I’ll never forgot the golden age of working in a video rental store. My high time there was the period when VHS was transitioning to the brand-new DVD discs, as well as video games moving into a new generation.

The Sony PlayStation and Nintendo 64 were king at first, but our shelves started to stock the next generation Sega Dreamcast, which had an infamous launch date of 9/9/1999.

However, Hollywood Video, my employer back then, had obtained exclusive sneak-peak rights to the console:

On July 15, Hollywood Video will begin renting Sega Dreamcast, the superconsole with a built-in 56K modem that brings the most realistic and advanced game play ever achieved in a consumer videogame system, at more than 1,000 of its 1,390 stores nationwide, raising awareness among a potential consumer audience of approximately 40 million.

Sega Dreamcast officially launches in the United States on Sept. 9, 1999, at a retail price of $199 with a launch library of 16 titles. (And I had a chance to play it a lot upon launch!)

One of those 16 launch titles was Soulcalibur, which at the time (and even looking back on it now) was unlike anything before it.

The sequel to Soul Edge (and known as Soul Blade on the PSX) had an arcade version that was out earlier and simply rocked. But how would it stack up on Sega’s new hardware, especially after the flops that were the 32X and Saturn?

Tremendously I would say.

I recall my first time with Soulcalibur like it were yesterday. I couldn’t believe how great the graphics were – actually superior to the arcade version – buttery smooth as the framerate clipped along with gameplay reminiscent of watching a Bruce Lee movie.

The latter was especially true of the weapons-based combat inherent to the Soulcalibur series.

Namco and its development team took extra care for finer details which made for an incredible next-gen experience. Executing an attack, your character had more animations which may swing nunchakus a few more times while the next input for an attack (or defense) awaited.

As such, the “buffer” used in this game, that is executing button presses for each move, made combos chain together smoothly with a result akin to watching a movie rather than playing a game.

Unlike its predecessor, Soulcalibur also allows for true 8-way movement, expanding the previous combat – which also expanded on your defense capabilities.

This took raised the bar of the fighting genre, as other “3D” games didn’t chain combos as smoothly – probably my biggest gripe with the 3D Mortal Kombat series also is how jerky each of the moves felt when executed. Due to the buffer, combos, defense, animations, and 8-way movement, Soulcalibur felt like a real fight and upped the ante for tense, strategy-based battles. (Though your novice, like myself, could also button mash their way around as necessary, so the game was fairly accessible to noobs and seasoned pros.)

Most of the original characters returned from the first game, along with ten new fighters, increasing the depth of the game (albeit some tended to be redundant in ways).

I haven’t even gotten to the plot, which by this time, is really an afterthought excuse to have a fighting tournament – retrieving the Soul Edge from the main boss Nightmare, in a strangely woven storyline that again, isn’t all that important to the gameplay.

The Dreamcast version also sported the original’s boss, Cervantes, as well as a bunch of extra modes including Team Battle, Survival, and Training Mode, plus other unlockable content.

Soulcalibur is widely regarded as one of the best Dreamcast titles, is the second highest rated video game of all time, behind The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time with a 97% score on GameRankings, 98 on Metacritic, and won the majority of Game of the Year awards in its respective year and is often cited as arguably one of the greatest fighting games, as well as one of the greatest video games ever, topping numerous best video game lists over the years.

Yeah, I wasn’t going to retype all of that from Wikipedia – I think you get the hint. If you have never dipped your toe into this series, find a way to jump in on Soulcalibur – either on the Dreamcast or via Xbox Live Arcade.

Soul Blade

Way back when fighting games were all the rage. As consoles moved from the 2-D realm to the 3-D world with the introduction of a new generation of hardware, these fighting games evolved with them.

Such is the story of Soul Edge, which was an arcade game that was ported to Sony’s PlayStation under the name “Soul Blade”.

Often forgotten as the predecessor to the immensely popular Soul series, which saw a follow-up with the blockbuster Soulcalibur, Soul Blade tells the story of a sword which offers unlimited power. Nine characters try to find who has it; some for personal gain and others to destroy it before it gets in the wrong hands.

Centered around this story are gorgeous graphics and cutscenes for this era of games. Keep in mind, CD quality audio, full motion video, and voice acting were relatively new to games in the mid-90’s.

The game starts with what I’d like to call a ridiculous introduction: I say this as a compliment too!

The introduction video lasts around a full two minutes, with a custom theme song and cuts between different spots featuring each of the characters interacting within their world before finishing with the start screen: “Welcome to the stage of history,” is how the game welcomes you.

After selecting a character, you enter your first battle and its clear this game is different than what you’re used to. Characters somewhat move in three dimensions as the camera pans around the stage. Some stages have a tilt or other motion to them too, which was a new concept.

Each fighter wields a weapon, with each move appearing to seamlessly string together. For example, Li Long uses nunchucks and looks like a Bruce Lee film doing so. Swords and other weapons look just as fluid in their motions.

While the stages look blocky and haven’t aged well, their details are high quality if you were in 1997 playing this. Other small details such as sparks from weapons and a play-by-play announcer add to the feel. Instant replays following each round show the biggest hits and was also something not regularly seen in fighting games to date.

There’s a lot more that could be said about this game, which shares “ring outs”, round systems, health and special meter bars, and more with others from the genre; but there’s no need to go through all of that. I also don’t want to spoil the final battle for anyone who hasn’t played this and is interested: let’s just say that if you can win, you will be treated to a lengthy ending video based on your character that rivals that of the opening sequence.

And in Lord of the Rings movie fashion, it doesn’t end there, as a long end credits scene rolls too.

These tweaks to an already solid fighting game foundation set this as a benchmark for other games to reach. However, it’s usually Soulcalibur that gets recognized as being revolutionary and the more memorable game, despite being a sequel to Soul Blade.

If you enjoy fighting games or the Soul series, this game is highly recommended to play. Just keep in mind, you will have to master the controls and moves for your character, as the game progressively gets more challenging, and rewarding, up until the end.