As for the cast of Soul Calibur II, a few faces are missing, but fresh ones have appeared in their places. And though the replacement characters may seem little more than cosmetic changes of older characters, i.e. Cassandra for Sophitia, each character actually plays noticeably different than their counterparts. Most of the new characters in the game fit the Soul Calibur universe quite well, even the three US-exclusive ones (Assassin, Lizardman, Beserker), though Necrid is standout exception. His overtly Western looks and overall power not only isolate him from the rest of the crew, but it throws the balance of the game off as well. Of course, there are also the console-specific characters -- Link, Spawn, and Heihachi -- but as for which one is the "best," well, that's purely up to you. Or, you can always check our Soul Calibur II Head to Head for an unbiased look at each and every version of the game.

Ultimately, Soul Calibur II is what the first game aspired to be: a well-balanced, deep fighter that's easy to play, difficult to master, and fun for both lonely souls and party animals. A little more effort could have been made to enhance the Weapon Master and training modes, and online play is always appreciated, but overall, Soul Calibur II does what it does, and does it well.

Soul Calibur II
Graphics
Soul Calibur II is not an ugly game. In fact, it's quite the opposite; character models are smooth and detailed, and sport some impressive textures. The same goes for the environments, though a feeling of emptiness often accompanies each arena. Honestly, we could go on about Inferno's nifty fire effect, or Voldo's creepy, stationary strut, or even Taki's newfound jiggle. But the truth is, Soul Calibur II is not that far of a stretch from its predecessor. Yes, it's obviously better looking in every way, and it is without a doubt a beautiful game, but don't expect to wowed in any manner of the sort.

So we see the same parallel between the two Soul Caliburs yet again, this time in regards to the graphics. Did the first game set a high bar visually? Yes. Could it be improved upon? Definitely. Why is it that we're still seeing the same flowing cloth physics model that was impressive years ago, but today looks a bit stiff and stilted? Or how about the laughable splash of water that's created during a ring out from an island arena? Many of the finer issues could have been mended, and easily so, but they weren't. Was it a consequence of developing one three platforms simultaneously? Was it an apathetic stance taken by the developer? The general populace may never know, but what we get is the final product, and that's what we'll have to live with.

Sound
For a fighting game, Soul Calibur II makes a strong effort at creating a more respectable soundtrack of sorts. Eschewing the almost standard guitar rock of just about every other fighter in existence, SCII's music is comprised of (somewhat) epic battle scores and anthem-like tunes. Does it work? Sure, if that's your cup of tea. The music in a fighting game often feels secondary to everything else (gameplay, visuals, etc.), so we're not disappointed, nor surprised, at what we're hearing. Actually, the music is highly reminiscent of the previous Soul Calibur game -- surprise surprise -- so if you've played the original, you should know what to expect.The same goes for the voices. Slightly hokey but strangely likeable, each character has tens of voiced sayings that are used throughout the game.

The biggest improvement to the sound since the Dreamcast Soul Caibur would have to be the surround effects. Spatial positioning is used to great effect, though it's hardly ever beneficial/detrimental to the gameplay.

Closing Comments
The simple fact of the matter is, Soul Calibur II is best weapons-based fighter out there, period. It's also one of the best games in the fighting genre itself. There's a diverse selection of characters, a deep fighting system, a decent single-player mode, and the multiplayer is as fun as it ever was.

The problem (if that's what you want to call it) is that Soul Calibur on Dreamcast was, at the time of its release, an almost monumental achievement and breakthrough in fighting games. Soul Calibur II is essentially more of the same great stuff that made its predecessor the genre-defining game that it was, but in the context of the present day and the corresponding competition, the impact of such a game has been greatly reduced. Does that mean Soul Calibur II is old, outdated, and even obsolete? Absolutely not. What it does mean is that Soul Calibur did a lot things right the first time and ironically, that works against the sequel to a degree.

And so, while evolution is not always mandatory, sometimes pushing the boundaries can lead to bigger and better things. In the case of Soul Calibur II, contentment will do just fine.

IGN Ratings for Soulcalibur II (Xbox)
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9.0 Presentation
A great CG intro, a hefty number of options, and simple flash make SCII feel like a million bucks. But why can't we have real time or CG endings?
9.0 Graphics
Easily one of the best-looking fighting games out there, but far from leaving the impression that SC did on the Dreamcast. Still, beautiful to look at.
8.0 Sound
A decent musical score, and the return of the (in)famous Soul Cailbur voice. Surround effects are good, as are the hits. Better than most fighters.
9.5 Gameplay
The deep fighting system carries the game for the most part, but there's something a little loose about it. But it's still damn fun and incredibly playable, and that's what counts here.
8.5 Lasting Appeal
Lots of cool unlockables, though most can be opened in the first day. The versus mode, though, is what will keep the game in your console.
9.2
Outstanding
OVERALL
(out of 10 / not an average)
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