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There are a couple of things Namco is known for, the most notable one being their impressive game lineup - stretching all the way from the end of the '70s and including such unforgettable titles as Pac-Man, Galaga, Dig Dug, Mappy, and more recently Ridge Racer, Tekken and Soul Calibur. But it's not all about the titles when it comes to Namco. They made a reputation for themselves by creating the most impressive home platform conversions of their arcade titles, adding more than anyone could possibly imagine to the already perfect arcade experience. While most games get an arcade release first and a console port second, Soulcalibur III steps in to destroy this trend, premiering on Sony's PlayStation 2.


When Soul Edge got its PlayStation release, it was clear that it would become a strong franchise. Namco put alot of work into developing a great world the story is set in. Anything with that amount of detail was bound to be more than just a one shot, and so, in '98 Namco released a sequel called Soul Calibur. The game was great but Namco made some drastic changes to the gameplay, implementing their 8-way run system, adding depth to the fights. To put more emphasis on a new quality that was Soul Calibur, the old name was abandoned. Later, in '99, came the Dreamcast port and it was clear that Namco had developed one of the most impressive fighting games of all time.


The Dreamcast version of Soul Calibur was in fact so perfect when it came to graphics, that no other game in the series has managed to surpass this quality and create a noticable gap between how the game looked back then and how it looks now, ten years after its initial release. It's beyond me, but many characters in the game still look better on Dreamcast than they look on Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 today. There's just something about how the hair [especially on female characters, most notably on Sophitia] and the faces were done that wasn't recreated ever since that memorable Namco and Sega teamup. Enough about history though, because I could write about it for days, literally. Let's focus on the game shown in the photos.


While the second Soulcalibur game appeared on GameCube, Xbox and PlayStation 2, third installment became exclusive to Sony's platform. Maybe Namco needed to focus on just one piece of hardware to improve a already impressive forumla? Maybe it was all about the money? I don't know and I don't really care. The fact is, game was developed as an exclusive title and was based on the same engine that Tekken 5 uses. Speaking of Tekken 5, Namco sure did spoil us with that one. Not only was it an amazing game on its own, but the single game disc included first three installments of Tekken, flawlessly emulated in all of their original arcade glory. To top everything off, Namco threw in their 3D space shooter, StarBlade.


After seeing the extra games in Tekken 5, I kind of expected something similar from Soulcalibur III. It wouldn't hurt to have Soul Edge and first Soul Calibur games on the same disc. After all, Soul Edge originally used Namco's System 11 arcade board, the exact same hardware as the one used by Tekken and Tekken 2, and Soul Calibur ran on System 12 arcade board, the one used by the arcade version of Tekken 3. This means that Namco already had the proper technology developed to emulate these titles, but for some reason just didn't do it. While Sega may own the license for the enhanced version of Soul Calibur, the arcade original is all Namco and so is Soul Edge.


Aside from that, Soulcalibur III looks and plays great. It's pretty clear that there's a strong tie-in to the first Soul Calibur game. Many arenas are basically enhanced versions of those from the first game. Taki's shrine and Kilik's proving grounds are good examples. On top of that, Kilik's stage has an arranged music from the corresponding Soul Calibur arena. It's a nice move on Namco's part. After the criticism of Soul Calibur II, they wanted to bring the series back to its 8-way roots and so they did. Even the final boss explodes into small glowing particles with the exact same animation as Inferno did in Soul Calibur.


One of the things Soul Edge was known for, were the amazing game endings rendered in real time by the game engine. It took Namco close to ten years to bring those back and I was happy to see them once again. I always thought the static art and scrolling text in previous Soul Calibur games lacked the flare of what Soul Edge had shown us on PlayStation. Another feature making a comeback are the weapons, each with its own abilities like healing, double the damage at the cost of our health and so on.


Except the regular one on one fights that take us straight to the next battle, Soul Edge introduced a story driven gameplay in Edge Master Mode. Similar to this is the single player mode in Soulcalibur III. You move across the world map and ocasionally you get to choose your route. It always comes down to beating your opponent, but at least you get the feel that you drive the story forward by your actions and it works. Every opponent beaten will earn you money that can later be spent to buy art and extra content [again, similarly to Soul Calibur] including items rangnig from new weapons to promotional footage from the game.


There are also a couple of features never before seen in Soul series. First is the character customization. Just like in Tekken 5 and before that in Virtua Fighter 4, you can create your custom player. The editor Namco provided is quite complex and gives us the possibility to alter pretty much anything, starting from the body build, to colours of clothes, hair, eyes and so on. The characters are saved onto the memory card and if you feel like it, you can beat your friend up with your newly created sumo wrestler named Wobbly Wallaby, or whatever it is you've created.


Soulcalibur III lacks any kind of online mode so unless you want to carry around your memory card, and you love playing with dolls and dressing them up, forget about the customization feature. Another new feature is a new gameplay mode called "Chronicles of the Sword". It's a strategy game that could be compared to board games where you control the actions of your troops in a war against the neighbouring countries. Again, it all comes down to fights, but it is a nice attempt by Namco to make things more interesting, even though I'd rather see something like the beachball from Tekken 3 or bowling from Tekken Tag.


Soulcalibur III is a great game. It's fast and it looks impressive. The soundtrack may not be nearly as good as Khan Super Session from Soul Edge, but it is pretty decent and it's certainly the best soundtrack in any of the Calibur games. Namco did try to stuff alot of content into the game and it shows. It's a solid production packed with unlockables and if you want to unlock everything, you'll need some time off work.


All that said, Soulcalibur III is the only weapon based fighting game around these days. Sega apparently doesn't feel like developing another Last Bronx title, so all there is left to do is to buy this game. If you like fighting games, it will be money well spent. It's not Namco at its best and I think they did a much better job with Tekken 5, but Soulcalibur III has no real sompetition and I'm not even sure if anyone else can do it better than Namco, even if they don't try their hardest.

PR

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