Itching to play a new fighting game? Kotaku reader Tristan Damen has taken Soul Calibur V for a spin. Does a fifth iteration do the game some good? Or should the developers have left it at number IV?
Soul Calibur V
It was a bright Saturday afternoon when I'd first realised that I didn't like the direction that the Soul Calibur series had taken. I'd just finished an hour long session against a skilled opponent who'd bested me five times straight with Edge Master's feminine duplicate, Elysium. Cycling through a series of move sets - both old and new- and coupled with a near-unblockable Critical Edge attack, I had found my match for the day. I persisted, however: another five fights until a breakthrough - and not to mention, painfully-close - fifth round win. In spite of this achievement, I felt nothing but apathy for a series that I'd loved since my final years of High School.
What was to blame? Was it just that my skills had failed to evolve across six iterations (remember Soul Edge/Soul Blade kids)? Had I come to rely too much on new features aimed at newcomers? Was it the lack of compelling single player content?
It was a combination of all of the above, plus a few other minor annoyances that I had encountered throughout my twenty-something hours with Project Soul's latest weapon-based fighter. The overriding feeling I got was that what was added wasn't substantial enough to mask the features that were watered-down or taken away.
A fighting game with a story?
As with Tekken 6, the first thing that your gaze will be thrust toward is the new Story mode. Set in 1607 A.D (seventeen years since the last instalment), players will control a handful of characters in a (roughly) four hour quest to destroy the cursed sword Soul Edge. You'll spend most of your time with protagonist, Patroklos (and his Alpha variant), but you'll also get some time with his whiny sister and the mysterious Z.W.E.I. Fights are tied together with hand-drawn stills overdubbed with melodramatic voice acting. All comments about the predictable, woefully-told story aside, it's odd that the developers opted to use a central character that is so difficult to use (this observation is true for his variant as well). Patroklos' attacks don't seem to flow like that of series veterans like Cervantes or Mitsurugi, so the later chapters are actually quite difficult
Apart from the aforementioned Story mode, there's very little else to keep solo players engaged for a sustained period of time. To their credit, Project Soul has implemented some practical elements to the genre staple Training mode; with the ability to enable prompts that offer advice as to when you should use specific attacks as well as the more common move lists. Quick Battle is very similar to Ghost Battle from the more recent Tekken games, with the exception that you can earn titles for the new License system (more on that later). Arcade mode follows the standard time attack formula and has no hints of story for those intrigued by the rest of the game's cast. Finally, there's Legendary Souls mode which will be a welcome addition for the more skilled players amongst you, as it sets the CPU difficulty to near unbeatable levels (read: be prepared to face off against perpetual combo machines). After about eight hours, you'll have seen all that Soul Calibur V can offer you without engaging in online competition.
It may not be apparent at first, but new mechanics inspired by (or derived from) Capcom's recent revival of the fighting game genre have significant implications for the Soul Calibur formula as we know it. First, there are Critical Edge moves that act as your Ultra Combos (for those experienced with Street Fighter IV and its subsequent releases). Performing a double quarter circle motion in concert with pressing all three attack buttons will trigger a flashy, multi-hit attack that can either turn the tide of a match, or at least help you keep up depending on your choice of character. While all of these moves are expertly animated and awesome to behold, some of them are grossly overpowered. Characters like Yoshimitsu, Elysium and Siegfried can take - in some scenarios - more than fifty percent of their opponent's life with a carefully timed Critical Edge manoeuvre; turning what could have been a close contest into a series of one-sided affairs. I liked the concept initially: a last minute gambit that could help newcomers (or those like me with lesser skills) to get back into the match, but it's been poorly implemented across the board with some being neutered by range or lacking comparable power.
Project Soul has also lifted the License system from Marvel Vs Capcom 3 and have implemented it with similar aplomb. You can customise your license with titles that you've unlocked in Quick Battle and icons (pictures of the cast and your custom characters). Your license will also track your stats across single player and online activities and you can compare your accomplishments with any players that you encounter. The developers have also managed to put their own spin on this with the Rival system which allows players to compare vital stats (time played offline/online, best Arcade time, win/loss ratios and more) with up to three registered players. It's a great idea and it managed to ignite my competitive side for a few speedy playthroughs of Arcade at the very least. Soul Calibur V benefits from the blend of old and new book-keeping techniques.
Horses in pink g-strings?
The character creator returns in Soul Calibur V, with the ability to customise the look of your favourite fighters or deliver your own spawn to the dueling grounds. Gone from this instalment is the quasi RPG weapon and ability selection, this time it's all about looks. I've fought everything from provocatively-dressed lingerie models to pixel perfect likenesses of comic book heroes. I've also been tasked with defending myself against some more abhorrent creations, like a horse dressed in a pink g-string, sporting a conical dongle and bright white, spherical testicles. This is what you get when the default placement area for waist accessories is directly over a character's crotch. In any case, Soul Calibur V's creation suite showcases the most creative and deviant elements of a fledgling fighting community.
In terms of presentation, Soul Calibur V features what are easily the most technically-impressive visuals in a fighter on this generation of hardware. Minor clipping issues through clothing aside, the game is achingly beautiful; even when showing duels between the most loathsome of cast members. It must be said that in this iteration more than any other, Project Soul has the camera squarely pointed up the skirts of the feminine cast members and this can be off-putting; particularly when you manage to break some of these characters' armour.
Despite the spirit of negativity that permeates throughout this review, you should know that the 8-Way Run system and weapon-based combat still holds up well after all these years. The new additions may cheapen some contentious battles, but Soul Calibur V is still a competent fighting game. It's just that the game has drifted so far from its point of difference that I yearn for the days of the Dreamcast original. The visuals are just as striking as any of its predecessors, the soundtrack rousing, the cast varied, but Project Soul hastaken too much from the competition and omitted features and characters that endeared the series to me all those years ago. A great game, though merely a solid entry in an otherwise distinguished series.
There are quite a few new faces to the Soul Calibur series: front and centre being Patroklos and Pyrrha, series veteran Sophitia's children. Pyrrha handles similarly to her mother and her Omega variant's move set is nothing short of deadly.
Viola is an interesting addition, being able to place her weapon behind you to juggle and otherwise continue combos.
Z.W.E.I is similar to Patroklos in that he's pretty hard to read, and even harder to use.
Natsu, Leixia and Xiba are ring-ins for Taki, Xianghua and Kilik respectively, and handle somewhat like their predecessors. There are also several returning characters with minor tweaks; but some have stood to benefit more from the passage of time than others.
Ezio Auditore, of Assassin's Creed fame, also makes an appearance, and he's a perfect fit for the series. Dampierre, the bumbling thief from the PSP instalment, Broken Destiny is present as EBGames-exclusive DLC. It's a shame that this lively character is held to retail ransom, but I'm glad that he made it all the same. Puzzlingly, there's now three Edge Masters (read: characters that switch move set in every round) available in this instalment: Edge Master himself, Kilik and Elysium. Edge Master and Kilik inherit everything - including Critical Edge maneuvers - from the characters that they imitate.
It may sound like sour grapes, but there's a distinct lack of balance in this roster and it's also missing some characters that have endeared themselves to the series faithful (Zelasamel and Talim are the most notable omissions). This is made worse when you consider that three characters perform what is essentially the same function.