The name Soul Calibur brings up fond memories in the minds of many gamers. For most, it brings up memories of a next-generation console, with extreme potential for graphics, and virtually worthless launch titles... except one. That one launch title was essentially why I (and, I would wager, many others) purchased the Dreamcast, and that is where a very large number of my waking and should-have-spent-sleeping hours have gone. It was a truly unique game, and the graphics wowed everyone... but enough accolades have been written about the original - it has its well-deserved place in gaming history.
Then Soul Calibur II came out. At the time, I was in Japan, and when it hit the arcades, I spend a good part of my student allowance on advancing my character. Sadly, the machine I happened to create my character on was the same one my "I-hate-school-and-have-nothing-to-do" friend played on, so being #1 was highly unlikely; but even sticking to #2 required massive investments of money and playing time, seeing as the lines were long. It was all worth it, until the cold, harsh realisation came that SC2 was but a fad, and first two of the four machines disappeared, and then the other two got flashed to some other lame game like Gundam or something. History lost.
Of course, when the Playstation/Xbox/Gamecube version came out (after the arcade version), it revived the interest somewhat, but it just couldn't keep up with Tekken (for some unknown reason - never understood why people liked Tekken over Soul Calibur).
Which brings us to the Playstation-only release of Soul Calibur III. Before I get into the actual review, please take due note that this review is written from a biased point of view of a person who likes to meet people and who likes to assert his superiority over people by beating them in games. Seriously, though, this review is written from the standpoint that "playing with other people is better than playing with oneself", and hence, I will not pay nearly as much attention to the single-player mode as I will to any resemblance of multiplayer that I could find. I don't know nor care how much Sony paid Namco to release it exclusively for PS2 (nor do I particularly care about Xbox or Gamecube, or any of the other million other consoles out there), but not releasing an arcade version seems like a ticket to nowhere right off the start. Even the original Soul Calibur, released in the days of no Internet on consoles and few multiplayer options, had a counterpart in the arcades with identical moves and characters (albeit with much blockier graphics), so techniques you learned playing at home could be applied to busting people up at the arcades (and many did). Soul Calibur 3 has no counterpart in the arcades, and to top it off has no multiplayer modes to speak of (besides traditional Versus), so I fail to see how Namco's planning staff projected the replayability value. In my humble opinion, online multiplayer would probably be somewhat inefficient due to lag and connectivity issues, but there should have been an arcade version with links to the home version - or at least an arcade version, period. As it stands, the replay value is limited to how many friends you have who have exactly the same game addictions as you; and we all know that is not as frequent as we would like it to be.
There are several modes in the game, most of which feel more like afterthoughts than fully developed play modes. Both "major" modes, Chronicles of the Sword and Tales of the Souls are single-player versions where you battle your way through a variety of enemies to achieve weapon and costume upgrades that nobody really cares about, and unlock new characters, which people do care about.
The character roster is one thing that is greatly improved from previous Soul Calibur versions. Evidently present are the traditional characters, and three new ones have been added to improve game balance. Of course, the whole question of arcade versions and multiplayer comes back - if there is nowhere to USE the characters besides at home, then who would spend time developing the new characters?
Multiplayer is pretty much confined to the basic Versus mode and a few interesting tack-ons. Versus mode has a very cool feature which derives from the fact that you can upgrade costumes and weapons of characters (something that has existed since the early days of Soul Calibur and Soul Calibur II, respectively). When you are at the character choice screen, you have the choice (among others) of not one, but TWO "Random" choices. One picks a random character from the list, and the other CREATES a random character using characteristics from other characters. That is to say, things like appearance, weapons and costumes cannot be controlled. At the same time, don't expect to get Xianghua wielding the Soul Edge or Mitsurugu going bare-knuckles. The appearance is random, as well, with a few default ones available. It's somewhat unusual of an idea, but I certainly like it, because it brings an element of freshness to an otherwise old idea of random choice; and going back to the subject of friends NOT having the same game preferences, there are very few of my friends who could stand me playing Mitsurugi for more than two rounds, since I decimate them no matter how much they try. Consequentially, I am locked into forever playing random characters: and this just gives a bit more variation to the mix.
Another mode which is somewhat of interest is the Tournament mode; it is useful only if you can assemble a bunch of Soul Calibur geeks in your house. With it, you can compete in ladder tournaments and figure out the best Soul Calibur player - all in the comfort and privacy of your own home. I'm not sure if the sarcasm quite seeped through in there, but it was intended.
Don't misunderstand my overall opinion of the game: Soul Calibur is still undeniably THE best fighting game as far as I'm concerned; I don't like the relative slowness of Tekken (everything just feels slowed down), Virtua Fighter is too... for lack of a better word, "dry", and Street Fighter... well, Street Fighter is Street Fighter, I shouldn't get it involved here. Soul Calibur has the most intense graphics, the prettiest animations, the most beautiful scenery (though I wish there was a bit more destructible scenery a la Virtua Fighter - there are several stages in SC3 with destructible scenery, but nowhere nearly enough), and is one of the most technical games in that studying your character well actually has rewarding returns. That is, it DID, until now, when you used to be able to play against other people. I imagine I rubbed this point enough, but this is the reason why I can't give this game an Editor's Choice, even though I would: everything in this game is just right (even the weak single-player modes are forgivable), but the absence of multiplayer and no arcade version is not; and as a result, I don't see this game surviving on the market for any decent amount of time, even though I love it and it will have its rightful place along Soul Calibur 1 and 2 on my shelf.