Saint Seiya is a manga and anime with a long history. Many people will comment on Dragonball Z or One Piece as the longest reigning and most popular anime at the moment, some will point to Attack on Titan or Naruto, all manga/anime with very successful games and wide legacies. Many people wouldn’t know there was one in the mid 80’s that had people in Japan gripped and inspired. That one is Saint Seiya, a story about a group of youths seeking to protect their goddess and friend from the attentions of supernatural warriors. Saint Seiya: Soldiers’ Soul is a fighting game that recounts the story and adds a little flavour among the mix. Does this game rise above all others in the cosmos? Or is it not even worthy of a bronze cloth to be among the weakest of the saints?
Despite its age, Saint Seiya has been remade and retold, its story is solid and known to many. The titular character, Seiya, is a Bronze Saint, the weakest of the levels of saints and one of many in service to Athena… or rather in supposed service. It is sad to say that the story given by the game is largely incomplete. It does give a play by play of all of the major events and these are recreated with in game graphics (Quite good on the ps4, compared to the grainy quality of 1980’s VHS, it is a marvel in comparison.) but there is a major problem.
The anime chronicling these events lasts for more than one hundred episodes and while it would be impossible to create a game with all the details and nuances in the story but the issue that game suffers is a large one. It really wasn’t enough. This is a two-fold problem, firstly, the cutscenes, while lengthier than in most fighting games, have all the emotion of the anime but feel very wooden and can indeed drag on. You take control where there would be combat scenes and this removes a large part of what makes Saint Seiya good, the development during battle of the character, the flashbacks, the dialogue and the drama of the fight.
The other issue is more a pet peeve but I find it striking. In the original story, it follows Seiya, he and his friends must overcome people stronger and more experienced than they. According to the story, they lose their battles then overcome their enemies, the ultimate underdogs. This is translated in the game as… losing. After you have cleared the storyline battle, you get to watch yourself on the losing side before you fight again and then… sometimes win. It is very, very irritating to fight a hard battle to only find yourself losing in the cutscene afterwards.
With these twin forces, a lot of the enjoyment from the story gets filtered out, much of the narrative come out as weak and confusing as many Saints simply die without much fanfare and then sometimes magically reappear… which then confuses us when we find that some of them are genuinely dead. There are no extra appendixes or notes to help clear these issues up for us. To an experienced person, you understand the moments for what they are, calling back memories and filling in the gaps but a new person to the story would find much confusion and frustration as they tried to remember all the details as like looking people are thrown their way and the multitude of costume changes that go without any explanation whatsoever. I will make a special mention to the voice acting though, so much passion involved from the story to the battle, made it feel very immersive!
I spent much time speaking on the story because I believe it is important, even a fighting game should have a good story, especially when it is based on one that is rather well written. As a fighting game though, it is very entertaining. You have two attack buttons with and energy button thrown in, as well as a state change, known as 7th sense, and the shoulder buttons that give you access to stronger attacks. It’s very similar to other anime fighting games with you dashing across the area, fighting hand to hand with other Saints, as weapons are more or less prohibited… except in some situations but that is not well explained in the game, and trying to defeat them for story or other reasons. There is very little variety of button combos, in fact it is almost non-existent. Square is light attack, Triangle is heavy, Circle is energy. You can string light and heavy attacks but only light to heavy, not the other way round. You have a burst attack which is done by holding the L2 button down and using either light or heavy and you have special abilities that are accessed with R2 button and Square, Triangle or Circle. As basic as it is, there is a lot to understand, a lot of bobbing, weaving, keep-away and juggling. It is fun in its own way and while it can be frustrating with the harder enemies, it is very satisfying defeating them.
There are numerous modes, With the Story and new Gold Saints fighting modes accomplishing many story and what-if scenarios, and then you have the survival, versus and tournament modes for a challenge and extra content. There is also online battle that holds up well but as with all fighting games, the community can be a bit rough at times. There are many available characters, we are talking over 100 but these are often times different skins of existing characters and play mostly the same as their original models. Still there is a great variety and enjoyable to find your favoured play style, also the enjoyable characters make the journey very entertaining. Another note that made me chuckle, as long as you don’t fiddle with any of the sound settings, should you die in the story, you’ll be treated to a shocking voice of a goddess coming from your hands as she tries to will you back into the fight.
There is also commentary from the announcer in the tournament, another aspect I enjoyed greatly. The only issue I had with the speech was that there was a distinct lack of variety in the lines… the announcer has a wealth of different phrases and comments that are tailored to individual characters. The goddess does not have this treatment, she would say the name of the character then… say the same lines to try and get you to rise. In the Story, she has individual relationships with her saints, so it is a little disheartening to see that familiarity lost in that area. There is a lot to tweak and master in the game with regards to content and the trophies are extensive with many of them requiring large amounts of money to unlock.