Original Release Date: 1997
Price now: £6-10
Soul Blade (or Soul Edge as it is known in Japan), is the first entry in the Soul series and was originally released for PlayStation back in 1996. The soul series is probably most recognised for Soulcalibur, which has spanned a number of sequels over 15 years on both consoles and in the Arcade.
Soul Blade sees nine characters from different countries across the globe seeking ‘Soul Edge’, the ultimate sword. Some seek the power of the sword for themselves in order to wield its power and some seek to destroy it, believing it to be malevolent. Each character has their own personal reason for seeking out the sword and upon completion of the Arcade mode, each has a cut-scene showing their ending. An interesting feature for the characters ending is that each has a secret ending which can be triggered by meeting a certain criteria or pushing a set button combination during the final scene, a feature that was not standard at the time of release for other games of this genre.
In addition to the arcade mode, Edge Master mode offers further depth and longevity once the credits have rolled on each characters endings. In Edge Master mode, players pick a character and set out across the world to seek out their ultimate weapon while adding to their arsenal along the way. Rather than standard fights, these matches play a little differently with different parameters which makes them much more fun that playing standard matches over and over. These changes could be anything from invisible opponents, poisoned players whose health slowly depletes or only being able to damage an opponent when they are airborne. These add a level of strategy and offer some very tricky fights but offer weapons that can be used in other modes as a reward. This was my favourite mode and was truly satisfying and was sorely missed in the Soulcalibur series, although they did try to revive it in some of the later sequels, it just wasn’t quite the same.
Soul Blade is a 3D fighting game in which players can side-step towards the screen or away from it similar to Tekken and Virtua Fighter which were around at the time. The game operated a ring-out system with stages of various sizes as an alternative way of winning although all-out clobbering the opponent into submission worked too. Where Soul Blade differed from other fighting games around at the time was the addition of destructible weapons. Each character has a second bar below the health gauge which highlighted the durability of the player’s weapon. If the player or opponent blocks too many attacks, or uses the Critical Edge move (more on this later), weapons can actually break; a broken weapon means weaker attacks as well as damage taken while blocking.
For the most part, Soul Blade plays like most other fighters with 2 buttons for weapon attacks, one for kicks and one for blocking. As well as standard attacks, fighters can throw and also have one or two unblockable attacks which are very powerful but slow. Soul Blade also uses an offensive blocking system called the ‘Guard Impact’ which involved hitting a direction and block at the same moment the opponent attacked. This would result in the incoming attack being ricocheted backwards creating an opening for the attacking player to take advantage of. Another fun feature that was unfortunately removed from later titles was a short animation that would play if the two fighters attacked at the same time. This would cause the fighters to clash weapons and lock together for a short time and it is up to the player to choose either square, triangle or circle in a rock-paper-scissors type battle. Whoever chooses the quickest move lands the hit and knocks the other player to the ground. This was a welcome addition to break up the fighting and it is sorely missed from later titles.
The next gameplay mechanic, which again was only present in Soul Blade, was the Critical Edge move as mentioned earlier. This was a character specific move that is triggered by hitting all three attack buttons at the same time. This will start a powerful combo of four moves and if the second part is entered correctly, another four moves and a final blow will be added. The button combination is specific to each character which gave more meaning to character loyalty as it is a powerful tool to have at your disposal. The move comes with a cost however, regardless to whether it lands or not, the move depletes a third of the characters weapon gauge so it cannot be spammed.
In terms of overall gameplay holding up to today, it feels as smooth today as it did on release almost 20 years ago. The combat is slick and fast paced and feels much less dated than other fighting games of the same era. The controls are as sharp as they ever were and I found myself landing Critical Edge combos from memory and the game was able to keep up with no issues. Aside from the graphics, one could be fooled into thinking they were playing a much newer game which is impressive considering its age.
This brings me on to the graphics…..which in honesty, aren’t particularly pretty. On release, these were actually considered to be pretty good but like many other PlayStation games, they have not aged particularly well. Technically, the game did well; sparks fly when weapons clash and fireflies drift by among other technically impressive effects for such an old machine. Although the graphics aren’t brilliant, the gameplay holds up which for a fighting game, is the most important thing, even if it does look like the characters are made of cardboard boxes with a face drawn on.
The sound however I felt held the test of time. The familiar opening song fits beautifully with the intro and the music for each stage matches the scene perfectly. The character voices feel like they match each characters appearance, helping to give them personality and the clash of weapons sounds as satisfying as it should.
Soul Blade is not pretty to look at but as fighting games go, it’s still one of the greats. The combat runs smoother than butter off a hot knife and technically, it is a solid brawler with tight controls and a varied move list. In a sea of other 3D fighters, Soul Blade really stands out with the addition of weapons, Critical Edge, Guard Impact and the weapon lock system, all of which add to the experience rather than being an annoyance. Unlockable characters and outfits as well as the Edge Master mode adds longevity to those going solo and it is a blast to play on local multiplayer is perfect for some couch battles between friends. Soul Blade truly stands out as one of the best fighting games of the last 20 years and for fans of Soulcalibur, I implore you to go back and see where the story began.