Huh, turns out Theoden wasn’t the first Saruman had used with that spell…...
It has been a while since we’ve had a chance to tell a tale of souls and swords, in fact it has been four years since SoulCalibur IV entered the scene in 2008, and that title really failed to deliver the SoulCalibur spectacle. Arguably the last great SoulCalibur came ten years ago with SoulCalibur II, and so it seems fitting that the title to completely relaunch the franchise comes nearly 15 years after the original Dreamcast title, and exactly 10 years from the series highest point. With an immense reputation to live up tp, does SoulCalibur V live up to the lofty heights of its heyday?
In short, yes. You’ll be sucked in and love every moment you’re playing this game, at first it seems that there is nothing to fault with the title, however after a few hours of play you’ll begin to see the holes as your rose tinted glasses fall from your face. The faults it does have however aren’t anything that will ruin the game, or even sully your enjoyment of it, they are in fact just minor niggles that seem to stem from Namco Bandai reigning in their creativity. The first culprit is the lack of modes and instead a larger focus to online multiplayer. There is a singleplayer story, and an arcade mode, but no Vs. Team Battle, no mission based modes (like those seen in Weapon Master Mode) and so any type of longevity comes from the Quick Battle mode where you can win numerous titles from fighting custom made characters.
The story mode – 1607 A.D. – places you in the shoes of Sophitia’s son Pratroklus and his search for his sister Pyrrha. It does a very good job of bringing in these two new characters and entwining them around the blades of Soulcalibur and Souledge, it also has some gorgeous cutscenes and rather nicely done hand drawn segues between episodes. Its only real downsides come from the fact it is obscenely short and has zero replay value as the story isn’t overly fantastic and there are no episode modifiers or missions. Another weak point, in comparison to the original’s Mission Mode or SoulCalibur II’s Weapon Master Mode, is how you’re fixed to characters, meaning that if you’re not strong with a certain person, or don’t prefer their style, you have little hope of winning spectacularly.
Moving onto the offline modes you’ll notice some changes in the games formula, most notably that matches now last 3 rounds minimum. Arcade mode has also been shortened down to just 6 combatants and the inclusion of character stories, for each of rather impressive roster of new faces and old, has been removed. Whilst this may not seem like the biggest deal in the world, it means that those new faces have zero backstory and their inclusion in the game might as well be pointless as their motivations aren’t clear at all. Primarily Ezio’s inclusion seems to be given no explanation; he fits in extremely well though, but we would have liked to know exactly why he’s on the trail of Soulcalibur, or indeed maybe Soulblade.
Bad points aside though we can now talk about everything that makes this game great, and when we do those rather negative points will melt away. Soul Calibur V is awesome, there is just no other way to really describe it. As you would expect from a Soul Calibur game, this is visually an absolute beauty. Ditching the sweaty sheen that every character seemed to have in Soul Calibur IV, and ditching the anime styled looks, now characters seem more realistic in their appearance. The stages themselves are glorious to fight on too, and in many of the stages if you cause a Ring Out, or a battle lasts beyond three rounds the stage will move along onto a new phase for you to fight on. It’s a nice touch that really makes some of the longer conflicts quite interesting.
Gameplay wise combat is as fluid as ever, and allows newcomers to the series to put up a good fight, as well as letting old stalwarts flex their muscles with some incredible combos. Interestingly a few of the new characters on offer have completely different play styles to what the series has seen before, and so requires even old players to learn the basics all over again. It really brings back the joy of discovering new ways to play and enjoy the game. An interesting addition is the Critical Edge system, replacing the fussy Critical Finishers of SCIV, these little numbers can be utilised whenever you like once a gauge is full enough. It works similarly to Street Fighter IVs Ultra Moves, even down to the point of activation through two quarter circles and all attack buttons being needed to activate them. You can also implement Brave Edge moves which can deal more devastating blows to some of the standard attacks. It’s a great addition that will bring fans of other fighters into the game because of the sheer familiarity of it, plus the incredibly cool action scenes that play out on the screen when performing one. Other gameplay additions include a ‘Just Guard’ move that rewards players who guard at just the right time, it works in a similar way to the previous ‘Guard Impact’ manoeuvre. And in addition to the series’ trademark 8-way run a quick sidestep manoeuvre has been implemented to make dodging at the last minute a breeze.
The largest meat to the game is the vastly improved character creation mode, now allowing players to either start a new creation from scratch, or instead modify one of the series characters. This means you could create new costume variants for each of the combatants, or change the weapon you want them to wield. It’s a nice feature to include, but the majority of people will opt to create their own character from scratch which gives them a huge amount of choice. Now you can alter character height and build, as well as individual muscle attributes and skin tones, facial features, it really is quite an extensive list. You’ll unlock new items to use from playing through the game and ranking your player level up to new heights. Already though there are an obscene amount of options available, and you can even unlock a fighting style for Tekken’s Devil Jin to create! It seems that DLC could easily be added so you could create brand new fighters with templates from other fighting games, it’s genius and something we hope Namco Bandai expand upon after the games release.
Where the online mode is concerned there is quite a lot on offer. Containing a Ranked Mode so you can square off against combatants who are of a similar skill to you, and a mode called ‘Global Colosseo’ lets you select a lobby for text chat and fighting with players from all around the world, including tournaments. One look at the extensive Trophy/Achievements list will show you just how much of a focus Namco Bandai have placed on the online component of the game. Of course the main interest for the online is just how well it works, and with our experiences there was a little slowdown, but no lag to speak of. Fights were fluid and fast, and we got our backsides handed to us rather easily, but as mentioned, there was zero lag in any of the matches we participated in, which is something very fresh for a fighting game.
Soul Calibur V may not be the 100 percent perfect package that old fans of the series had hoped would arrive, however it seems that Namco Bandai are keen to move away from what made the first two entries utterly perfect, as it is pretty hard to improve upon perfection. This isn’t to say that SoulCalibur V is a poor entry into the series, quite the contrary. No game could be more fitting a celebration of 10 years since the last great entry than this. It blows away it’s fighting game peers, and dispels the awful stench of the series low point SCIV and stands triumphantly over the PS2 exclusive SCIII. It might not be the best of the series, but by god its damn close.
Final Score: 4.5/5