I have two confessions to make: one, I haven’t played a Soulcalibur game since… II, I think? And two, Ivy… doesn’t really “do” it for me.
I’m talking a fairly comprehensive package of “not doing it for me”, too; I’m not big into how she is depicted personality-wise, I have no idea how to play as her and I’m not especially into her now-iconic outfit, either… though I will admit that she does indeed have a very nice bottom.
Despite all this, I will happily and freely acknowledge that Ivy is one of the most recognisable faces in the Soulcalibur universe… and an interesting character to explore the various facets of. So let’s do that, shall we?
Isabella “Ivy” Valentine has been part of the series since its second installment, Soulcalibur for arcades and Dreamcast. (For the unfamiliar, the first game was actually Soul Edge, also known as Soul Blade in the West.) She proved immediately popular not just for her striking appearance, but also for her unusual style of fighting; rather than making use of a “conventional” weapon, her unusual “snake sword” combines elements of swords and whips into a single, rather hard to handle but satisfying to master weapon.
In narrative terms, Ivy’s background concerns the alchemical pursuit of eternal youth. Rather than the mythical philosopher’s stone as depicted in many other pieces of popular media, however, it seems the key to this in Soulcalibur’s original timeline was believed to be the legendary sword Soul Edge. Her adoptive father had been pursuing the sword as part of his alchemical studies — and pretty much ruined his family in the process — so after his death Ivy decided to take up the alchemist’s mantle and continue his work.
Of course, anyone familiar with the series will already know that Soul Edge is bad news; it’s an evil blade that feasts on souls. Upon discovering this rather pertinent piece of information, Ivy became convinced that Soul Edge had driven her father mad, and this had led him to the extremes that had ruined the Valentine family. Thus she set herself a new goal: the destruction of the cursed blade.
One does not simply hit a legendary soul-eating cursed blade with a big hammer until it breaks, however. Ivy knew that she’d need a suitably powerful weapon to stand up to Soul Edge, and used her skills and knowledge as a strong, independent woman in STEM to construct her iconic “snake blade” weapon, which was able to shift between sword and whip form as she desired. However, she was not satisfied with this already impressive technological achievement; she believed that in order to counter a living weapon such as Soul Edge, she would need a living weapon of her own.
First she tried alchemy, attempting to infuse the sword with her own blood to bring life to her creation, but this did not work. And you know what they say: where alchemy fails, try ancient sorcery. So that’s what Ivy did, attempting to summon… something from beyond time and space every night, growing increasingly (and understandably) frustrated and angry with every failed attempt. This — along with what happened next — is presumably where her “dominatrix” personality stemmed from.
Eventually, something answered… and that’s where her story depicted throughout the Soulcalibur games truly began — though for real lore purists, it’s worth noting that the most recent release at the time of writing, Soulcalibur VI, technically kicks off a new, rebooted timeline with the same setup as above, rather than advancing the existing story depicted over the course of the existing games.
Mechanically, Ivy is an interesting character not just within the Soul series, but in fighting games in general. The nature of her weapon means that her fighting style combines both short and long-range attacks without incorporating true “projectiles” into the mix; instead, her range comes from the ability to turn her weapon into a whip.
The ability to change her sword’s form results in Ivy as a playable character having several “stances” to use, each with their own benefits and drawbacks. Mastering Ivy involves understanding when is a good time to switch fighting styles — both in terms of the overall flow of the match, and in more practical terms, since the “switch” leaves her vulnerable for a moment.
Ivy is regarded as a rather challenging character to get to grips with, not just for her multi-stance nature, but also for the fact that some of her moves are notoriously difficult to perform. In particular, her two throws “Summon Suffering” and “Calamity Symphony” present a significant obstacle to those hoping to master Ivy due to the complex, unintuitive inputs they require — 376231 then A+B/A+K for those who speak fighting game — but since Ivy has been around for quite some time now there is plenty of advice out there for those who want to get the hang of them.
Ivy’s enduring appeal, then, stems from a number of factors. Firstly, we cannot discount or ignore her sex appeal. Back in the days when gaming sites and magazines were still willing to acknowledge the fact it is possible to find women attractive and not feel guilty about it — in Soulcalibur terms, this is roughly up until a little before Soulcalibur IV’s release — she put in regular appearances in character popularity polls from publications such as G4, Team Xbox, Machinima and Spike TV. She has also been used extensively in the series’ marketing pretty much since its outset, and many gaming publications put her alongside the original incarnations of Tomb Raider’s Lara Croft as one of the most iconic female characters in gaming.
But beyond her simple aesthetic, physical appeal, Ivy remains popular for other reasons, too. In IGN’s 2009 article on Soulcalibur’s “top ten fighters” (up to and including Soulcalibur IV), Jesse Schedeen argued that “few, if any, Soul fighters so aptly sum up what the series is about as Ivy Valentine; this troubled noblewoman has it all — impossibly deadly fighting skills, a tortured soul yearning for freedom, and an almost unhealthy dose of sex appeal.” And it’s true; Ivy is a solid representative of the series as a whole, embodying both its joyful weapon-based combat and its distinctive sense of style, blending elements of both fantasy and reality.
And then, of course, there’s the actual mechanical factor, which is what people who take their fighting games seriously are most interested in. Ivy is a character who confers bragging rights if you can master her — particularly if you can pull off those aforementioned throws — and an enduring member of the roster who commands respect.
She may not do it for me personally, then, but that’s not important. What is important is the fact that Soulcalibur wouldn’t quite be the same without her, for sure.
More about Soulcalibur
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