SoulCalibur V Review
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On 02/01/2012 at 05:30 PM by Jesse Miller
On the stage of history SoulCalibur V takes two steps forward then one step back.
For fans of the series and more hardcore fighting game fans.
SoulCalibur has long held a special place in the hearts of fighting game fans. The combination of weapon based combat combined with exaggerated, yet memorable characters was a welcome change of pace from the Tekkens and Virtua Fighters of the day. While never accused of being the deepest of fighting games, its trademark accessibility assured that both the core and casual fighting fans could enjoy their time in the ring.
But all good things must come to pass and as the years passed the series failed to evolve with the times. A formula that was so successful became monotonous and some questioned whether the series could survive. This newest installment is an important one for the franchise’s legacy. Key combat changes open up some deeper fighting possibilities, but for each improvement made an opportunity was missed.
The first thing series veterans will notice is the addition of the critical gauge. The meter holds two bars of energy and as it fills the player will be able to execute special moves known as “Brave Edge” and “Critical Edge” attacks:
“Brave Edge” attacks: modified versions of a character’s special moves that will extend the attack and inflict more damage. Pulling off this move uses up one bar of the critical gauge and is executed by pressing all three attack buttons after a special move. These attacks are critical in linking together combos to prolong an attack.
“Critical Edge” moves: devastating special moves that eat up the entire critical gauge. Each character’s “Critical Edge” move delivers a varying amount of damage, which results in some minor balance issues when comparing traditional powerhouses like Nightmare and Cervantes to some of the weaker ones like Leixia and Pyrrha. Better balancing could have been accomplished by having the critical gauge fill at different rates, but from my experience this isn’t the case.
The critical gauge also figures heavily into the defensive side. Parrying, now known as guard impacting, now requires a fourth of your critical meter to pull off. An alternative, yet more difficult way to parry can be accomplished by tapping the guard button precisely as you are struck. This will result in a similar effect to guard impacting.
These additions mix up what was becoming a more stagnant and formulaic fighting tradition in the SoulCalibur series, but players may have some trouble adapting since there is no formal tutorial that explains how to take advantage of these new features. The only attempt made to highlight these changes and how best to implement them is a block of text at the beginning of the game’s story mode – a screen that will likely go unnoticed by impatient players just wanting to get into the game.
The lack of a formal tutorial results in a steeper learning curve than may be desirable for some. Newcomers will likely get through the game’s relatively easy story mode, only to become frustrated once they enter the game’s more difficult modes and online play.
All of this stands in contrast to a fairly traditional selection of characters. SoulCalibur V brings back more than a few fan favorites such as Ivy and Mitsuragi and most new characters are merely variations of those from previous games. In reality there are only three new additions that stand out in any way: Z.W.E.I., Viola and special guest Ezio of Assassin’s Creed fame:
Z.W.E.I.: A close combat character who can summon a wolf totem to perform his more devastating special moves.
Viola: One of the more interesting characters, and one of the few that does not carry a blade. She employs a magic crystal ball that can be manipulated to strike an opponent from multiple angles. She has a heavier learning curve, but is sure to be a fan favorite.
Ezio Auditore da Firenze: SoulCalibur V’s special guest possesses a fighting style that very much resembles that of former guest character Link. He is very easy to pick up and is effective at almost any range. He is certainly fun to play as, but I can imagine that he’ll present balance issues down the road for those looking for more structured play.
A more narrative-focused story mode bears an obvious resemblance to the newly revived Mortal Kombat. Taking place 17 years after the events of SoulCalibur IV, the story follows Patroklos and Pyrrha -- son and daughter to series stalwart Sophitia -- as they venture across 17th century Europe as the famed blades Soul Edge and SoulCalibur predictably clash for dominance. The nonsensical plot points and grimace-inducing dialogue/voiceovers are present in all their glory, as per usual.
Coming in at just over two hours, you’ll spend all but a few matches playing as the Athenian siblings. While this may work for the narrative, the repetition of using the same characters time after time was grating. Usually story modes are used as makeshift tutorials, acting as a virtual tour of all the game has to offer. Patroklos and Pyrrha are generally well rounded characters, but shortly after the story began I found myself longing to play as the characters I was fighting against.
Another missed opportunity is in the match variety. Story mode matches are limited to the standard fare with a few one-round matches thrown in. Presenting different battle conditions would have helped to break up the monotony of the repetitious match structure and force the player to adapt to changing conditions. As is, most players will settle into a basic style and stick with it since the game doesn’t demand anything else.
In addition to the standard versus and arcade modes, SoulCalibur V offers a new mode called Legendary Souls, which is essentially a boss rush mode in which the player will take on a series of boss characters of an escalating level of difficulty. These modes help to round out a generally thin offline gaming experience.
Yet as fate would have it, SoulCalibur will not live and die by these modes. A robust online suite will help to entice gamers to keep the disc in their machine long after the various offline modes have been conquered. Online matches are quick and smooth – I experienced no hiccups, lag or other connection or server errors in my experience online. There are three online modes: the usual Player Match, Ranked Match modes, and Global Colosseo, an online lobby that can host up to 50 players that can challenge each other at will.
The character creation mode returns in a more robust form, featuring much greater freedom when customizing the fighter of your choice. Even with greater freedom to modify my creations as I see fit, it’s easy to get the feeling that the team still skimped on clothing and hair options in order to entice players with already planned DLC, which unfortunately makes an otherwise robust system feel somewhat lacking.
In many ways SoulCalibur V takes some very positive steps forward for the franchise. The combat is more complex and deeper than it has ever been, but a steep learning curve and missed opportunities to flesh out a lackluster offline experience prevent this game from really shining. I expect fans to take a hard line on this title with some claiming it’s the best in the series and others claiming it’s the worst. The truth of the matter is somewhere in the middle.