Namco's legendary fighter series, SoulCalibur is back with SoulCalibur V (SCV), featuring a new story, characters, and several gameplay and presentation changes. Grab your weapon of choice and let the battles begin.
SoulCalibur V is a true sequel that follows in the greatness of previous SoulCalibur games. As has become customary in the series, a guest fighter joins the roster, this time it's Ezio Auditore de Firenze from the Assassin's Creed franchise. His assassins daggers are ultra quick and very cool to wield, and his inclusion here seems very natural, not only in regards to his appearance and fighting style, but also with his place in fictional history. SoulCalibur V's story takes place seventeen years after the events of those in SoulCalibur IV, and is therefore set in Europe during the 1700s. The Story mode lasts for twenty episodes, or about twenty-five fights. Players will unravel the story of Patroklos as he tries to find his sister Pyrrha, who is being tempted by the darkness of the Soul Edge. Is he the next chosen one to wield the SoulCalibur? Can he and his allies battle through Nightmare's minions and other challenges to stop the darkness of the Soul Edge and save Pyrrha?
Finding out is enjoyable enough but it won't take series veterans or even newcomers just a few hours to reach the conclusion. Accessibility has always been one of SoulCalibur's best aspects, as even first time fighters can enjoy themselves and succeed but there is enough depth in the controls and nuances of the gameplay to keep hardcore players busy for many hours, honing their techniques. This is a fighting game that's all about understanding distances, as there are no range attacks. It's essential to learn the styles of each character, to know how their horizontal and vertical attacks flow, if you want to become a great player. I'm not there yet myself, but Project Soul once again does a great job of making a control scheme that's not hard to learn, but tough to master. Button combinations are shared across all characters, but becoming finesse with combos and knowing the difference between what Cervantes will do when you press Up+K, and what Soulmaster will do, separates the casual from the pros.
SCV introduces a few new combat mechanics via a simple meter system situated next to each player's health bar. This three-part meter can fill up twice, and does so as you take, and dish out, damage. If your meter is at least halfway full, you can execute a Brave Edge, whose effect varies from one character to the next, but involves follow-up attacks or guard breaks. Next up is the Guard Impact, executed with Back+R1. This is essentially an advanced parry. The most powerful move requires a full gauge (i.e. you can do this twice if you have filled up the gauge two times in the same Battle). The Critical Edge, performed with two down-towards half circles and R2, unleashes a powerful attack (complete with its own instant, brief in-game cutscene) that can take upwards of 40% off an opponent's health. This new 'Edge' system is simple and accessible, in that it's easy to understand and use, which should appeal to novice and up-and-coming players. On the other hand, it's a powerful new tool for seasoned fighters to master.
I can't recall if Character Customization and Creation was in a previous SoulCalibur game or not, but V has a rather deep system for just that. You can save and edit up to 50 characters. You have the option to edit existing characters (assuming you have unlocked them) or create one from scratch. Options are numerous, allowing tinkerers to edit body type, clothing accessories, fighting style, weapon, voice, and other items. More characters and customization gear is unlocked as you level up, which is done through playing offline and online.
The primary Offline modes including Story and Arcade, although if played online, your completion time is submitted to the leaderboards. The Arcade mode allows you to pick any of the unlocked characters as you battle through six stages, culminating in a battle against Nightmare, the wielder of Soul Edge. The Story mode does not allow you to pick your character but you will get to play as series newcomer Patroklos, ZWEI, and Pyrrha. The Story mode was far more satisfying and not nearly as aggravating as the Arcade mode. Both modes displayed AI that was questionable at times. It's not uncommon to encounter dormant AI that essentially lets you wale away on them for a round, and then the next round they come at you tooth and claw.
I'm gnawing on my lip as I recall my encounters with Nightmare in the Arcade mode. The first five battles are a breeze, something that even this non-veteran SoulCalibur player can get through in fifteen minutes. But Nightmare, stage 6 of 6? Took me over an hour to beat him on two different occasions. Numerous times in the chase to win 3 of 5 rounds would I be up 2-0, only to have Nightmare go on an insane barrage in which my character would be juggled from the opening second to being defeated eight seconds later. I couldn't even stand up, much less block or hope that my attack would register. Hell, this would happen about 75% of the time whether I was up 2-0 or down 0-2. I called bullsh*t so many times I went over on my minutes. This happens with the Story mode boss as well, but just not quite as obviously bad as in Arcade mode. Bottomline, the AI is flimsy, too easy sometimes, cheatingly-hard during the bosses, and otherwise engaging and fun, but for how long is the question.
Once you beat Story Mode, the Legendary Souls mode unlocks which allows you to play the game on a higher difficulty. Of course you can also play with friends locally, but short of that, there's not a lot else to do but hop online and challenge other players. I liked the ability to save up to four rivals to track their progress. Their current level and numerous other stats are visible right from the 'Astral Home' screen (that's what it's called, aka the start screen). Replays of online action can be saved and shared as well. The Global Closseo is a lobby that supports 100 players to chat and battle each other, too. These offerings are nice, and should help create a good online community of players, but it still feels incomplete, like something is missing. I feel the same way about the single player component, given how short the Arcade and Story modes are. Including something like the Tower of Lost Souls from SCIV would have been a great addition, or the quest/challenge mode from SCII. As it stands, both online and offline modes feel limited, and I question the longevity and replay value that non-hardcore players will get out of this game because of it.
With limited modes, players might have to turn to the diversity of the character roster to keep things fresh. I recommend Edge Master to keeps things extra fresh, given that every round his weapon changes. It's kind of neat to go from a massive battle axe in one round to Voldo's bizarre scissor hands (for the lack of a better term), and then to Xiba's staff the next round. Many series favorites are back, including Kileak, although you have to unlock him, Ivy, Siegfried, and Mitsurugi, while Patroklos and Ezio are two of a few new ones.
Presentation quality is as strong as ever, with silky smooth frame rates and plenty of gorgeous animations. You can do an optional install that takes just a few minutes and keeps load times way down. The narrator voice has changed in SCV, by the way, and I think for the better. Each character, even Aeon the lizard man, still has a pre-fight comment and the music is fitting, but not all that memorable. Graphically, Project Soul did a very nice job with the stages and colors, mixing darkness and light areas, perfectly fitting for the story of SCV. I thought they may have went a bit overboard with the floor damage caused by falling characters, though, but this isn't something I even noticed anymore after a few hours of play.
To the summary...