The SoulCalibur franchise has seen a rocky road since it’s arguable peak in SoulCalibur II several years ago. Odd guest characters, inconsistent features being added and removed, fighting mechanics fluctuating, and much more. It’s not hard to see why fans and newcomers of the series are cautious of a new entry in the series. Enter SoulCalibur V, a game that doesn’t make many promises, and therefore doesn’t theoretically disappoint anyone. Does that mean we don’t have much to look forward to?
SoulCalibur is known for being the fighting game that’s a bit more easily accessible than other fighters. It doesn’t have the speed or combo complexity of the Capcom fighting games, it doesn’t have the insane difficulty of the Mortal Kombat franchise, and SoulCalibur chooses to take a focus on weapon-based fighting as opposed to the hand-to-hand combat of other fighters.
FULL DISCLOSURE: While I consider myself to be a professional when it comes to video games in general, I do not, and never have, claimed to be an expert at fighting games. What I mean by that is, while I’ve been playing fighting games all my life, own several dozen, have played the highs and lows of the genre, I do not usually focus on the same things that the kind of gamer who pays attention to the tournament scene or frequents the Shoryuken community would. This review is meant to be aimed at the masses – gamers that play a broad variety of games. Because, chances are, if you’re one of the professional fighting game afficionados I’ve mentioned, you’ve already made up your mind about this game anyway, and my review is, thus, useless. Now, on with the review.
The thing that stuck me the most leading up to the game’s release was its increased focus on an actual story in the single player mode. Trailers were released for the game showing off actual cutscenes, which is an oddity for the franchise. Past releases usually relied more on intricate back stories and books of lore in order to actually get a story across. Unfortunately, the story mode doesn’t live up to any expectations you might have built up for it. The cutscenes that are shown off in those trailers only show about once per character used.
The rest of the story mode is filled with awkward yet beautiful drawn still images accompanied by voice overs. Combine this with the fact the story mode only clocks in at about two hours and only focuses on two or three characters, and it makes the entire mode feel unpolished and lazy. While this won’t be too tragic for most gamers, since fighting games are typically multiplayer focused, it is still unfortunate for those of us who might feel spoiled by Mortal Kombat‘s most recent story mode.
Aside from the story mode, the only other single player modes are the traditional arcade ladders (both normal and Legendary Souls, which is significantly harder,) and a quick battle mode, allowing the player to fight single matches against literally hundreds of pre-made fighters sporting the best and weirdest combinations of gear you’ll find in the Creation mode. Defeating these computer-controlled fighters earn the player the title of the opponent they just defeated. They become much harder as your player rank increases.
Of course, you aren’t fighting for nothing. Defeating certain characters in single player unlocks them for use and, each fight, win or lose, goes towards stats on your player license and experience on your player level. Gaining levels will also allow you to unlock new characters, stages, gear in the Creation mode. We also can’t forget the aforementioned titles, of which there are upwards of 400 total.
Creation mode itself is a time sink. Throughout my time with the game, I’ve probably dumped more time into the Creation modes than any other mode total. The amount of options and gear combinations you can give your own custom character is absolutely ridiculous. Want to make your favorite character from a movie or other video game? Want to make your favorite celebrity? Want to challenge yourself to make as crazy a character as possible? Want to make your favorite character from a past SoulCalibur game that didn’t make the cut? With enough time and patience, you probably can.
Thankfully, the confusing RPG elements which made their way into the Creation mode in SoulCalibur IV have been removed, so Creation is entirely about looks and choosing a fighting style. That happens to be a good thing, considering that half the roster has been cut from previous games. Much of the roster in the game is filled with fresh, young talent with even more irrelevant backstories. Never fear, however because, if you had a favorite fighting style previously, it’s still probably in the game, but with a much different character. If you loved playing as Taki, Natsu is pretty much the same thing. Kilik players will now have to use Xiba. True, some styles are missing completely, such as Talim’s tonfas and Zasalamel’s scythe, but I expect these will make their way later on as DLC somehow.
Very little changes have been made to the combat. There’s still a balance with the characters between speed and power, however there are now new ultra-combo-esque moves called Critical Edge moves. These use the power stored in the Soul Gauge to perform a hard hitting, cinematic attack. It varies between fighters, but has the same controls, which consists of two quarter circles towards your enemy and pulling the right trigger/R2.
What makes up the bulk of SoulCalibur V‘s improvements lies in its online system. The community features have been revamped entirely to have more of an emphasis on ease of use. Players can now jump into chat rooms and community servers based on location or play style. From here, you can talk to other players, join up with running tournaments, or step into the “looking for a match” room.
The majority of the community consists of players spamming Ezio’s crossbow attacks, button mashers and tons of half-finished created fighters with the occasional really good match. I, of course, cannot fault the game for that. I just wanted to warn everyone.
I’m very pleased to see that the actual online fighting runs very smoothly, with no noticeable lag in any of the about 35 matches I played online. Anyone who has played a fighting game before knows it’s absolutely crucial to have a seamless experience, and Namco has nailed it in terms of stability.
If it seems like I don’t have a lot to say about the game, it’s because I really don’t. In the last thousand or so words, I’ve covered every aspect of the game. This is SoulCalibur V‘s biggest flaw, an overall lack of modes and content. After only two or three days of playing the game, I’ve finished nearly everything the game has to offer, short of unlocking all of the hundreds of titles. I suppose there’s significantly more replay value if you’re a big multiplayer person. However, with heavyweights like Street Fighter X Tekken around the corner, I question whether or not Namco should have put more of an effort into creating a game that people will stick with for a while, especially considering the mixed reception SoulCalibur IV got.
The game as a whole just feels unfinished. SoulCalibur always was one of my top contenders for my favorite fighting game and, to see it fall so far and so little effort being put into it just depresses me. What little the game does offer it does very well, though I can’t help but wonder why such great past modes like Chronicles of the Sword or Weapon Master mode or even Tower of Lost Souls were omitted. Instead, we get the lackluster and generic feeling story mode.
Regardless of what I wish the game had, SoulCalibur V is still the best looking fighting game on the market, and there’s a ton of fun to be had as long as you can find some people to play with, be it online or on your couch. Completionists will be playing for months trying to unlock every little thing the game offers.
It’s tough to recommend this game at the full $60. However, the game is certainly worth looking into if you can snag it for a more appropriate price for the content offered. I just wish the game has enough to warrant playing a tale of souls and swords for months, rather than relying on a craving to return after several months instead.
This review is based on the Xbox 360 version of the game.
SoulCalibur V is an incredibly well built fighting game, but offers little of actual substance.