Countryside Gridlock
I first saw Soul Calibur Legends and Soul Calibur IV together in a Bandai Namco Games special that in the 6/29/2007 issue of Weekly Famitsu. Soul Calibur IV on HD hardware easily cast a shadow over SCL, stealing any thunder it had and taking the spotlight. Everyone knew pretty-much what to expect from the next numbered entry in Namco's long line of critically-acclaimed, history-based, head-to-head sword-fighting games. It was no surprise, and it was exactly what most fans wanted. I bought SCIV on launch, and so did everyone else. But what about SCL released not-too-long before it? Nobody I know has SCL, but almost everyone I know has SCIV.
While the modeling of its iconic characters and balance were questionable in more ways than one, it remained a top contender in the genre. Finishing moves were even added to its battle system in a surprising twist (making it even better)! I got SCL after SCIV, though, and the more I played SCIV, the more I loved SCL. Design missteps in SCIV heightened my interest in SCL; a mysterious new SC title on the mysterious new Wii hardware. Even Namco must have considered the game a priority, because SCL (developed on newer, unorthodox hardware) was released before SCIV (developed on known, orthodox hardware). So little was known about the project then, and even now after release...

"This Blade Keeps Cutting"
Soul Calibur IV was disappointing in the most surprising of ways, though. Not in its gameplay, its modes, or any of that stuff; it disappointed visually. After the absolutely incredible job Namco did with Soul Calibur III, Soul Calibur IV was just off-putting. I don't like to judge across generations, but the iconic character cast just weren't themselves in Soul Calibur IV. For the most part, male characters like Mitsurugi and Nightmare looked good, but the females like Taki and Cassandra lost their womanly essence and became distorted, hardened shells of their former selves. It saddened me that they chose not to base the new models in Soul Calibur IV on the Soul Calibur III ones. If they in fact did, then something along the way went wrong.

Graphical criticisms were leveled at Soul Calibur Legends after it because of the analog hardware it was developed on. Those criticisms never sat well with me, though, because the game looks better than some titles in this generation running in High-Definition. What does that tell you? That for a title running in Standard-Definition, it looks pretty damn good! It's amazing that for running in SD, SCL actually looks better than SCIV. How can it look better if it's in SD, when SCIV is in HD?

Because they took the character models from Soul Calibur III, and I was glad because they're probably my favorite in the series. They didn't just copy everything from SCIII, though; cool new characters (and cameo ones) make it feel like a sort of director's cut (which is a good thing). Dual-sword-weilding Lloyd from Namco's own Tales series fits well into the cast as a young newcomer, the new queen is the new hot femme fatale rivaling Ivy, and the Masked Emperor looks appropriately tyrannical. Speaking of Ivy, she's blessed incredibly as always, with hips and breasts ideal for child-birthing. Watching her in motion is still as incredible as it's always been, too, and she even has some animations I don't remember seeing in SCIII. They didn't just stop at humans, though. Namco went the extra mile and finally added dragons and other monsters to the game (something that always seemed to belong in the series)! Playable ninjas would have been great, though, since they are probably the coolest characters in the game. Would it have killed Namco to make them (or any of the other average enemies) playable? It's not like the game was getting an update or additional content later; big media had already decided its fate long before it even hit consumers.

Splashy special effects make the game's already great visuals even better. If I remember correctly, Namco seems to have added more special effects into SCL that weren't in SCIII (or SCIV, for that matter). And not just a few effects, but a wide variety from piercing arrow trails and roaring cyclones to hit sparks and traditional slash trails. They're all visible and impossible to miss, along with great particle and fire effects that add to the experience. It really does make the moves seem that more powerful and destructive, especially ones like Taki's "electric dome explosion" that fill the screen with impressive fireworks as they decimate anything close. I can't see all these effects without thinking of how a lot of titles running on HD hardware don't even have effects this good! Come to think of it, SCL could have the best special effects of any Namco game ever made.

The game's multilevel environments were also criticized with misguided accusations. You'll battle on spiraling cliffs and pirate ships (among others), and that's not without obstacles like swinging blades, cannon balls, and "booby traps" (just to name a few). For a standard-definition game, there's some nice depth and scale to the environments in SCL. They're huge and sprawling, whether a castle, battleground, or pirate ship. Many times in the series with its majestic battleground locales, I always wondered what was beyond. SCL basically answers that with expanded locales from the SC world; deep caves with hidden rooms, intricate castle mazes, spiraling staircases, deep tombs; hardly the "flat" environments you've heard about from big media. There's something in every nook and cranny, and in co-op you can choose to go the same path together or go separate ways. The game may be on a guided path, but there's still exploration for those who choose to do so.

The Good, The Bad, And The Fugly
There are only two things I don't like in Soul Calibur Legends; that would be prince Iska Farkas and the switch activation parts in some stages. Iska Farkas sticks out like a sore thumb because of his juvenile design. Character design in this series always looked cool, so it was disappointing to see the game had an overly-cute main character who looked like Orlando Bloom. Hopefully his stupid design wasn't influenced by the "kid-friendly" Wii reputation. The motion-controls don't really mean much to me. I would still own and play the game with or without them; that's how good the game itself is. Just the inclusion of cooperative-play alone was enough for me (since I like co-op more than head-to-head). I can't help but to wonder about the onset of "tennis-elbow," though, just from the switch parts alone! If you don't activate a switch with a correctly-angled swing, it could take several to get it done. What, was their idea of a joke to give us "tennis-elbow" so bad that we turn into Fugly Federer?

Instead of just porting Soul Calibur III to Wii hardware with different controls, Namco did the right thing and used Soul Calibur III's great design to approach the series from a different angle. Soul Calibur Legends brings players together for more than just battling each other (as in other entries). You work cooperatively to decimate legions of smaller foes to cut monstrous bosses down to size. If you liked the "David & Goliath" scenario from SCIII as much as I did, then you'll like the colossal battles in SCL. The dragons are one thing, the large Egyptian boss is another, but a towering Astaroth is completely over-the-top. Astaroth is frighteningly big and overpowered in the other games, and his larger-than-life appearance in SCL takes it to a whole new level! Things like this give SCL its epic moments. Well, that and Ivy's figure...

With Soul Calibur Legends, Namco made a lot of right choices. They named it appropriately, took the better of designs, made it co-op, and introduced a host of (mostly) welcomed new characters. Fans may notice the inspiration Namco took from their own sword-fighting title Mazan, but they did a good job in taking only the sword-fighting aspects they could use. Two-player co-op sword-fighting is fun, and there's a real emphasis on teamwork. Collecting weapons and leveling your character(s) up are gradual tasks that add quite a bit of playtime for those who want it. Without a doubt, this is one of the top games made on the Wii hardware, and if you own it then Soul Calibur Legends should be in your collection. From fans and casuals alike, anyone can get into the game and enjoy it. Most of Namco's games are like that, but this one hasn't enjoyed the same level of success as the others, and there's no reason why it shouldn't have. Much worse games have enjoyed much more success, but then again, they didn't have Metacritic or Gamespot to ruin their reputation...