Despite its awkward name, Saint Seiya: Soldiers' Soul is a very straightforward and accessible PlayStation 4 fighter that's essentially an enhanced version of Saint Seiya: Brave Soldiers, which released on the PlayStation 3 back in 2013. It's got more stages, more characters, a longer story, and a couple of extra components knocking about – but its rather basic brawling remains.
Soldiers' Soul's [I feel dizzy - Ed] simplistic combat is both a strength and a weakness. It's a 3D arena brawler that focuses on combo strings and glitzy special attacks, and it's easy to pick up thanks to its simple controls and button inputs, but there are also aspects which add some necessary depth, like the ability to use up your cosmo – or energy – to evade or close the distance between you and your foe. The problem is that many fighting game fans will feel as though they've mastered much of what's on offer within just a few hours, and although there's a huge amount of characters to unlock and play as – each sporting their own special moves and combos – everyone makes use of the same commands and actions, which ultimately makes the roster seem a little lacking in diversity.
That said, fans of the source material will likely get a lot of mileage out of the gigantic cast, and some of the flashy finishers are well worth seeing at least once. Likewise, the expanded story mode is a particularly lengthy time sink. Fights are split up by cutscenes or stints of dialogue that add a bit of narrative to proceedings, but sadly, it's all somewhat lacklustre. The cutscenes themselves are all rendered in-engine, but they usually equate to nothing more than character models standing in the same spot, spouting lines that won't make much sense to anyone who's new to the property.
It's a definite shame that more couldn't be done to help tell the epic tale of Saint Seiya, but at least the pivotal battles from the original work manage to convey a decent sense of tension. Duels play out over a single round, with additional clashes occurring depending on the opponent's role in the story. For example, you may beat down a powerful foe only for them to reappear boasting a damage boost, or you might have to survive a short stint of combat against an insurmountable enemy. Specific objectives like this keep things from becoming too much of a slog, and even though some tasks can be quite tricky, there's satisfaction to be found in success – especially when the odds are stacked against you.
Outside of story mode, you've got your standard versus mode, online battles, and the new gold battle mode. The latter has you play as certain characters against opponents who bear some sort of relevance, and you gradually unlock tougher foes as you progress. It's basically another way to throw a bunch of extra brawls into the release, but with some of these battles being particularly challenging, it can make for a nice change of pace when you're a bit sick of smashing through story stages one by one.
Similarly, the online offering isn't anything special, but it's functional, and you can participate in both ranked and open battles. From our experience, the netcode isn't perfect – we did encounter occasional lag even when taking the fight to other Europeans – but it's reasonably quick to find willing opposition, and rising through the ranks can be simple fun if you're looking to put your skills to the test against opponents that are obviously more conscious of spammable attacks than the artificial intelligence is.
Soldiers' Soul is nothing if not a typical fighter, then, but the experience is buoyed by a wealth of unlockables. There's a massive gallery to fill up with character models that you can peruse at your leisure, and there are loads of 'assist phrases' to discover, which, when equipped to your chosen saint, grant various boons during combat. Like most of the title's other components, the assist phrase system is nothing to get excited about, but it's a good addition, and it can certainly come in handy when you're having trouble against specific foes.
Graphically, Soldiers' Soul's not the most bombastic or overall impressive anime fighter that we've seen, but it's still a relatively pretty release that's entertaining to watch, and it all runs at a silky smooth 60 frames-per-second. The only thing that lets it down is the sometimes poor texture quality, which can make things look decidedly last-gen if the camera gets in too close.
Saint Seiya: Soldiers' Soul isn't a huge improvement over the somewhat standard Saint Seiya: Brave Soldiers, but it remains a solid and accessible fighter that's fun in short bursts. While the simplistic combat won't hold everyone's interest, a lengthy story mode and countless unlockables ensure that there's plenty to see and do before your cosmo burns out.