Review by UPRC

"Who needs offline content when the fighting is just this good?"

It's hard to believe just how old the Soul series is now. I still vividly remember playing the original Soul Blade in arcades back in 1997. Do I remember much about it? Not really, except ring outs and Voldo. Between Soul Blade and today, my exposure has been pretty limited with the series. Prior to SoulCalibur IV, I only played SoulCalibur II in a noisy Las Vegas arcade.

As someone who was late to getting into the series, I made up for it by playing the heck out of SoulCalibur IV. Granted most of my time was spent creating characters, but in total I clocked over a hundred hours with the fighter. Long time fans bemoaned SoulCalibur IV, but I loved it to pieces. Now here we have SoulCalibur V, a game that in all honesty shouldn't even exist! After the previous title failed to sell well, Namco disbanded Project Soul (their internal dev team that makes the Soul games). They had no intention of reviving the series until fans annoyed the heck out of Tekken's lead producer Katsuhiro Harada on Facebook and Twitter, begging him to convince Namco to get Project Soul back together again for another stab at glory. Well, the fans won… But was it all worth it?

SoulCalibur V is essentially a reboot of sorts to the series in the sense that it has advanced time by several years in the game world so that many new characters can join the fray. It's pretty much the same thing Namco did with Tekken 3, and we know how great that game turned out to be! Just like in Tekken 3, we have a brand new protagonist in the form of Patroklos Alexander, son of Sophitia. No longer does the game focus on the exploits of Siegfried's eternal battle with Nightmare and Soul Edge, but rather it is centered on Patroklos' efforts to rescue his sister Pyrrha from the malfested as well as Soul Edge's influence.

Patroklos and Pyrrha obviously take center stage in this installment while a handful of other new characters such as Leixia, Natsu, and Z.W.E.I. as well as several others help pad out the roster. Unfortunately this means that a few fan favourites are absent from SoulCalibur V. I'll just throw some names out right now just to get the depressing part out of the way. Amy, Cassandra, Rock, Seong Mi-na, Setsuka, Sophitia, Taki, Talim, Zasalamel, Xianghua, and Yun-Seong have not returned from SoulCalibur IV. I'm sure that creates quite a lot of sadness since there are some definite favourites in there, but we still have other fan favourites still kicking around such as Ivy, Maxi, Nightmare, Siegfried, Tira, and several others. A few returning characters such as Aeon (Lizardman) and Kilik have also been severely altered for better or for worse.

To make up for the lack of some characters being cut from the roster, they have essentially been replaced with newer and younger characters who have similar fighting styles. For instance, Natsu happens to be Taki's ninja apprentice, Pyrrha fights a lot like a cross between Cassandra and Sophitia, and Xiba is pretty much just Kilik with a new face and voice. Other new characters may seem similar for different reasons, such as the energy ball wielding Viola who bears a frighteningly striking resemblance to Amy, albeit a little older. The fact that she is even voiced by the same actress doesn't help deter conspiracy theorists such as myself from believing quite firmly that Viola is simply a slightly older Amy (she looks mid-twenties rather than thirty or older since Amy was malfested and had her aging process slowed down). There's also one guest character this time around in the form of Ezio Auditore from Assassin's Creed. Suffice to say, he fits the theme of the game a lot better than Darth Vader and Yoda, and he's also a heck of a lot of fun to play as.

Enough about characters. What about the meat of this game? Anyone who likes their fighting games to have a wealth of side content will undoubtedly be very let down here. While SoulCalibur V may not be as devoid of singleplayer game modes as Capcom fighters, it still has less than many other games in the genre if you exclude the character creation system. This time around we have arcade mode, story mode, Legendary Souls, quick battle, online, training, and creation. Arcade is six fights that end in a boss fight (usually against Nightmare) and is just your standard arcade ladder mode that is found in other fighting games.

Story mode is a boring romp through bad voice acting and dull fights, and that is all that I feel is worth saying. Truth to be told, I found story mode to be so underwhelming that I was skipping cutscenes and dialogue screens before I was even halfway through. It follows Patroklos on his quest to save his sister Pyrrha from Soul Edge. The plot is nothing worth writing home about and the overall experience is not up to par as it is mostly told to you via storyboard pictures with written dialogue. Actual CG cutscenes are few and far between, and the fights in story mode are very generic with no changes to the basic gameplay formula. If you skip all of the cutscenes and story sequences, you can probably clear story mode in half an hour or so.

“Legendary Souls” unlocks after completing the story mode and is essentially just a stress test that is out of control. It serves as an ultra hard arcade mode against AI characters that respond to your precise button inputs and appear to break the rules of the game's fighting engine. Most people seem to record times of about an hour to clear the seven fights in this ridiculous game mode. I'll advise anyone with anger issues to avoid Legendary Souls like the plague. If you are prone to losing your cool easily, then I can guarantee Legendary Souls will result in you breaking something. As an angry guy myself, I'm lucky to have avoided such a fate myself!

Quick battle just throws you into a list where you can choose random custom characters of varying difficulty levels to fight against. There is little point to this mode other than for honing your skills and unlocking titles that you can set for your online profile.

The online component is pretty robust and is probably my favourite online aspect to any fighting game I have ever played. The netcode is absolutely superb, making it not unusual to have lag-free bouts when your opponent may even have a mere one or two bars. However, the best part of the online experience would have to be the player match lobbies. In these lobbies, up to eight players can join in to take part in the fighting. Spectating the matches and being able to chat to your fellow spectators can both be done simultaneously. The actual fight will take place in its own little window in the left-center of the screen. Below it is a handy chat box and, to the right, is the list of players in the lobby. Lots of fun, especially when you're in a lobby with level headed people who just want to have some fun (as opposed to rage quitters or man-children who throw out random insults each time they either win comfortably or lose by any margin at all).

Now, I've left the gameplay itself until just now because I wanted to get everything else out of the way first. The fighting engine is the core of the experience itself and I must say that it is a huge improvement over SoulCalibur IV. The speed of the fighting is much faster than it was in the last game and, according to long time hardcore fans, SoulCalibur V is the fastest game in the entire series! Coming from SoulCalibur IV, the speed was a little overwhelming for me at first as even Nightmare now felt like a raging freight train instead of a sluggish tank. The increased gameplay speed definitely works out well, and I can safely say that there is way more tension in the fights this time around than in SoulCalibur IV.

Project Soul also decided to throw in meters. Yes, meters. Marvel vs Capcom and Street Fighter junkies will know exactly what this means! Your meter will gradually fill as you both dish and receive damage. When you accumulate a certain amount of meter, you will reach level 1. Keep going on you can max your meter at level 2. Now, what are the levels for? Well, various button inputs will allow you to perform powerful special attacks which consume your meter. The “critical edge” attack is essentially an equivalent of the hyper/ultra combos in Capcom fighters and, when executed, will consume one level of your meter to dish out flashy effects, a lengthy attack animation, and a big helping of damage. There is also a “quick step” that can be pulled off by quickly double tapping up or down. This allows you to side step much faster than usual, which is fantastic for evading particularly tricky attacks and catching your opponent off guard. It's worth noting that quick steps consume about 1/4 of a level off your meter, so they can't be abused too much.

I have observed that there are also many more opportunities for juggles in SoulCalibur V than in the previous game. I suppose this is to be expected from a Namco fighter, but I would have liked juggling to stay where it belongs in Tekken. All characters in SoulCalibur V have a few decent launchers, especially new girl Natsu (who happens to be my new favourite character). Players who focus on playing fairly and with honor will find that this game may punish them more than reward them as juggling and keeping your opponents flat on their backs are both very prominent features in competitive play.

My only complaint about the gameplay would be the AI. It has definitely been made harder this time around, but the difficulty itself of the AI is fiercely inconsistent. You can be getting perfects on the hard AI one moment and a few minutes later you might find an easy AI opponent not even letting you get up. It's a little odd and it can be frustrating when the skill of the AI bounces all over the place, but it is hardly game breaking.

So, how are the graphics? I wish that I could say that they blow SoulCalibur IV out of the water, but they are only slightly better here in the fifth installment. This is not necessarily a bad thing since, back in December last year, I fired up SoulCalibur IV for fun and thought to myself, “Gosh, this is STILL the best looking fighting game out there.” While SoulCalibur V may only be marginally better looking, it still looks better as a whole and is without a doubt the prettiest fighting game on the market today.

The sound department isn't too shabby either. Music is absolutely fantastic, which should have been expected anyhow since Soul games always have great soundtracks. The voice acting is a bit of a different story though, and some of the voicing talents don't seem to try as hard as others. Some characters, such as Algol or Natsu sound very great all across the board, while others (I'm looking at you, Cervantes and Ivy) may leave you scratching your heads wondering why overacting continues to be a big problem in fighting games. As a whole the voice acting is definitely pretty good and all of the new characters sound pretty exceptional, though I'm still on the fence with Xiba. I just can't take him seriously, even though he is a lighthearted character.

One final note, the creation tools are absolutely fantastic. We finally have a CAS exclusive fighting style again in the form of Devil Jin (yes Tekken vets, THAT Devil Jin). We're also free to create costumes for up to 50 characters (original or regular). As far as what we have access to once we're in the costume editor, it's clear that Project Soul both gave and take away in the latest CAS feature. We have LESS costume pieces than we did in SoulCalibur IV, which seems completely bizarre since it's nothing short of a step backwards. However, almost any costume piece can be recoloured, retextured, or be given cool decals and stickers. So while we have fewer pieces to play with, the actual customization for the pieces has increased substantially. By utilizing the pattern and sticker functions, you can almost create entirely new costume pieces. As a whole, creating your own characters is a lot more satisfying now due to the fact that you can personalize them so much more now. You're very unlikely to ever see identical created characters online, unless we're dealing with recreations of characters from other video games (Sephiroth and Wesker, anyone?).

So is SoulCalibur V worth your money? If you liked the last game, or even like the series in general, then I say yes. The core fighting experience is absolutely fantastic this time and I find myself being unable to put the game down whenever I dive in to play. It's not uncommon for me to play for three or four hours at a time, a feat that I just can't manage with any other fighting games nowadays. Also, if you are brand new to the Soul series, this is a fantastic place to start since you won't have to put up with the loss of culled fan favourites such as Taki, Talim, or Zasalamel. The only problem for newcomers is that this game does not hold your hand or teach you how to play, so expect a lot of trial in error in matches as well as a good amount of time spent figuring out how things work in training mode.

All in all, a fantastic entry to the Soul series. Project Soul accomplished a lot in the amount of time Namco allotted them (development on this game lasted only one year!) and it's hard to fault the dev team for any shortcomings simply because they were working hard against a deadline with this game. It's impressive what they managed to do in one year, and I think anyone who appreciates the Soul games will be equally impressed with just how fun this game can be. Check out it, its worth every penny. 9/10

Pros:
+ Gorgeous graphics and above average soundtrack.
+ Online component is very stable and also quite enjoyable to boot.
+ Very diverse cast of characters. There's someone here for everyone to appreciate.


Cons:
- Game does not teach you how to play, which may hamper the experience of newcomers.
- Lack of offline content may deter those who aren't serious about online play.
- Story mode is just flat out boring and sometimes painful to sit through.


Reviewer's Score: 9/10 | Originally Posted: 02/13/12, Updated 02/14/12

Game Release: SoulCalibur V (US, 01/31/12)


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