Soul Calibur IV - Soul Calibur IV
Yet Soul Calibur IV's beauty goes way beyond being skin deep. We all know that the real meat of a fighting game lies in the multiplayer versus action, but in more recent versions of its beat-em-ups Namco has bent over backwards to add long-term depth for lonesome players. Soul Calibur IV still has your standard arcade mode, but the story mode is now something different, containing five rounds of single and multi-opponent challenges for each of the game's thirty plus characters, each tale culminating in a climactic boss battle.
This in itself could keep you busy for some time, particularly as it’s the key to unlocking every character and costume item in the game's extensive catalogue, but on top of this the game packs in an additional single-player campaign, Tower of Lost Souls. Here you ascend or descend the titular tower, with two or more floors making up a mission. You select a team of characters to complete each mission, and will have to defeat whatever opponent(s) each floor throws at you before your whole team is destroyed.
Not only are the tower missions tougher than the stages in the arcade or story modes, but they require a certain level of strategy. You'll probably need a couple of goes at each mission before you crack who you need to fight and in what order. What's more, as the next opponent on a floor enters the fray as soon as their predecessor has been defeated, it makes the game much less of a stop/start affair than single-player beat-em-ups tend to be. You can actually get into the flow of the action.
It's in the story and Tower of Lost Souls modes (and not the more straightforward arcade mode) that skills come into play. Each character has their own set of skills, conferring on them the chance to counter some moves automatically, cause damage to a guarding opponent or even turn temporarily invisible. The further you get up - and even more so down - the tower, the more vital these skills become.
Yet this feature only really makes sense when you tie it into Soul Calibur IV's other big enhancement: the new character customisation mode. You can create characters based on any of the Soul Calibur cast then tweak clothes, hairstyles and armour to your heart's content, paying for new and improved items with the currency collected by playing the single player game (though some weapons and items may need to be unlocked first).
This would be fun, anyway, but in the end there's no real point to playing a clone of, say, foxy female ninja Taki if she just plays like foxy female ninja Taki in a small bikini. However, by adding skills and custom weapons you can tweak your custom fighter in different directions and make them more useful to your Tower of Lost Souls missions. Indeed, the more you fight with one character (or a custom character based on them) the higher your rank goes in their style and the more skills you'll have open for acquisition. The one feeds the other, as they say.