While Namco Bandai’s sister franchise Tekken took the world by storm in the dawn of the 21st century, the SoulCalibur series was successful in its own right. Starting with the oddly named Soul Edge (or Soul Blade, depending on your location), it evolved quickly into the fondly remembered SoulCalibur which stormed across Arcades and Dreamcasts across the globe. Other instalments have featured the likes of Heihatchi Mishima, Link, Spawn and various cast members of the Star Wars franchise as cameo roles. Years have passed since the last retelling of the tale of Souls and Swords. With new contenders to the weapon based fighting sub-genre such as the beautiful Blazblue, it was about time that Namco Bandai release the sixth game in the series – SoulCalibur V. Is the series still as stunning as it has ever been, or has the new blood finally taken the sheen off this stalwart franchise?
It is pretty safe to say that fighting games in recent memory have influenced SoulCalibur V to give it a distinctively arcade feel. While characters can attack normally, there are also Break Impact moves to allow the opponents defences to crumble, setting yourself up for follow-up hits. Characters also have access to moves that use the gauge running alongside the character name, which fuels up as you hit your opponent. Some moves only take a small portion of the gauge to activate, such as Brave Edge moves that cause quite a bit of damage within combos and Unblockable Attacks that feature in some combos and techniques. Critical Edge Attacks on the other hand, sap one level of charge in order to perform devastating moves. Think of this as SoulCalibur meets Street Fighter, despite most of the input controls being somewhat different in comparison. The faster pace makes fights a lot more frantic in nature, and while you can never change the best out of five rounds setup, it still makes for an enjoyable arcade experience.
“Think of this as SoulCalibur meets Street Fighter, despite most of the input controls being somewhat different in comparison.”
The story mode takes place in the year 1607 A.D, 17 years after the defeat of Soul Edge to the wielder of Soul Calibur. Patroklos is on a crusade to rescue his sister Pyrrha and avenge his mother’s death. Serving under the Graf Dumas, he is stunned when a stranger by the name of Z.W.E.I denigrates the intentions of his Lord. Upon returning and confronting his master, the Graf becomes enraged with his demands and banishes him from the castle. A fateful meeting with Siegfried sees him take up the Soul Calibur and he soon joins the Schwarzwind in order to search for his sister. The plot is told through both in-game rendered cut-scenes and stylishly sketched still artwork that gives an appealing historical feel. The campaign isn’t particularly difficult, apart from maybe the odd battle or two, and spans twenty short chapters. While it is stylish, it is also certainly far shorter and more linear than any SoulCalibur “campaign” in the past. Expect this mode to take merely a short and disappointing afternoon to complete.
With the cast of SoulCalibur V featuring a host of new faces, it is easy to assume that the game would have a steep learning curve. This couldn’t be further from the truth as a number of the new cast are direct descendants of those who featured in the series to date. Old faces also return, together with the curious addition of Ezio Auditore from Ubisoft’s Assassin’s Creed series. As cameo characters go, Ezio fits a lot better than the previous guest characters in the SoulCalibur franchise. It helps that he feels just right in terms of balance, but is incredibly easy to use. The sad news is that in the character creation mode, curiously, you can’t create your own assassin. The rest of the roster is available to either alter to your heart’s content or provide a style for the robust character creation tool. As you obtain more costume parts and styles through gameplay, you can kit out your new creation in whatever you like. Be it a throwback to the 1970s or a suit of awesome armour, the freedom is yours. Heck, if you really don’t like the female characters default “revealing outfits”, you can have them masquerade in a less revealing one. Just don’t put Cervantes in a schoolgirl outfit; that’s just disturbing.
Despite not being an artistic 2D fighter, SoulCalibur V has some of the best looking fighting game models ever to grace a home console. The level of fluidity in their movement, together with the level of detail is truly something to behold. The faithfulness in recreating Ezio Auditore shows that the Project Soul team really wanted to do the character justice, by making him look just as good as the rest of the cast. With the exception of Ezio though, the voice-work is pretty cheesy to say the least. Sure most of the time it is limited to short comments before and after fights, but it also crops up in the story mode. If the default cast’s vocals are a little cheesy, then your custom character is going to be the laughing-stock. Music isn’t particularly memorable, unless it is the “Venice Rooftops SCV remix”, but is appropriately epic in context. One interesting feature is the ability to change the sound effects to your preferred level of realism. With all of the modes sounding great, it truly is up to you as to whether you want the game to sound like a real battle, or a Japanese anime duel.
“SoulCalibur V has some of the best looking fighting game models ever to grace a home console.”
Most of SoulCalibur V’s game modes are arcade based in nature, similar to its cousin Tekken. Quick battle mode pits you up against a roster of characters that you can change on the fly, allowing you to unlock new titles to use on your licence and new character(s) styles to master. The higher the grade usually means the more difficult the battle, with A-grade opponents usually being quite cheap in nature. You also have access to a robust training mode that explains some of the combos for each character. Arcade mode allows for players to tackle a string of six fighters in various different leagues, including a leaderboard league which posts online your best times. There is also a Vs Battle mode that allows for local multiplayer and custom CPU fights. Once you beat the story mode, Legendary Souls unlocks for you, which is like the arcade mode in structure, but is so difficult that merely passing the first stage is a test of trial and tribulation. Every fight in the game also increases experience on your licence, which leads to unlocking new titles and costume parts for the Creation mode. The thing is, these modes are only going to appeal to those players who like the pick up and play style. Those who want a typical feature filled SoulCalibur experience will be discontented.
“SoulCalibur V has a dynamic combat system that never feels too complicated whilst dishing out lots of pain on opponents.”
Online functionality at the time of review was limited, but it was at the very least functional to almost full capacity. Ranked and Player matches at the time of testing were few and far between, but ran very smoothly and didn’t feel like you were hindered by anything other than skill. Player match lobbies give players a feed of battles in windows, meaning if you weren’t fighting you can have a chat with fellow players whilst still watching the fight. Player lobbies are fully dependent on a host player though, meaning disconnections are likely. The Global Colosseo mode on the other hand are huge lobbies where players can challenge others at will, rather than in the round robin layout of the Player matches. Players can also download, upload and watch replays to learn techniques from the best in the world or even their rivals. Each player can select up to three other players throughout the world to keep constant track of their leaderboard times, online records and more. This is a particularly neat feature, if a rather simple concept, as a whole as you can see just how your friends are doing and even challenge them if it is required to put them in their place.
A lot of people were anticipating this to be one of the best fighting games of this year and it is certainly a strong contender. SoulCalibur V has a dynamic combat system that never feels too complicated whilst dishing out lots of pain on opponents. The cast may be too revealing for some, but the robust character creation/modification tool allows for easy to use customisation to appeal to your tastes. The game doesn’t come without its drawbacks, as the Story mode is too linear and short to last longer than an afternoon, and there really isn’t a lot out there in terms of hidden extras for players to discover. Taking it online adds a little more to the appeal, but the limitations are still present. As a pick up and play brawler, it is a commendable addition to the franchise. But not even the master assassin from Florence could stop SoulCalibur V from feeling a little shallow.