Review: Soulcalibur V
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Does the latest instalment have the soul to make its mark among fighter games?
The Soulcalibur series has always felt a little classier than other beat ‘em ups. While the likes of Street Fighter or Tekken see characters let their fists do the talking, Soulcalibur’s swords give it that regal edge that distinguishes it from the competition. It’s therefore a little strange that the latest in this series seems to have borrowed elements from other fighters while also retaining a unique feel. The good news for both fans of the series and newcomers alike is that it works.
Sword play features as an integral part of Soulcalibur V, fitting for a title that’s based in 17th century Europe. The Namco Bandai fighter has always been based around the destinies of two swords, Soul Calibur, the force for good, and Soul Edge, the force for evil, both of which hold great power. Both swords were destroyed 17 years prior to events of Soulcalibur V, but naturally things don’t stay that way as once again good must triumph over evil.
The year is 1607 and narrative focuses upon two siblings, Patroklos and Pyrrha, the son and daughter of long-time recurring character Sophitia and both new additions to the roster. It’s the tale of these two that drives the events of Story Mode. Story Mode serves two main purposes, the first is to obviously detail the events around the latest crisis that threatens the world as we know it, and secondly to introduce new characters - in addition to cameos from a few old favourites.
The focus on two main protagonists means the action of each stage of story mode often switches between Patroklos and Pyrra, as they take on foes in what are mostly Soulcalibur V’s standard ‘Winner is first to three rounds’ version of combat. Some other characters are thrown in for the player to use at times, but the action mostly focuses on the Alexandra siblibgs. Away from the battles, the plot is mainly told through almost anime comic-book-style sequences which do look pretty, but sometimes feel as if they drag on for too long. The story itself probably isn’t going to win any writing awards, but it does enough to tie the narrative together between waving swords at people. The narrow focus of Story Mode may displease those who want to witness narrative from the perspective of each character, but it at least gives Soulcalibur V a definitive series canon.
Like all fighters, Soulcalibur V’s controls are easy to learn but difficult to master. The basics come down to horizontal and vertical attacks, kicks and blocks all of which are achieved through using the different face buttons. The shoulder buttons also offer potential for attacks, ‘grapple’ moves or parts of longer combos. If there’s one goal of Soulcalibur V, it isn’t just beating your opponent, it’s to beat them in an impressive fashion with the use of Critical Edge attacks.
Fans of Street Fighter IV will recognize the template almost instantly, as Critical Edge is very similar to its Super Combos. Successfully attacking and blocking builds up your Critical Edge bar which when powered up can be used to perform a powerful attack which will take huge chunks of your opponents’ health away.
The Critical Edge bar even looks similar to Street Fighter IV’s super combo gauge, but ultimately this flattery adds something to Soulcalibur V, evening up battles, giving them an unpredictable edge that could see the tide turn either way at any moment.
Naturally, styles make fights and like previous games in the series, Soulcalibur V provides the player with a varied roster of characters, each with their own unique style of swordplay. Familiar faces such as Siegfried, Voldo and Ivy return, while plenty of newcomers including Leixia, Xibi and Z.W.E.I make their debuts. Some offer truly unique new styles of play, while others are heavily based on old Soulcalibur favourites.
As long time fans of the series will know, developers Project Soul like to add guest characters to their roster, and this time it’s Ezio Auditore da Firenze of Ubisoft’s Assassin’s Creed, whose individual fighting style fits well into the Soulcalibur series without the need for much tweaking. He fits in much more comfortably than Star Wars Darth Vader and Yoda did before him in SoulCalibur IV.
Of course, the latest entry to the series offers the usual improvement in graphics and it’s safe to say that Soulcalibur V is a beautiful game. Each character looks fantastic, whether they’re standing still or swiftly moving across the battlefield, with body, clothes and even hair all reacting naturally - for the most part - to movement and when both handing out and receiving attacks. Less realistic, however, is the physics of female character’s breasts which wobble at the slightest provocation. Sure, it might only be there to provide titillation for the teenage boy market, but it takes something away from the innocence of a character such as Pyrra when their breasts jiggle when they do as little as take a small step forward. Yes, it’s a Japanese game, and yes, it might be just a little bit of fun, but it’d give an outsider the impression that video games haven’t moved on from being the hobby of horny teenage boys locked away in their bedrooms.
Look beyond this minor gripe however, and Soulcalibur V is arguably one of the best-looking fighters out there, not only thanks to the great looking characters, but because of the backdrops you’ll fight in front of. Forests, battlefields, cities, ships and more all look fantastic and aren’t just there to look pretty. Fight close to a ledge and you can knock your opponent over it for a win by ring out. The stages are dynamic, ever-changing, and provide a great relief to the sometimes stale backdrops of other beat ‘em ups.
While Soulcalibur V boasts an impressive roster, there’s once again the option to add your own unique fighters, and this time there’s a bigger choice of appearance, apparel and items than ever before. Want to create the most beautiful woman in the world and have them fight in a tiny bikini? You can. Want to build a hulking monstrosity that wears bright pink? There’s nothing to stop you. Or perhaps you want to re-create an icon of TV, films or video games? Well, you can, and people already have if the versions of The Incredible Hulk and Final Fantasy VII’s Sephiroth I’ve seen are anything to go by. The sheer variety of opponents you could face online is something that makes Soulcalibur V stand out from the competition.
The Online Modes will mostly be familiar to regular online fighters, with ranked and casual Player matches available to those who want to test their skills against opponents from all over the world. Usually it doesn’t take too long to find an online opponent, but even in the days after release, it has sometimes been difficult to find someone to fight, with searches occasionally returning nothing, even at peak times such as evenings and weekends.
Fortunately, the brand new Global Colosseo is there for players who want a quick fight. It acts as a hub for dozens of Soulcalibur V in one room at a time, allowing them to chat, take part in random online battles and even enter tournaments. The ranking system allows you to gauge the quality of your potential opponent, and ensures that if required, you’ll only fight those around your level. While Story Mode, Arcade Mode and Quick Battle offer plenty of entertainment, it’s the Online Modes that’ll keep Soulcalibur V players coming back for more, thanks to the true challenge of fighting other people.
The changes made to Soulcalibur V may raise the eyebrows of longtime fans of the series to begin with, but ultimately they make the game more enjoyable than any of those before it. The Critical Edge system may be straight out of Street Fighter IV, but ultimately adds to this sword-based fighter. While the trimmed down Story Mode might feel like a little bit of a letdown, it’s Soulcalibur V’s multiplayer and online modes that are the bread and butter of this fighter. The offline gameplay will definitely provide enough for the casual fan, but for experienced fighters and fans of the series the real enjoyment of Soulcalibur V will come from its Online modes. The focus on weapons makes it an enjoyable experience, one that’s different to its peers, and certainly worth a look for any beat ‘em up fan.
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