Hello all! Last week, I wrote about Enslaved: Odyssey to the West, a game with outstanding sense of place and character—which more than made up for basic (yet fully functional) gameplay. (Also, you guys really seemed to like that one—thanks for the very positive response!)

This week brings us a game I bought for exactly one character. This game turned out great, but seriously never do this.

Link! Plus two chumps.

SoulCalibur 2 is a fighting game from what’s now Namco Bandai that simultaneously released for the PS2, GameCube, and Xbox way back in 2002. It’s an arcade fighter with weapons, basically, and it rules. Fighting games at their core are largely the same, and there’s no need to explain SoulCalibur’s systems and nuances here. You get it.

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Anyway, each of the three console releases of SC2 featured an exclusive character you could play as: Heihachi from Tekken for PS2, Spawn from the titular comic series for Xbox, and Link from The Legend of Zelda for GameCube. At the time, I owned a PS2 and a GameCube, so I had a choice to make here.

...actually, no I didn’t. I’m a Zelda nut, so I picked up the GameCube version at launch. Now, my previous experience with the SoulCalibur series was a single match of the first game played on an arcade cabinet in the movie theater in my neighborhood. I didn’t quite get it. Bafflingly, SoulCalibur is a game missing from my Dreamcast collection. So I didn’t know anything about the series besides the fact that Link appeared in this one. It’s literally the only reason I wanted the game, so I saved up to buy it the day it released.

Throwing it into the GameCube, I went through the menus and started Arcade Mode. My eyes darted around the character select screen and landed on Link. I moved the cursor to him as fast as possible, bypassing the roster of losers on my way. “Link!”, the announcer shouted, and the camera zoomed in on Link’s glorious 2002 character model. He let out a “yahhh!”

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And Link was awesome in this game. He had a boomerang, bombs...not to mention the Master Sword. Not to mention he was Link. I was playing as my favorite game’s star and handily kicking ass in this game I just started playing for the first time. (Note that SoulCalibur is an excellent pick-up-and-play title, and also Link is a bit OP—more on that in a bit)

This was awesome, but later on it was pretty cheap.

So, I played exclusively as Link for possibly too long—maybe a week straight of playing only SC2 and only as Link. He was the best character. Period. That’s how I felt about it; keep in mind, this was 2002. Fifteen years ago (sweet Christmas) and I was still in high school. At the time, I wasn’t particularly...analytical about my games. Nobody is at that age; “awesome” games were enough at the time. And so it went.

Eventually, I burned myself out on Link, in a manner of speaking. I started exploring the other modes and characters and, lo and behold, it turns out SoulCalibur 2 was an entire, fully-featured game, beyond Link. Who knew? I began to actually use the other characters, to a point where I stopped using Link altogether—he’s a bit overpowered; too “perfect,” in terms of...well, everything: range, power, speed, counters, etc. I got really good with Maxi, Raphael, and Cassandra in particular. I played everyone’s story mode. I even tried to track down a copy of the original SoulCalibur for Dreamcast (unsuccessfully).

By the time SoulCalibur 3 came out, I was excited to buy it based on the actual SoulCalibur cast and feature set, rather than “it has one dude I like.” SoulCalibur 4 would famously feature Yoda, Darth Vader, and Starkiller from...um...*checks Wikipedia* Star Wars. I’m a big Star Wars guy, but by SC4, Yoda and Vader were bonuses at best, rather than the main attraction for me.

Here are people who aren’t Link.

That’s part of growing as a video game player, I think; it’s evolving from “this one feature is so cool” to “how is this game as a whole?” I mean, when I was younger, I bought Spider-Man games because Spider-Man was on the cover. Some of them are good—Spider-Man 2 remains one of the best superhero games of all time—but some are awful. I, myself, got pretty lucky with SoulCalibur 2, seeing as how I didn’t know the series at the time. I bought it because of Link, and got what would turn out to be one of my favorite series. It would be a while longer before I started doing my research on games, reading previews and reviews and such; I bought Spider-Man 2 at launch, blindly, and that was great, but I also bought Spider-Man 3 on launch day too. For the Wii.

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Though I didn’t realize it at the time, SoulCalibur 2 taught me a simple kind of “don’t judge a book by its cover” lesson. In this case, SC2 turned out to be more than what I was buying it for, in a good way. It also taught me to look at games as a whole product, and to not buy a game for one cool thing, be it Link, Spider-Man, a bionic arm, or whatever. I averted disaster here because SC2 happens to be amazing, with or without Link. But that’s not always the case. Just because a game stars a character you like doesn’t mean the overall game is great too. I guess the lesson here is do your research! Read up on a game, watch videos, absorb all you can about it (short of spoilers, of course) and make an informed decision.

Side note: Todd McFarlane created a character called Necrid for all the versions of SC2. He’s a dumb action figure of a character. That’s pretty much it.

Thanks for reading these weekly things I’ve been writing for almost 4 years now. I can be yelled at re: why I’m wrong on Twitter, and do suggest games I should cover by tweet or here in the comments!

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Next week brings us a game about a vampire and Nazis and I guess some other stuff. The game is pure junk food without substance, but it’s good for a couple days.