"Depending on what you expect from a SoulCalibur game, SoulCalibur V may either be the best game in the series, or the worst."
Depending on what you expect from a SoulCalibur game, SoulCalibur V may either be the best game in the series, or the worst.
SoulCalibur has always boasted plenty of single player content. SCI and II featured special modes with world maps filled with battles with special rules, such as playing “hot potato” by trying to be the last person to land a blow before a timer runs out, or having to defeat a certain number of opponents while poison slowly saps your health. SCIII gave each character a miniature story mode (granted, it was terrible and almost identical for every character) and a combination fighting/strategy mode using your own created characters. SCIV condensed the adventure modes of SCI and II into a linear tower.
These modes were enough to keep lonely people busy for hours, so the dearth of single-player content in SoulCalibur V is more disappointing than it would be in other fighting game franchises that lacked such a memorable precedent.
The standout mode this time around is the improved Story mode. Sure, some of the previous games had a Story mode, but they were basically just glorified Arcade modes with little in the way of actual story beyond an ending and, once, a scrolling text version of your character’s profile that you were likely to just skip anyway. This new Story mode is a bit meatier than past ones, but still disappointing. It revolves almost entirely around the two new protagonists, classic character Sophitia’s two children, Patroklos and Pyrrha, and takes place 17 years after the events depicted in SoulCalibur IV. Most other characters don’t even make an appearance, and the ones who do feel more like walk-on cameos than proper characters. There are 20 chapters. In 14 of them you play as Patroklos, 4 of them star Pyrrha, and 2 of them star Z.W.E.I.. That’s only three characters, unless you count Pyrrha and Patroklos twice each because they have distinct play styles at different points in the story.
What’s more, Story mode is the only mode with any kind of narrative in it at all. There aren’t any profiles to view and there are no character endings in Arcade mode. Each of the more than two dozen characters has a reason to be fighting, but you won’t know it unless you buy the strategy guide or just look up their profiles on the internet. For example, new characters Xiba, Natsu, and Leixia are traveling with returning character Maxi to find his friend, veteran character Kilik, who, according to Edgemaster (another familiar face), is in danger, and must pass his staff, the Kali Yuga, on to Xiba if he is to survive. Four of these characters appear in Story mode, where they’ve already finished their quest. Xiba has the Kali Yuga. That means the story of all of these characters happens off-screen. It really feels as though there were meant to be multiple intertwining Story modes for different sets of characters but the developers only had time to create one.
In addition to the Story mode, the standard Arcade mode returns. It consists of six consecutive battles with computer opponents, with several different “routes” to choose from that affect the odds of specific characters making appearances. There’s also a Quick Battle mode in which you can fight 240 different characters, most of which were built using the included Character Creation tools (more on that later). There are no special rules, but each character will surrender a title upon his or her defeat, which you can then attach to your profile to show off online. Some opponents also have unique AI that causes them to behave certain ways, like sidestepping a lot, or using the same type of move over and over again. It doesn’t have any of the gimmicks of past single player modes, but it's a welcome addition with a nice bit of variety in it. Plus, some it’s a great way to get ideas for your own custom characters.
One other noteworthy mode is the Legendary Souls mode, remarkable in particular because it’s hatefully difficult. The AI has to be reading your inputs, because it always does exactly the right thing no matter what you do. Even veteran players won’t beat this mode without luck or “cheap” tactics that the computer doesn’t know what to do about for some reason. It’s not fun. It’s frustrating and impossible. Thankfully, it’s also completely optional.
That all sounds like quite a bit of a fall for the SoulCalibur series, but it’s not because the game excels in the areas that matter: a solid core fighting system, a decently-sized cast of unique and well-balanced characters, and online play with a nice set of features and not much lag. The basic game has also gone through a few changes since its immediate prequel. The most obvious change is that the speed has been upped dramatically. Previous games in the series were relatively quick, but SCIV felt terribly slow in comparison. SCV bumps the speed back up to SCII levels, if not a bit higher.
Critical Finishes, the flashy finishing moves that automatically won the round but almost never actually happened because they had such strict prerequisites, are gone. In their place are Critical Edges. They are more powerful than regular attacks and can only be unleashed after you fill a special meter, like in Street Fighter. Each character has one Critical Edge, with its own effect. Some Critical Edges are just super powerful versions of regular moves, some are throws, and some are useful for extending combos. There are also Brave Edge moves, which, again, borrow from Street Fighter in that they’re similar to EX moves. They’re powered up or extended versions of regular moves that also require some meter to pull off, though less than in the case of a Critical Edge. The meter builds slowly enough that it’s unlikely that you’ll be able to use a Critical Edge every round, but you will probably be able to do at least one Brave Edge.
One other big change to the fighting system is the change to Guard Impacts. Since the first SoulCalibur, Guard Impacts allowed you to parry or repel any attack (even unblockable ones) by quickly tapping back or forward along with the Guard button and the correct timing. They were very useful, especially against people who didn’t really know how to play and liked to use one move over and over again. In SoulCalibur V, Guard Impacts are easier to pull off thanks to a larger window of effectiveness, but they drain a meter that is better used for Brave and Critical Edge attacks. This is the one change to the battle system I don’t like. Guard Impacts were a key part of the SoulCalibur experience, but now most people will never use them. Some characters do have moves that start with a free Guard Impact before automatically following up with an attack, but many characters don’t have those moves, and they’re different for every character. There is a new mechanic, called Just Guard, that is meant to replace Guard Impacts in a way, but it doesn’t do a very good job. To pull off a Just Guard, you have to quickly tap and release the Guard button just before an attack lands. This is very difficult, and most people will find the process too unreliable to ever attempt in an actual match, especially against another player. The boost in speed, changes to Guard Impacts, and small changes to high and low guards vs. high and low attacks make SoulCalibur V a more offensive and less defensive game than its predecessors, meaning the eight-way run mechanic is more crucial than ever before as evasion is now often a more suitable approach than guarding, which can be good or bad depending on how you like to play. Personally, I think it’s an improvement overall. Turtles beware.
SoulCalibur IV was the first game in the series with online play, but the online code was pretty terrible. The lag was horrendous and most matches were won by whoever had the best ESP. SoulCalibur V is a huge improvement. Most matches have little or no lag, though your mileage may vary depending on your own internet connection. The standard Ranked Match mode is included, of course, letting players raise their rank by winning matches. So is the more casual Player Match mode, where the only things at stake are your win to loss ratio and your pride. One fantastic new addition is the Global Colosseo mode. This mode contains special giant lobbies for major cities (though most people in North America seem to flock to the New York and Los Angeles rooms, regardless of where they live) where people can chat, challenge each other to matches, take part in weekly tournaments, or enter the “Random Match” room to automatically fight with anyone inside. This is a great idea that’s very well implemented, and I hope future fighting games take note. This is how you build an online community for your fighting game. You can also register anyone you play against online as a “rival” so you can track their progress and stats and compare them to yours. Both versions of the game allow you to save replays of your online battles, and the PS3 version allows you to export them to your PS3 hard drive and upload them to YouTube or Facebook so everyone on the internet can ridicule you later.
SoulCalibur V takes place 17 years after SoulCalibur IV, so the roster has changed quite a bit. Many characters have retired or even died. Some returning characters haven’t changed much, but some have changed quite a bit. Kilik is no longer restricted to using a staff. He now randomly switches among the fighting styles of the male part of the cast between rounds (you may recall that SCIV was the first game in the series to lack a character of this sort, and now SCV has three of them: Kilik for male styles, newcomer Elysium for female styles, and finally, after a thirteen-year absence, Edge Master returns and can use anyone’s style). Ivy players will probably be disheartened to see that they’ll have to learn to play as their favourite character yet again (that seriously happens every game). Some of the new characters are clear replacements for old ones. Leixia is almost exactly like her mother, Xianghua, and Natsu was obviously well taught by her master, Taki. Other new characters are unique, like Z.W.E.I, who can summon a wolf spirit in battle, or Viola, who fights using a crystal ball she can move with her mind. It seems like most of the returning characters haven’t aged much or at all. Some, such as Mitsurugi and Hilde, have certainly aged, and some, like Ivy and Maxi, have managed to become immortal. I’m sure this is a relief for Ivy, who was about to die in SoulCalibur IV. Female characters had been getting more and more ridiculously sexualized in recent games, but that has been toned down considerably in SCV. That’s not to say it’s completely gone, but you should be able to play it around family members without things getting weird.
The guest character this time around is Ezio Auditore from the Assassin’s Creed series. Unlike the Star Wars characters in SoulCalibur IV, who stuck out like a sore thumb and kept showing up in Arcade mode every time, Ezio, in true Assassin fashion, blends in pretty well. He has somehow manged to travel 100 years into the “future,” but he fits in just fine. He fights using his trademark hidden blades, as well as his sword and some projectile weapons. He’s quick and versatile and a blast to play as. Ezio is definitely a welcome addition to the roster.
Dampierre from the PSP game Soul Calibur: Broken Destiny makes his HD debut as a pre-order bonus from certain retailers. He’s another unique character. Like Ezio, he fights with hidden blades attached to his arms, but unlike Ezio, Dampierre is a total spaz. His moves are comical and some of them are even random. For example, one of his throws has two random outcomes. He’ll grab his opponent and either punch him or her in the face or swing and miss, spin around, look at his own hand, be surprised when his hidden dagger pops out, jump back, and accidentally headbutt his opponent in the face. He’s an unpredictable and “tricky” character along the lines of Voldo, but less creepy and more hilarious.
Each character (except Dampierre) has his or her own stage, and each character (including Dampierre) has his or her own music that can be assigned to any stage. There’s a lot more variety in stages in SCV than there was in SCIV. You can fight on a pirate ship, in a Chinese festival, a forest, or even the middle of a battlefield. It’s great to see so much variety. Some stages even have multiple tiers or states that change between rounds.
There’s also a guest fighting style that’s unique to user-created characters: Devil Jin from the Tekken series. This is the first bare-handed style since Heihachi made an appearance in SoulCalibur II, and the first one to allow lasers to shoot from a character’s eyes. The Devil Jin style lacks range for most of its moves, but it still somehow manages to feel overpowered with moves that can cause a ring out from near the center of the stage.
Speaking of the Character Creation mode (which made its debut in SoulCalibur III), it has also been vastly improved. Last time around, your characters could either be wide and beefy or thin and... beefy (or in the case of women, jiggly or less jiggly). You could change their hair, faces, and voices, and change and recolour equipment. It was a good system, no doubt, but it’s much better now. You have much more control over your character’s base physical appearance. You can change their height and adjust the size of each body part individually. If you want to make a morbidly obese Superman, you may. You’re weird, but you may do it. There are more options for customizing your character’s voice, including adding a filter that makes everyone sound like that horrifying caterpillar nurse from UmJammer Lammy. On top of changing the colour of equipment, you can change its texture or apply stickers. Creative use of stickers can lead to very interesting results, such as a light brown oval on a blue character’s chest to make him look like Sonic the Hedgehog. There are even accessories you can add and freely move, like horns or bows or just random shapes you can creatively reshape and move to build your own (crude) pieces of equipment. Even weapons can be recoloured and retextured, including the effects that appear when they make contact with an opponent.
After creating your character, you can take his portrait for the character select screen (customizing it with various frames and backgrounds, like a Japanese photo booth) or, in the PS3 version, take a screenshot of your character and export it to your hard drive (finally, an easy way to show off your creations). If you don’t feel like making a character from scratch, you can customize an existing character’s look. Half of the fun of online play with random strangers is seeing their customized characters.
People who don’t like multiplayer will be disappointed with SoulCalibur V, but the heart of any good fighting game has always been the multiplayer, and SoulCalibur V sets the high bar for the series in that regard. The single-player modes are missed, but what SoulCalibur V lacks in single player content, it more than makes up for where it counts the most. If floors made of quicksand and poisonous swords are the price we have to pay for such a polished fighting system and robust online mode, so be it. In some ways, this is a low point for the series. In many other, more important ways, SoulCalibur V is the best the series has ever been.
Freelance review by Rhody Tobin (February 07, 2012)
Rhody likes to press the keys on his keyboard. Sometimes the resulting letters form strings of words that kind of make sense when you think about them for a moment. Most times they're just random gibberish that should be ignored. Ball-peen wobble glurk.
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