Fighting game lore can be difficult to track. Storylines are often split across the roster, with some characters even having endings to their playthroughs that end up ignored or are completely incompatible with the main storyline. This is partially what makes a fighting game spinoff so interesting, as by shifting into more linear genres, the game has a proper chance to explore its plot, characters, and world. The hack-and-slash Wii title Soulcalibur Legends seems like it would be the perfect place to develop the Soulcalibur series’s world a bit, but its focus seems a bit odd.
The greater details are of course preserved. Taking place around the 16th century, the Soulcalibur series as a whole is about the battle between the evil blade Soul Edge and its holy counterpart Soul Calibur. Whoever wields either blade is gifted with immense power but with great personal cost, with our protagonist Siegfried kicking this game’s plot off by taking Soul Edge from its previous owner. However, claiming Soul Edge unleashes monsters unimaginatively called Evils across the world, and the Holy Roman Empire is under attack by an army of them lead by the current holder of Soul Calibur, a monstrous giant called Barbaros. Siegfried at first only wants Soul Edge in a quest for power, but the Masked Emperor of Rome convinces him to search out the four shards of Soul Edge to unleash its power and take down Barbaros. Siegfried will not be able to complete such a quest on its own however. With the court jester Iska advising Siegfried, you eventually gain a retinue of significant characters from the Soulcalibur series, with Mitsurugi, Taki, Sophitia, Ivy, and Astaroth joining as playable characters, with a guest appearance from Lloyd Irving of Tales of Symphonia rounding out the roster.
While the recognizable faces from the Soulcalibur series get a surface-level examination over the course of the game, a lot of the plot’s efforts seem more dedicated to fleshing out the Masked Emperor and Iska rather than our main character Siegfried. Despite this game being billed as showing the hero’s fall and shift into the monstrous Nightmare form, his development mostly seems to come by way of Iska doing all the talking, the jester lamenting the loss of his homeland and sister at any opportunity he can find. Somehow turning up to the Himalayas reminds Iska of Hungary, and while the group is talking about the giant axe-wielding golem Astaroth, Iska butts in as that somehow reminds him of an old donkey he used to own. It’s a bit overbearing at times, but the concepts he ponders like power and protection play into Siegfried’s gradual shift in perspective, although his supporting cast have fairly simple stories because they can hardly compete with Iska’s screentime. Most of your crew is reluctantly helping Siegfried because they either want to either destroy or take Soul Edge from him, although Astaroth is clearly just along for the ride because he’s an important series character people would want to play as. It is a shame when Mitsurugi gets paired with him for a few missions when everyone gets a few spotlight missions, as Astaroth refuses to speak and Mitsurugi, perhaps the second-most underdeveloped character in the game, is left talking to no one about his motivations and backstory.
While not perhaps the best cast for telling a story that seems more focused on its new elements than its returning cast, the characters you are given do feel diverse when it comes time to cut down Evils. Zweihander, snake sword, sword and shield, katana, axe, two swords, dual kodachi… the weapons the characters use are so different that they play differently by necessity, and for the characters transferring over from the weapon-based fighting game, you’ll see a lot of their moves reproduced for use in taking down waves of enemies. The variety is certainly nice to have, but it loses a lot of its appeal when you see how it’s integrated with the Wii remote’s control scheme. Soulcalibur Legends tries to give you attack diversity, with horizontal attacks, vertical attacks, thrusts, dodge attacks, and special moves that draw on a meter you build during play, but it’s complexity with very little purpose and the controls wouldn’t have allowed it to be better implemented. Waving the Wii remote around will execute the attacks, but the game cannot pick up on motions as well as it should, leading to some issues when you try to deliberately do a horizontal, vertical, or forward attack. Thankfully, there are only a few moments where precise swings are required, but the issue isn’t just about doing the attacks you’re trying to do. Since the game mimics the fighting game animations, you can swing the remote a bunch of times, hear the Wii remote make a swiping sound to indicate it read the input, but then your character is locked into a combo and will only do a certain amount of the attacks you tried to execute. You can learn the rhythm of a character’s strikes through practice, but you can’t reliably try to execute most attacks because the swipes might not register properly or might not even register at all.
Perhaps worse than the lack of reliability in execution is the lack of any reason to try and be interesting with your attacks. However, that seems to be how the game accommodates its control issues so that it doesn’t end up a frustrating experience. Enemy diversity usually comes in how they attack you rather than how you need to strike them, and for the most part, you can just wave the Wii remote around and eventually they’ll die. They may guard to force you to calm down for a bit or they might have attacks that make it risky to be close to them, but it is fairly mindless hack-and-slash action when you’re facing most kinds of enemies. Quite tellingly, almost every boss you face has periods of invincibility to prevent you from just wailing on them and winning, although the dragon Evils don’t use this system and instead requiring decent dodging to survive the battles. Your opposition can’t be called slouches, as you can die if you don’t take out enemies in the right order or get careless during a boss, and there are even some enemies with the same level of attack complexity that you technically have but they manage to use the full breadth of it. Still, harder enemies just usually mean you have to whip out the special attacks to do more damage or clear the area around you, and the steps in the right direction for combat are undermined by the large amount of content recycling.
Soulcalibur Legends’s story mode has a surprisingly small amount of maps, bosses, and enemy types for how many missions it sends you on, and thus, you end up revisiting places quite often to traverse similar areas and fight familiar foes. The game does try to mix it up by blocking off areas on one visit and opening them up on another, but you still end up retreading a lot of the same ground as the story progresses. Levels do have some interesting aspects to them like light puzzle-solving, deadly hazards you must avoid, and even some unique mission objectives like timed battles, but these end up repeated across the levels as well, with the timed battles always set on the exact same battlefield. Soulcalibur Legends stretches things thin before its story starts hitting some more important developments, but things do get more difficult as you progress. You get to bring two characters into a stage unless it has a special requirement, and trying to manage their health or leveling up their weapons adds to some growth that helps make some retreads a bit more tolerable.
Multiplayer offers a few unique co-op missions for you and a friend to tackle, but the Versus mode is a far cry from the fighting game series’s usual depth. If anything, Versus helps highlights the issues with the combat controls. Not being able to reliably execute attacks makes strategizing less preferable to full controller-waving offense, and since the dodge is even set to motion controls on the even less reliable Wii nunchuck, you can’t expect much from these battles.
THE VERDICT: When the motion controls of Soulcalibur Legends work, they are in a game that properly houses them, but by doing so, it strips away any complexity or variety that could have come from what the game clearly had hoped to do. There’s the expected basic thrill of waving a remote to kill Evils, but outside some boss battles, you aren’t really challenged to approach these fights in any interesting way and reap few rewards from trying to diversify your attacks. What you are left with is a grind with many repeating parts, and the story that’s meant to sustain it seems more interested in its new ideas than doing anything with the Soucalibur characters who drew you in in the first place.
And so, I give Soulcalibur Legends for the Wii…
A BAD rating. Soulcalibur Legends is an all too familiar story of a game that tried to use the Wii’s motion controls to make something interesting but hit the limits of what they could do. Swinging the remote for sword strikes just wasn’t precise enough before the Wii MotionPlus accessory came along later in the system’s life, so Soulcalibur Legends was forced to try and accommodate the issues with registering your intended attacks. The game does work within the realm of what you are capable of doing, but the designers ended up making things too simplistic to accommodate the problems. The recycled content would have dragged it down even if the designs weren’t already bland, so to put Soulcalibur Legends on a better path likely required focusing on more basic controls as well as more interesting things to use them on. There are flickers of potential with moves that launch enemies or send your character rushing forward, but unreliable usage and nothing that requires it makes it a supplement that at best keeps things from becoming too boring.
Because of its somewhat distracted plot, Soulcalibur Legends doesn’t even leave us with much of an insight to the broader series’s story. Unfortunately, this half-baked hack-and-slash ends up with little going for it, which isn’t too much of a surprise sadly since these fighting game spinoffs into other genres often end up pretty poor. Had it used buttons instead of spotty remote waving, perhaps this game could have at least been a passable deviation from the wonderful fighting game series that inspired it.