These are the facts that we know:
- On March 18th Katsuhiro Harada, Game Director of fighting games for NamcoBandai, stated that his next game would be Soulcalibur: Army of Darkness.
- On June 6th a NamcoBandai representative sent out an email to various video game media outlets telling them that NamcoBandai would be showing off a new fighting game at E3.
- Katsuhiro Harada will be attending E3 in person.
- Daishi Odashima, who was the head of Project Soul during the development and release of Soulcalibur 5, has been completely silent, though he still holds his title on his twitter account.
I had already been down on Soulcalibur 5’s sales performance when compared to Soulcalibur 4, which I still say is mostly down to the roster and mechanics more than a supposed glut of fighting games on the market (Which is still a valid complaint, but Soulcalibur is still a 3D weapon-based fighting game in age of primarily 2D and hand-to-hand based fighting games. In a broad sense it is still just another fighting game, but to a potential customer looking at half a dozen 2D anime fighters, a few 2.5D games, 30 different Tekkens, and a new Dead or Alive game, Soulcalibur still stands out.). Fact is, Soulcalibur 5 wasn’t as successful as Soulcalubur 4. Namco is known as a developer with absurd expectations for their games, so even though Soulcalibur 5 is still a success by any real measure, will it be a success to Namco?
The way they let Harada go about fighting games seems to be relatively hands-free, and there’s the simple fact that the Soulcalibur games always turn a profit, especially outside of Japan, which is necessary for Namco because they keep releasing other games outside of Japan, usually with no marketing and often in direct competition with a more popular franchise, and are always surprised when they barely break even. Ask any Tales fan how Namco handles that franchise and be sure to cover your ears before the screaming starts.
There should never have been any doubt that Soulcalibur 6 would get made. The only questions are who, when, and why. Will Daishi get another shot? Will they try to squeeze something in before the new consoles are released? And if Daishi or someone else is put in charge, will they be allowed to try and break the mold as Soulcalibur 5 did and risk alienating fans again, or will they be told to go back to what worked in the past?
As for Soulcalibur 6 being a launch title for one or both of the new consoles when Soulcalibur 5 is only a year and half old, that’s a subject just begging for absurd speculations. There were rumours of next-generation development kits being sent out as far back as late 2011, which would be before Soulcalibur 5 was even released. If a new game was in development soon after that I see two distinct paths it could take.
First, and less likely, would be a brand new game in a brand new engine designed to use the new console’s hardware. This is always an advantage for both the developer and the console manufacturer as they are eager to have games that demonstrate the console’s new features and makethe new hardware more enticing. This is supposed to be a system seller.
Second would be a simple expansion and up-port of Soulcalibur 5 in some capacity. This would be a remarkable turnaround for a brand new game, as typically there are 2-4 years between Soulcalibur releases, even when the games come out on the same system, but it’s plenty of time to have been working on new stages, character models, and other simple features for a game that already exists. Simply tying the game heavily into new social media features somehow might be enough to count as token support for the new consoles, as graphically the game would have to run at 60fps on all systems, and there’s only so much extra polish a developer can put on the graphics.
The elephant in the room–the Army of Darkness subtitle–also points toward some sort of Soulcalibur 5 expansion rather than a new game. No core series console release of a Soulcalibur game has ever included a subtitle. The only Soulcalibur games that have subtitles are the Broken Destiny port of Soulcalibur 4 to the PSP, Soulcalibur Legends (the Wii-exclusive action game that was also a dud, sales-wise), and I guess Soulcalibur 3: Arcade Edition. While it’s possible that Army of Darkness is another handheld port, this time to the Vita, Broken Destiny didn’t seem to go over very well and that was after the PSP had reached as much market saturation as it ever would. The number of people who own Vitas is substantially lower. (There’s also the 3Ds, of course, but I prefer not to think about that, and Dead or Alive Dimensions was hopefully enough to kill that possibility dead.) However, Soulcalibur has never had a proper fighting game-style aftermarket expansion before, and those always get a new subtitle. That Harada is the one mentioning it, and working on it, also points in that direction as he is still the head of fighting games, and he seemed to at least be smart enough to keep well enough away from the likes of Death by Degrees, while he is almost notorious for releasing as many different expansions and iterations of the same Tekken games as he can manage.
The name Army of Darkness may also be a clue. While on the face of it the concept of an army contradicts the very nature of a 1 on 1 fighting game, Soulcalibur 5 was not short on armies at all, having the main antagonist, Nightmare, take on the role of the military dictator of Hungary, with the intent of savaging Europe with his army of Soul Edge-corrupted minions, and plunge the continent into an age of darkness and strife. As Daishi himself stated, “only one fourth of what we planned to do is in the game.” In fact, they even recorded additional dialogue and had a much more of the game storyboarded, but never got to use it. There was never much debate about Soulcalibur 5 being rushed after its announcement, and it’s a credit to Project Soul that when it came time to cut content and shift development priorities they decided to make the best fighting game they could while sacrificing singleplayer content and the possibility of additional characters. Add another year and a half to that development cycle, which is where they would be now, and that’s a much more normal 3+ years for a proper Soulcalibur game.
Of course there are problems with releasing the same game twice, not the least of which is that every other fighting game franchise does it, and they always get complaints. It’s one of the biggest factors for the perceived oversaturation of the market, that there isn’t new content being released, but that fans are being sold the same games over and over again. However, this would be offset by the biggest complaints that Soulcalibur 5 received: it didn’t have enough content or the characters that fans expected. This could be the rare exception in which fans would welcome being sold the same game but with more stuff. It’s also been more more than a year since the game was released, so it wouldn’t feel like fans are buying the same game within the same year, as happened with Ultimate Marvel vs Capcom 3 (and Dead or Alive 5+ being released almost exactly 1 year after Dead or Alive 5).
Personally, I wouldn’t be surprised if NamcoBandai’s “unannounced” E3 fighting game reveal turned out to be another Tekken project, maybe Tekken x One Piece or Tekken x Naruto, but I put even odds on it being a Soulcalibur game. Even if the E3 game isn’t a new Soulcalibur, there should be no doubt that a new Soulcalibur is coming.
While E3 has now come and gone with no results, and the other mystery game Namco had up their sleeves turned out to be a Saint Seiya fighting game, I still have no doubt that a new Soulcalibur game is being worked on in some capacity. Keep in mind that there are also Tekken projects, as well as both this Saint Seiya (a property that Daishi has expressed some love for) and, of course, Namco is working on the new Smash Bros. game as well. Each of these is probably more important than a Soulcalibur game right now (especially if that new Soulcalibur game will be for a next gen system), and Harada and Daishi both say that the Project Soul staff gets moved around a lot to other games.
So no news isn’t exactly news that nothing is happening.