SoulCalibur V: The Kotaku Review

Soul Calibur V, like almost all fighting games nowadays, finds itself having to serve multiple purposes for a broad and fragmented user base. Fighting games demand investment if you're actually trying to excel at them. You've got to pick a character that speaks to you and then master enough moves to be competent and diverse. Nobody's just showing up to get beat down, after all, and winning ugly is worse than losing.

The different types of people who flock to a fighting game all want the same thing -- fun face-offs in throwdown tournaments -- but won't necessarily put the same level of commitment. There are the casual players who've dabbled over the years, laughing off best-of-five-matches with friends and relying on a few moves to get them through. On the other end of the spectrum are the hardcore competitors, EVO tournament mainstays or hopefuls who parse every frame of animation for the exploits and upper-hands that pop up in each new chapter of a fighting game franchise. And then, you've got the lump of folks in the middle, moving from one pole to another, going from laid-back to serious or lapsing in the other direction.

Dev studio Project Soul won fans by making the Soul Calibur games satisfying for all those different strata. As the Tekken series has stumbled for its last few outings, SoulCalibur's gone from being Namco's B-list fighting franchise to being the standard bearer for the Pac-Man publisher in the brawling department.

WHY: Because the core fighting remains as sharp as ever and gets tweaked with interesting changes. Also: you can fight a furry, or be a furry.

SOUL CALIBUR V

Developer: Project Soul Platforms: PlayStation 3 (Version played) / Xbox 360 Released: January 31 (US); February 3 (Japan and EU)

Type of game: Weapon-centred fighting game with light RPG elements.

What I played: Cleared the Story Mode on Normal difficulty in about 8 hours, played about 20 hours in various offline modes. Played in pre-launch online matches on sparsely populated servers.

Two Things I Loved

  • The gameplay in SoulCalibur still demands a combination of discipline, wits and reflexes. Timing, a diverse move set and learning to read your opponent remain the keys to victory. Take your hopes of button-mashing somewhere else.
  • The game looks gorgeous, filled with spectators in animated backgrounds that sparkle with heavenly illumination or get choked by smoke in the heat of battle.

Two Things I Hated

  • Loads of loading. Big and beautiful is great in a game like SCV but it's still a major buzz-kill to wait for data to be accessed. Let me fight already, geez.
  • No custom controller function. If you liked switching up the control scheme for your play style, you're going to be disappointed. You're stuck with a few templates and no ability to change the mapping. Boo on you, Project Soul.

Made-to-Order Back-of-Box Quotes

  • "Darth Who?! My soul burns for Ezio, baby." -Evan Narcisse, Kotaku
  • "Finally I can be the purple-Afroed sorcerer warrior I've always wanted to be!" -Evan Narcisse, Kotaku

SoulCalibur V's still all about the renaissance-fair melodrama of the medieval warriors fighting to wield two magical swords, but this entry introduces new characters and a Story Mode that centres on the new brother-and-sister pair of Patroklos and Pyrrha. The offspring of Greek swordmaiden Sophitia, the siblings go through a stereotypically dark saga to get their hands on the mystical weapons. If you're showing up for plot, be warned that the one in SCV is as dull as a butter knife. Even if you concede that story's just not as mechanically important in fighting games and that the genre can get away less sophistication, SCV's Story Mode still fails to jump over the lowest of bars. Part of what makes its rehash of the Soul Calibur-vs-Soul Edge plot flounder is that you're cycling through some truly unlikeable main characters, and the new ones that you're forced to play as don't really hook you.

However, SoulCalibur V sports the same razor-sharp responsiveness delivered by the previous entries in the franchises, making you really feel like you're in control of a lethal martial-arts master. The move lists retain all their prickly depth and new tweaks to the combat system make powerful moves more accessible. Critical Edge attacks are easier to pull off than in SCIV, where doing one was like spotting a unicorn under a rainbow. But these super moves aren't one-way tickets to victory either; you'll still have a chunk of life to hang onto if you get nailed by one. The Critical Edges work more like super moves in Street Fighter or the new X-Ray attacks in Mortal Kombat, where you need to figure out when best to deploy them.

Going mano-a-mano in SCV bathes the player in an exquisite moment-to-moment tension. You can lose a round in 10 seconds but it'll still feel like an eternity with its unique roiling highs and low. A successful last-minute low block, lowering your guard to approach or retreat, a missed unblockable or a desperate throw lunge... these split-second tactic change everything in an eye-blink. Time slows down when you're playing SoulCalibur V as you and the guy trying to kick you out of the ring dance a deadly, improvised choreography. And that last round's won, you only want more. It's instant rivalry; just add water.

That said, the appearance of Ezio feels perfectly in sync with the ethos of SoulCalibur. This isn't a cheesy crossover like the Star Wars characters showing up in Soul Calibur IV. Ezio feels like an organic part of the cast -- not an overpowered intruder like Darth Vader, Starkiller or Yoda were in SCIV -- and plays wonderfully. The flair that the Italian assassin has shown in combat in his own series gets replicated here and long-range weapons like his crossbow and pistol give him advantages that will probably make him loved -- or hated -- by the Calibur faithful.

If the Ubisoft guest star shines, then the minor league substitutes stink. Project Soul's most baffling decision might have been the replacement of established characters Talim, Taki and Kilik with younger stand-ins who share the same move-set. They're clearly designed to appeal to a younger audience, but all come across as squeakily annoying junior versions of the originals.

Of course, you can roll you own bespoke fighter in SCV's character creation suite. The ridiculous depth of the avatar customisation gets best displayed when you're in the Quick Match mode -- where you fight randomly-selected create-a-characters. I fought a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle lookalike that fought me with giant turkey legs, an overweight clown-goth warrior and a ninja geisha hybrid. You can also customise the art on the character card seen online, too. The RPG elements from Soul Calibur IV have been toned down a bit but you're still accruing player points and character gear as you play.

It's too early to say what the online experience will be for SCV but the online matches I fought in showed only a little bit of stutter. Project Soul's added a slew of filters and elements to make finding online opponents easier, the highlight of these being the Global Colosseo where you can find SCV players in regions all over the world. NOTE: This review will be updated in a week with my assessment of the game's online play.

Whether you're an acolyte for whom the soul never stopped burning or someone whose embers glow weakly, Soul Calibur V will satisfy your need to slash, pummel and kick. Pulling in a superstar character from another franchise enriches the offering rather than debasing it and the goofily addictive character creation serves as a driver to continued gameplay. Project Soul's given people loads of reasons pick up their latest effort and even more reasons to stick around. Soul Calibur V's a beautiful weapon, go sharpen your skills and find someone to cut.

UPDATE: With the hue and cry surrounding the glitchiness of online play in SoulCalibur IV, the massive changes in SCV's online layer come as a mostly welcome overhaul. Split up into three flavours -- Ranked Match, Player Match, Global -- the multiplayer in SCV is much more stable than that of its predecessor. Dropped connections and lag were much more infrequent but matchmaking still comes with frustratingly long waits. Ranked Matches and Player Matches are certainly more hard to come by.

You can host a room, of course, where six players take turns watching or fighting each other. But if you just want to jump online and bang out a few matches, it's best head to the more user-friendly lobby in the Global Colosseo. Inside the Colosseo, there are lobbies -- which offer text chat -- for territories and countries and regions inside those countries. Tournaments happen inside these spaces as well as random matches. Other online features include the ability to tag other users as rivals and follow their stats and activity, along with replays that you can archive for later viewing.

While the overall offering is greatly improved, it continues to make me long for the day when online fighting games will have netcode that's as well-structured as, say, what serves the even the most average FPS multiplayer. The inconsistency of SoulCalibur V's online experience isn't enough to make me wave people off the game, but the ideal way to engage in competition is still in the same room with somebody.

WATCH MORE: Playstation News


Comments

    This game's release snuck on me in a big way. I won't likely be able to pick it up for several months, though it will be mine, no doubt.

    Is Maxi still around?

      *Googled* Maxi is back and "hasn't aged in 17 years"... the more things change the more they stay the same, it seems.

        Elvis never ages.

        This game is such a mixed bag. for everything it got stunningly right, it got other things stunningly wrong. The single player experience is worse than a joke and feels more akin to pissing on SC2's grave. Gone are the individual adventure, quests to unlock various sword types and clothing sets for characters. Apparently that will all be reserved for DLC now, so who needs it?

        The one storyline there is is both horrific in it's level of badness, as well as feeling like they meant to animate the whole thing then said 'nuts to this let's just fight' and made due with storyboards. Or maybe the animators all quit in protest at having to animate the horrific dren coming from the writing 'team', who I assume are monkeys without typewriters.

        Online play looks like it will shine, but again, I can't say it will ever 'pay for xbox gold' shine. I feel ok paying to access TOR or WoW, but with xbox live, I feel like i am paying to unlock a piece of my computer's hardware. Pony up, or no network for you! A shame, my only 'prey' here are my kids, and they are rapidly learning how to play, with the cunning and reflexes I had when the first Soul game came out. In short, I need easier prey. ;)

        The other side of the coin, of course, is the fighting. It is lovely, it is visceral, and it flows very well. It is still all too possible to button mash your way to victory, a concept that irritates me to no end when my daughter uses one move through a whole match and wins, but at the same time I appreciate whenever someone who hasn't spent a decade learning huge movesets picks up a controller and feels like they are still in with a chance.

        I missed 4, so this was a jump from the PS2 version of Soul Calibur 3, to 5. The combat feels pretty identicle. We moved smoothly from the old system where we tested the waters to see if the kids could even begin to keep up, to the pretty xbox we never use because games cost a king's ransom. We had to tweak a few controller settings to match the old one, but other than that characters we liked that made the cut played much the same, and the ones who got cut had replacements, albeit really annoyingly perky ones.

        Guest characters are a long tradition in SC, I think all but Soul Edge had one (Or is that where Yoshimitsu made his leap from that other game?) Some have been good, some less so. Ezio has the strong advantage of his actual storyline being in the right time and place that it fits in quite well, and he plays like he's been around forever. A definate keeper if they can, unlike the Jedi from 4 who were cheesy, anachronistic, and probably cost as much as all the other characters combined just to have.

        It is not a perfect game. I am glad I had some dumb kids games to give JB to knock a twenty off the price, so I don't feel it was a bad investment, but it comes damned close. The character creaton is a dream, but the missing storyline modes and unlocs are just terrible, and the jettisoning of one of the parts of the game that made it unique from Marvel Vs Tekken vs Capcm vs SVirtua Street Fighter. Becoming less stand outish from them is a bad plan, IMHO.

    Looking forward to this. I've always been a huge fan of the Soul games, but I haven't bought any of them since SC2 because things haven't really been different enough for me to bother.

    Since I no longer have my PS2 around, it's time to go HD.

    I still like Blade/Edge the most, though.

    Awww man, both Kilik and Taki gone, two of my favourites and replaced with angsty teen versions, *shakes fist*

      In fact, if you've got favourite characters I strongly urge you to check out a character roster for this game before getting it, because several characters have been dumped. Some replaced with new ones that have the same or similar style, but several completely removed from the game entirely with no replacement character (eg Seung Mina, Talim, Yun Sung).

        Is SCV expected to have DLC?

        Maybe they're holding them ransom, so you have to pay to get them back.

          I consider this to be extremely likely.
          "Hey I have a great idea for extra cash. Lets rip some of the most used and loved characters out of the initial roster, replace them with some pale imitations, then we can sell the original characters back!"
          "Yeah and while we are at it, let's replace some of the ones we don't entirely remove with younger versions with the same skill sets, coz you know kids these days will only want to play with younger versions of the characters. My research shows that kids today just don't want to play as characters that are about 30 years old. They must be 15-19."
          "Rock on, here's a bonus guys for such great ideas!"

          Imagine SF without Ken/Ryu?
          Or Mortal Kombat without Scorpion or Raiden?
          Ugh what are they thinking...
          guess i'll be sticking to SC2 on gamecube i'm afraid

            "Imagine SF without Ken/Ryu?"
            Apparently SF3 was not meant to include Ken or Ryu (or any other character for SF2).
            But I guess they wised up

    So....xbox or PS?

      Usually soul calibur versions (and other fighting games) has come down to what controller you like best. With a slight bit of 'favourite exclusive character'.

      However, with the inclusion of online vs, it'd be best to consider which online service you like best.

    No Hwang makes me a sad panda

    The biggest issue comes for those who previously bought these games for single player... A 4-6 hour story where you only get to control 3 characters, all new ones, and then... that's it. So if you have say, i don't know, BEEN WAITING 3 YEARS to play as Mitsurugi for a few hours then you had better like the six stage arcade mode. Why no challenge tower or similar? Why no real unlockables? It ends up feeling rushed, though obviously it wasn't. You will be done in two days. IV took months.

      Wow, I didn't realise how angry that sounds... The central mechanics are as good as ever but the content is so thin. It makes the changing of the characters seem even more pointless when the story is so ineffectual. Some characters haven't aged, where as some classics have been dumped and replaced with teenagers who can't even pronounce the names of the "sacred treasures" the presumably have earned the right to... Ohh, getting angry again. Will stop now.

        I am in the same boat. I'm so disappointed with so many things in SCV. They don't even have individual character endings for arcade mode. No character backgrounds viewable within the game either. So many features that have been standard in SC have disappeared...

        Yes, the core mechanics are largely the same, but unless you plan on playing with friends/online alot, there doesn't seem to be much content.

        And there doesn't seem to be any penalty for disconnecting. So in the ONE ranked match I was able to find, the guy quit out when I was one hit away from victory. Lame.

    No Talim, no sale.

    I still don't know wether the boobs are game-turning-off yet either.

      Same thing I've been saying for months. Unfortunately

    Went into the Oceania room and they were all empty, went into US and mostly empty except NY. Joined that, played someone, got disconnected in 5th round, was accused of rage quitting and left after I couldn't find another game that didn't just disconnect me.
    Still not all that keen on MP with randoms.

      Same here! Why are there no Aussies?

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