I had a really bad feeling the other day when I turned off my PS3: I was probably never going to play Soul Calibur V again. I really like the Soul Calibur franchise; it was the game that got me into fighting games in the first place. I was excited by the prospect of a new Soul Calibur game, as I have been playing a variety of different fighting games lately and as a result I am much more comfortable with the genre. I was hoping to come back to the series with a renewed appreciation for its qualities as a fighting game. It is unfortunate then that Soul Calibur V is extremely disappointing. There is still a good fighting game here, but the overall package is hurt by the poor quality of several modes and the general lack of features.
SC V is a 3D fighting game. The fundamental difference between this and 2D fighters is the eight-way-run that allows people to sidestep oncoming attacks and projectiles. You have four main forms of attacks: horizontal, vertical, kicks, and grabs. The controls in the game are a sort of double edged sword, however, as they are really simple and it is easy to execute powerful combos, but they are also imprecise and sloppy, sometimes making it difficult to execute the command you actually want.
For people who do not play a lot of fighting games this is no problem at all, and actually enhances the experience as they feel like they are actually accomplishing something. As someone who has become much more accustomed to fighting games, especially ones with precise controls, this is actually a problem. I could only make vague movements and hope that I was pulling off the combo I wanted. The game is also very spam friendly, allowing you to do the same move over and over again until you opponent manages to guard against it, dodge, or your random inputs produce a move you don’t want. I did have fun playing the game, in part because it was so easy to do moves, even if they weren’t always the ones I wanted, but after a few hours it did not hook me like King of Fighters XIII or Mortal Kombat 9 did.
The major changes in the game are an adjustment to how guard breaks work and the introduction of super moves and meters. The super moves are cool, but allow for a considerable bit of rubber banding as the first time a player is one match from losing they will be granted one full bar of meter. Guard break is now back plus all the attack buttons as opposed to the much simpler guard and forward on impact.
The characters are pretty different from one another, but there are only about 24 in the game, a much smaller roster we have come to expect in modern games. Many fan favorites are not in the game, but their fighting styles are carried through their children or prodigies.
The previous entries in the Soul franchise have been known for its excellent single-player content, and Soul Calibur IV had an amazing net code; SC V has none of that. The single player content has been stripped down to story, arcade, training, and survival modes. Story mode is the most disappointing as it does a few things right, and you can see the how much better it could have been. You will play primarily as Patroklos, played by Yuri Lowenthal, and his sister Pyrrha, Laura Bailey. Tira, the servant of Soul Edge, kidnapped Pyrrha when she was a baby, and Patroklos is on a quest to find her. I won’t go into too much detail, but the first half of the story is really insufferable. I like Yuri Lowenthal and Laura Bailey a lot, but they are awful in this game. Their characters are annoying, whiny, and overwrought with a script that seems like it was written by someone who thought Final Fantasy XIII was too subtle.
There is also a bizarre sexual tension between the two characters, which when combined with the creepy character portraits, makes it seems like they were not originally intended to be siblings. Patroklos also uses the word “Malfested” a lot, and I do mean a lot, like he has some sort of complex. Also, the game never explain what it means (it is people who have come into contact with Soul Edge and been corrupted by it). The second half of the story is a lot better, because everything gets crazy and makes no sense, with all the time travel and magical swords you could want. It is still awful, but at least it is somewhat entertaining. The good part of the story is that it exists and is told through character specific cut scenes, it is unfortunate that the story is so awful and the presentation is inconsistent, alternating between motion comics and pre-rendered cut scenes.
Tira is by far the highlight of the story, and it is thrilling to watch her be super evil as she corrupts Pyrrha. Several characters are included in the game that do not appear in the story mode, including fan favorites Mitsurugi and Raphael. This wouldn’t be such a big deal except that the arcade mode is only 6 fights long and has no character endings, meaning that there is no context for why many of these characters are in the game other than Project Soul couldn’t think of replacements or ways to shoehorn them into the main story, but needed their fighting styles to be in the game.
The briefness of story and arcade mode combined with an AI so easy I was getting perfects on the final boss, which meant I was able to finish Story mode and a play through all of arcade mode in about three hours. When you finish those modes, there is also the survival mode which throws increasingly difficult AI at you, but that can only keep you entertained for so long. Training mode is fine, but it could be better as the text prompts are bland and hard to understand, especially if you don’t know a lot about fighting games, and there is no introductory tutorial to explain all the systems to you at once.
The game also has local and online multiplayer as you would expect. The local multiplayer is perfect with the strange exception of not being able to set an unlimited timer. The online has some problems, as the game occasionally skips frames of animation in order to make the inputs sink up. The biggest problem with this is that Soul Calibur is more about visual flair then precise execution, meaning I would actually prefer it to toy with my button inputs since they are not very accurate to begin with.
Presentation is probably Soul Calibur’s greatest strength, as the game looks great. Some of the assets look very similar to those in SC IV, but they have been redone and look even better. The shadows and lighting have also been noticeably enhanced, far more then the textures. The character and stage designs are unique and cool, and make Soul Calibur V one of the best looking fighting games ever. Also worth mention is the solid sound design and that the music is appropriate, if slightly forgettable.
Despite all its flaws, Soul Calibur is fun to play. Because it is less complicated I feel more comfortable picking it up and playing casually, but I would have preferred a deeper game as the experience in complicated fighters is ultimately more satisfying and fun. The thing is I never felt like I was getting better at SC, just along for the ride as my character pulled off pretty cool looking moves. The character creator deserves special mention here as possibly the most interesting part of the package. It is as deep as the fighting system is shallow, going so far as to enable the recreation of characters like Xianghua and Taki, who are not in the game. Gear no longer has stats and you have greater customization option allowing you to make whatever you want, be it a recreation of Scorpi0n or a lady with a pink afro and deep voice.
Soul Calibur V ultimately feels rushed. The modes are shadow of their normally robust nature, the character list has been reduced severely, and the net code is not as good as it should be. It seems like Namco was desperate to get in on the fighting game revival and rushed this out. I expect better from this series and with so many fantastic and cheaper fighting games out, such as King of Fighters XIII, Mortal Kombat 9, and even Soul Calibur IV, I cannot recommend the game to anyone but the most hardcore of Soul Calibur fans.