Namco's Soul franchise has developed quite a history for itself since its 1996 debut with SoulEdge. It has been an underrated PlayStation title (Soul Blade), a smash hit on the Dreamcast launch (SoulCalibur), a highly-divisive multiplatform release (SoulCalibur II), and much more. Throughout its run thus far, it has made honest efforts at allowing players to create their own fighting game characters effectively, guest-starred a range of characters from Link to KOS-MOS to Darth Vader for broader appeal, and played with single-player modes in ways no other fighting series does.
Now, with a new producer at the helm in the form of long-time Namco staffer Daishi Odashima, SoulCalibur V is here to herald in a whole new tale of souls and swords…but how does it hold up to its predecessors?
What's It About?
SoulCalibur V is the latest in Namco's long running weapons-based 3D fighting franchise. This installment is adopting many elements from other successful fighting games like Street Fighter IV. There is a new Soul Gauge which allows you to perform two types of power attacks. There is the Brave Edge which are similar to Street Fighter IV's EX moves and consume part of the meter when executed. Critical Edges act like SoulCalibur's answer to Street Fighter's Ultra Combos. These attacks drain one complete stock of your character's Soul Gauge when used but will do significant amounts of damage if they land.
Along with these new mechanics, SoulCalibur V borrows a page out of Sega's Virtua Fighter playbook by leaning more towards an execution and precision based system, as opposed to its purely-tactical history. To go along with that, each character on the roster now has an “Ease of Use” value associated with them. This means that now, some characters have movesets that rely heavily on precision timing to execute while others have far easier inputs to master. On the up-side new players will be able to find a character they can gel with easily enough, while series veterans may want to pick up one of the more challenging yet more powerful characters. The down-side to all this is that now you'll have to suffer through the “You only won because you're using an 'Easy' character!” tirade.
Another significant change to the gameplay was made to Guard Impacts. In previous games Guard Impacts were done by pressing the Guard button in combination with either forward or back and would repel or parry an attack. This time around the input is away plus all three attack buttons. Guard impacts repel High, Mid, and Low attacks, and drain part of your Soul Gauge when executed. However, they don't allow you to Parry anymore.
Why Should I Care?
With all of these changes, SoulCalibur V is trying to go in a different direction than it has in the past. They are looking to become a more competitive fighting game, with more of an emphasis on skill and technique. For the most part, they have succeeded, but one of the side effects is that the game is now more focused on offense as opposed to having a more equal balance of offense and defense. It is possible that an aggressive player can quickly overwhelm a less aggressive player. You can end up on the receiving end of a barrage of attacks with a depleted Soul Gauge and not much you can do other than try to move out of the way. This is not the kind of game that is kind to turtlers, in any way. In a way it forces you to act and do something.
With all this talk of mechanics and balance, it's also important to bring up one other point about SoulCalibur V: It's a lot of fun! The mechanics all blend together into something that somehow feels like more than its component parts. While the shift to a more aggressive gameplay style may be a bit jarring at first, it is by no means a deal breaker.
Why Is It Worth My Time & Money?
SoulCalibur V offers up a brilliantly complete package of features and modes for you to play through. There is a simple story mode which focuses on Patroklos and Pyrrha, two of the main protagonists in this installment. There’s not much to this mode, just a series of battles bookended by cutscenes, but you’ll probably want to go through it anyway since a good portion of the game’s unlockable content comes from this mode.
As in previous SoulCalibur games, you have the ability to create your own characters. This mode has been both pared down and expanded in SoulCalibur V. The amount of parts available to customize your character has been pared down somewhat since SoulCalibur IV, and special items no longer have any effect on statistics. You can now apply patterns and stickers to most parts of your character, effectively giving you near limitless combinations of customizable parts. You can’t customize your character’s fighting style though. All you can do is pick an existing style and a weapon to use.
Finally, there is the game’s very robust suite of online modes. The typical Ranked and Player Match modes are present and accounted for. Player Match sessions can host up to six players per room. There are also global lobbies where you can look for random matches in your area, or join a tournament in progress. Of these modes, the global lobbies definitely feel the least used, but it’s nice that they’re there. Rounding out the online features is a Replay feature. The game automatically saves your last few games and allows you to upload them to your profile so anyone viewing it can watch. Of course, if the game’s networking code isn’t any good, all of these features would be pointless. Thankfully SoulCalibur V plays remarkably well. A three bar connection or higher is very playable. Seeing as you can search for games based on connection status, you should always be able to find a smooth game to play.
SoulCalibur V is a great game, and a worthy entry into the series. It may play differently from previous versions, but that’s progress for you. There may be a few rough edges to smooth out, but this new direction for the series could be just what was needed to keep the series from stagnating.