An acquired taste

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SYBERIA 3’s release on the Nintendo Switch caps a long journey that began long before the turn of the decade. Development on the last title in the graphic adventure trilogy coincided with issues beyond the control of Microids designers Benoît Sokal and Lucas Lagravette; from the arrival of new management to contractual negotiations to financial concerns, it found its progress stunted for years. And even after support for its production became official, it saw its expected launch date moved time and again, ostensibly to “bring even more depth to Kate Walker’s new adventure,” Elliot Graciano, the French software brand’s founder and vice-president, noted in late 2016.

For all the patience Microids exhibited, however, mixed reviews met Syberia 3 when it was finally released in April 2017 on Windows, OS X, PlayStation 4, and XBox One. That said, plans to bring it to the Nintendo Switch, which had then just made a rousing debut, were afoot. The decision to port it was based on the apt assessment that its point-and-click mechanics fit gamers on the go. And so the trilogy made its way to the hybrid console, the first two iterations in November and the third last month, in the process introducing it to a new gaming base that effectively extended its shelf life.

For Nintendo diehards, the good news is that the Switch version of Syberia 3 sticks to its roots. It has faithfully kept the look and feel of the game, whether played on the big screen or undocked. The trials and tribulations of Walker — a lawyer hitherto in Syberia but subsequently on a cause to assist the nomadic Youkoi as they migrate with snow ostriches — are presented exactly as fans of the series recall. Featuring a simple interface that enables players to get the main character to interact with her environment, it encourages exploration and strategizing and involves no small measure of puzzle solving to move the story forward. In this regard, the immersive soundtrack by Inon Zur of Dragon Age and Fallout 4 fame helps set the tone for particular circumstances.

Parenthetically, Syberia 3 boasts of an outstanding art design. Environments are striking and diverse, lending an authentic air to the proceedings. Walker and other non-playable characters are likewise rendered with care and thoroughness; they blend seamlessly with their surroundings. On the minus side, the voice acting represents a downgrade from those found in its older siblings; the dialogue can occasionally come off as artificial and border on the stilted. And for gamers who prefer to enjoy it with subtitles, the distinct differences between the written and spoken words can be jarring.

Because Syberia 3 employs a narrative that banks on linear progression, situations aren’t enveloped in haste; going through puzzles and trigger events winds up being a leisurely endeavor instead of a time-pressing one. It’s neither good nor bad in the grand scheme of things, although the absence of any touch-screen functionality — a missed opportunity for Microids to make its Switch version stand out — tilts it to the tedious side. In any case, there is no shortage of fun to be had; the tasks at hand are challenging but fair, and problems always have solutions that do not require a ridiculous amount of backtracking. And given the propensity of programming clues, frustration will rarely set in.

Taken in the context of Syberia 3’s presentation, the plot is appropriately devoid of grand designs. In fact, it simply involves the principal protagonist joining in on an annual pilgrimage and helping along the way. Nothing spectacular, and no end-of-the-world machinations to thwart, no do-or-die settings to deal with from the get-go. And for good measure, it includes “An Automaton With A Plan,” previously released downloadable content on a separate story for Oscar, Walker’s mechanical companion.

In sum, Syberia 3 is an acquired taste, and, at its best, an uneven romp that likewise suffers from long load times and frame drops. For longtime followers of the series, veterans of point-and-click sagas, and casual gamers out to pass the time without pressure, however, it’s well worth the 30-odd hours needed to compete the material it offers. Not bad for $40, and remarkable in light of the arduous road it took to reach the Switch.

• Picks up from where Syberia 2 left off

• Easy controls

• Challenging but fair puzzles

• Vibrant look and immersive soundtrack

• Long load times

• Occasional frame drops

• Voice acting adequate at best

• Subtitles don’t match the dialogue, which can be stilted

RATING: 7/10

POSTSCRIPT: Soulcalibur VI (PlayStation 4) — As the latest release in the immensely popular series, Bandai Namco’s Soulcalibur VI marks its debut in current-generation consoles — to significant buzz, and with reason. It does so in grand fashion; even as contemporary gamers may see it heading off the beaten path, longtime fans will find it just as appealing as its predecessors. It has implemented changes to its core design, but stays true to its roots. It proudly presents its heritage with the same rousing soundtrack, the usual excited voiceovers, and the easy-to-dig-into weapon-based combat while using the Unreal engine for the first time. Six years may have passed since its predecessor littered store shelves, but under Project Soul’s steady stewardship, it reintroduces its name with confidence.

In line with previous titles in the franchise, Soulcalibur VI follows the story of the dreaded Soul Edge, a blade whose lust for blood is satisfied in the hands of a warrior aptly named Nightmare. With the narrative woven through various timelines, players are able to appreciate their quest for the weapon from different perspectives by taking on the causes of available characters. Parenthetically, 20 are on the roster from the outset, a privilege longtime followers will appreciate. And of the number, three are new to the series, among them Geralt of Rivia from The Witcher franchise.

Soulcalibur VI takes a novel approach, but does it well in the context of its Soul Chronicle story mode. The main plot can easily be followed by going through key events, but there are various side stories to negotiate as well. Meanwhile, Libra of Souls, the second story mode, allows tailor-made characters to craft their very own experiences within the context of the lore; it’s remarkably in-depth, its compelling nature stunted only by the extent of creativity displayed during customization. Every aspect of the characters — from their base fighting styles to their accessories to their appearances — can be fabricated as deemed fit.

Certainly, there’s a significant amount of content to sift through. The plot is typical Soulcalibur, melodramatic and often over the top but no less engrossing, thanks in no small measure to the mechanics that it incorporates. As with any other three-dimensional fighting title, players are free to select a character from a diverse batch; each has his or her own strengths, weaknesses, weapons, and movesets. While these seem standard fare at first glance, Soucalibur VI exhibits a peerless fluidity of combat. The usual array of vertical and horizontal actions blend with kicks, throws, and guards, albeit with distinctive twists. The incorporation of Reversal Edge, a defensive option over parrying that employs a rock-paper-scissors design in determining outcomes, significantly alters fundamentals.

The addition of the Soul Gauge likewise modifies dynamics in Soulcalibur VI, allowing for a healthy degree of back and forth. While dealing and taking damage, characters fill up a meter through which they can perform either a Soul Charge (to buff up future attacks) or a Critical Edge, an extremely fast and flashy finishing move that can otherwise deal a heavy amount of damage. It may seem complicated, but practice does make perfect, ultimately enabling players to strike the right balance between skill and patience.

Technically, Soulcalibur VI is a marvel, offering precise movement and controls and pushing the action with nary any lags. Characters look and sound good; visual and audio cues are in sync with the gameplay, and it combines excellent voice acting (whether in English or Japanese) with top notch music designed to keep players immersed on developments within the game. If there’s any minus, it’s in the occasionally uninspired backgrounds. And perhaps due to all the programming demands it makes, load times, even on the PlayStation 4 Pro, can take a while.

In any case, Soulcalibur VI delivers on its promise, providing hours upon hours of fun via Soul Chronicle and Libra of Souls. And while it also boasts of Arcade and Training Modes, it best generates replay value through its multiplayer component. In this light, the base game gets players to learn character combos and master their styles for online play. Creditably, matchmaking is efficient with stable connections, presenting little to no lags during remote battles. Which makes it a definite recommend as the best in the series by far. (9/10)