In the world of fighting games, the SoulCalibur series has a reputation of being a "complete package." Each entry, at its core, is usually a polished and well-respected fighting game that provides a surprising amount of accessibility, yet still provides ample depth. However, each entry also contains a wealth of supplemental modes and single-player diversions. These can perform any number of tasks, from fleshing out the game's characters and world, to teaching new players about its fighting systems. From Museum Modes to Story Chronicles, from gimmick-laden dungeons to character creation, the frills of a SoulCalibur title allow players to become as emotionally attached to the series as possible. Even though the series is nothing without its solid fighting core, the extras that adorn SoulCalibur are expressly enjoyed by its fans.
SoulCalibur V forgets this, and the result is the hardest game in the series to enjoy.
We'll start with what does work. Fortunately, the fighting core drives this entry's positive aspects. Several changes have been made to the engine, both to address longtime issues with the series and to add extra depth. The biggest underlying change is to the Guard Impact system, which allowed players to deflect attacks and gain a momentary advantage with a well-timed touch of one button and a flick of the directional pad or stick. In the hands of very reflexive players, this often resulted in matches where fighters were barely able to land hits on each other. In response, a meter has been added, and it fills up after each consecutive attack. This time around, Guard Impacts can be performed anywhere, at any time, but at the cost of a section of this meter. This means that Guard Impacts are now finite, and players have to think about when to use them instead of constantly going on the defensive. However, a second, infinitely tougher-to-perform Just Guard has also been added. With a different and even quicker motion, consecutive combination attacks can be deflected and powered through at no meter cost, much like parries in the Street Fighter III series.
The new meter has allowed the developers to add other systems inspired by 2-D fighters as well. Brave Edge functions like EX Moves in Street Fighter or The King of Fighters: super-powerful versions of normal moves that can do anything from add damage or change an opponent's orientation — and for a smaller meter cost than Guard Impacts. Finally, the last big system addition is that of Critical Edges, which are essentially Super Moves performed by a universal double-rotation motion, plus all three buttons. While a welcome addition, some Critical Edges clearly weren't balance-tested to their fullest. If you weren't a fan of Nightmare before, prepare to utterly loathe him this time around once you've gotten a taste of his Critical Edge.
The same can be said across the board. In terms of fighting, SoulCalibur V is less of a sequel and more of a brand-new game. It is a game that requires more advance thought regarding battle tactics, discourages button-mashing wherever it can, and loses the smooth battle flow that the older entries sported. In its place, however, is a fighting game that rewards precise execution and learning your character to the fullest, thus gaining an entirely new battle flow proportional to player proficiency. I was highly impressed by the new systems, and they've gone a long way to fostering my enjoyment of this game. However, as of this review, all of these new systems are only great on paper. As far as anyone knows, this game, like the last two before it, has not been stress-tested in arcades or any other highly competitive setting, so the true test of its balance begins now, in the hands of the general public and at future fighting tournaments. While SoulCalibur V's fighting engine sports great ideas, it's very likely that it'll start showing cracks very soon. This goes for the huge engine changes as well as other sweeping changes to move sets, such as the removal of A+Kick moves (since they're hard to activate on console pads), and the simplification of moves, such as Ivy's deadlier techniques. The amount of new territory on display is cause for both excitement and apprehension.
If you simply wish to use SoulCalibur V as a versus fighting tool and absolutely nothing else, and if you hold a competitive mindset and wish to stay atop the latest changes in SoulCalibur as a pure fighting series, then SoulCalibur V absolutely holds up for now. Get the game, get the strategy guide, get a stick, call your friends and go to town; there's a lot here to learn and master. Even without local friends handy, the netcode is beyond impressive. Should you have a broadband connection, you will face no shortage of opponents, and you'll be assured that the overwhelming majority of your practiced techniques will not fail due to lag hiccups.
If you are a Fighter(tm), this is — barring any catastrophic balance snafus to be found in the future — a well-done fighting tool. For the rest of us, however .... There's no easy way to say this, but beyond its fighting engine, SoulCalibur V is a depressing and, in some cases, mind-boggling failure.
Do you have a favorite character in the SoulCalibur series? Thanks to a time skip in the story line, there's a 50% chance that they're now either gone entirely, their fighting style has been removed, or it has been transplanted into a new character and modified. If you're one of the unlucky people whose favored character/style was excised altogether (hello there, Talim/Seung Mina/Zasalamel), that's weeks, months, or possibly years of fighting experience completely down the toilet. Prepare to learn SoulCalibur once again from square one (and you're absolutely justified if you don't want to). Wondering who could have been hiding behind the unlockable character slots? You're in luck because it's a couple of character move-swaps and three Edge Master-style mimic characters (one of whom is the now-unrecognizable fan-favorite Kilik)! In the place of all of the excision, say hello to all of two new fighting styles, which are, admittedly, pretty fun to use.
Did you like the story or challenge modes in the SoulCalibur series? Well, SoulCalibur V sports a story mode that barely covers anyone outside of Sophitia's two children, "animated" by shaking storyboard stills and containing highly suspicious plot twists. Unless you check outside sources, the game does absolutely nothing to introduce you to the remaining two-thirds of the cast. This includes the returning veterans. Other single-player modes originally sported by the series, such as mission modes, museums and survival modes, have all gotten the ax. Team Battle? Forget about it. The two modes we get in their place are a Quick Battle, where players are encouraged to fight against pre-recorded player AI, and Legendary Souls mode, where players are encouraged to fight against a button-input-reading CPU AI cheaper than anything that has come in fighters before it. We're talking <i>Mario Kart</i> levels of cheapness here. Have fun.
By this time, one will be looking to the character creation mode as the game's saving grace, and if you've been able to accustom yourself to the fighting, it can be. The character creation has been expanded in several aspects, while simply made more complicated in others. Being able to adjust character height, customize several clothes and stickers on a more personal level, and having new parts that are immensely fun to play definitely justify the mode. Unfortunately, adding the laser-tastic Devil Jin (from the Tekken series) as a fighting style, removing some clothes and parts from the last game, and being less accessible than before brings the mode right back down again.
By far the worst offense, however, is the inability to customize the game to your liking. There is no Gameplay Options menu per se, only pieces of one scattered throughout the various modes. You cannot set matches to one round anywhere but in versus mode (this is so you can enjoy the full impact of the modes Namco has crafted for you!). You can't turn off the match timer. You can't roll back to the old fighting system to get quick parties going for people who are accustomed to the four older console games. You really are not allowed much in the way of control of the game on which you just spent $60. This is forgivable in the arcade, where a single play costs less than a dollar, but not for a console release.
This is why I can't justify spending $60 on this game, or even half that. SoulCalibur V, in its current state, only possibly succeeds as a fighting game (admittedly, this goes a very long way), yet already fails as a product. This is the worst scenario for an entry in this series. In one fell swoop, it's cut off most of the gateways people used to become fans of the series in the first place and provides a harsh climate to even the hardcore, who are now the only audience for this game, and that's a downright shame. There's still quality here, but it takes a lot of perseverance to find it. Most players will likely be too busy complaining — due to the massive number balls this game simultaneously drops — to muster it.
I can't blame them. As a Soul series fan from 1996 to exactly two weeks ago, I can completely relate.
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