It seems like Bandai Namco is kicking into gear with Soul Calibur VI now, showing off returning and new characters. Personally, I never really dug deep into Soul Calibur, as 3D fighters were never really in my wheelhouse. Sure, I played Soul Calibur II on GameCube like everyone else in my age group did, but I didn’t follow the series as aggressively as I did with Street Fighter or Guilty Gear. But I did notice Soul Calibur was, like Bandai Namco’s other big fighter Tekken, always around even though other fighters were less present in the limelight. But that ended up changing, and the sixth game is an attempt at a comeback after a break. Since then, fighting games as a scene has once again changed drastically. Can a new Soul Calibur hang?
The apparent decline of Soul Calibur started in 2008. Soul Calibur IV dropped late July, following the third game, which was popular but hurt by its Ps2 exclusivity compared to the second game. It was an attempt to recapture the hype of the second game, which was super big due in part to its multiplatform status, but also the unique guest characters in each version. This time, both the PS3 and Xbox 360 versions of the game had a character from Star Wars, either Yoda or Darth Vader. This crossover wasn’t as well-received, but something else outside of the game happened that more or less altered the timeline.
Weeks before Soul Calibur IV dropped, Street Fighter IV did. This was a revolutionary release, a flashpoint in gaming history. Street Fighter was back after an enormous hiatus, and it was damn good. The 2D fighting game genre was revived and exploded and Capcom’s stock with gamers blew up too. Interest in 3D fighters waned comparatively, with even last generation’s Tekken games not taking up their usual space in the mindshare. In an effort to get back over, Soul Calibur V would eventually launch, but it tried the Street Fighter III gimmick, with a new generation of characters that the fanbase more or less rejected. It faded away relatively quickly, and the series went dark for five years.
In that time, fighting games almost crashed again. Capcom overextended itself, and a million different versions of BlazBlue came out. Games like Street Fighter X Tekken failed to draw an audience, and even though people were excited for Street Fighter V, Capcom bungled the launch in a lot of ways. But fighting games are experiencing another boom, albeit a bit smaller than what Street Fighter IV brought. Now, there’s more variety in the genre than ever. Games like Injustice and Killer Instinct have made their marks in the competitive scene, and Tekken 7 has had a huge response as well. Meanwhile, Guilty Gear also came back with a new entry, making big waves, and now Dragon Ball FighterZ is an early contender for new hotness. A new Marvel vs Capcom even came out and failed because it wasn’t flashy enough. It’s crowded now.
Can Soul Calibur VI make itself stand out in this new crowd? It’s hard to tell, but that’s what’s going to need to happen. Fighting games are cool again, and people are all-in on a wide variety of games. Things are looking better for the game than V certainly, with interest in 3D fighters seemingly a lot healthier. Even Pokken Tournament DX on the Switch has a pretty big audience. Bandai Namco’s gamble seems to be going back to basics, abandoning much of the complication and bringing back the fan-favorite roster. That’s a big part of what saved Street Fighter, and it could be a factor here too. But as we’ve seen with genre crowding in other spaces like hero shooters, it’s easy for the last one in to end up being the first one out.