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Gregory Grieve

Staples that Signify Success: Soul Calibur Series

I never considered myself to be a violent child, even with the insatiable amount of time I
spent playing the most violent and action packed video games. One of these being the incredible
Soul Calibur II. I would spend hours at a time switching between my favorite characters, playing
story-mode, and setting up random fights just to pummel my opponent into the ground. I would
practice combos and special moves and how to “properly” button-mash. It was a euphoric game
that was competitive and intricate, but at the same time so simple. There were no crazy twisted
plots or confusing gameplay, just a fighting game with a lot of replay-ability (replayability: term
used in gaming, both tabletop and video, as a measure of how much a game can be played and
played again before it becomes repetitive, monotonous, and boring). Soul Calibur II is arguably
the most popular of all of Namco’s ‘Soul’ series. Its predecessors, Soul Edge and the first of the
Calibur series, weren’t necessarily bad, but those Dreamcast games have a difficult time
competing with the Nintendo GameCube, PlayStation, and the original Xbox. The Soul Calibur
series was one of the first to introduce 8-way play which was not common for fighting games. It
was 3D and had an entire area that you could move freely around in to attack your opponent
from different angles; this beats any lousy side-scroller fighting game any day. The series is so
successful that Namco is moving on to create the sixth in the series, but that’s not to say that


every Soul Calibur game was entirely successful. Success, in this case, is not necessarily in terms
of the best sales, but within the community as the best perceived and reviewed. Some would say
that II and V are the only games of the series worth your time, but why? This series owes its
success due to its replay-ability and fun mechanics, but there are other elements that contribute to
making this series well perceived which are evident in both II and V. The use of procedure, plot,
and violence in the Soul Calibur series gives them this replay-ability and makes them the success
that they are today.
Soul Calibur is a two-player combat game that is based off of the game series, Soul.
(Now, in this paper I’m going to speak more on the main games in the series and not necessarily
take into comparison Soul Calibur Legends, Broken Destiny, Lost Swords, or the IOS game) The
first installment was named Soul Blade, and focused on the mythical sword of evil, Soul Edge.
Soul Calibur was the next to follow named after the sword that conquers evil. The game is
played from a third person perspective and as stated before, is a fighting game. The gameplay
and procedure are the baseline of what makes these games great. The introduction 8-way play, or
3D, was in the first Soul Calibur game. In 2003 though when Soul Calibur II was released, it
tested those means and challenged other fighting games at the time including Nintendo’s famous
Smash Bros. This way of play allows for the player from a third-person perspective, being able
to see their character, their opponent, and the stage, to execute combinations and different attacks
while the camera would follow the characters as they fight rather than viewing from one stagnant
position. This is a large aspect of the game’s ‘play and procedure’. Procedure is as Bogost puts it
“Procedures (or processes) are sets of constraints that create possibility spaces, which can be
explored through play.” The play is defined by these procedures making the game as unique and
successful as it was at the time and shows in the sales numbers (fig 1). As the games continued,


one thing that Namco didn’t change was the procedure. Play was tweaked with every game that
was released to allow for more special moves and complex combinations, but the procedure
stayed the same being one character fighting the other with their own fighting style or
specifications in an open stage format.

Fig 1

When it comes to the success of specific games within the series an important topic to
discuss is plot. The plot of the Soul Calibur series is simple. There is this sword called Soul
Calibur and basically it’s used to fight dark and evil sources. The story behind the swords
becomes more intricate as the games continue, but that’s the basics. It contains a lot religious
entities/allusions that create the worldview within the game; divine versus evil, soul
embodiment, a quest for purification, and each character has their own reason to journey for
religious gratification. Religion drives the entire plot and is the reason for violence in the game.
Now, the first games when it comes to plot are lacking. And by first games out of the
five, I mean the first three or four. It seems crazy that a game that reached its popularity in 2003

could have possibly done so without a plot, but it is simply just a very good fighting game. Most
fighting games don’t even include a story-line and that’s typical in the gaming world. (Just look
at Tekken, street fighter, or Mortal Combat games.) Soul Calibur II did in fact include a story
mode, but it consisted of very little. Once a character was chosen, the game would provide the
character’s backstory and you would fight the other characters in the game until you’ve beaten
them all. Then you would fight the biggest bad of them all, Nightmare. Nightmare is the main
antagonist who wields Soul Edge, the evil sword (the counterpart to Calibur). You would defeat
him and that would be the end. This continued to be the theme for the Soul Calibur games
through III. Miniscule changes were made such as the characters you would fight (to NPC’s as
well as other characters) and the addition of cut scenes. Soul Calibur IV including these cut
scenes and gave each different character and a motive for their quest, but it wasn’t too much in
depth and the writing was atrocious. It wasn’t until Soul Calibur V came out that there finally a
story mode that was in fact a story.
In Soul Calibur V you follow the tale of one of the characters (instead of in the previous
games where you would pick one), Patroklos, and his sister as they fight the evil that comes from
Soul edge and the legend of it. A story is laid out where Patroklos loses his sister and is in search
for her, but is led astray by a kind of cult leader and along the way runs into the evil of soul edge
and the legend and destiny of soul calibur. Characters in the game are split in the plot between
protagonists, antagonists, anti-heros, etc. It tells a story while keeping the battles between
characters of the game; just now there is plot significance to the fights. The plot is beautiful,
complex and quite dark, and deserves the credit for how well the game did (fig 2. Sales in
comparison to games that came out at a similar time) especially considering III is never spoken


about because of its glitches. In IV, not much changed except online mode, which didn’t work
very well. This goes to show how much plot impacts game success.

(fig 2)
It would be ridiculous to discuss a fighting game and not mention the significance of
violence. The impressive parts of the violence and fighting come from the procedure and play of
the game as mentioned earlier, but there is more to the violence. This aspect of the game tends to
tie everything previously mentioned together. It is not only significant in gameplay so much that
it defines the category of the game, but violence keeps the game moving forward. Violence is
what drives the plot. Religion throughout every representation in the world includes an aspect of
violence or a significance in the lack thereof. It’s no different for the plot of this series. Soul
Calibur as a series having heavy religious undertones involves violence in the same way. To get
to your goal, you have to fight, to further the plot even, you have to fight just because that’s the
order of things and it’s reflective of life. To win the game or complete the story you have to fight.
Refusing to fight stops the plot and then there is no longer a game. This isn’t necessarily easy
seeing that fighting is also quite addicting. Rene Girad said “there is something infectious about

the spectacle of violence.” He compares violence to a contagion in that sense. Violence is what
gives the game replayability. It stands as the keystone in everything the series is. It doesn’t
matter which game in the series or even in other parts of Namco’s ‘Soul’ as a whole. Without
violence the games falls apart and is no longer successful.
The ‘Soul’ series is a pivotal demonstration of different elements of video games and
their utilization. Procedure, plot, and violence are only scratching the surface. There is still
something to be said about gender with its strong female fighters (some in revealing outfits) or
even popular culture with the games inclusions of other famous fictional characters used as
fighters. All contribute to the success of the games, but discussing the difference of violence,
procedure, and plot holds the most significance especially in the contrast of gameplay within the
series. The same argument can be made for many other games as well, and especially fighting
games, which is why these elements have a strong correlation to the success of a game.


(fig 3. Link from
Legend of Zelda)

(fig 4. Yoda and Darth Vader. Examples of the use of pop culture in the game)



Bogost, Ian “The Rhetoric of Video Games” The Ecology of Games. Connecting, Youth, Games,
and Learning. Edited by Katie Salen. The John D. and T. MacArthur Foundation Series on
Digital Media and Larning. Cambridge, MA. The MIT Press 2008

Lynch, Gordon. Understanding Theology and Popular Culture. Malden, MA: Blackwell Pub.,
2005. Print. Chapter 1

Rene Girad, Violence and the Sacred. Baltimore The John Hopkins University Press 1977. 28-33

Smart, Ninian. Worldviews: Cross Cultaral Explorations of Human Beliefs. Charles Scribner’s
Sons. New York 1983

Tillach, Paul Dynamics of Faith Harper Torch Books, New York 1957