After hotly anticipating the fifth game in the series and not getting nor playing it when it was released earlier this year, I finally got my hands on SoulCalibur V for the Xbox 360. I rented it from my newly restarted Gamefly account. I’m a big fan of the series and I love following the story and lore as well as the fun and accessible gameplay. True, I have problems with the second and third iterations, namely the second game was a stripped down version of the first and I couldn’t play the third game because of the game erasing bug which wiped my progress FIVE TIMES, but I played Soul Blade for a crazy amount of hours and often praise the original SoulCalibur as the best fighting game of the series and one of the best games of the whole decade. I also really like SoulCalibur IV, mainly for its leveling, various weapons, and customization. I went into playing this game with a cautious mind set. Although I originally thought this could be a great game, the reviews I read about the game made me aware that I would not be getting a game on par with the first SoulCalibur. Still I was optimistic. I mean, I have not played a game in the series I didn’t like. To be fair, I haven’t played the Wii game but Blade, I, II, III, and IV, love ‘em.
I pop the game in and I’m a bit disappointed by the opening cut scene which basically lets me know what happened at the end of SoulCalibur IV. No musical vignette of the characters like in the previous games. However, I did notice that the graphics were quite stunning. That carried over in the gameplay too. Character mouths move in a more believable way and eyes don’t look quite as dead looking. However honestly, I’m not a big fan of the style of the character models, which are chunky looking and tend to have various clothing pieces hover over others instead of lay against it. Furthermore, they are still the same models used in the previous game but with more detail and refinement. Still, backgrounds are beautifully rendered and I like the new announcer used in this game. Also as always, the soundtrack is amazing and fits the bombast of the game and tone. In terms of presentation for most of the game, everything is fine and done well. SoulCalibur V unfortunately gave me a bad first impression.
The first character I picked was Cervantes, my series favorite since Soul Blade. The match loaded up and I didn’t like that the character models in the loading screens from the previous games had been replaced by cards with their picture. Minor complaint, whatever. The match starts and I’m playing, trying to use the new mechanics that I already know are in the game. I get my ass kicked. I try another match (I’m playing Quick Battle mode FYI) and again, I’m completely destroyed. I notice that he feels different. So I go into the Training mode and take a look at Cervantes’ move list and try some things out. Not only is he slower than he used to be but his move list is smaller than it used to be. So already I’m annoyed that I’m going to have to essentially relearn how to control one of my favorite characters. I go back into Quick Battle mode and decide to try another character I like, Raphael. I win several matches this time but Raphael feels strange too. I go into training mode with Raphael and realize he’s missing moves too. I’m noticing a pattern.
I then try out Arcade mode and I’m surprised when there’s no ending movie when I finish. I’m also surprised that its only six matches and is more of a Time Attack mode than an Arcade mode. I also noticed previously that Quick Battle mode is basically the online mode offline and that under the offline modes there are only five modes. Whatever happened to Survival and Team Battle modes? I decide to stop for the night after completing Arcade mode.
The next day, I load up the game again and go into Story mode. Remember when I said the presentation was done well for most of the game? This is where it isn’t. Except for a few instances, the entire story is told through voiceovers done over storyboard art that wasn’t even bothered to be colored in. Furthermore, the story only tells the story of newcomers Patroklos and Pyrra, children of series mainstay Sophitia. You also get to play as Z.W.E.I. a couple of times who is awesome, even if I’m no good with him. However, the story barely covers the whole cast with only Tira, Nightmare, Siegfried, Maxi, Ivy and series newcomers Xiba, Viola, and two others being mentioned. I can’t even remember the last two. They’re basically new versions of Taki and Xianghua from the previous games. Worse, these characters just pop in real quick and end up being rather inconsequential. After two hours and 20 chapters / battles, I complete the story mode unsatisfied, seeing as it’s basically like watching a bad anime.
At this point, it dawns on me that I have no freaking clue why anyone’s here. Like I said, I’m really invested in the plot and mythology of the series and I realize that there’s nothing in this game actually advancing the plot. The story mode kind of does but there’s plot holes out the freaking yang and it only tells the story of a few of the characters. *SPOILERS* (sort of) How did Sophitia die? When did this happen? What happened to Taki and Xianghua? Why is Kilik dressed the way he is in this game? More importantly, how are most of the characters in the game involved? Especially with the opening cut scene showing Nightmare being defeated, why is he back? Sure the past games gave some sort of convoluted / bullshit reason as to why Soul Edge was around but at least they gave some reason. Here, nothing. It’s another SoulCalibur game so of course the evil sword’s still around. I guess I can go online and fine an answer but that should be in the game. Also, how would I know the info on the web isn’t just fabricated bullshit since there’s practically nothing in the game itself to go by?
The characters is the next problem. With no story actually in the game really (ironic for a game with a Story mode) who the hell are these new characters? Two of them are actually really interesting, Z.W.E.I. and Viola. The rest however are lame copies. No context is given in the game proper and the game lacks any kind of investment because of it. Especially Ezio from Assassin’s Creed II who is the game’s token guest character. I wish they’d stop including guest characters, although I know I’m in the minority in my opinion. Well, after the story mode, I try the newly unlocked Legendary Souls mode and its basically Arcade mode that’s super difficult. I can’t even beat the first guy so I just give up. I try to make a custom character but I end up just making a modified Raphael and the customization is done well, improving on everything SCIV had. However, I noticed that the levels, the different swords with stats, and the attributes are all gone. Therefore, my custom character is different in purely a cosmetic way, nothing more.
At this point, I pretty much said screw this game and packaged it back up to send back to Gamefly, disappointed like you wouldn’t believe and not giving two shits about online play. However, there’s one major factor I’ve not talked about yet about the game: the combat. How is the combat in this game? It’s fine. It’s slower than it used to be but honestly, the combat is still decent. However, the new additions to the game mechanics are all failures with the final change that I’m going to talk about all but breaking the game. Everything new in this game is based around the new Critical Gauge. This gauge is basically the super combo bar seen in games like Street Fighter, BlazBlue, and King of Fighters. You can do a Critical Edge attack when you fill the gauge up once, which is basically a super move, like from the aforementioned games. While it works well in those games due to those game’s focus on timing and combos, in a game like SoulCalibur that is more about positioning and button mashing, it just feels so foreign and out of place. You can also do EX style Brave Edge moves which are just more powerful versions of some normal attacks and requires a third of the Critical Gauge. Again, this type of mechanic belongs better in Street Fighter. Although this does work better than the Critical Edge moves, most of them are fairly lame and basically unnecessary. These two mechanics are actually relatively harmless and I did find myself using them even though I didn’t like it very much. The real problem is with the guard impact mechanic.
The guard impact ability is nothing new. It’s been in the SoulCalibur series for almost its entire existence. However in this game, it uses part of the Critical Gauge. This means you are limited in how you can do this and you also don’t need to worry about whether the attack is high, mid or low range. Furthermore, parries are gone in this game. What this means is the guard impact is all but useless in this game since the gauge is better spent on a Critical or Brave Edge attack. With no other option other than your basic guard and the not worth the effort Just Guard mechanic for defense, you have a game that’s in favor of offensive approaches. Defense is basically an afterthought and this game’s motto is the best defense is a good offense. Therefore, characters that are required to be played defensively such as Astaroth are royally screwed. This means that SoulCalibur V is basically the most one sided and completely unbalanced title in the series and one of the most lopsided fighting games in general I’ve played in recent memory. The only means of balance is to strip offensive designed characters like Raphael of their move lists to make them less so.
SoulCalibur V is the first game in the series I don’t like. SoulCalibur V is the first game in the series I hate. All over this title is evidence of a developer that basically did not give a shit and cobbled together half-developed ideas so they could release a SoulCalibur title during the recent fighting game renaissance. The mode selection is anemic, the characters have no purpose, the character building aspects are nonexistent and the gameplay is lopsided. Sad when the best aspect of a game is the fun had designing your characters outfit. This is the biggest disappointment of the year for me but I will say that I can recommend this game for some people. For as much as I don’t like this game, critically I can say that this isn’t a terrible game. What I did see of the online play there are a lot of options and titles similar to Virtua Fighter and Street Fighter and those who are a fan of online play will probably like this game more than I did. If you are someone who likes playing online, I can give this game a cautious 3 out of 5. For those who don’t, this game’s a 2.5 out of 5 and you should rent it before buying it. Either way, don’t pay too much for this. It just isn’t worth it. Right now, Gamefly is selling a used copy of the game for $14.99 for Xbox 360 and $17.99 for PS3. That’s worth it if you want it. Personally for me, this is a sad 2 out of 5, as I couldn’t get passed the shortcomings and overall superficial product. In the meantime, I’m just going to pop in SoulCalibur IV and enjoy that again. I never did level up every character.