Soul Calibur’s recent iterations have been something of a disappointment. While its fourth outing is now three years old, my first reaction to seeing this latest release was still that it may be a little too soon. Elsewhere, the industry standard has evolved into a system of releasing major title updates and then minor changes (see Street Fighter IV’s lengthening title over the last few years). Soul Calibur V, however, represents a welcome revision and one that may help the weapon-based brawler remain relevant as the growing eSports market places more focus on mechanics and balance than ever before.
While many characters have once again failed to age, Soul Calibur V joins the now expanded cast of 27 fighters 17 years after their last outing. Fresh faces include Natsu, Yan and Xiba – all descendants of previous favourites Taki, Xianguhua and Kilik and a trio of random/mimic fighters who, while adding to the roster, feel less fleshed out and are, ultimately, uninteresting compared to the more established heroes and villains. Thankfully, Darth Vader and Yoda didn’t make it back and their replacement, Ezio Auditore of Assassin’s Creed fame, feels much more relevant and is a blast to play. His combination of hidden blades and medieval swordplay makes his inclusion feel far more relevant than force-wielding aliens and his style is much less confusing.
I’ve been in love with Namco’s rock-paper-scissor style fighting game ever since the original Soul Edge, largely due to its fantastic story mode. However, as the character list sprawled out and other games focused on developing the player as a true strategic fighter, Soul Calibur’s single player efforts appear to have degenerated to pure melodrama. Focusing on Sophitia’s kids, Patroklos (don’t laugh) and his sister Pyrrha, it follows their quest to rid her of a terrible curse placed upon those who encounter the sinister Soul Edge. Or something. Honestly, the story mode failed to capture my attention for more time than it took to dispatch the next opponent. Overriding any satisfaction that this would have provided was the knowledge that I wasn’t really learning anything from this experience. Whether I tricked the AI, forced it into a ring-out situation or just hammered at them until I found an opening, it didn’t take long to battle through all 20 chapters (with the exception of some disappointingly cheap boss battles that led to sudden and unpleasant difficulty spikes).
Throughout my time with SC V, I craved some kind of valuable feedback about my performance. Professional fighting game battles always show a level of style, finesse and almost balletic motion as players trade blows that simply reading a list of combos just can’t communicate. While Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat have lately showed off robust training and challenge modes, endlessly attacking CPU-controlled characters couldn’t match the experience that modern fighting-game fans look for when learning the ropes. This was especially the case when trying to figure out the subtleties of the new simplified Critical Edge counter/ special/blocking system.
The let-down continues through to the two arcade modes, one of which simply pits you against ridiculously punishing foes. More than once, I had to put down the controller and walk away for a bit lest I break something expensive. Thankfully, even with these apparent failures clear to all, I can safely say that Soul Calibur V is the best version since its early days. The reason? It has quite possibly the most elegantly executed multiplayer system to appear on a console game.
Whilst simple in appearances, Namco have clearly considered the player’s experience not only in fights but also while finding opponents and waiting for matches to start. Being able to tag friends as rivals to peruse their records easily to see how well you may fare against one another leads to some pleasantly balanced fights. SC V also isn’t the first game to allow you to view other matches whilst waiting for your own, but it’s a welcome addition and opens up plenty of opportunities to learn and be entertained between fights. The massive, social Global Colosseo mode even lets you join other players in a lobby of up to 50 people to be matched up and always find another willing challenger whenever you’re ready. Throughout the whole online experience, games are stable and queues were short – a perfect balance.
While the music and voice-acting are hammy at best, Soul Calibur V manages to hold onto the crown of most beautiful 3D fighting title. Animations are smooth and the game rarely drops a frame, even as sparks are flying whilst swords clash. The character creation system is also insanely flexible. Move-sets are limited to existing characters’ styles (with the addition of Tekken’s Devil Jin to add a little novelty), but I’ll never begrudge a game that lets me create a 7 foot, rippling-muscled, axe-wielding Smurf with which to pound my enemies into the ground.
Its single-player offering may be flimsy, but, for fans of the elegance and brutality of Soul Calibur’s unique style, the online and local multiplayer is more than enough to make up for it. Beginners can have fun too, but I’d strongly recommend watching some videos, talking to more skilled players or finding a mentor if you want to make the most of your time. The game simply can’t teach you that.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary Sony Playstation 3 code was provided to Brash Games for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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