I haven't seriously played a fighting game since "Street Fighter II." I did love "Soul Calibur" on Dreamcast. It was fun, fast, easy to pick up and beautiful. But I haven't played much of any "Soul Calibur" game since then.
Then, earlier this year, Namco Bandai revealed Vader and Yoda in "Soul Calibur IV." My nerd radar started going off. It's with this mindset I went into a short interview with "Soul Calibur IV" director Katsutoshi Sasaki at Namco Bandai's recent Editor's Day in San Francisco.
Sasaki says his latest creation, "Soul Calibur IV," was made with people like me (read: button-mashing novices) in mind. It's the largest reason the game has an online component, even though some of Sasaki's team was initially against it.
We even discussed the giant elephant in the room: "Street Fighter IV."
He's seen it, and and he respects it.
"I've had a chance to look at the playable [version of 'Street Fighter IV'] at a show recently and personally I am interested to see how well a 2D game evolves itself into a 3D environment," said Sasaki. "They [Capcom] have put a lot of effort into the icon elements to make it more interesting. As a fighting game fan, I look forward to competing and stimulating each other to drive the genre into future generations."
Unlike Tecmo's Tomonobu Itagaki, who has used the media to criticize Namco Bandai's Tekken series, Sasaki welcomes the competition. He explained that developers, himself included, are constantly looking towards other games to improve the genre as a whole.
"When we see some other game that has some new element that we could probably borrow in 'Soul Calibur' and make 'Soul Calibur' even better, then we will definitely look into it," he said. "Creators are always being stimulated by all the games on the market."
I explained to Sasaki how I'd fallen off the fighting bandwagon and didn't really know how to hop back on. He said online is the answer to my problems.
"Novice users, like yourself, are something we had in mind all the time for 'Soul Calibur IV,'" said Sasaki. "That's why we have implemented the online function and included the online matching system, which allows you to match up with users at a similar level and compete with somebody to win some games, lose some games and stimulate each other to get even better and kind of help each other to master the game."
"When we see some other game that has some new element that we could probably borrow and make Soul Calibur even better, then we will definitely look into it"
Japanese developers have been slower to adopt online multiplayer than the rest of the world, however, especially amongst the major fighting franchises. Sasaki said his team wasn't necessarily excited about the idea of incorporating online play into "Soul Calibur IV" at first, but he decided to make it a cornerstone of the game's development.
"Obviously, as you guessed, there were some voices [on my development staff] raising concerns in terms of the lag," he said. "At the same time, there is a lot to gain from online by sharing other experiences with another player, somewhere in the world, [and that] can actually add a lot to the gameplay. That counteracts the effects you have in terms of lag."
Outside of online play, one of the biggest tangents of discussion around "Soul Calibur IV" has been Darth Vader and Yoda as playable guest characters. Such inclusions are not new to the "Soul Calibur franchise" -- "Soul Calibur II" had Link, Heihachi and Spawn -- but Yoda has proven controversial, due to his extreme height advantage. The smaller they are, the harder they are to hit?
Sasaki isn't worried. "The influences that Yoda will have in terms of gameplay because of his height, [is that] some of the upper attacks won't hit him," he said. "However, we always try to make the gameplay fun, so we prepare positive demerits of choosing Yoda and also negative demerits on it. There's always some give and take."
But what if Yoda keeps beating me? Unfortunately, Sasaki wouldn't disclose any secrets for defeating the green Star Wars hero. "[laughs] I don't know who will be best to use to defeat him, but what's more interesting is you can use Asteroth to make it like David and Goliath," he said. "That'd be fun."
"Soul Calibur IV" and "Street Fighter IV" seem destined to butt heads later this year. Readers, are the two fighters different enough that it won't matter?