This is a great year for fighting game fans.
Before I begin, let me introduce myself a bit. I've been a gamer since Street Fighter 2, and although I play all sorts of games, fighting games still are (and likely always will be) my favorites.
My history with SoulCalibur starts just a few years ago. I had been a Tekken player for around a decade, but had never had a chance to try Namco's other staple fighter. While over at a friend's house, I finally got a chance to play SoulCalibur II. I immediately fell in love with the game and bought my own copy of SoulCalibur II in the $5 and under bin at GameStop and loved it so much that I went out and bought SoulCalibur III a few months later. SoulCalibur IV a few months after that. When I heard that my new favorite fighting game franchise was coming back, I was ecstatic.
SoulCalibur V became the first game that I followed the development of closely, as well as my first preorder (my video game purchases are usually pretty spur of the moment). When 2012 rolled around and SoulCalibur V finally hit the shelves, I picked it up the first day and excitedly put it in my 360 nearly as soon as I got home.
I was a bit disappointed by some aspects, but I was, overall, thoroughly impressed with the game.
A word before I begin, this is going to be a rather in-depth review. If you don't feel like reading through the whole thing, feel free to scroll down to the bottom and read the closing thoughts and final scores. It's quite the time-saver, but I like to provide a full review of the game for those who want to read deeper.
The first thing I noticed about SoulCalibur V was that it felt quite different from its predecessors. I've heard people say that it plays just about the same as SoulCalibur IV and I suppose, to the gamer with little experience playing SoulCalibur, the similar graphics and a lack of very much play time in previous SoulCaliburs might make it feel this way, but take it from me, this is no SoulCalibur 4.5. Sure, there are some big similarities. It is, afterall, a sequel... But SoulCalibur V is a very different beast from SoulCalibur IV.
I know what you're thinking. Don't worry, I brought proof! Allow me to explain the new features and mechanics present in SC V.
No Critical Finishes!
First and foremost, Critical Finishes are gone. That's right, no more auto-kills in SC. Hallelujah.
Your guard can still break, leaving you vulnerable to attack, but no longer to certain death.
One of the first things you should notice is that there's a little gauge up there next to your health bar. The gauge fills up (to a maximum of 2 full bars) during combat and can be spent using special abilities. What kinds of special abilities? Be patient, I was getting there.
Don't let the name fool you, it's nothing like the Critical Finishes. For the cost of a full bar of the gauge, you can pull of a nifty Street Fighter-esque super move by performing a double quarter circle roll of the thumbstick and pressing A+B+K (default set to the Right Trigger, or R2 for you PS3 players). Don't worry, Critical Edges are in no way game-breaking. SoulCalibur's 3D environment allows ducking, blocking (with the exception of throw Critical Edges, but they are slower and easier to evade), or sidestepping to escape these superpowered moves.
I didn't like the sound of it at first, but super moves actually fit quite nicely into SoulCalibur. They don't feel out-of-place at all and after a while begin to flow into you gameplay pretty instinctively. The animations and effects are very well done, as well.
For the cost of half of a bar of gauge, you can perform a Brave Edge. Each character typically has 2-3 different Brave Edges (some have more). A Brave Edge is, essentially, a more powerful version of a regular move. It is usually performed by performing the regular move and then pressing A+B+K.
Brave Edges receive a spiffy new animation and receive new properties (such as extra hits, higher damage, better knockback ability, stunning the opponent, etc). Don't worry, like Critical Edges, Brave Edges can be blocked (aside from Brave Edge throws).
True, guard impacts are in no way new to the Soul Calibur series, but they have received a change in this release. Guard impacting an attack now costs a fourth of a bar of gauge and is performed by pressing backwards and A+B+K. To compensate for costing meter now, they also have a higher frame window now, meaning that they are easier to perform, and work against high, medium, and low attacks. This is a change I wasn't completely thrilled about, but honestly, it's not as bad as it sounds.
If you don't know what a guard impact is, you've probably never played SoulCalibur. No worries, I'll explain it for you. A guard impact is a defensive move that throws an attacker off balance if timed correctly.
Well, that does it for the Critical Gauge explanation. Phew!
SoulCalibur V introduces a new defensive mechanic called Quick Step. By rapidly tapping up or down twice, you can perform much faster sidestep that is accompanied by a white speedtrail that follows your character for artistic flair. This allows you to sidestep quickly around a move that a normal sidestep would be too slow to get around. Not too complicated, but quite useful.
By timing a guard precisely with the impact of an attack, your character will light up in a blue flash and, more importantly, do not receive the normal frame disadvantage from blocking. This means that a powerful attack that would normally throw your character off balance when you block it, will not take any time to recover from. It does, however, leave your opponent off-balance from his attack. This allows you a window to attack.
I haven't been able to use Just guard very effectively, as the timing is quite hard to get. To be honest, I'm not too wild about this mechanic, but it doesn't really detract from the game.
In Conclusion (Gameplay)
The game feels very fluid and most of the new additions perform well and feel natural. I really like how they've tuned the gameplay to offer something new and interesting, but don't fear Calibur fans. This is still very much a SoulCalibur game. The new mechanics are refreshing and add to the game, not take away from it.
SoulCalibur, as always, offers an impressive visual presentation. Project Soul has really outdone themselves with SoulCalibur V, though. It is probably the best-looking fighting game on the market. Character models are well-done and quite intricate, moves are flashy and cool-looking without looking over-done, and the stages are some of the best of any fighting game I've seen.
A screenshot truly does not do the game justice. SoulCalibur V offers a brilliant show of finely-tuned animations and captivating special effects. SoulCalibur looks better than ever.
It is quite evident that Project Soul went the extra mile this time around in making the sound quality top-notch. Battle sounds (weapons clashing, hit noises, etc) are much better than before, for one. I remember the first time I turned on the game and landed my first hit, a big cheesy grin spread across my face. I love the sound a sword makes when it hits armor, it sounds so cool.
Beyond that, the voice acting is for the most part quite good. And yes, I mean the English voice acting. This is especially evident of the created characters, who now sound like decent characters. If you ever played SoulCalibur III or IV, you know how bad the created characters voices were. Rest assured that they are much better now. In fact, with the exception of one or two headscratchers (it is a fighting game, afterall), I thought the voice acting was well done.
Lastly, but certainly not least, the music in the game is very, very good. Each character has there own theme and I think that Project Soul did a good job of showing some of the characters' personality in their themes. I also like that you have the option to choose which music you want to play in the background and even set a certain BGM to be default to a specific stage if you so desire.
Here is where most of my disappointment comes from. Early in SC V's development, Namco promised a more story-driven title, and in a way, they delivered. But it wasn't at all in the way I was hoping for.
Instead of giving each character a unique story mode, SC V offers one extensive story mode that follows the tale of Patroklos and Pyrrah (the son and daughter of Sophitia, a veteran of the series).
I actually had quite a bit of fun with the story and thought that it was, for the most part, pretty well done for a fighting game. The fact remains, though, that the majority of the cast are not included in the story and do not have story modes of their own. This was especially disappointing to me after I had read all of the characters' bios. Project Soul had some really awesome ideas for some of the characters that just didn't make it into the game. I'm more than a little disappointed about that, and hope to see a short story mode for each character available as DLC, but I'm not holding my breath. At the least, I hope Soul Calibur VI tells these untold stories.
One of the most popular things about SoulCalibur is the ability to make your own characters.
SoulCalibur V offers a very powerful character creation tool that is really so deep and complex that I can't describe it all here. But, I'll post a video of the creation trailer here for those of you who want to see more.
I've had a lot of fun with the character creation, it's a huge step up from SC IV's. If the ability to make up to 50 custom characters (you can also make custom costumes for the default characters) and play as them in any of the game modes (besides the story) appeals to you, then SoulCalibur V will certainly deliver.
Kind of an odd section to add, I know. But I have some complaints to address and they didn't fit anywhere else in the review. You're welcome.
"What!? My favorite character isn't in the game!?"
This is actually probably the most common complaint I've heard, and I understand the sentiment. I was quite disappointed to see that Talim wasn't in the game. But, please, allow me to make a defense for the newbies.
NATSU, TAKI'S REPLACEMENT
That's right, the iconic ninja chick Taki does not make an appearance. I never liked Natsu when I was following the development of the game. She just didn't look like someone who could replace Taki. After I got the game, though, I gave all the new characters a fair chance. And I'm glad I did.
Taki fans, have no fear. Natsu is, in my opinion, even more fun to play as than Taki and has replaced poor Talim as my second favorite character. She has a very effective fighting style that includes teleport moves, quick rolls, a lot of mix up attacks and trick moves, aerial throws, and a handful of other great things. Natsu's great fun to play as, give her a chance.
LEIXIA, XIANGHUA'S REPLACEMENT
Leixia replaces her mother this time around. Leixia has a lot of her mother's fighting style, but it has been made quite different. She feels a lot different to play as, and I ended up liking her a lot. Xianghua fans, have no fear. This spunky Chinese girl is an apt replacement for her mother.
XIBA, KILIK AND SEONG-MINAS' REPLACEMENT
Okay, I can't defend this guy as much as the last two. Sure, he's fun to play as. That part, I really like. But he's a pretty disturbed young man. He's obsessed with food, and a touch insane I think. To be fair, he is pretty funny, though.
He borrows some moves from Kilik and Seong-Mina, but has a mostly original moveset.
PATROKLOS AND PYRRAH, CASSANDRA AND SOPHITIAS' REPLACEMENT
Patroklos and Pyrrah are very fun to play as and have a lot of character. Playing through the story mode, you gain a real affinity for these characters. They have some similarities to Sophitia and Cassandra, but are their own characters in both fighting style and character..
Z.W.E.I. is an entirely new character. He fights with a three-handled sword and can summon werewolf-like spirit to aid him in battle. He is definitely an interesting character to play as with a lot of unique moves and strategies to learn. And no, I don't know why his name is an acronym.
She looks strikingly like Amy, doesn't she folks?. Her resemblance, lack of memory of her past, and Amy's lack of an appearance has lead many to believe that Viola is, in fact, Amy. Whether she is or not, I really like Viola. She has a very interesting style, using her magical orb to fight. She can send it flying across the screen to bludgeon her opponent and use it for a variety of special attacks. Be careful, though. Her close-range ability is lacking when she sends her orb away.
GUEST CHARACTER, EZIO AUDITORE
Ezio Auditore of Assassin's Creed makes his guest appearance in SoulCalibur V. He is very dangerous in both close combat and ranged, but not overpowered. And he probably has the most badass Critical Edge in the game. He is my favorite guest character so far, and fits in FAR better than the Star Wars characters did in SoulCalibur IV.
In conclusion, I really love the characters in this game and again, I'll grieve that the characters don't have their own story modes.
- Critical Edges and Brave Edges flow very well into combat and are just downright fun to use.
- Quick Step offers an effective new defensive strategy.
- The new characters and features are a breath of fresh air.
- The gameplay is remarkably refined and fun.
- The sound effects and voice acting are much stronger this time around.
- The musical score is very well done.
- The characters are very intricately designed and have a lot of personality.
- The story of the game and backgrounds of the characters are interesting, despite not being shown in the game much.
- As always, SoulCalibur provides a slam-dunk good time.
- Multi-tiered stages.
- Custom character interactions.
- Characters don't get their own story modes.
- A lack of variety in offline play.
- Some favorite characters have been removed.
- Still no team battle mode.
In the end, SoulCalibur V is not without its flaws, but despite them it is by all means a great game. I highly recommend it to all fighting game fans.
With SoulCalibur V already released and Street FighterXTekken and Tekken Tag 2 right around the corner, this is a great year for fighting game fans.