foray into this generation of consoles, let me save you some time and say it is far from a disappointment. Longtime fans of the series are probably playing Soul Calibur IV as I write this, so they don't need to be convinced. But if you're thinking about cutting your teeth on this installment, do yourself a favor and at least rent it. Soul Calibur IV is a highly polished, very fun and extremely accessible fighter that almost anyone can enjoy.

The first thing rookies will notice about Soul Calibur is the selection of weapons. They are the lifeblood of the game -- the characters are simply bread to the blades' (or nunchuku's or bo staves') butter. The weapons are as varied and interesting as the character models themselves, and the vast majority of a given character's move set is derived from his or her weapons.

Whether you want to slug away with Rock's enormous hammer or finesse your way through enemies with Raphael's rapier, the options are limitless and will match any player's taste.

This is not to say that the characters are not interesting. Veterans of the series will recognize familiar faces like the demonic Nightmare, the dominatrix-esque Ivy and the oddball blind-guy-who-crab-walks-backwards Voldo. There are some newcomers as well, most notably a few faces from the Star Wars universe. Yoda is playable (and adorns the box art) on the Xbox 360, while the PS3 gets Darth Vader. Also unlockable is the Apprentice -- the main character from the upcoming Star Wars game, The Force Unleashed.

But what Soul Calibur has always done well is develop back stories and create dizzying ties between its characters. Player X is the brother of Player Y who killed Player Z's son, and so on and so forth. This makes for a story mode that is much more than a way to sharpen your skills. This also means that the Star Wars characters are a bit out of place, but come on, you're playing as Yoda!

The different play modes in Soul Calibur IV are pretty standard -- story, arcade, multi -- with one notable exception. The Tower of Lost Souls mode pits players up against enemies with armor, special abilities and unique weapons. Players can unlock treasure (to use in character creation) and achievements as they ascend/descend the tower. The Tower is difficult, unique and a great single player mode.

While these modes are great, Soul Calibur IV's character creation is an absolute revelation and the best character editor I have seen in any video game, fighter or not. The options are so many, the detail so deep that any future fighter needs to replicate Soul Calibur IV's or simply not include one for fear of unfavorable comparison. Players can edit characters down to the eyebrow hair color -- and not just a list of preset colors, there is a fully scalable color palette with nine brightness levels.

While this may sound silly to those who haven't burned two hours tweaking their Altair (from Assassin's Creed) to perfection, I can assure you the level of depth here is astounding. There are already videos of Soul Calibur-izations of Obama and McCain, Solid Snake (and Raiden!) and the entire cast of Final Fantasy VII floating around. If you can think of a character, you can probably recreate that character in the Soul Calibur IV character creator.

But these days, a fighter has to be online to survive, and Soul Calibur IV does not disappoint. There are a number of online modes, including quick play and ranked modes. I had the most success with the custom mode, though, where players are allowed to set parameters on level range, time of match, maximum number of players and "best of X" wins. I also have yet to experience any lag whatsoever.

After linking up with three other players, I was off. One might think that sitting out and watching two other players duke it out would be boring. Not true. In fact, studying the winning player (who gets to play again) and his/her tactics is quite entertaining. But character imbalance does rear its ugly head online, as players -- even those in casual rooms -- tend to gravitate toward "cheap" characters, especially if they find themselves on a losing streak. Even as he was being mocked for "button mashing" and using the same handful of moves over and over, one player in my group would not be deterred, using his custom character with a bo staff relentlessly. The Apprentice and Yoda also seem rather unbalanced, but that may have been intentional.

Soul Calibur IV is a deep, rewarding and -- most importantly -- downright fun fighting game. The single player modes are better than most (if short, but that's expected), the online multiplayer is phenomenal, and the character creator is the best diversion a gamer could ask for. The Soul Calibur series is alive and well in this generation.


Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology provider that we have until December to move off their service. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to fund the move and further development.





Jefferson Starship Soar Again with 'Mother of the Sun'

Rock goddess Cathy Richardson speaks out about honoring the legacy of Paul Kantner, songwriting with Grace Slick for the Jefferson Starship's new album, and rocking the vote to dump Trump.


Black Diamond Queens: African American Women and Rock and Roll (excerpt)

Ikette Claudia Lennear, rumored to be the inspiration for Mick Jagger's "Brown Sugar", often felt disconnect between her identity as an African American woman and her engagement with rock. Enjoy this excerpt of cultural anthropologist Maureen Mahon's Black Diamond Queens, courtesy of Duke University Press.

Maureen Mahon

Ane Brun's 'After the Great Storm' Features Some of Her Best Songs

The irresolution and unease that pervade Ane Brun's After the Great Storm perfectly mirror the anxiety and social isolation that have engulfed this post-pandemic era.


'Long Hot Summers' Is a Lavish, Long-Overdue Boxed Set from the Style Council

Paul Weller's misunderstood, underappreciated '80s soul-pop outfit the Style Council are the subject of a multi-disc collection that's perfect for the uninitiated and a great nostalgia trip for those who heard it all the first time.


ABBA's 'Super Trouper' at 40

ABBA's winning – if slightly uneven – seventh album Super Trouper is reissued on 45rpm vinyl for its birthday.


The Mountain Goats Find New Sonic Inspiration on 'Getting Into Knives'

John Darnielle explores new sounds on his 19th studio album as the Mountain Goats—and creates his best record in years with Getting Into Knives.


The 100 Best Albums of the 2000s: 60-41

PopMatters' coverage of the 2000s' best recordings continues with selections spanning Swedish progressive metal to minimalist electrosoul.


Is Carl Neville's 'Eminent Domain' Worth the Effort?

In Carl Neville's latest novel, Eminent Domain, he creates complexities and then shatters them into tiny narrative bits arrayed along a non-linear timeline.


Horrors in the Closet: Horrifying Heteronormative Scapegoating

The artificial connection between homosexuality and communism created the popular myth of evil and undetectable gay subversives living inside 1950s American society. Film both reflected and refracted the homophobia.


Johnny Nash Refused to Remember His Place

Johnny Nash, part rock era crooner, part Motown, and part reggae, was too polite for the more militant wing of the Civil Rights movement, but he also suffered at the hands of a racist music industry that wouldn't market him as a Black heartthrob. Through it all he was himself, as he continuously refused to "remember his place".


John Hollenbeck Completes a Trilogy with 'Songs You Like a Lot'

The third (and final?) collaboration between a brilliant jazz composer/arranger, the Frankfurt Radio Big Band, vocalists Kate McGarry and Theo Bleckman, and the post-1950 American pop song. So great that it shivers with joy.


The Return of the Rentals After Six Years Away

The Rentals release a space-themed album, Q36, with one absolute gem of a song.


Matthew Murphy's Post-Wombats Project Sounds a Lot Like the Wombats (And It's a Good Thing)

While UK anxiety-pop auteurs the Wombats are currently hibernating, frontman Matthew "Murph" Murphy goes it alone with a new band, a mess of deprecating new earworms, and revived energy.


The 100 Best Albums of the 2000s: 80-61

In this next segment of PopMatters' look back on the music of the 2000s, we examine works by British electronic pioneers, Americana legends, and Armenian metal provocateurs.


In the Tempest's Eye: An Interview with Surfer Blood

Surfer Blood's 2010 debut put them on the map, but their critical sizzle soon faded. After a 2017 comeback of sorts, the group's new record finds them expanding their sonic by revisiting their hometown with a surprising degree of reverence.


Artemis Is the Latest Jazz Supergroup

A Blue Note supergroup happens to be made up of women, exclusively. Artemis is an inconsistent outing, but it dazzles just often enough.


Horrors in the Closet: A Closet Full of Monsters

A closet full of monsters is a scary place where "straight people" can safely negotiate and articulate their fascination and/or dread of "difference" in sexuality.


'Wildflowers & All the Rest' Is Tom Petty's Masterpiece

Wildflowers is a masterpiece because Tom Petty was a good enough songwriter by that point to communicate exactly what was on his mind in the most devastating way possible.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.