The original SoulCalibur was actually a sequel to Soul Blade, an arcade fighter which was notable not just for its weapons but for the fact that it was in 3D (hey, this is 1996 we're talking about). The series was originally known as Soul Edge until Tim Langdell got his mitts on it, but let's not go into that here... (Oh go on. - Ed)
Like most games, SoulCalibur has done a lot of growing up in the five releases between the first game and Broken Destiny, the latest title in the series. The recent trend of including novelty characters unique to each platform (like Link on the Wii, Darth Vader on the PS3, etc) continues here with God of War's Kratos making a surprisingly welcome inclusion. Unlike previous guest characters, Kratos actually works incredibly well in the one-on-one fighting format, feeling well balanced and perfectly in tune with both the SoulCalibur gameplay and his normal self. Bravo!
Another area which has seen much improvement over the years is the depth of the fighting system. The net result of this change is that what we have now is incredibly deep and, well, incredibly complex. If you're new to the series it will likely seem pretty overwhelming at first, but the good news is that the game's "Gauntlet" mode will spoon feed you the mechanics and force you to master them before moving on. The bad news is that can be as frustrating as it sounds and that's pretty much the entirety of the single player component right there.
There is also a fake multiplayer mode, in which you enter a lobby and pick opponents from AI that are intended to appear as though they are human (complete with fake win / loss records, usernames, etc). Otherwise the only remaining single player component is the challenge mode, in which you face off against foe after foe until you're defeated. There's no "Arcade" mode like you might expect from a fighter, which (combined with the rigid "training mode" feel of the "Gauntlet" mode) can leave you feeling a little shortchanged, unless you're happy going up against opponents in single matches, that is.
Multiplayer is a little disappointing - the adhoc mode is excellent, with permanent records and "honors" (think "Achievements" only without a single score summarizing your progress) however that's all there is. If you're hankering to play some SoulCalibur online at the local Starbucks, you're out of luck - there's no infrastructure mode.
The controls are solid, even if the moves list requires you to constantly translate "A" to "X" - for some reason they don't list the actual buttons used to perform moves, instead sticking to a non-remappable move key which you then need to convert to buttons yourself. The PSP does a solid job of translating your frantic presses into action on the screen, with no real problems determined to be the fault of the controls (typically issues were the result of amateur playing...).
Graphically SoulCalibur is a beast! The backgrounds are relatively spartan but they're very nicely laid out, beautifully lit and a perfectly fitting backdrop for the core action going on in the foreground. The character graphics... oh my. The characters look downright INCREDIBLE - gorgeously realised, tenderly animated and viscerally violent in their engagement. This all happens at a blistering framerate too, with not even the slightest hint of slowdown. On top of all of that, the game loads very quickly on a PSP Slim (2000 series tested).
When all is said and done, what you have here is a true SoulCalibur console experience in your pocket. If you're at all concerned about the game being watered down, allay those fears - this is pure SoulCalibur. Sure, there might be some jokes at the beginning about the story not being canon and the content is a little light on variety, but all the fighters are there, they look amazing and the very latest version of the fighting system (complete with the ability to shatter your opponent's guard if they're blocking too much) is there in its entirety. Not only that but if you've been thinking about getting into the series, everything you need to get up to speed with how it all works is packed onto the UMD.