SoulCalibur has a special place in my heart, as it was the first fighting game to really get me interested in the genre. This fascination with the franchise started on the PSone and really peaked on Sega’s ill-fated Dreamcast. I remember playing the game and enjoying the weapons based gameplay over and over again on the Dreamcast with friends as I was awed by the visuals and playability on Sega’s last home console. Since then I have dabbled in other SoulCalibur games, and even tried other fighting franchises, but my enjoyment of the genre has waned somewhat. Well, Namco Bandai Games was kind enough to send us a copy of their latest SoulCalibur game, SoulCalibur V, and I found myself very interested to see what it offered.
As I mentioned, SoulCalibur is a weapons based fighting. There is no 2D here as SoulCalibur is always been about polygons and 3D environments. The franchise has remained stalwart to this formula and SoulCalibur V stays true to the course. There is some strategy to the game as you try to ‘one-up’ your opponent with the simple, but yet addictive, style of using high and low attacks that also comes in both vertical and horizontal flavour. Along with the offensive moves you also have to take into consideration your defensive moves, as you block both high and low, and try to sidestep your opponents attacks when possible. Given the moves that are at your disposal, matches can become quite the “dance” as you try to get in that one critical attack while defending against your opponent’s onslaught. For most people out there, the game should be somewhat easy to pick up and play, but that being said, it takes time to master.
SoulCalibur V brings to the forefront a critical gauge system. This gauge has two bars of energy that allow you to pull of new types of offensive and defensive moves. Once filled to a specific level, the gauge enables you to pull of some pretty sweet looking, and ass-kicking, attacks on your opponent. Critical Edge attacks use a full bar of your critical gauge and are the most powerful and flashy looking attacks. There are also Brave Edge attacks, which uses less of your gauge (one-quarter of it). These attacks are very similar to your regular attacks but are slightly more powerful, hence why they cost some of the critical gauge power.
It is also worth noting that you can use the critical gauge to pull of what is known as Guard Impacts. These are defensive moves that are pretty much a parry system. Although they are as flashy as the Critical Edge and Brave Edge moves, they don’t have as big of a pay off. Sure, they open your opponent to an attack, but they cost power from the critical gauge system, so you may find yourself running down the critical gauge as you try to continually get your opponent open for an attack using the Guard Impact system.
As I experimented with the critical gauge mechanics, both offensive and defensive, I discovered that the gauge is not something you can abuse given the cost to use the moves associated with the gauge, and the fact that it does not fill up particularly quickly. This promotes players to rely on a regular fighting style (e.g. no gauge moves) more often than not and not just try to pull of the more powerful moves all the time. I liked this aspect as you end up fighting against opponent (A.I or human) in such that it’s not just about pulling off Critical Edge or Brave Edge attacks, as you have to weigh the costs of trying to pull off these moves all while you are defending attacks against you. This is where the strategy really comes to the forefront, as you literally weigh out all your options while trying to manage to stay alive and counter your opponent’s attacks. It’s a nice juggling act of thinking and fighting all at the same time.
There is a story mode in SoulCalibur V. It is based around a new character named Patroklos, as well as his sister Pyrrha, although you’ll find that the focus of the narrative is mainly centered on Patroklos. Both of these characters are the offspring of Sophitia, who has been long associated with the SoulCalibur franchise. Patroklos is on a quest to get rid of a curse that has befallen his sister, and this curse is associated with Soul Edge sword, the sword that always seems to make its way into a SoulCalibur game. I am not going to ruin anything here, but alas I have to say that you most likely won’t find yourself to vested in SoulCalibur V’s storyline. The presentation of the story is pretty awful as the writing and the manner that the story unfolds, mainly through storyboards, just doesn’t cut it. There are 20 chapters to go through and you can make your way through them in one sitting. That being said, be prepared for some unexplained difficulty spikes and a few ‘cheap’ boss battles during this time.
Surprisingly, beyond the story mode, there are not a whole lot of other options. You’ll find an Arcade mode, which comprises of six time-trial based battles, so you’ll fly through this mode in no time. What is somewhat disappointing about this is that there is no mini-story mode for each character here, which I think would have added even more gameplay. Some sort of mini-story for each character would have given more incentive to play each character in this mode. Along with the Arcade mode is a Quick Battle mode that has you making your way through 200 battles. This is for the hardcore for sure, as it is A LOT (note the caps people) to go though. Finally, there is the Legendary Souls mode, which is an uber-hard mode where you fight boss after boss. This is opens up after you complete the story mode.
Although the single player affair is somewhat disappointing, SoulCalibur V offers up a great multiplayer experience, both offline and online. Playing against another human being has a certain ‘classic feel’ to it as you are actually fighting against another person trying to expose any weakness they may have while they are trying to do the same. Offline has the same appeal it has in the past, as you and a group of friends can waste a night or day away taking on each other while sitting in the same room. Be prepared for a whole lot of smack talk as you compete to see who is indeed the best in the room. As for online, the game is pretty strong here too. You can play ranked or player matches over Xbox LIVE. There is the ability to watch other matches while you are waiting to play too, including chatting while doing so, and this is indeed a nice touch. SoulCalibur V saves the most recent eight online matches too, and you can view the replays to see other gamer’s fighting styles in an effort to improve your own skills. Of interest online is the Global Colosseo mode. This mode provides you with a lobby of about 50 slots and you can go in a just challenge any person who may be in there. This is a nice way to play a random person. Online play is generally pretty smooth, especially if you are playing against someone who solid connection. I found that there are truly some good players out there that handed my ass to be on a silver platter. Practice make perfect and there is a need for such when heading online.
Something that I really found frustrating in this game as a whole was the fact that given the game’s additions/improvements, from the critical gauge to the new characters that have been added to the roster, you will find no detailed tutorial on what is exactly new or improved, or how to implement these changes in your gameplay. I had to experiment like you would not believe to get a grasp what SoulCalibur V offered. This not only goes for the new gameplay elements as a whole, but the story mode too, as I had to literally learn everything on my own as I plugged through the story’s 20 chapters. This is also why you may find the game “spiking” in difficulty, as you may not have a full grasp on all the moves needed to fight against certain characters.
I know, I can’t expect a game to “spoon-feed” me everything, but at least offer me up an ample interactive tutorial mode that lets me learn how to play the game, and then let me go off on my own to master the moves and features offered. If you look at other fighting games on the market today there are some great tutorials in these games that teach you how to become a fighting master, and not just let you flounder on your own. These games give you a reason to play and learn at the same time. Regardless, this issue is just something that I did not appreciate in this game and I am sure that there will be others out there that will feel the same too.
For those looking for a bit more then just gameplay, SoulCalibur V welcomes back the character creation mode. Here you can be as creative as you want as you design whatever kind of fighter you can think of. You’ll use items that you open up when levelling up your profile. It should be noted that the customization is visual only as the fighting style or move sets are taken from other fighters found on SoulCalibur V’s roster. You can use you custom characters in all the other game modes except for the game’s Story mode.
Visually speaking SoulCalibur V is pretty solid. Characters are once again well designed and very detailed. They also animate very smoothly and the end result is that each character moves about the battle stage with grace. Speaking of the battle stages, I found that they too were awesome and the design of each one was well implemented and very creative. There is a lot of variance to the stages and many of them have a lot going on in the background. I think that most who play this game will be very impressed with each and every stage they will do battle on. If I have one complaint about the visuals it would have to be that you will see a fair amount of clipping when using the weapons in the game. For a fighting game that is based on weapon to weapon combat, this was a bit disappointing and actually bothered me somewhat. I am sure that a lot of you out there may just overlook this, but I was unable to given that this game has the number ‘five’ attached to the title; clipping should not be occurring as they have had a lot of time to get this right.
As for the game’s sound, the weapons sound fantastic. From the sound of swords clanging, whips cracking, to successful strikes or attacks landing their marks, all are impressive. Where the sound does take a nosedive is in the voice acting. It just didn’t seem to fit the overall scope of the game and really felt like an afterthought. Finally, SoulCalibur V’s soundtrack is solid. Each track really fits each stage and at no time during my gameplay experience did I feel like I wanted to turn the music down. This is a sign of some good music given how many matches you will find yourself playing.
At the end of the day SoulCalibur V is a good game, there is no denying that, but in a world of great fighting games good doesn’t have the impact it once did. The visuals are solid and the sound, minus the poor voice acting, is pretty good too, but the gameplay is a mixed bag indeed. While the core of the gameplay stands fairly well as a whole, the lack of an abundant set of gameplay modes for single players, a very poor tutorial, and a lackluster story mode hamper the overall experience; however, the multiplayer portion of the game helps get this title back on its feet and running again. SoulCalibur V will make a lot of people happy for sure, I just hope that the next instalment can bring a whole new suite of additions to the table to elevate this game back to the level of greatness it once deserved.