It’s difficulty to decide when you’re qualified to review a fighting game. After all, it’s not a genre of game that you ever really finish. But after having spent a bit of time in all of the various game modes (except online ranked matched) I feel that I have a good understanding of what Soul Calibur V has to offer fighting fans. At this point I’ve completed the Story Mode, created several original fighters which I have used for the Arcade, Quick Battle & Online matches.
It’s always hard to follow the plot in fighting games from one version to the next, but SCV is kind enough to offer an opening cutscene to let us know the canon ending from the previous game. Siegfried defeated Nightmare, but Soul Edge disappeared. Seventeen years after these events, the world is being overrun with the Malfested, former humans who have been tainted by Soul Edge. The Story Mode takes a break from other fighting games by, instead of having a loose story for each character in the game, primarily following Patroklos, Sophitia’s son. The story follows Patroklos as he tries to save his sister Pyrrha, who was kidnapped by Tira when she was a child in order to become a vessel for Soul Edge.
Although the fighting mechanics are more or less the same as in previous titles, there have been a few new features added. The most important one is the Critical Gauge. This meter, visible beside the health bar, slowly fills throughout the match with each strike, block & hit. The gauge has two levels: after the first level, you can use it to unleash a Brave Edge attack, which is basically a suped-up special attack. Or you can save it to level two & unleashed a devastating Critical Edge attack, which can take out one-third of your opponent’s health. You can also use it to execute Guard Impacts, which are capable of blocking any move. The game offers several different gameplay modes, both off & online:
- Story: pretty self-explanatory
- Arcade: an offline mode where you fight through six random stages ending in a boss fight & get a ranked timed score
- Quick Battle: an offline mode where you can search for player-created characters to fight for titles. These opponents are computer-controlled.
- VS Battle: your standard VS system where you can fight against a friend or an CPU. Also include a Battle Theater mode where you can watch CPU vs CPS fights.
- Training: a practice mode
- Legendary Souls: an extra hard Arcade mode unlocked by completing the Story
- Creation: lets you create a new fighter using unlocked fighting styles
- Online Ranked Matches: the core of the game, your wins & loses in this mode affect your online ranking. SCV also allows you to have Rivals & follow their progress. I haven’t played this mode yet.
- Online Player Matches: more casual matches, you can join or create a room of up to six queued combatants. Waiting players can chat & watch the ongoing matches. Wins & loses are visible but don’t affect your ranking.
- Global Colloseo: challenge players to random matches or join tournaments based on regions, or just chat while waiting.
For logic’s sake, I’m only going to discuss the actual Story Mode in the Story section & leave the other modes for the Gameplay.
Story: I have mixed feelings about the Story Mode. On the one hand, I appreciate the developer’s attempt to make a single, cohesive story. Most fighting game plots are a series of encounters based on the character you selected, ending in a final cinematic. It’s hard to tell what’s actually going on. SCV attempts to fix this by focusing on Patroklos’ story. He’s the character you’ll be playing as mostly, although there are a few stages where you fight as Pyrrha or Z.W.E.I. But at best the story is bland, at worst it’s incoherent. Patroklos is such an unlikable ponce! I wanted to smash him in the face. If he’s not being arrogant & self-righteous, he’s being whiny. Yeah, there is some character development. But as I discussed in my Final Fantasy XIII review, I have actually like the character before I can care about development. And it’s a shame, because we don’t get to know any of the other characters. I would’ve much rather played as Z.W.E.I. I thought he was cool. Anyone would’ve been better. And that’s my biggest problem: all the other characters in the roster have no real purpose. They just show up to fight in one scene & then leave. Some (like Viola) only show up in cutscenes. Some, like Mitsurugi & Hilde, don’t appear in the story at all. Why couldn’t Project Soul let all the characters have a little spotlight while sticking with the main story? A lot of interactions aren’t explained. What’s Ivy been doing? How did Maxi, Leixia, Xiba & Natsu meet up? Why the hell did Astaroth attack me out of nowhere only to never be mentioned ever again? Why even give us new characters (& take away the ones we already know & love) if you’re not going to flesh them out? Overall, the story is bland & forgettable. And short. It’s only twenty episodes, most of which are only one fight. The few that have multiple opponents have only one battle per enemy. At max, it’ll take you an hour & a half to finish. And I won’t be playing it again. Score: 2
Gameplay: The actually fighting in the game, the core, is pretty solid. I’ve always enjoyed the fast, fluid style of combat the Soul Calibur series offers. Combat seems streamlined this time around. Overall, there are fewer moves, which makes it more accessible to newcomers. However, there’s plenty of skill needed as well, such as with the Just Guards. The characters feel balanced, with the exception of the last fight with Nightmare in Story Mode. The only thing that saved my TV from having a controller through it was that you can retry those fights on lower difficulty levels. Arcade Mode is alright but nothing special. Quick Battle is pretty fun. It’s nice to see all the different creations people have come up with, & is a nice change if you prefer solo battles but are tired of the VS mode, which like Arcade works but isn’t that exciting. Training could’ve been improved with on-screen prompts for the moves instead of making me tab back & forth to look up the next move. But hands down, the biggest draws for SCV are the Creation & Online modes. The Creation Mode is insanely robust. It may not be on par with RPG’s, but there are a lot of options to make unique characters. Body type, calf size, voice, scars, patterns, etc. As you increase your level by winning matches, you unlock even more customization options. And what do you do once you’ve perfected your creation? Take it online. As this was my first time in the online fighting arena, I was surprised at how well everything worked. The three modes offer something for everyone, whether you’re a serious competitor or just want a friendly match. My first foray was a Player Match, & while I lost, I put up a good fight (2 rounds each & down to the red on the final). I was also surprised at how well optimized everything was. I have just a basic high-speed connection, but I didn’t experience any lag. Also, the ability to watch the fight & chat while you’re queued up is a nice feature. So overall, the modes can be a bit sketchy, but Creation & Online definitely carry the game. Score: 4
Visuals & Audio: The graphics look very nice, but honestly I’m not sure there’s that big a difference from SC4. But given the short amount of time between then, I guess that’s not a surprise. Still, they’re very nice. There’s a nice variety to the stages as well, but you don’t really have a chance to look at them while you’re fighting. If I have a complaint about the graphics, it’s the “cutscenes” in Story Mode. Most of them are just sketchbook still images. It’s really strange, given that these are interspersed with real, full CGI cutscenes, which all look really good. So why didn’t they do them all that way? I think they should’ve done it all one way or another. As it stands, it just seems like they only gave minimal effort to it. The soundtrack of the game fares much better. They have some really good BGM. I particularly like Ezio’s, Tira’s & Viola’s. The voiceacting is standard as far as fighting games go. It’s nice that the voiceactors from the previous game are back reprising their roles. I didn’t think any of the voices were bad, but nothing really stuck out to me. Score: 4
Replayability: Do I really have to talk about the replay value in a fighting game? The Quick Battles & Online matches will keep you coming back. However, I won’t be playing the story again. The only real purpose in playing it in the first place is to unlock a few characters. After you’ve beaten it once, there’s no reason to go back. Score: 3
Overall Score: 3
Final Word: As much a I like this game, I have to say that it’s pretty obvious the multiplayer is the focus of this latest edition. If you’re into that kind of thing, the Creation & Online modes easily make this game a buy. However, if you prefer to go solo, I’m not sure there’s enough meat in single-player modes to even recommend a rent.
Title: Soul Calibur V
Console: 360 & PS3 Rating: T
Developers: Project Soul
Publisher: Namco Bandai Games
Release Date: January 31, 2012