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Soul Calibur Retrospective Series Part 1 - Soul Blade / Soul Edge (1996)

Transcending History and the World, a Tale of Souls and Swords Eternally Retold

When I was eighteen and had finished high school, I was rewarded by my dear mom with a Playstation 1 {PS1} and a game of my choice. At that time, 1998 to be exact, we had such a limit supply of PS1 games in the shops.

Even now, I can still remember standing in CNA and going through the only three games they had: Need for Speed 3: Hot Pursuit, some game I had so little interest in that I forgot its name, and Soul Blade. Having spent most of my arcade teen life on fighting games like Mortal Kombat and King of Fighters, Soul Blade become my first fighting game fix for the PS1, even though I knew nothing about it when it was chosen. It was a fighting game with weapons... that was more than enough for me.

First Impressions

I was slightly overwhelmed by getting the PS1, being an upgrade from the Sega and Nintendo machines that used the old cassettes. I was still getting used to the new gameplay and graphics of this generation of consoles before I could truly appreciate the game. And appreciate it I did.

The first things that really caught my attention were the wide story arcs and the use of weapons. With Mortal Kombat, King of Fighters and Tekken, we had been spoiled to hand-to-hand combat with various combos. Here was a unique combat experience in the arena of weapons.

I quickly learned to love the characters, which is linked to my love for the story arcs. Learning the combat system took me slightly longer than I would like to admit; to be honest, I don't think I ever did, to which my family could attest from the constant cursing they heard every time I played it.

It could not take away my love for the game. And as we go through each section of this retrospective review, you will quickly see why.

Storyline

The marvel of this game that got me hooked into endless hours of play was not just the different arcade endings like every other fighting game out there. It was not just the superb story that NAMCO had created for each character. It was the fantastic way in which it was presented like no other fighting game of its time.

I am in my very essence an author. The fact that this fighting game was presenting its story in book form... epic! As you played through the story mode, fighting each of the battles that the book presented, you made your way to the end where you had a choice to make. Choose Soul Edge as your eternal weapon, or destroy it once and for all.

Which leads us to what the story is actually about. You know in Diablo 3, where several heroes feel the falling star's power, and meet at New Tristram to investigate it? In Soul Blade, there is a legend about a sword called Soul Edge by some, and "The Sword of Salvation", "The Sword of Heroes" or "The Ultimate Sword" by others.

The essence of the weapon always took various forms throughout the centuries, hence the term 'Soul Edge'. In 1584, the time of this game's story, it had materialized in the form of twin swords in the hands of a malicious pirate, Cervantes de Leon. However, no one knew where the pirate or the legendary blades were and so nine heroes set out to discover its location.

Sometimes the heroes would set out on their own, and other times they would join to fight for the same cause. There were also times where they would fight each other for their own reasons but inevitably ended with the hero of that part of the tale winning and continuing on their quest for the blades of destiny.

The heroes had various reasons for obtaining the blades. These differed between obtaining eternal informidable power, using the evil essence to cover the world in destruction, using the essence as a power towards something good, or, in its simplest form, revenge. The heroes knew the legend that the blades only brought misfortune to those that obtained them, but they each believed they could overpower it and use it to their own ends.

Which is where the choice for each character comes in. At the end of the story or arcade more, you could choose, through secret button synchronization (without any indicators on-screen of what that was) whether you choose to keep Soul Edge after killing Cervantes, or destroy its evil essence so that no one could be corrupted by its power instead. Why have they not made this a movie already??!!

Characters

To understand the dogmatic ending for Soul Blade, an introduction to the key fighters/heroes is in order. Here is a list of the available and unlockable characters, with a brief summary of who they are. This is an essential element of the retrospective, for you to understand the forthcoming parts to this series. You can skip this detailed story explanation and head to Gameplay & Graphics if you wish, but you may miss the essential storyline that precedes the rest of the series.

As a special treat, you can click on the hero's name and see an image of what he or she looked like in the original game.

Hwang Seong-gyeong

This was my favourite male character in the game, mostly due to his kicking moves and that sabre of a sword. He is one of those personalities born and bred with a sense of justice and will do everything in his martial means to attain it at all costs.

At a young age, he enlisted to train in the Seong Dojang martial arts, favouring the long or broadsword as a weapon. He excelled in the training so quickly that he was soon trained by the master himself, Seong Han-myong.

When the Japanese raiders began invading the land, Hwang volunteered for the Korean Coast Guard to assist in repelling them. When rumours of the 'Sword of Salvation' reached their ears, Hwang was immediately sent to retrieve it in order to save their country.

Hwang faced many battles on his journey towards finding the legendary sword, but the one he personally faced was unexpected. He discovered that Seong Han-myong's daughter and his friend, Seong Mi-na, had set off to find the blades for her own reasons. Fearing for her life, he decided to abandon the quest for Soul Edge and return home with her.

Seong Mi-na

With her father being the master of the Seong Dojang, Seong Mi-na was always surrounded by weapons and training. She quickly took a liking to the polearm or halberd, even though no one took her training seriously due to her gender. She quietly trained herself, mastering her style and weapon.

For the same reason, that of being a girl, she was denied service in the Korean Coast Guard and was not permitted to protect the lands against the Japanese raiders. When she overheard Hwang being tasked with finding the 'Sword of Salvation', she slipped away in order to find the weapon before him. It was less about saving the country and more about proving her worth as a fighter.

She fought well and defeated many, but when Hwang encountered her en route to finding Soul Edge her personal journey came to an end. He defeated her in a personal fight and then persuaded (or forced) her to return home with him, their quest for Soul Edge abandoned.

Rock

No, this isn't Dwayne Johnson. Nathaniel "Rock" Adams was the son of an English dealer specializing in rare weapons. His father nicknamed him Rock due to his sheer size as a boy. During a special auction abroad, his father won the bid for Soul Edge and took it on board the ship back home.

During the return trip, the ship was attacked by the pirate lord Cervantes. The ship was destroyed and Cervantes took the possessed weapon, killing Rock's parents and everyone on board except for Rock. Rock was up on the closest shores with no recollection of who he was or what had happened.

The Natives didn't take too kindly to him due to his large size, but one small boy named Bangoo quickly befriended him and made him feel at home. As time went by, Rock slowly recovered some of his memories but believed that Soul Edge held the key to obtaining all his memories.

Having become a father figure to Bangoo, the Rock set off to obtain Soul Edge, by all means, necessary, battling all along the way with his might two-handed axes and with the promise that he would return to Bangoo one day.

Voldo

This is definitely one of the strangest characters in the game. There was an Italian rare weapons merchant named Vercci by some but known as the Merchant of Death by many. When rumours of the legendary Soul Edge abounded, Vercci was eager to get his grubby hands on them. Instead of getting the blade himself, he sent his most loyal subject and right-hand man, Voldo, after it.

Voldo contracted the services of the pirate lord Cervantes to obtain it for them. When Cervantes took the evil blades for himself, Voldo decided to handle the quest personally. However, the Italian Wars broke out at the same time and word reached Vercci that his prized weapons and possessions were the key targets by the invaders.

He sailed his ship and all his possessions to an uninhabited island off the coast of Sicily in the Mediterranean Sea. He dug a deep vault on the island and then ordered Voldo to kill every one of the sailors that had joined them. Sealing them in, the vault would become Vercci tomb while Voldo guarded all the possessions, killing and defeating anyone who dared challenge the 'ghost guardian'.

The years in that darkness caused Voldo to go blind and insane. He practiced battling without sight, creating a new style of fighting with dual hand katars that no one had ever seen before. One day, he heard the voice of Vercci command him to resume his quest for Soul Edge. Returning to the land of the living, Voldo fought everyone he encountered, eager to find Cervantes and obtain the blade he had forsaken so long ago.

Heishiro Mitsurugi

Meet the humble son of a farmer. No, he does not use his samurai to chop down the agricultural fields. From years of his homeland being attacked and abused by bandits, he decided to take up the sword and be the savior to his people. This led to becoming a hired mercenary to the surrounding lands, where he heard about a new weapon: the firearm.

This weapon was destroying the Japanese armies, so when the legend of Soul Edge drifted through the lands he quickly sought it in an effort to defeat the firearm. Losing a battle against Taki, he decided to face a rifleman with blade alone. Initially, he is shot in the shoulder, but with practice, he perfected his art until he could counter the bullet and defeat his enemy.

Li Long

During this time period, the Chinese Ming Dynasty was in turmoil following the death of the great emperor Yǒnglèdì. Japanese raiders have infiltrated the Chinese lands. When rumours of the now legendary Soul Edge reaches the new emperor's ears, he sends an assassin named Li Long to obtain it for their country in order to save it from further Japanese incursions. Li Long is assigned with killing the pirate lord Cervantes in order to obtain it and bring it back to China.

Li Long had other things in mind though, who found himself not really concerned with the 'Sword of Salvation'. He focussed on his personal mission of daimyo feudal lords. With his fighting skill and prowess, many believed he would succeed. Unfortunately, he attacked the head of a powerful family and was almost destroyed in the aftermath. He was left for dead, but his badly injured body was discovered by an innkeeper named Chie.

Chie nursed Li Long back to health and love, the two having fallen for each other during the restorative process. He abandoned any notion of future hired work and was content to spend the rest of his life with her. Yet fairy tales seldom last and, while he was out, the inn was attacked and Chie believed to be killed. Upon questioning the witnesses Li Long discovered that a lone swordsman travelling the land had caused the fight.

Word had spread that Mitsurugi was traveling those exact lands at that time in search for Soul Edge. Li Long believed that he was responsible for Chie's death. He made a promise to kill Mitsurugi, by obtaining Soul Edge before he could and killing the Japanese samurai with it.

As he defeated warriors on his path with his nunchaku, he used their fallen blades to upgrade his nunchaku by placing mounted blades at the ends. Before he could obtain Soul Edge, he encountered Mitsurugi and battled him immediately. He won but discovered that Mitsurugi had not been responsible for Chie's death.

Determined to find the lone swordsman responsible, he finally made his way to Cervantes. The battle was epic, but he failed. Li Long fell to the ship's deck with blood pouring onto the timber, calling out Chie's name one more time. Simultaneously, Chie woke up from a deep sleep in another part of the world. She heard that Li Long had left to avenge her and awaited his return. A month later, she realizes that she is pregnant with his child.

Sophitia

Meet our gorgeous Greek goddess of a fighter. She lived in Athens with her family as part of the Ottoman Empire. She worked at her family's bakery and was a loyal servant to the goddess Athena.

One day when she was bathing in a forest river, something many of us boys will remember from the game's intro video, a bright light appeared before her. The Olympian god of fire and forge, Hephaestus, informed her of Soul Edge's true evil nature and commissioned her to seek it out and destroy it.

At the Eurydice Shrine, he presented her with a holy weapon, the Omega Sword, which he told her was the only weapon that could destroy Soul Edge. Humbly, she didn't believe a baker's daughter was the right person for this important assignment. She gave into his request eventually and set off to find Soul Edge.

After many battles, she found the blades in a port in Valencia, Spain and fought the pirate lord Cervantes. Defeating him, she brought her sword down on one of the twin blades and shattered it into several pieces. The shards exploded around her, injuring her and weakening her. Cervantes arose with the single Soul Blade in hand, ready to take her life.

Taki

Taki was an orphan from an early age. Taken in by a ninja master Toki, she was trained in the way of the ninja in his clan. Taki was blessed with supernatural powers and so, when the time was right, she heads out into the world slaying demons who fought to possess normal, good people. She created many of her own short swords, imbuing them with her powers.

One day Toki called all his ninjas for a special meeting. One of their former leaders, Hachibei, had stolen the spiritual ninjatō, Mekki-Maru, and had run away with Toki's daughter Chie. They were considered rogue ninja. Toki's ninjas were ordered to find and slay them, but Taki saw a twinkle in her master's eye that worried her.

Being a close friend to Chie, Taki was able to use her supernatural powers to trace her essence to an inn. She discovered that Hachibei and Chie were living with a man called Li Long. Waiting for Li Long to leave, she approached Hachibei. When she told him that she merely wanted Mekki-Maru, he warned her that an evil presence was within Toki and that was why he took the sacred ninjatō and left.

Taki found this hard to believe at first and that the Mekki-Maru held any significant power. Hachibei explained that, in the hands of Toki, the evil essence will grow. Taki, suspicious of Toki now, hid the Mekki-Maru safely away before returning to the clan. She made up a story that the Chinese man Li Long had killed Chie and Hachibei before taking the sword. An evil grin crossed Toki's face, and he ordered Li Long to be pursued and killed.

Taki realized now that Toki was possessed. She could not believe that the Mekki-Maru had caused this. When the rumours of Soul Edge reached her, she was convinced the evil blades were the real cause. She also believed that Soul Edge was negatively affecting her favourite sword, Rekki-Maru. With this in mind, she set out to destroy it.

When she found the evil presence in Spain, she saw Cervantes and the evil blade in his hand about to deliver the death blow to Sophitia. She rushed in and saved the Greek girl, before initiating the greatest battle of all time. Not only was she fighting a powerful pirate lord, but a demonic presence from the single blade as well.

Almost completely defeated and depleted from energy, Taki gave it her all. Luckily Cervantes was still exhausted from his battle with Sophitia and Taki was able to deliver the final blow. Cervantes screamed in torment as he died, and Taki helped Sophitia leave the area. She dressed her wounds and made sure she returned safely home before heading back to Japan.

Siegfried

And here is the most central character to the entire series, although we wouldn't realize it at this point or even at the end of the game yet. During this time of the game, oppressed German peasants were revolting against the Holy Roman Empire. With his father away on a holy crusade, Siegfried fell in with the wrong crowd and became head of a band of thieves called "Schwarzwind" (black wind).

The group loved to prey on fighters who ashamedly ran away from the crusade, as their pride was already stung and they had valuable possessions on them. It was like a 'Robin Hood' philosophy: the traitors didn't deserve the treasure, so they relieved them of the burden. One night, the thieves attacked a group of exhausted soldiers returning from the war and Siegfried quickly killed their commander. Holding the man's head in his hands, the moon lit his face and he realized that it was his father.

He ran into the woods, the act making him go insane. He could not believe that he had killed his own father. He eventually convinced himself that he had not done it and that someone, or something else, was to blame. He set upon the land to find the true killer when he heard rumours of Soul Edge. Whomever had killed his father would find vengeance at the edge of that blade.

Believing the blade to be in the possession of noble Sir Stefan, he joined his forces as a Landsknecht and quickly rose through the ranks. When he eventually killed Sir Stephan and took his Grimblade, a long two-handed sword, he ran off into the forest and discovered that the blade was not Soul Edge.

Continuing his search, he happened upon a port in Spain where he watched as Taki defeated Cervantes and left with Sophitia in the arm. As Siegfried approached the pirate's corpse, he saw the single blade of Soul Edge. He reached down, about to take it, when a supernatural spirit arose in the form of Inferno. Siegfried attacked it, fought hard and strong, and finally defeated it, breaking the Soul Edge blade in the end and shattering it into pieces.

It was not the end of Soul Edge though, for Siegfried had merely earned the right to wield the evil spirit in his blade. A beam of light blasted down from the sky and the Evil Seed entered Siegfried. It made him one, dire deal....slaughter people around the world and gather their souls to fuel the evil spirit, and Siegfried's father would be resurrected.....

Cervantes

Since Cervantes is the main antagonist (well, the physical one anyway, Soul Edge being the supernatural), let's pay some homage to our pirate lord with a short tale of his own. When you complete the game with all characters, he does become unlocked and playable, so t'is only fair, me matey. Arrrhhh!

Cervantes was intensely proud of his father, Philip de Leon. Philip was sent as a privateer in the name of Spain to loot in the country's name. He had had years of success until he took on a warship that completely destroyed his fleet and killed him. In devastation, Cervantes took to the seas and became one of the world's notorious pirates ever known.

One day he received a message from Vercci through Voldo with one clear request: find Soul Edge and retrieve it for the Merchant of Death. Cervantes wasn't really interested in the mission, but then remembered that Vercci had fitted Cervantes's fleet with special artillery. Begrudgingly, he set off on the quest.

When he heard that an Italian merchant had bought a special article at an auction that resembled Soul Edge, he sailed to meet the ship head-on. He destroyed everyone on the ship to attain it until he finally had Soul Edge in his hands. When he left the destruction he had caused, he vanished for twenty years with no whisper of where he had gone.

Soul Edge corrupted him and drove him insane. He would slaughter many, even his own crewmen, and discovered that he became more powerful with each killing. Eventually, the supernatural spirit in the twin blades consumed him to the point that Cervantes only existed in physical form. His identity was lost.

The evil spirit grew hungry and Cervantes came out of hiding. The pirate lord would challenge any that wanted the legendary sword, killing them and consuming their souls. He faced Li Long in battle and defeated him, but the Chinese warrior escaped before his soul could be stolen. Cervantes hunted him down but was confronted by Sophitia. She destroyed the one blade before the exploding fragments injured her. As he was about to take her soul, Taki arrived and defeated Cervantes. Choosing to save Sophitia, she left his body on the ship, believing him to be dead...

Gameplay & Graphics

At the time that this game came out, the graphics were exquisite. The 3D architecture was magnificent. We were treated to splendid areas and displays that suited the various characters, from the vaulted tomb of the Merchant of Death to the pirate ship of Cervantes.

One thing that Soul Blade brought to the gaming table was the Ring Outs. Not only could you win by defeating your enemy by weapon, but you could kick, slice or hit your enemy out of the ring simply by pushing them to the edge and knocking them off.

The 8-run of future games in the series was not fully developed at this stage. Yet, we were still treated to non-linear movement. You could double-tap a direction up or down to dodge out of the way and fight on a new invisible line in the ring. Jumping did not equate to the acrobatic somersault of Mortal Kombat, which simply lifted you awkwardly into the air. Blocking was performed by means of a button instead of holding back like in other fighting games of the time. This guard button became essential in some combos and special moves.

The throws were also unique for each character and usually depended on the buttons held in, the direction facing and the situation the fighter found themselves in. Special hits countered specific throws, so you had to know which to use for specific situations, making each battle an intense encounter.

The vast combat array was also impressive. Putting a string of directions together with an action button would change the way the damage was dealt and the move that was performed. Some special moves allowed for fiery combat to be initiated, with flames burning all around the weapon and character.

Some last gameplay mechanisms that were introduced in Soul Blade are worth mention. 'Critical hits' allowed a chain of hits, ending with a strong attack that caused tons of damage. If you pressed three specific buttons together, you obtained the character's special unique move which would drain almost all of your opponent's health. The 'Weapon Guage' was a special bar for your weapon's health. If that was depleted through blocking hits too much or other special moves, your fighter would lose his or her weapon and you would have to fight with your hands and feet alone. The last mechanism is 'Guard Impact'. If an attack was blocked at the right time and a certain way, it would stun the opponent for a moment and leave you free to attack at will while they recover. This was a great feature that allowed stalemate battles to be overcome or to gather some breathing space.

Weapons

Oh, how I loved the weapons. I could sing a song or write a sonnet on the weapons. But I won't... not this time anyway.

As mentioned before, other games thrived on hand to hand combat. Soul Blade brought us weapons. And boy, did they show us just what they could do with them. Each character's weapons were unique to them. If you just played arcade mode, you would be stuck with the same weapons all the way through.

Introducing story mode. By playing each character's story, you unlock different types of weapons with different abilities, strengths, and stats. Eventually, at the end, each would receive a Soul Edge version of their weapon, or a good ultimate weapon if they chose the good ending.

Conclusion

And that's it for the first retrospective of this series. For my first Playstation 1 game, it was an incredible experience and completely worth it. I still have the original game I bought back then and played it for the memories and for this review on my PS2. As I am so used to today's improved combat in current fighting games, getting used to the old way of playing was a bit of a struggle, but that is to be expected.

If I had a chance to rate it back then, I would have given it a solid 4/5 or even a 9/10. Compared to the rest of the series, it receives a good 7/10 from me.

Shaun M Jooste
Author of Celenic Earth Chronicles and Silent Hill:Betrayal
https://celenicearth.wordpress.com