Developer: Project Soul / Publisher: Bandai Namco Games / Played on: PlayStation 3 / Price $59.99 / ESRB: Teen [Mild Language, Suggestive Themes, Violence]
New characters, beautiful visuals, and original mechanics lead the charge as the 3D, weapon-wielding fighting game franchise Soulcalibur returns to the arena for a fifth time. The burgeoning fighting game community is well-established with powerhouse franchises like Street Fighter, Marvel vs. Capcom, and others, so can this latest Soulcalibur keep pace, or will it be ringed out? Let’s examine the changes and improvements in Soulcalibur V and see if it’s all for the better.
Soulcalibur has been known for setting the visual benchmark across the genre. That hasn’t changed. This time around Soulcalibur V has focused on the story by including more CG cutscenes, introducing players to the game world and showing off its graphics prowess. Textures are smooth and detailed while the animation of the fighters provide all the intense brutality you’d expect of these brawlers. The opening fight scene between Nightmare and Siegfried lets you know the seriousness of the battle of the swords Soul Edge and Soul Calibur.Developer Project Soul did a great job of illustrating a truly violent battle between good versus evil.
The in-game visuals are also impressive, running at a smooth 60 frames-per-second. Fighting moves are fluid and flashy, but not too flashy to where you can’t concentrate on the action. If you ever played Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3 then you might have an idea of what I’m talking about; at any given moment the screen is littered with beautiful chaos. In the heat of battle clothes and armor explode and the ground crumbles as bodies are slammed to the floor. Textures are highly detailed down to the glossiness on Pyrrhas’s lips. Environments are bright and vibrant. All these factors make for epic battles to the death.
Soulcalibur V is lacking in the modes department. Aside from the normal modes you would find in any other fighting game such as Story, Versus, Arcade, Training, and Online Mode, Soulcalibur V is missing something. Soulcalibur IV was packed full of extra modes to play, like Tower of Lost Souls, which was a fun and interesting option where you fought against opponents while utilizing special equipment and weapons to defeat your foe to ascend or descend the tower. There was also a Museum mode in Soulcalibur IV where you could view character art and special endings. The Chain of Souls also let you view the relationship between the fighters in Soulcalibur IV. These modes have disappeared completely this time around.
Soulcalibur V merely features the Legendary Souls mode and Quick Battle mode. Legendary Souls mode is a bonus mode that pits you against the CPU with a higher difficulty level. If you complete this mode, your time will be ranked online so you can compare it with other players that made it through the almost-impossible matches. It is HARD… VERY hard! It took me over an hour just to beat the first match! I’m not saying I’m great at the game, but I definitely don’t suck. This is definitely a mode to play to better your skills.
Quick Battle mode allows you to fight against various CPU characters with different skill levels. As you win certain matches you earn titles to add to your player license, with 240 to earn. Your player license keeps tracks of your battle record. This includes rank, total style usage, win/lose ratio and other tasks that you may have completed while playing Soulcalibur V. You can register up to four player licenses, and you can compare your stats to a friend’s stats. These are very detailed, stretching from ring-out wins to in-battle movement distance. I really don’t understand why they put all these stats into Soulcalibur V; most of them are meaningless, but it doesn’t hurt the overall game.
One of my favorite game modes in fighting games, Training mode, is very well detailed and covers all aspects of Soulcalibur V‘s gameplay nuances. Training mode gives you several options to set up a potential match situation to your liking. These options range from changing the state of your dummy opponent to what mode of training you would like to focus on. Changes in Training mode can be made on the fly as well. By simply using the right analog stick you can switch between combo training, counter training, main moves training, and check skills training. Project Soul covered all the bases anyone would need in order to improve their game through practice.
Creation Mode also makes its return in Soulcalibur V. Just like in Soulcalibur IV,it gives you the ability to create your own character using the weapon styles of the original fighters. You can also customize the look of the original characters, meaning you can make Nightmare pink if that tickles your fancy. The amount of customization detail provided here is great. You are able to adjust the size of each body part separately and also add design patterns to your clothes instead of just different colors. You can also unlock more items and clothing by playing through different game modes. I’m currently creating a remarkably accurate Chun Li from Street Fighter. It seems like I have everything except for the spiked bracelets.
Soulcalibur is known for its eight-way run controls, meaning that you are able to walk in all directions in a 3D environment. Side-stepping and circling around your opponent is critical in Soul Calibur. By tapping down or up, you can perform an evading side step that comes in handy when your opponent is performinga vertical slash. The speed of the characters compared to Soulcalibur IV seems faster, but even still the overall flow of traditional SC match remains intact. I know there are some fighting gamers out there that prefer stick over pad. It’s easy to use a joystick in this game, maybe even better. Some of the moves in Soulcalibur V require you to piano in your command (by piano I mean that you need to press one button and then quickly press another to execute a move). This is much easier on a stick than on a control pad.
If you’re into fighting games like I am, then don’t worry, Soulcalibur V is packed full of crushing attacks, crippling combos, and in-depth frame-specific special moves, which are all the tools you need in order to dispatch your enemy. The armor system that was present in Soulcalibur IV has also been scrapped. Thank GOD! = This, in my opinion, is an improvement. I never really liked that you could be defeated by having your guard broken. Don’t get me wrong, guard-crushing still exists, but you can’t perform a finishing blow that will kill your opponent like in Soulcalibur IV.
New to Soulcalibur V is the introduction of a Critical Meter. With the Critical Meter you are able to perform more powerful attacks, including a critical finishing move. The critical meter is also consumed for performing guard impacts, which was a normal move in the past Soulcalibur games by simply pressing forward or backwards plus the guard button timed with your opponents attack, similar to parrying/countering in Dead or Alive. So managing the Critical Meter is a big factor when it comes to defeating your opponent.
As for the roster, characters like Nightmare, Siegfried, Maxi, Mitsurugi, Voldo, Yoshimitsu, and Ivy make their return to battle. Unfortunately some characters are missing, or replaced all together. When I first started Soulcalibur V I immediately went to see if Setsuka from Soulcalibur III and IV was available. To my dismay she was not there. Talim, Yun-Seong, Zasalamel, Amy, Rock, and a handful of others didn’t make the cut either. This was very disappointing to me because I played as Setsuka mainly throughout the past Soulcalibur games and was looking forward to playing as her again. Ezio from Assassin’s Creed also makes an appearance in Soulcalibur V (hey, it wouldn’t be Soulcalibur without some guest characters). Ezio comes packed with a crossbow, hand pistol, and his signature hidden blades. On the surface, he’s a pretty simple character: if you are truly a noob you can spam his hand pistol all day. There are some interesting elements to his game, and you’ll probably enjoy exploring his style.
Several slots on the selection screen are empty, however, so expect those to be filled by DLC. By playing through the story mode you will unlock other playable characters. But what about my Setsuka? The beautiful umbrella-wielding samurai has disappeared! Or has she? Other well-known Soul Calibur characters like Taki and Xianghua are replaced with lookalikes Natsu and Leixia, respectively. There are also some new faces to Soulcalibur V. Patroklos, who is the main character of Soulcalibur V, wields a sword and shield, similar to Cassandra from Soulcalibur IV. According to the story Patroklos is the son of the missing warrior Sophitia. Alongside Patroklos is his sister Pyrrha, who resembles Cassandra and Sophitia with the same weapons. The cast of characters is definitely smaller than the past Soulcalibur games.
Online gameplay is pretty straightforward with quick matches and ranked matches. One cool factor about online play is that you have the option to set a cursor on a map to pinpoint your location in the world. This gives you an idea of who in the world you are playing against. Online rooms consist of four players matching up in rotation while the two who aren’t engaged in a match spectating as they wait for their turn.
One factor I am worried about when it comes to online play is timing and lag issues. When playing Soulcalibur you have to take into account that performing certain moves is difficult when it comes to Just Frame moves. Just Frame moves are special moves that only execute when you press the attack on the correct frame of animation. This causes more damage in combos and lag can have a dramatic impact on how well you can to execute them online. While I was online I did get disconnected every time; I definitely didn’t experience any lag, but I wasn’t able to finish one match to completion.
The story of Soulcalibur V centers on Patroklos and his missing sister Pyrrha. Soul Calibur has chosen Patroklos as the warrior that will have control over its power and defeat Soul Edge. As you play through Story mode you run into other characters that will lead you closer to the whereabouts of your sister, but not without a fight. The gorgeous cutscenes in story mode keep you interested enough to continue to play through the entire story in one sitting.
One major problem I do have about the story mode is that it only focuses on Patroklos. It forces you to play with only Patroklos for a majority of the story. You will eventually play with other characters that are a part of his journey there is no way to uncover the story behind all the rest of the characters. This is another detail that is missing from Soul Calibur V. I would love to see why Ezio made an appearance in the game by completing his story. All-in-all, the story behind Soulcalibur V is well executed for what’s there. It’s just a shame we never find out the reasons for the other characters to be involved in the fight.
What else can I say about Soulcalibur V? The series got big with the release of Soulcalibur II. With the introduction of exclusive game characters such as Link, Spawn, and Heihachi, this put Soulcalibur in a class of its own. I understand that adding exclusive characters to fighting games doesn’t make the game, but when you take a majority of the original cast out, there’s a problem. Usually when I play a sequel to a game, I expect more characters and more content. With the release of Soulcalibur V, this did not happen. It feels like less content and fewer characters. By replacing some of the original fighters with lookalikes, it seems that Project Soul is looking to start a new chapter in the never ending story of Soul Calibur versus Soul Edge.
With this content missing from Soulcalibur V and an emphasis on competitive play, Soulcalibur V seems like it was focused on improving your skill. With all the fighting games that have been released or announced recently, Soulcalibur V is finding new footing in the competitive gaming space. This year’s EVO Championship Series has given Soulcalibur V a place in the tournament. With four other popular fighting games hitting the stage this year (Super Street Fighter IV AE Ver. 2012, Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3, King of Fighters XIII, and Mortal Kombat 9), Soulcalibur V has been deemed worthy to hang with the big dogs.
But don’t forget about the titles that haven’t been released yet, such as Tekken Tag Team Tournament 2 and the most anticipated Street Fighter X Tekken. It’s going to be difficult to jump from one fighting game to the next, especially making the leap from 2D to 3D, so which game do you concentrate on the most? I just feel like Soulcalibur needs to bring more to the table content-wise. Soulcalibur IV had the content and game modes that would keep any Soulcalibur fan playing for more than a couple of months. I don’t see that happening with Soulcalibur V unless you will be spending all of your time online. I know this is a sword fighting game but it doesn’t seem right that Project Soul “cut” a lot out of the game.
Now that I’m done crying about content, let’s get down to the real reason to play Soulcalibur V. The gameplay has been improved for the better. Regardless of my gripes, it won’t stop me from trying to be the best Chun Li-with-a-sword player I can be. This Soulcalibur is definitely worth playing. I’ve looked online and seen some crazy combo videos already, so the potential for the community to embrace the title is there. Soulcalibur as a franchise will continue to have a place in my library of fighting games. I guess my created Chun Li character will have to replace Setsuka….for now.