Review by MaruQ

"A good sequel should add features, not strip them away."

Namco's latest title in the Soul series, SoulCalibur V, follows a recent trend in this generation of gaming: that online multiplayer play is the most important aspect of a game, and that offline, single player campaigns come more or less packaged as secondary content. To diehard fighting fans, SoulCalibur V will be a success: online play is at the best it's ever been, but for casual players, who no doubt constitute the majority of those who will pick up this game, this "sequel" will feel more like a stripped down version of its earlier incarnations. Players should expect a sequel to add features, not remove them, and that is the major issue that mars an otherwise good game.

The story mode for this game is good in concept but poor in execution. Having a single canon storyline is a new idea in the franchise, and after playing through it, there is no doubt as to what the "true" ending is. Unfortunately, the story itself is somewhat lacking: you only get to control a total of 5 characters throughout the campaign (which is also far too short: it can be completed in a single sitting). All other characters either appear as opponents without any real motivations or depth, or else are completely excluded (Raphael, Aeon, and Cervantes, among others). It would not have been difficult for Namco to include a second storyline, perhaps following another of the new characters on a journey through Asia, to give anyone other than the somewhat annoying Patroklos some screentime.

Story mode's narrow-sightedness might be forgiven if those characters had their own side stories, say in arcade mode or at the very least in character biographies, but this isn't the case. Arcade mode involves six rounds (with no special boss character) , and it doesn't have any prelude or ending for each character. You beat stage six and go right back to the main menu. Character bios are absent, and you'll have to search online if you want to know who any of these new characters are.

And this all culminates in a major problem for the game. Many people play fighters because they like the cast of characters to choose from. Of course, there will always be the fighting enthusiasts who base their character selections on tiers and framerates and other factors that the majority of us don't understand have no desire to research. SoulCalibur has been a popular franchise for casual players because they can find a character they can relate to and enjoy playing with. The characters have been distinct and interesting. But in SoulCalibur V, we have no reason to care about 90% of the characters. Namco has dumped most of the popular characters from the series in lieu of a "new generation" of fighters, but has not given us the opportunity to acquaint ourselves to them. Yes, we understand that Leixia, Xiba, and Natsu probably have something to do with Xianghua, Killik, and Taki, respectively, but without bios or in-game stories, we haven't the faintest clue what their involvement in this game is. And we have no clue at all where Viola or Z.W.E.I. are supposed to come from, even though they appear often in story mode. Apparently players can go on the internet to find the much needed character bios, but one shouldn't have to go out of one's way to form a link with the characters.

Speaking of characters, the fact that 3 of the unlockable characters are mimics (characters who randomly use other players' styles) is lazy and inexcusable. Those slots would be better spent porting over characters from the fourth game, like fan favorites Talim or Zasalamel whose styles are absent in this installment, to the chagrin of fans of these characters.

Offline, other than story and arcade mode, there is a Legendary Souls mode, which might prove too tough for some new players, training mode, quick math, VS, and not much else. Notably, there is no tutorial mode. It might be incredibly daunting for a new player to the series to jump in, especially with the sharp difficulty spikes in story mode and the aforementioned lack of a tutorial. New mechanics, in particular the Brave Edge/Critical Edge system and the new guard impact system, are given just a cursory explanation with nowhere to train the skill.

Character creation is back, and it's a mix of bad, good, and ugly. Being able to position decorations anywhere on the body allows for great flexibility, but on the other hand, many options, like hairstyles, are limited; some objects sit on the character awkwardly (shoulder pads or necklaces that float above the body); and many objects look ugly no matter how you try to color them because they won't let you choose anything but a dull gray tone of any given color. Faces are premades, and it seems like by now we should have the ability to choose facial features with sliders, just like it lets you do with body parts.

The offline modes are mediocre at best, but online play is where this game shines. The matches I've played so far flow beautifully, no hiccups or lags at all. Being able to choose players at a similar level to you helps prevent being punished by a player who knows the game far better than you. The game lets you keep track of your rivals and challenge them anytime. One feature I could recommend is the possibility of banning certain characters from your search criteria, as fighting the absurdly powerful Nightmare can be a pain, and it can get boring to play Devil Jins all the time. There's not much more for me to say on online play, but don't think I am dismissing it; in fact, I find it to be the game's strongest point. If I were rating online alone, it would score in the 8-9 range.

The game looks and sounds as good as ever, although some characters get a bit annoying. Laura Bailey makes a great Pyrrha, capturing her torment and terror, but unfortunately Yuri Lowenthal as her brother Patroklos sounds too hammy. Leixia's voice is actually more grating than her mother's. I found the stages to be a bit boring; none of them caught my eye as being spectacular, but then again, they didn't detract from the major premise here: the combat.

Overall, longtime fighting enthusiasts will be thrilled with this installment. Combat flows well and is fast paced and exciting, and online mode is more than promising. Unfortunately, the game as a whole lacks wide appeal. The majority of us spend $60 on a game expecting there to be a lot to do, but this game lacks a lot in terms of features. SoulCalibur has given us the expectation of a rich list of features, like character bios, stories for all characters, and maybe extra modes like Chronicles of the Sword that fill up dozens of hours in their own right. This game just feels stripped down compared to what we've come to expect, and those of us will watch the credits roll on story mode, then scour the main menu while asking, "That's it?" And sadly, that IS it. In other franchises that are centralized around versus combat to the exclusion of everything else, this would be forgivable, but SoulCalibur has a long legacy of giving the player a variety of other game modes, a rich lore and dynamic characters. For that reason, this "sequel" is largely a disappointment, and a step down for the series.

Reviewer's Rating:   2.5 - Playable

Originally Posted: 02/06/12

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

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