Most of us here at GamesRadar regard publisher/developer Sega's masterful Virtua Fighter 4 Evolution as the finest 3D fighting game yet created. However, there are times in this life when bludgeoning an opponent unconscious with one's bare hands isn't quite enough. After all, our opposable thumbs are one of the things that set man apart from the animals - so we sometimes prefer that our game characters use them to grip various death-dealing implements. That's where SOULCALIBUR III steps in and bloodies the dance floor.
We expected the game's lavish looks, its wide assortment of shiny killing tools, and an accessible-yet-deep fighting system that hooks everyone from button mashers to the most severe fighting game hardcore. We could even have anticipated new official characters, one of whom is crazy sexy even with day-glo hair.
But what really impresses is an added create-a-character mode, tons of pre-made custom characters, a brand new story mode, and even a real-time strategy mini-game. There's so much here, we wouldn't have been too shocked if one of the new characters' weapon was the kitchen sink. It's not - we checked - but we're just saying, this is one packed-to-the-eyeballs disc. Plus, in case you haven't figured it out, it looks and plays like a dream.
Of course, just because SC3 boasts a metric ton of gameplay doesn't mean that none of it is dead weight. The story mode is great at first. Why more fighting games don't steal Soul Calibur 's method of mixing up matches, with the player dealing with things like high winds, quicksand, poison, and so on, we'll never know. But even this wears thin after repeatedly playing through it to unlock more goodies. You seem to be given some storyline choices, but they don’t really affect that much - it all feels pretty linear.
But honestly? Screw the plot. The actual fighting is as fluid and finely tuned as a 50-gallon barrel of water and a new Ferrari, respectively. Especially against human opponents, the bloody brawling is as fun as it ever was, and it doesn’t hurt that the graphics have been kicked up to 11. This is easily one of the most impressive-looking games on the PS2, with eye-popping backgrounds and characters who move as smoothly as Olympic gymnasts and dress like they're in a Mardi Gras parade.
Then there's the Chronicles of the Sword mode, a real-time strategy game in which you order a small group of fighters around a map. It's an interesting concept, but it’s far too simplistic. Similarly, although we love the idea of create-a-character, the feature isn’t as deep as the create-a-character options in, say, WWE SmackDown! Vs. RAW 2006, and the user-crafted brawlers look like they're wearing poorly made Halloween costumes when compared to the vastly more exotic, intricately detailed standard characters. Finally, there’s no online play, so you can’t show off your fashion sense or your mad, head enbashening skills to the world.
The new characters are definitely welcome additions to the series: Tira is the aforementioned hottie; she wields a razor-edged hula hoop. Next comes Setsuka, who seems like a demure Japanese lady until you realize her parasol has a sword inside it. Then there's the scythe-wielding muscleman Zasalamel, who actually seems unbalanced. He's much faster than a character with his strength should be.
If none of those appeal to you, there are 21 returning characters (the Owl-headed Olcadan is actually just like an old character named Edge Master, so we're counting him as a returner). And let's not forget the created characters. Being given the option to custom-craft one's own aggressor is great. This feature might not have the level of customization we’d like, but most games don't even have this feature, so this is still a win.
Sure, Soul Calibur III isn’t a perfect game, and some of the single-player modes could have been fleshed out a bit more. But it's still at least the second best 3D fighting game on PS2, and possibly the best. If you like graphics, fighting, or even just dressing up paper dolls, buy it.