Namco Bandai is making gamers an offer they’d be idiots to refuse. At the cost of absolutely nothing, you can download the latest installment in the Soul Calibur franchise, subtitled Lost Swords. Seriously, put your wallet away. When Lost Swords releases on Playstation Network in February, all you have to do is download it to play. That’s it. There’s no catch.
All right, fine, there is a catch: no multiplayer. Considering the nonexistent price tag, you’d have to be a level-99 ingrate to complain about this. So instead of complaining, I’m left questioning this decision. After all, fighting games live and die by their multiplayer. Whether we’re talking Street Fighter or Smash Bros., multiplayer pushes fighting games to their apex.
It’s obvious that Namco is using Lost Swords as a form of advertising for future installments of their weapons-based fighter. The series has seen a decline in fanfare since Soul Calibur II, and SC4 and SC5 even struggled to win over critics. Right now, Namco needs to reach both new audiences and fans who’ve gone lukewarm toward SC (I’m in the latter camp). According to producer Masaaki Hoshino, Lost Souls’ combat has been simplified to satisfy casual audiences–a good move considering that the non-price tag will garner plenty of casual eyes.
Providing PSN users with a free game generates buzz, yet by leaving out the multiplayer, Namco ensures that gamers still have an incentive to purchase the inevitable Soul Calibur VI. In basic terms, Lost Swords is meant to create salivation, not satisfaction. If this marketing strategy takes off, we might get a lot of free games in the future. Namco might be pioneering the evolution of the demo with Lost Swords.
Still, I wonder how effective this type of marketing will be. If new players love Lost Swords, won’t they just buy used copies of SC4 or SC5 if they’re craving a two-player mode? It’d be a lot shrewder to release Lost Swords a few months prior to the release of SC6. I just don’t see how Namco benefits from this. Then again, maybe I’m just being cynical. Maybe Namco just wants us to enjoy ourselves.
If Namco really wants to rejuvenate the franchise, they’d do best to take a page out of the Soul Calibur II playbook and bring Link-caliber (pun not intended, I swear) guest characters on board. Final Fantasy fans would go nuts if Cloud joined the Soul lineup–hell, even a more recent FF character like Lightning could spark interest.
As Lost Swords stands now, it’s an odd choice for the developers. I like to believe it’s eating them up inside, sending out a fighting game–a fighting game!–with no multiplayer. I’d bet any money that once Lost Souls releases, we’ll hear about a downloadable multiplayer mode for $5 or $10. I mean doesn’t it seem inevitable? Who makes a quality fighting game, hands it out for free, and leaves out any sort of competitive mode? I’m on to you, Namco.