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SoulCalibur V (PlayStation 3) artwork

SoulCalibur V (PlayStation 3) review

"Itís got a lot of great ideas, but ultimately falls short of its potential."

Seventeen years. Thatís how long itís been since Siegfried killed Nightmare, destroying the cursed Soul Edge sword once and for all. The fighting should have ended there, but it didnít. Despite being wiped out, its chaotic influence still held sway over the world. Thousands of innocent people were corrupted by its evil taint, and civilization descended further into anarchy. None of the characters got out of it unscathed. Sophitia died defending her children. Yoshimistu was defeated by his own successor. Kilik vanished without a trace. Hilde is still trying to save her kingdom from utter annihilation. Taki and Xianghua have both grown too old to fight. Soul Calibur, the opposing force to the Soul Edgeís powers, no long responds to Siegfriedís touch. Somewhere in the upper echelons of the European government, a familiar evil has taken root, biding its time until it can wreak vengeanceÖ

Not that youíll notice, though. While Soulcalibur V continues the struggle between the forces of order and chaos, much of the story is left in the subtext. Rather than treating fans to a sweeping epic, the game focuses more on Sophitiaís children, Patroklos and Pyrrha. Theyíre arguably the most realistic protagonists the series has had in years; rather than obsessing over the legendary swords, they spend most of the time trying to deal with the death of their family amidst all the chaos and bloodshed. Their storylines explore themes of loss, innocence, corruption, and redemption, all of which comprise Soulcalibur Vís overarching plot. Despite such characterization, thereís not a lot of depth; both protagonists are ridiculously gullible and predictable. By focusing so much on them the story feels stunted and unpolished. None of the other fighters, regardless of their importance to the series, get the same attention. Prominent plotlines, like Xianghua and Kilikís romance, Maxiís quest to kill Astaroth, and Cervantesís continued existence are barely mentioned. Itís as if theyíre just added on as roster filler as opposed to the established characters we have known over the years.

If you overlook the story, however, youíll find that Soulcalibur V retains all of the awesome weapons-based combat that made the series so famous. Nearly all of the old fighting styles are still present, but now with new characters. Xiba copies Kilikís staff techniques, with a handful of new acrobatic attacks thrown in for good measure. Natsu replaces Taki, complete with the close-ranged knives and skin-tight jumpsuit. Sophitia, Cassandra, and Setsukaís quick swordplay and shield abilities live on through Patroklos and Pyrrha. There are a couple of new characters with original movesets; Z.W.E.I. supplements his bladed cross with demonic summoning, and Viola can keep opponents guessing with magic spell projectiles. Thatís opposed to the close-ranged combatants like Ezio and Devil Jin, who hail from Assassinís Creed and Tekken respectively. Returning fighters have been rebalanced with updated movesets. Siegfried has improved mobility, allowing him to outmaneuver opponents and carve them up with his gigantic sword. If timed effectively, Nightmareís new combos can kill you in seconds. Cervantesís dual-wielding blades donít have quite the reach they used to, but their juggling and parrying strengths are unparalleled. With nearly thirty playable fighters Ė half of which are newcomers Ė itís just a matter of finding one that fits your playing style.

Like its predecessors, Soulcalibur V is all about placement and strategy. When youíre facing an opponent, you donít want to rush in and randomly swing your sword. Instead, you carefully watch your enemyís movements and act accordingly. You can step sideways to avoid attacks, back away until youíre out of range, or put up your guard. Upon seeing an opening, you can dart forward and launch an offense. All of the characters come with a wide variety of high and low moves, allowing you to mix things up and dish out lengthy combos. This is what made the Soul Calibur series so famous. However, this installment takes things a step further with its revamped movement and combat mechanics. Instead of merely circling your opponent, you can sidestep and counterattack more quickly. The Critical Gauge builds up energy as you dish out or take hits, then unleashes it in different ways. You can execute some flashy, multi-hit supermoves, but those are risky given how easy they are to avoid. Alternatively, the energy can be used for the Brave Edge abilities, which boost your offenses with faster attacks and guard breaks. If you play defensively, however, attacks can be with a Guard Impact and counter accordingly. While the game is easy to pick up and play, this kind of technical depth is more than enough to keep hardcore gamers satisfied.

Needless to say, youíre going to need to practice. A lot. While the typical Versus and Training Modes are still around, there is one blatant oversight: the lack of a Challenge Mode. Recent fighting games like Super Street Fighter IV, Marvel VS Capcom 3, and BlazBlue feature ways to focus on individual characters and learn their move sets and combos. They go a long way in teaching advanced techniques and strategies that might go unnoticed otherwise. Soulcalibur Vís Training Mode offers a handful of helpful tips and insight into each fighterís move set, but nothing more direct. The game tries to distract you with its Creation Mode, which lets you design fighters with a wide variety of equipment and movesets of the established characters. Thereís also the Quick Battle and Legendary Souls Modes, in which you engage random fighters (and steal their profile titles for your own) and bosses respectively. Itís still limited, though; aside from the hidden characters and some items, there are no other unlockables. What happened to the Arcade Mode endings? Where is the bonus art? The character profiles? Something, anything to reward you for a well-fought battle?

The online multiplayer almost makes up for such oversights. You can challenge random gamers to ranked battles, thus leveling up your profile and climbing the leaderboards. If you prefer something more casual, you can spend time in the Global Colesseo; up to a hundred players can take each other on, have text chats, download replays, or spectate and comment on ongoing battles. The opponent matchmaking features are surprisingly extensive; not only can you limit the search to gamers with certain ranks, but you can focus on specific regions and connection strengths as well. Unfortunately, such criteria donít always make for perfect battles. The fights are occasionally mired with lag and long loading times. Many battles tend to temporarily freeze up just before starting, and disconnects are a common annoyance. When the combat does get going, itís just as slick and responsive as its offline counterpart. The multiplayer is hardly perfect, but at least it does the basics well.

That goes for the presentation as well. The Soul Calibur series has always been known for its superb graphics, and V is no exception. All of the returning characters have been redone with new costumes and smoother animations. Just look at the ornate designs on Hildeís armor, or the way Violaís skirt rustles with every mention. Or how Pyrrhaís awkward attacks underscore her timid characterization. Tiraís basic standing animation and moveset alternates depending on her current mood. The attention to detail extends to the stages as well. Youíll have to do battle surrounded by breakable stained glass windows, fight in the streets of the Holy Roman Empire and at the gates of a hidden fortress, and survive an encounter amidst a festival in a Chinese temple. Such dramatic settings serve in sharp contrast to the Story Mode; aside from a couple of introductions, the entire narration is done via storyboard sketches and hammy voice acting. Such a mishmash of styles makes the experience bland and unsatisfying. Had the designers made the effort to create animated scenes, the presentation would have been more balanced and appealing.

Thatís the thing about Soulcalibur V. Itís got a lot of great ideas, but ultimately falls short of its potential. The epic saga between the two swords continues, but it spends too much time focusing on two characters. Many of the newcomers feel like replacements of older characters, and some fans probably wonít like that their favorite fighters got cut. The sparse offline features arenít appealing, either; with no Challenge Mode and limited unlockables, thereís not a lot to do. However, the multiplayer is superb; aside from the occasional slowdown and disconnects, fighting is still fast-paced and challenging. The various options and matchmaking features offer plenty of ways for you to get into the action. The combat mechanics are easy to pick up, but the advanced techniques ought to be more than enough to keep things interesting. Regardless of its shortcomings, Soulcalibur V is still a fun and engaging game. Thatís all what really matters.

disco's avatar
Community review by disco (February 06, 2012)

Disco is a San Francisco Bay Area native, whose gaming repertoire spans nearly three decades and hundreds of titles. He loves fighting games, traveling the world, learning new things, writing, photography, and tea. Not necessarily in that order.

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Roto13 posted February 06, 2012:

Regarding the lack of a tutorial, Training mode has a little mini tutorial squirreled away in there somewhere for each character. It teaches you key moves for each character and explains when the best time to use them is.

This game feels rushed, but they did focus on the most important parts. The actual fighting system and online mode are the best they've been and characters seem to be pretty well balanced so far, though it's early yet.

The lack of story is disappointing, though. All of these characters have perfectly good reasons to be out there fighting but you'd never know it just from playing the game. Kilik is in danger and needs to pass the Kali-Yuga (his staff) on to Xiba, or he'll die. Maxi is traveling with him to find Kilik, and they eventually meet up with Leixia (Xianghua's daughter, who has run off to have her own adventures after listening to her mother's stories her whole life) and Natsu (who is looking for her master, Taki, who disappeared some time ago). When you meet these characters in Story mode, Xiba already has the Kali-Yuga, which means his story, and I guess the stories of at least two of the other three characters in his group, were started and then resolved entirely off screen. I remember reading a statement from Daishi Odashima saying Viola was going to play an important role in the story and she barely had two lines. It was definitely rushed. It feels like they had plans to give every character their own story mode but they only had time to come up with Patroklos and Pyrra's and a little bit of Z.W.E.I's. Hell, most people probably don't even realize that Raphael is Nightmare in this game.

Anyway, the story mode sucks, but I think it's still a pretty great game. They got the important parts right. The rest is just fluff. This is the first SoulCalibur that's actually playable online. IV's online was so bad you needed ESP to pull off a guard impact. As long as I have people to play against, I'm happy.
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disco posted February 06, 2012:

Huh, I missed that part of the training mode. Thanks for pointing that out! And yeah, huge chunks of the story are missing. There's a lot more that should have been covered.
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zippdementia posted February 07, 2012:

If you completely missed it, Disco, that alone says something about the mode.
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Roto13 posted February 07, 2012:

The Training mode has a ton of options and it just kind of throws you in there without explaining any of it. Start the mode and press up or down on the right control stick a few times until a box with a move and a description pops up. Then you can change the move with left or right on the right stick. (Or was it select + O?)

I'm not sure they even explain this in the instruction manual. I haven't checked.

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