I don’t usually like to start a review with a pun, but Soulcalibur Unbreakable Soul has, well, broken my soul. That might be a bit of an overstatement, but it’s not far from the truth. I can’t remember the last time I have both loved and hated a game so much.
Produced by Bandai Namco, Soulcalibur Unbreakable Soul incorporates card and puzzle game mechanics into a unique fighting game. At first I was overwhelmed with all the different currencies and systems that were thrown at me. That doesn’t even including the gameplay, which is interesting but quite complicated.
To start, you have three active characters (called “avatars”) who you can collect to fight for you. Each avatar has three weapons attached to them, which are also cards that you collect. You can use other avatars or weapons to strengthen their cards and increase their stats.
The gameplay itself is very cleverly put together. When a fight starts, you’re dealt cards that represent the different types of attacks you can perform in the Soulcalibur fighting games. The object of the game is to tap on the cards as they appear, while leaving cards of the same type adjacent to each other. This causes them to stack and get more powerful.
When two different stacks are adjacent, they form combo cards that can inflict a lot of damage on your opponent. Also, special cards called “secrets” can appear in your hand, and tapping on them makes your character perform a devastating special move.
What is ingenious about this combat system is that while you are furiously tapping on cards to pull off combos and special moves, above the card display you can watch the fight taking place in real time. The game controls your movements around the stage, but your attacks are in direct response to the cards that you play.
Not playing any cards will put you in block mode, but blocking puts you in danger of being thrown, just like in the actual fighting games. You’re constantly trying to gauge when to use your attacks and when to block based on your situation in the fight, all while trying to make the best combos you can with the cards you’re dealt. I love that it’s a very satisfying and strategic system.
As fun as it is to watch the fights, sometimes your computer-controlled opponent is just way too powerful for you to beat them with the one life bar you are given. You can use gems to restore your life bar to full while your opponent’s stays the same.
You’ll eventually run out of gems, and the main way to get more is to buy them with actual money. Coupled with the fact that you don’t get any rewards at all if you lose a fight, the game forces you to buy gems if you want to progress.
I know that most developers and publishers are into creating games to make money, but burying a fun fighting mechanic behind such a steep paywall seems like a waste to me. I would much rather pay a premium for the game and receive enough gems through playing, win or lose. That way, how far I make it is based on my skill and effort, rather than my wallet.