Review by Miakisaki

"A Tale of Swords and Lost Souls"

The game is finally out, and we've all been welcomed back to the stage of history with very mixed reactions. There are those that like the dedication to the online component and those that scorn the lack of single player content. So which camp has the better argument? Both are correct in their own way. The real issue here though is that starting with this game, the Soul series has lost all self-identity.

As a semi-decent Mitsurugi player I was ready to get back into competitive online play but decided to make sure my timing was still good on defense with a little practice. Imagine my horror as I found out that the Soul Gauge has turned into a "super combo" gauge, and that tactical parrying via Guard Impact has become nothing more than extremely situational and limited Soul Gauge fodder. Just Guards have taken the place of Guard Impacts where you must block an incoming attack within a few frames of the attack similar to Just Frames. Traditional blocking still eventually causes you to become guard broken and unable to guard entirely if you defend too much. Since Guard Impacts are now tied to the Soul Gauge, unless you happen to be lucky enough to have enough of a level available you become completely defenseless when broken. This renders a defensive/counterattacking style pointless, and seems to be in line with what Namco wants with the series since the Soul Gauge was introduced in the last game. But at what cost?

The Soul series was originally built on the concept that your weapon is everything. It meant a completely personalized and unique experience where your character and your weapon dictated your overall style. Soulcalibur IV even added armor stats. This game removes everything unique about the series in favor of trading blows quickly to build up Soul Gauge levels to use them. Sound familiar? It should. Reduced emphasis on weapons with more emphasis on trading attacks and juggles with basic guarding and situational counters as the only defensive recourse sounds a lot like Tekken. Building up the Soul Gauge like a super combo meter to unleash heavy attacks sounds like many 2D fighting games on the market. Street Fighter anyone? Many "hardcore" players will state that there is nothing wrong with this, that the online component is everything and nothing else matters. Okay then, but what differentiates the Soul series from other titles now? Create-a-Soul could be all there is.

Aside from the Soul Gauge and Guard Impact changes, a few other things have changed. Guard Breaks have become Break Attacks retaining the same properties, and new Brave Edge attacks use up a little of your Soul Gauge to add more customization to offensive styles. The Soul Gauge can store two levels and can be increased through attacks as well as automatically if your character only needs to lose one more round to lose the match. It can be consumed one of three ways, two for offensive purposes and one for defensive purposes. One full level can be consumed to unleash a Critical Edge attack that heavily damages an opponent if not blocked, but leaves the user wide open if it misses. Half a level can be used to augment existing attacks with Brave Edge follow-ups, resulting in much more powerful combos. Lastly, a quarter of a level can be consumed to use a Guard Impact which no longer requires a directional input and will repel any incoming attack. All other mechanics such as Ukemi and horizontal/vertical attacks remain intact as they have in previous games.

One look at the roster should confirm much of the criticism about reduced overall content. Several Soul mainstays have vanished or have been replaced under the (cop out) guise that the game takes place 17 years after the previous game. The new roster consists of sons/daughters, apprentices, or outright mimic characters that assume the role of removed characters. It seems to me that this was done as a shortcut to not have to deal with furthering the story of the original roster. Even more suspect is that classic and removed character styles aren't available in Create-a-Soul, which indicates that Namco may sell the styles or characters as paid downloadable content. Not really the most reputable approach.

Single player content has been utterly gutted from this release with very little emphasis on storylines. Story mode is all about Patroklos, the son of Sophitia. You can choose no other character, and you will learn about no other characters aside from the ones related to Patroklos. There are no character endings, not even in Arcade mode. Tekken 2 and Soul Blade on the Playstation 1 had character endings. This game does not. Isn't that wild? Arcade mode has instead returned to a traditional arcade experience, with time records and no bearing on the story. Once unlocked through certain conditions, you can access a new mode called Legendary Souls which is an incredibly hard "boss rush" type mode. Be advised that the AI in this game is extremely cheap especially when it comes to Legendary Souls, so don't use it to train for online battles.

The newest mode for this game is Quick Battle mode, and it brings two more hits against the self-identity of the series. You choose opponents to defeat from various locations around the world in order to gain levels, titles, and extra customization gear for Create-a-Soul as you rise in levels. This was almost completely taken from Virtua Fighter, straight down to the earned customization gear. The earned titles are collected and distributed into an eerily familiar three column list with multiple pages where you can select one to display on your online license. Call of Duty much? I'm really not sure how they could go from well crafted content to this.

Create-a-Soul has vastly improved as everything has been streamlined and made easier to manage. The default list of items to customize a character with seems small, but as you level up in Quick Battle the list will greatly expand giving you even more items than the previous game had. Another interesting new feature allows you to take a customizable snapshot of your character to display on your online license. If you are a creative person, there is a lot here for you to work with.

Online hasn't changed too much aside from the addition of the license that you can edit and display with earned titles. This game is also online region unlocked and there is very little lag and slowdown. Players who utilize an offensive style will no doubt love the online component immediately, while defensive players may want to change characters and learn either a speed/evasion or long-range keep away game instead.

No need to cover controls as most still choose the PS3 version because it has tighter and more responsive controls.

Since the last game character models have been updated while overall presentation has gotten worse. The battle stages are once again bland and stagnant, but this is something that hasn't really improved since Soulcalibur III. Selecting a character has degraded to only showing the character artwork and the picture taken on your online license rather than the in-game models. Remember the epic Soulcalibur II or III character select screens? I certainly do, and it's almost tragic to see how far things have fallen.

As with most tracks in the last game, the soundtrack in this game is really nothing special at all. In some instances like the menu selection music and the Create-a-Soul music it can become so tedious that you'll want to (and can) turn off the BGM. At the very least the game does allow you to select whatever music you want for each stage. In no way shape or form though is the soundtrack anything like Soulcalibur II or III was, and like in the last game Namco is offering expensive downloadable content "music packs" from past Soul games to replace the current in-game audio. Makes me wonder if the last two soundtracks have been composed this way on purpose in order to promote purchasing of the music packs. We may never know.

English and Japanese voice-overs are available for the game, like with other Soul titles. Both dubs are tolerable, so select the one you prefer and go with it. Be nice if Namco would include this option in other games as well.

Those who purchase the Collector's Edition are in for a surprise, as the grandest irony of all awaits you. The outer case is shaped like a book. Imagine that, a book with no in-game story. Inside on the left casing is a Making of Soulcalibur V disc while on the hollow right side is a voucher for the downloadable White/Black Create-a-Soul Armor sets, a hard-bound art book with soundtrack, and the usual game case with game inside. You would be much better off buying the standard game and an official separate art book as the art book is the only valuable item in the set. Soulcalibur IV CE was a lot better than this one.

Before this game the Soul series had a much larger emphasis on weapons and equipment over things like projectiles, super attacks, and/or straight up martial arts. It no longer has that identity, and now plays like many other fighting games. Most like me will now have to learn and adapt to a Street Fighter-like style in order to succeed, essentially starting from scratch with our playing styles. The Soul franchise has been seriously wounded, but the soul can still burn in the next game.

Reviewer's Rating:   3.0 - Fair

Originally Posted: 02/07/12

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

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