I absolutely love the SoulCalibur series. The epic tale of souls and swords has been retold countless times in my life, usually in arcades and on home consoles, but now it’s being woven on iOS devices as a mobile card battle game. The jump from console fighting game to a card-based battle game called SoulCalibur: Unbreakable Soul is a large one, but maybe the leap resulted in something truly unique.
Upon starting up SoulCalibur: Unbreakable Soul, you’ll notice that the production quality is pretty admirable. The graphics and the user interface are gorgeous and detailed, if not a little bit overwhelming in how much they throw at you on a single screen. The music mirrors the epic scores of the games proper and help convey the feeling that you’re stuck in an epic world filled with large, sweeping adventures. The graphics during fight sequences are nothing to write home about, since they seem to resemble the models from the original Soul Edge, but the framerates are smooth enough and the character models are small enough to actually look really good while in motion.
Unfortunately, that’s where all of my excitement for SoulCalibur: Unbreakable Soul ends, because for a title that uses the word “soul” twice in its name, it clearly doesn’t have any. First, let’s start with what’s wrong with the gameplay, which is a fundamental problem: you’ve reduced the excitement of a fighting game to a the selection of a assortment of cards that dictate randomized, corresponding attacks. Right then and there, all of the strategy and skill required to play a SoulCalibur game have been thrown out off the stage, only to receive a “Ring Out!”
A constantly refilling stream of cards make up the bottom of your screen. There are cards that allow you to kick, attack horizontally, attack vertically, grab, etc. The most basic moves in any SoulCalibur fighter’s repertoire are present, but make for a wholly unexciting fight experience. You’ll queue up cards three at a time, hoping your attacks land. You’ll automatically guard as you choose cards, so there’s no danger of losing large chunks of life if you’re not lightning quick at picking random combinations of cards in the hopes that the other guy leaves himself open for them.
What makes SoulCalibur games fun is knowing the movesets for each character and being able to pull off certain moves at just the right times in order to take advantage of an opening or a counterattack. This card-based method of fighting tosses all of that out of the window and waters down the experience so much that there’s no flavor left in the game.
Not only is the gameplay bland, but you’ll have to navigate your way through dozens of menus and screens, all filled with confusing items and materials that are apparently meant to help your Avatar get stronger, that are meant to urge you to spend money on them. It’s pretty telling when the tutorial spends more time showing you how to use items and buy them from the shop than actually giving you tips to fight in the game.
The one shining light (kind of), in the game is the story, which starts off with your character meeting series veterans Cassandra and the Edge Master. Together with Cassandra, you go off on an adventure to collect the remaining pieces of the evil sword Soul Edge that have been scattered around the world, prompting your many battles with characters in the game. Any bit of narrative that expounds on the tale of souls and swords that has been eternally retold is interesting, if only for the fact that you’ll get to learn more about the series’ enigmatic characters. Unfortunately, this, too, can be quite a drag and the little vignettes before battles only serve as little more than simple prompts to fight.
I really wanted to like Unbreakable Soul, but it proved that it had no heart. As a lifelong fan of the SoulCalibur series, I was hoping for an exciting game that would give me the same heart-pounding action as the arcade and console fighters, even on a smaller scale. But the end result was a polished, yet deeply unsatisfying card battle game that reeks of an attempt to milk a popular franchise by repurposing it into a mobile-based cash grab. This is one tale that is better off untold.
This review is based on a digital copy of SoulCalibur: Unbreakable Soul for iOS that was downloaded for review.