Review: Soul Calibur V

January 31, 2012, By Christian Davis

I remember playing Soul Calibur on the Dreamcast and in the arcades for an unprecedented amount of time. I’m pretty sure I clocked in well over 200 hours on that game alone and I’m proud of it. The characters were unique, the stages were gorgeous, the announcer made me feel like I was doing something important, etc…It was just a great experience. Then, Soul Calibur 2 came out and blew my freaking mind.

It was more fluid, we had exclusive characters to play as (Spawn was amazing), new stages, new moves, new everything. I tripled the amount of time playing this as opposed to its predecessor. I literally thought I’d be playing this game for years and years.

Then, the unimaginable happened. I just stopped playing Soul Calibur all together and moved onto different things. It was like we had broken up or something. I would dabble here and there to see how the latest installment was doing, but I never truly got back into a committed relationship. That’s why I was surprised when Soul Calibur V was waiting for me in the mail one day. I didn’t realize how much I missed it and welcomed it with open arms.

I couldn’t wait to rekindle an old friendship that I had abandoned so many years ago and after playing this, I’ll never leave it again. Soul Calibur V makes a triumphant return during a perfect time. The fighting game scene is really starting to implant itself back into everyone’s lives again and now more people than ever will be able to experience one of the best fighting games that we have around. As excited as I was to hop back in the saddle, the transition to this game was not the easiest task.

Now if you’ve only been playing the fighting games that have been populating your friends list, whether it is Mortal Kombat, Ultimate Marvel vs Capcom 3, or Street Fighter AE 2012, you should know that this game is absolutely nothing like them. Don’t expect to jump in there and start throwing fireballs with the traditional quarter-circle forward motions.  That was my mistake and I paid the price heavily for it. This could actually be one of the minor downsides to the game, it’s not the most accessible. If you’re new to this series, you will end up hating it at first. A lot of the fighting games have been getting simpler mechanics to allow for new and casual players to slowly ease their way into the game. That isn’t the case with Soul Calibur V and you’ll need to take some time learning the game. It’s definitely worth learning though.

When you first start Soul Calibur V, you’ll be introduced to the standard modes: Xbox LIVE play, Offline Play, Story mode, etc…You do unlock one more mode but you first have to go through the unbelievably forgettable story mode. When Mortal Kombat came out, NeatherRealm produced such an entertaining and fun story that it set the bar for any fighting game that decided to include one. Unfortunately, Soul Calibur doesn’t live up to expectations.

The story centralizes around Patrokolos, a young man who’s main goal is to rid the world of these evil beings known as the Malfested and discover his families destiny. You’ll play as a couple different characters, but most of the time you’ll be controlling Patrokolos. During the story, you’re basically going from fight to fight with bland cutscenes in between. It was an interesting choice to have only a handful of CG animated cutscenes  explain the story, while the bulk of the plot unfolded with a story board presentation. It’s gets boring quick and you really just end up wanting to skip through all of them. There are some “important” scenes that take place in these story boards such as Patrokolos collecting these three items to talk to his dead mother. Of course, before he does that he has to fight these people for no real reason. Characters aren’t really developed in a way to care about them and you’re left with a glorified arcade mode.

When you first start the single player, characters you face are really easy like usual but then they stay that easy for several missions into the game. There were times where I would just stand there waiting for the enemy to attack and they wouldn’t do anything at all. Imagine my surprise when the very next mission, the character is unstoppable and will have you restarting that round repeatedly. There is really no middle ground and you just hate to deal with that. The characters are either really dumb or Kung-Fu masters. The story is also very short, which is a good thing in this case. There are 20 missions and you’ll finish it in almost no time.

Completing the story will reward you with the Legendary Souls mode (the only reason to play the story) which has you battle the computer at a significantly high difficultly level. By significantly high, I mean uncontrollably cheap. I couldn’t make it past the first character and I don’t think I will any time soon. That is the point of the mode of course so I’m not complaining. Just warning you that there’s a good chance you won’t have a good time getting beat for several hours straight. The story is the only bad thing about the game. Everything else is exceptional and makes Soul Calibur a worth every penny.

Multiplayer is obviously the main draw like most fighting games are. I have no idea what source of wizardry Namco Bandai did to their game’s online multiplayer, but it’s the best online fighting game experience I’ve had to date. It starts as soon as you enter a multiplayer lobby. You’ll notice that the set up is different than most of other titles.

The current battle takes place in a smaller screen to the left and the players are listed to the right. Underneath the battle there’s a window where players waiting can talk about the match. It feels a lot more like a live chat room than your standard multiplayer lobby. If you don’t feel like seeing any of that, you can have the battle show up as full screen seamlessly without any latency hiccup.  If you want to focus more on what people are typing, then you can choose to make the text window larger and cover up the battle a bit. The window is translucent so you can still watch what’s going on but there’s just a heavier emphasis on what’s being said in the chat widow. It’s something so obvious but we haven’t really seen anything like this as of late.

The lobby experience is great, but playing the game is what it’s really all about. I’ve played around 25-30 matches online and I only experienced lag once and it was for a split second. The amount of lag is crucial in a fighting game because the slightest difference in timing can throw off a combo or stop you from countering an attack. Players that had a three bar rating for latency had surprisingly smooth matches. Playing against opponents with five bars is just as good as playing with them on the same console. It’s that smooth.

The stages you play on are some of the best you’ll ever see and often times, you’ll want to look at what’s going on in the background. You’ll fight in the middle of a battlefield, on bridges surrounded by lush forests, cryptic lairs, destroyed towns, and a lot more. You see a lot more of the world around you because this game is a 3D fighter; allowing you to go in all directions and not just backwards and forwards.

Fighting against someone challenging and getting fortunate enough to knock them out of the ring is still just as satisfying as it ever was and has always been one of Soul Caliburs best features. The music that plays while your battling is also superb. The Soul Calibur franchise has always had an orchestral sound track and I’m glad to see it’s still around. It’s one of the few fighting game soundtracks that I’d really love to own and listen to on a regular basis. It gives this subtle feeling of nobility as your fighting other characters and adds to the general atmosphere of the game.

The gameplay for Soul Calibur is a lot of fun and the new additions to the mechanics are welcomed and add another layer of strategy. Critical Edge and Brave Edge are brand new moves introduced in this installment. Brave Edge is a strong and deadly attack that can only be used once the Critical Gauge (power meter) is filled at least half way. It can be used in a variety of ways such as grabs and during combos. The bosses in the game will use them often and they take a large chunk of health away from you. Then there’s the Critical Edge which you can compare to Street Fighter’s Revenge Meter. If you’re getting your butt handed to you, this meter will fill faster. Once it’s full, you can land a flashy looking super attack and take away a lot of your opponent’s health. You have to be very careful with it though because if it misses, you will probably end up losing the battle because a lot of them have a start up animation and ending animation. It was fun to land those hits and it was even better when the opponent missed them.

The online experience was just very enjoyable and I wanted to keep playing. I wasn’t even discouraged after losing a match because I was going back to the lobby to chat with other Soul Calibur players. There was one downside though and that’s the lack of host migration. Once the party creator leaves the lobby, everyone is disbanded. The option to choose a different party leader would have been great to keep the game going. It’s a minor problem though that won’t affect you too much. With that aside, the multiplayer gameplay still gets better. It’s enhanced even further when I saw some of the characters that people were creating and fighting with. This is the most extensive fighting game customization I’ve ever laid eyes on.

When customizing a character, you have two options: You can either create one from scratch or modify one of the already existing characters. Both are fantastic choices and offer a wide range of customization. If you love Siegfried  but think he needs a bit of a color change, go for it. You can change almost every aspect of the character and what they’re wearing. Hair, eyebrows, beards, weapons, pants, shoes, gloves, jewelry, small details on the armor, etc… all are able to be customized. This is better than any costume pack you could ever get. Just keep providing us with more articles of clothing and various accessories and we’ll create the characters.

If you decide to create a character from scratch, that’s where all the fun is to be had. You start with small variety of body types to choose from and that starts off as your base. From there the possibilities are endless. You can try creating movie characters (I chose Black Dynamite), other video game characters, Comic book characters, or just any random creation that pops into your head. That changes the whole online mood of the game; In a good way of course. Watching She-Hulk duke it out with Black Dynamite or a gargantuan woman holding a hammer with boobs that clip through her forearms is very fun, makes the game hilarious, and gets people in the lobby talking again. It’s the icing on top of the exceptionally fun cake. You’re always wanting to be the guy in the party with the most creative characters and that adds an unintentional layer of addiction.

Soul Calibur V is one of the only games that allow you to pit She-Hulk against a guy with a pink afro and short shorts, while doing nothing but hump the air and still keep the game somewhat serious. Sure, the story mode isn’t really worth looking into but who plays a fighting game for its story? Great multiplayer is what makes this game stand out so much. Combine that with no lag issues, a great multiplayer lobby, and endless character customization, you’ve got one of the best games around.

If you’ve been scared of picking up Soul Calibur V because of the downfalls in Soul Calibur IV, there’ no need to worry. This is the Soul Calibur game you’ve been waiting for.

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Review was based off an Xbox 360 press copy provided by Namco Bandai.

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