The latest in a long line of anime adapted videogame brawlers, all the familiar caveats apply to Saint Seiya Soldiers’ Soul. It’s pretty and well-presented with a bespoke love for the source material but yet it’s also mechanically very simplistic for the genre and has a story that, unless you’re an obsessive for the aforementioned source, proves to be at once clumsily told and often times impenetrable.
Folks who have played Bandai Namco’s Naruto Ninja Storm series of titles will have a fair idea of what to expect from the gameplay. Eschewing the typical side-on scrapping that the fighting genre normally embraces, Saint Seiya takes the lead from the Naruto games instead; boasting a more cinematic, over the shoulder viewpoint that places an emphasis on movement, evasion and attack in 3D space.
Unconcerned with the single frame finesse usually associated with the elite entries in the genre, such as Ultra Street Fighter IV and Virtua Fighter 5, Saint Seiya is the polar opposite with simple combo strings and special move inputs which are pretty much duplicated across the game’s seventy plus strong roster. Now, the obvious upside of this is that anyone who has never played a fighting game before will really have things easy because, as I’ve already alluded to, the range of inputs is desperately limited and thus easy to pick up. You have punches, kicks, throws, blocks and a projectile throw command which, in terms of the core command list, is pretty much it. Sure enough, you can mix the punches and kicks into combos, but again, like the special move inputs, these inputs are replicated across every character even if the visual result differs.
An area that Saint Seiya does to lift itself slightly out of the dredge of mediocrity however, is the application of Cosmo, an ethereal power that allows the fighters to unleash powerful elemental special moves and fight ending attacks. Similar to how the concept of ‘Chakra’ is handled in the Naruto games, Cosmo can be generated by landing strikes on your opponent or absorbing them yourself. Another way that Cosmo can be accrued is by channelling it manually by holding down one of the shoulder triggers. The problem though, is that doing this leaves you vulnerable to attack and so it must be performed when you can be sure that your foe can’t get an attack off.
Once a decent amount of Cosmo has been built up, it may then be expended on a variety of elemental attacks. From rushing comet punches to lightning traps, flaming phoenixes and just about every other imaginable elemental attack in between; Cosmo attacks deal large amounts of damage but can only be used sparingly. Additionally, Big Bang Attacks can be used as soon as your Cosmo bar is at maximum, and when triggered kick off elaborate in-game cutscenes to showcase their devastation. While these are assuredly impressive sequences, none of them quite approach the spectacle glimpsed in Bandai Namco’s Naruto Ninja Storm series, and so will ostensibly feel weaker to players familiar with that series.
Away from the simplistic trappings of its fighting system, Saint Seiya Soldiers’ Soul boasts a sizeable single-player story campaign. Split into four different story arcs, the campaign packs in roughly ten hours of gameplay, while narratively cribbing from the anime and manga source material that it’s based on. In case you’re wondering what that narrative actually is, it’s a crazy, glue-sniffing amalgam of greek, norse and a bunch of other mythologies all thrown into a particularly wacky melting pot, whereupon Saint Seiya doesn’t so much do justice to each of its influences as much as it merely rams them together because it seems like a cool thing to do.
There’s all sorts going on here; betrayals, tragedy, funky 80’s hairdos and naturally the all-consuming desire to see who has the best fighting technique while the good guys try to stop the universe from exploding. Classic Shonen narrative fluff, in other words.
Where it all gets a bit pants is in how the story is actually handled. Simply put, there’s a ton of clumsy narration and in-game cut scenes which, if you’re not a die-hard fan of the original anime or manga, will invariably result in you slowly shaking your head at the nonsense unfolding on your screen before reaching for the ‘skip’ button.
Then there’s the issue of how well threaded the story is to the actual fighting that occurs on the screen, which is to say it isn’t, at all. You see, ludonarrative dissonance is running wild here like Stone Cold Steve Austin at a beer festival, with fights where you easily beat your opponent, but the ensuing cut scene shows you getting your behind handed to you like a two-bit jobber at a squash party. It’s all very confusing and makes you feel almost as if what you physically do in the campaign doesn’t actually make a difference to the narrative at large, which sadly it really doesn’t. Top that off with stages where you don’t actually fight at all, but just watch a cutscene, as well as frequent occasions where you tangle with the same character up to three times, and it becomes pretty clear that Saint Seiya’s story mode is quite the missed opportunity.
Beyond Saint Seiya’s story mode, the developer attempts to keep solo players busy by stuffing the game to the gills with unlockable costumes, items and oddly, taunting phrases, which can be bought with in-game currency accrued from playing the game’s various single-player modes. There’s a veritable avalanche of stuff here that fans of the series will no doubt love to unlock, just be prepared to spend a lot of time doing the grind to get all the stuff that you want.
Elsewhere, a number of additional modes, such as the obligatory battle, survival and tournament style game modes also crop up in an effort to extend the longevity of the game. Naturally, online and local multiplayer modes also exist, allowing players to get stuck into combat against one another with various modifiers in place to tailor the scrapping to your personal preference.
One extra mode which has been packed into Saint Seiya, which provides a little more spice than the rest of it, is the ‘Battle of Gold’ mode. Extending the single-player experience with over thirty additional narratively driven battles, it’s a nice little extra for sure but it remains one with a rather frustrating caveat; each battle uses up a single torch and torches, you guessed it, can only be replenished by purchasing them from the in-game store. Cue then, a whole bunch of extra grinding for content which really shouldn’t be stuck behind an in-game paywall such as this. It’s a disappointing turn of events to say the least.
Still, aside from its accessibility, if Saint Seiya has one other good thing going for it then that would most arguably be its visual aesthetic. In borrowing the classic character designs from the source material and thrusting it into a full, 1080p sixty frames per second presentation that is bursting with colour and vibrancy, it’s not unreasonable to suggest that in fact, yep, Saint Seiya Soldiers’ Soul is quite the looker with visual charm to spare.
In the end, it seems like Saint Seiya Soldiers’ Soul should be suitable for newcomers to the genre, what with its simplistic fighting system and one-size-fits-all button press combinations across its impressively large roster of fighters. Yet somehow it squanders much of this goodwill with a largely unfathomable and flawed story mode compounded by an annoying in-game economy which does that horrible thing that fighting games should never do of making you grind to access other game modes. Flawed, yet undeniably easy on the eyes, it’s difficult to recommend Saint Seiya Soldiers’ Soul to anyone except the most ardent fans of the source material.