Being a kid in Latin America during the early 1990s wasn’t all about Chinese NES clones and overpriced cartridges, it was also the golden age of anime. While we had already gotten things like Mazinger Z and Speed Racer before, the 90s’ behemoths like Dragon Ball and Sailor Moon got inmensely popular almost overnight, opening the floodgates for tons of other anime of varying degrees of quality to invade South American TVs, in a phenomenon that took over the continent years before it happened in the rest of the world.
Enter Saint Seiya. Unlike the other series mentioned, the brainchild of Masami Kurumada wasn’t a big hit in Japan, which prompted its early cancellation, with the original manga’s last (and arguably best) arc not even adapted to animation. But in Latin America, Saint Seiya (or “Knights of the Zodiac” as it was renamed over here) got really, really big. We’re talking ‘cultural phenomenon’ big. It got so big, in fact, that the final arc of the manga finally got an anime adaptation over a decade later due to international demand. Then came sequels, spinoffs, new toys and, of course, video games. Saint Seiya finally got the recognition that had evaded it for so long. But while the popularity of the series grew exponentially, the fans never got a video game that lived up to the series’ frantic, exciting battles. Some of the games got closer than others, but the consensus seems to be that, in twenty years, no game has been the definitive Saint Seiya experience.
Publisher: Namco Bandai
Genre: 3D Fighter
Available on: PS4 (reviewed,) PS3, PC
Saint Seiya: Soldiers’ Soul is Bandai Namco’s latest attempt at bringing the essence of Saint Seiya to life in a video game and, in my opinion, the first one to truly succeed at it. The previous game, Brave Soldiers, got close at times, but balancing issues, unnecessary Musou elements and the absence of the Asgard Saga kept it from being truly great. While Soldiers’ Soul is still not perfect, developer Dimps have really stepped up their game for the sequel, giving us their most solid effort yet.
PEGASUS… RYUSEI KEN!
Soldiers’ Soul features several game modes, including Legend of Cosmos (just a name for Story Mode,) Battle Mode, Online Battle, and Battle of Gold (based on the newest series Saint Seiya: Soul of Gold.) In turn, Legend of Cosmos comprises the four main arcs of the series: Sanctuary Battle, Asgard Battle, Poseidon Battle and Hades Battle. Each one of these chapters is broken into episodes covering all the important battles, with real time cutscenes narrating the story. These cutscenes are unfortunately pretty bad, and most of them have little to no character animations, and instead they show the characters standing there, speaking. It’s a shame that Dimps wouldn’t take the time to make some actually good cutscenes instead of these lazy replacements. Playing through the Story Mode also unlocks most of the roster, as well as unlocking rewards by completing certaing challenges during the fights. Winning fights also nabs us in-game currency that we’ll use to buy the rewards we’ve unlocked. This “unlock things you still need to unlock later” approach is my biggest issue with the game in its current state, since it turns unlocking stuff into an unnecessary grind. It’s frustrating to “unlock” the Divine Clothes, only to see you still need to buy them for 50K coins each, when on average you get around 1500-2000 coins per fight.
Also, (and I’ve already complained about this in the past): Bandai Namco, please, stop hiding 90% of your roster behind Story Mode. When you first start Soldiers’ Soul the only available characters are the Bronze Saints. That’s 5 characters, out of a roster of over 40. I understand making some of the characters obtainable by playing the story, especially the strongest characters, since it gives me an incentive to play it, but don’t hold the entire roster ransom behind a game mode. It’s stupid. It’s my personal opinion that at least half of the playable characters should be available the moment you fire up the game for the first time.
Is that your Cosmos burning, or are you just happy to see me?
Fortunately, the fighting itself is pretty damn fun. Each character has a button for normal attacks, one for strong attacks, and one for “photons”, which depending on the character range from fireballs to full on special techniques. Basic combos are done by mashing the normal and strong attack buttons, making the game really easy to pick up for newcomers to the series. The true depth of the combat comes from managing two bars: Cosmos, and Seventh Sense. Special attacks and some actions like quick stepping and dodging will consume Cosmos, while holding L2 fills it up. Once your Cosmos is full, continuing to hold L2 will fill up your Seventh Sense bar. Other actions like getting hit or enemies blocking your attacks will also fill up the Seventh Sense bar. Once it’s full, you can press R3 to “awake” your Seventh Sense, which will boost your attack and completely fill out your Cosmos. While Seventh Sense is awake, you can also use your character’s Big Bang Attack, their strongest special move. While it seems simple at first, the game plays much better and becomes much more fun once you “get” it, unlike older titles in the series. Fighting in Soldiers’ Soul is fun, fast and flashy, just like Saint Seiya is supposed to be.
The game makes a great job at recreating the look of the anime, at least where character models are concerned. The cel shaded models look really good against the simple geometry of the backgrounds, giving the game a cartoony look. Their Clothes (armors) look particularly great, and they shine realistically and dinamically. All their attacks have been flawlessly carried over from the anime as well, so any fan of the series will feel right at home. However, while characters look great in motion, they don’t hold up very well in closeups. Even during cutscenes, things like weird clipping issues are frequent. The backgrounds look really empty as well at times, with low res textures and flat lighting everywhere. While the comparison may not be exactly fair, in a world where Guilty Gear Xrd set a new bar for cel shaded 3D in video games, graphically speaking Soldiers’ Soul feels very last gen in its execution. Other than a bump to 1080p/60 fps against the 720p/30 fps from PS3, there’s nothing in the PS4 version that feels like it couldn’t have been achieved on last gen hardware.
LOS GUARDIANES DEL UUUUNIVERSO*
But I gotta hand it over to Bandai Namco, they did a great job with the localization this time. For the first time ever, the game includes a dub especially made for Latin America, including most of the original voice actors from the anime’s original dub. I found myself playing the whole game in Spanish, which I never do for any game, just to listen to the characters speaking and shouting their attack names in the same voices I first heard them, twenty years ago. On the other hand, this nice gesture is sometimes bogged down by shoddy lip syncing, subs not matching what is being said, or even typos in the subtitles. But overall, they did a great job and I’m thankful for the fact that, for once, Latin America wasn’t forgotten, and we even got a special treat.
*This song is, sadly, nowhere in the game. Bummer.
Saint Seiya: Soldier’s Soul is the best Saint Seiya game released to date. While some technical issues and a certain jankiness keep it from true greatness, you can tell there was an effort made to give the fans a better experience than any of its predecesors did. The result is an uneven yet endearing experience, and a true love letter to any fan of the series. No Saint Seiya fan should miss out on this one.