Well fans, sometimes you have to be careful what you wish for. Soulcalibur V is the sixth (yes that’s correct) game in Namco’s Soul series. It’s a 3D weapon based fighting game that began with Soul Edge in 1996 which was released in the arcades and ported to the Playstation. Every other game since has been released under the title of Soulcalibur. This review is based on the Playstation 3 version, though Soul V is also on the Xbox 360.
Like most fighting games, battles consist of two combatants facing each other and the aim is to attack your opponent until their health metre empties, thus a Knock-Out (KO). It’s also possible to win a round by knocking the opponent out of the arena, known as a Ring-Out. The characters are mainly differentiated by their different weapons such as the standard sword and shield setup, ninja blades, a Zweihander (large two-handed sword), nunchuks and an axe. The character play styles are designed with their weapons in mind so you can’t swap the ninja’s blades with the Zweihander. The controls are relatively simple, with a different button for horizontal attacks, vertical attacks, kicks, as well as guarding. Using a combination of these buttons, along with the control stick, allows for combos, throws and special moves. Newly introduced to Soul V is the “Critical Edge” system. Its main use allows fighters to fill up a metre which enables the execution of a “super move”. Like most fighters, it can take quite a while to learn the complicated commands for just one fighter, let alone the 28 characters available in the game. Of course, just like most fighters, if you’re new to the game, just button-mash away.
I haven’t played a Soul game since the outstanding Soul Calibur II on the GameCube. Ok, I’ll admit the main reason I bought it is because it featured Link from The Legend of Zelda series in it as a guest character. Oh, and yes I used him during the majority of my time playing the game. Despite this, I was more than happy to play a future instalment despite knowing that Link wouldn’t be in them. Soul Calibur III eventually came out, not on the GameCube however, so that plan failed. With Soulcalibur V on the release cycle this year, I decided it was a perfect time to pick up what I assumed would be the most updated entry in this series.
If you’re still reading this, you’re probably what I meant by the first sentence of this review. What I mean is what the Soul fans have received with Soulcalibur V is a step backwards for the series. With Soul Calibur IV rumoured to be the last in the series, it was said that another game would be possible if the fans wanted it. Sure enough the Facebook petition was a success. One of the main developers was even taking feedback and suggestions from his Twitter account. My question is did the fans ask for a barebones selection of modes, removal of several favourite characters and the worst story mode I have ever encountered in a game ever? What I fondly remember about Soul II was playing through the arcade mode and getting the story endings for each character, who all had fairly detailed back stories. I also remember spending a long time in the Weapons Master Mode, a story mode told through a lot of reading, but still a story mode nonetheless. Its main perks were different conditions in each battle, such as losing health slowly during the battle or fighting a team of enemies in one round. The multiplayer mode was great, but even the single player modes kept me entertained for hours.
The basic story of the whole series is over a pair of swords. The evil Soul Edge, and the good Soul Calibur. Each character has been affected by one or both the swords at some point in some way and some of them wish to find one or both of the swords for whatever purpose. Soul V takes place 17 years after Soul IV. Why? I don’t really know, but because of this, many of the characters have been removed and replaced by new ones with the exact same fighting style. Taki the ninja, who was one of the most iconic Soul characters, has been replaced by her protégé Natsu. Then there’s Xiba, the annoying one. He’s obsessed with food and is nowhere near as cool as Kilik. Some characters, such as Talim and Seong Mi-na don’t appear at all and have no replacements. Without good reason, some of the classic characters such as Ivy are still here and haven’t aged. Ezio from the Assassin’s Creed series is featured as a guest character and he’s a perfect fit for Soulcalibur.
The story mode focuses on new character Patroklos – by new I mean he’s just Sophitia’s son and has her moveset. The other important character is Patroklos’s long lost sister, Pyrrha. Sophitia has died by this point, cheers Namco for killing off popular series veterans. The story mode is really, really REALLY terrible in every way imaginable. It’s so short for a start – you can beat it in one playthrough, but considering how bad it is I’m not sure if that’s a criticism. It’s also really hard to make sense of what’s going on. I think Patroklos’s quest started because he wanted to find his long lost sister. Then I think it shifts to a quest to cure her of “malfestation”, a curse burdening those who come into contact with Soul Edge. There are about 20 stages, over half of them you play as Patroklos. He does acquire a new weapon that changes his playstyle completely, in other words just replacing another previous character’s play style. Then I think it’s 5 times you play Pyrrha and 3 times you play Z.W.E.I. Who’s Z.W.E.I.? He’s a new character I know that much but the game doesn’t really give him a back-story at all. Some other characters old and new appear during the story mode but the majority don’t show up at all. Pyrrha is the most annoying Soulcalibur character ever. Her voice acting, along with all the other characters, is painful to listen to, which is only made worse by the woeful voice dialogue.
I know why the game feels so incomplete. Apparently the developers were only given a year to work on the game. The director admitted that the final story mode is only one fourth of what was planned. This mode starts off easy, but the difficulty spikes up considerably at the end and that last fight took forever. I was not impressed, especially because the game encourages you to play the story mode to learn the mechanics of the game. Speaking of learning the mechanics, I went into training mode to try and figure out the new “Critical Edge” mechanics, but the game doesn’t explain things properly and I didn’t work it out until after I beat the story mode and Googled a few times. Oh and you how know most fighting game rounds start off with the characters saying a line of dialogue to each other? I noticed that some of the characters in the basic modes say specific lines to specific characters. For example, new character Natsu acknowledges veteran Maxi, but you’ll have no idea why considering Maxi doesn’t even show up in the story mode. Of course it’s not as bad as the dialogue in the story mode, with the absolutely horrendous writing and frequent use of the word “malfested”. There aren’t even character profiles, another feature that was in Soul II.
Of course the horrible story mode and character roster aren’t the only things disappointing with this game. There aren’t many modes and there is a lack of variety within the modes. Arcade mode has no story endings for the characters like the previous games in the series, so it can’t even fill the gap left by the lacklustre story. There is a quick battle mode where you battle random characters just to earn ranks for your online profile. There’s no battle conditions, like in Soul II’s Weapon Master Mode, so all these matches can be recreated by turning CPUs on in Vs. Mode. Even Soul II’s multiplayer has more depth than Soul V’s, what happened to Team Battle? A mode that you unlock later on is the Legendary Souls where you just fight really hard CPUs. I don’t know if this gets you anything cool because I couldn’t beat the second level.
There is a character creation mode. All the characters you make are based on other characters play styles. You can either start from scratch (choose play style, gender and then adjust the body, voice, clothes etc.), or adjust an existing character. Your created character can be used in all modes excluding the story mode. When you go online you can see the variety of characters others have created, which is very cool. It’s very possible for one to create all the characters that are missing in this instalment. Creating characters, especially freaks, is fun, but loses its novelty quite quickly.
The online mode is a mixed bag. Maybe it’s because I live in Australia, but I usually found it difficult to find opponents close to battle with. The most opponents I found in the Australian rooms were two. The American and Japanese ones would have over 50, so I would go there to find battles, often with a less than ideal connection speed. The game recorded 4 hours I spent online, but a lot of that was attempting to get a game going.
This review has been mostly negative, but Soul V is not a bad game. The battle system is very deep and rewarding if you invest time in it. The online play and the “create a character” modes are solid. What this sequel has successfully done is refine the combat system, expand on the “create a character” mode and the online play. While it does add new characters, it takes out some favourites in favour of some lame replacements. The selection of modes is a step backward, especially for a single player experience. I could go back and play Soulcalibur II and I probably would enjoy it more than this game. If you’re a Soul fan, I think you’ll be disappointed, and if you’ve never played Soulcalibur, I would recommend trying out Soulcalibur IV, which would be very cheap by now. Admittedly I haven’t played Soul IV but I’ve heard good things about it. In fact, I would recommend Soulcalibur II over Soul V. It’s disappointing to for me to say that the short development time prevented Soulcalibur V from living up to its full potential. You’ll have some fun with it, but there’s not enough quality content to keep gamers interested in the long term.