Review by: Jason Purdy
Published: February 1, 1999
Ever since that fateful day, when I stepped into a bowling alley’s arcade and found myself face-to-face with the glory that was Street Fighter 2, I have been completely and utterly hooked. Practically any game that came out, whether it was Flying Warriors, Mortal Kombat, or Tekken, if it had two guys duking it out for one reason or another, you can be pretty sure that it would end up being added to my collection. That’s right, I’m a fighting game fanatic. I’ve got the prerequisite callouses on my thumbs and fingertips and a chest of war stories from Street Fighter 2 tourneys I participated in. I can execute a dragon punch flawlessly with my eyes closed and spinning piledrivers have become second nature.
Sad to say, this also means that I have subjected myself repeatedly to tissue paper-thin plots, with two-dimensional characters who have only the thinnest, most superficial reasons for destroying everyone in their paths. Square has tried to step away from this mindless style of beat-em-up with Bushido Blade 2, but where they have stepped, Soul Blade has leapt.
If you’ll forgive my hyperbole, Soul Blade is the Citizen Kane of fighting games. There is not, on the market today, a fighting game that manages to achieve the coherence of plot that is infused into every part of Soul Blade. Each character has a distinct purpose for seeking out the evil weapon known as the Soul Blade.
There is Heishiro Mitsurugi, a swordsman who is finding that the invention of the black powder rifle is challenging his way of life. In order to keep his traditions alive, he seeks a weapon more powerful than the gun, and the Soul Blade is his main hope. There is also Voldo, who was once the right-hand man of a wealthy trader named Vercci, who became the richest merchant in the world through the sale of weapons. Vercci acquired the Soul Blade, and proceeded to have his mind devoured by the sword. Gone insane, he loaded up his ship with all of the riches he had acquired, and sailed away to an uncharted island. Once there, he slaughtered his entire crew out of fear that they would reveal his secrets. He then sealed his treasures up in a deep cave, and set Voldo to watch over them. Voldo watched over the treasure cache for decades after the death of Vercci. Over time, the haunting of his old master, the dark, the cold, and the solitude took their toll on his mind and drove him completely insane. He sits in the treasure room, silent and alone, dressed in leather straps with blades on his hands, waiting to slaughter unwitting intruders. Then there is Sophita, a young Greek girl who never stopped believing in the old Greek gods. She prayed to them every day, and eventually was called upon by Hephestus, the Greek god of blacksmiths. Apparently, Hephestus was concerned about the effect that a sword as powerful as the Soul Blade could have on the world, and he makes Sophita his avatar, sending her on a quest to destroy the cursed weapon.
There are seven more playable characters, each of whom has his or her own stake in matters, and if I explained all of the reasons for their actions, this would be an eight-page review. Let me just say that this much depth in a fighting game is absolutely unprecedented, and very refreshing.