January 30, 2012
You know the score. A tale of swords and souls, eternally retold and all that. And having been rescued from the jaws of retirement by vocal fans, Soul Calibur is back for a fifth instalment, bringing its own brand of clashing steel, historical pomp and flashy pyrotechnics kicking and screaming once more onto consoles across the land.
Ostensibly, Soul Calibur V might look like a reheated Soul Calibur IV at face value, with a few adjusted characters to fit in with the timeline, which has now shifted 17 years into the future, but that couldn't be further from the truth. There's the strong whiff of familiarity, sure, but it's a comfortable one, like welcoming back an old friend or slipping on a warm pair of slippers. Or something that makes me sound less like an octogenarian old man.
Like any Soul Calibur game worth its salt, there are sumptuous arenas and vistas to admire, regally dressed heroes and villains, and a hokey story revolving around the fabled cursed blades. This time the battle for Soul Edge and Soul Calibur involves Sophitia's offspring, Patroklos and Pyrrha, in a suitably overwrought drama crafted by Asura's Wrath developer CyberConnect2, with lovingly hand-drawn sketches on yellowed parchment giving the story a vibe of its own. Divided into bite-size episodes, the narrative portion of the game is fairly engaging while it lasts, but once you've beaten it, there's little to no incentive to return to it, unlocking a couple of extra characters and not much else.
Happily, there's a whole raft of modes to delve into beyond the core '1607 AD' story mode, with the offline Arcade Mode offering six consecutive scraps with a variety of routes including a leaderboard option that logs your completion time. There's also Quick Battles that pit you against a selection of Project Soul's own created fighters including Tekken main man Katsuhiro Harada in his Heihachi gear and unlockable 'Soul of Devil Jin' move set. It's here that you'll find the most offline replay value, unlocking new titles for your online license card and new parts for creating your own characters.
As ever, there's huge scope for hilarity and weirdness with your bespoke fighters, and an expanded wardrobe full of armours, frilly shirts, boots, gloves and other accessories opens up near-limitless possibilities, if you don't mind the clipping that comes with layering up items. Each fighter provides a template that you adhere to in creating your fighters, or if you prefer, you can modify and customise existing fighters – with the exception of Ezio Auditore, of course – to make them your own and stand out online.
Soul Calibur V's roster is predictably robust of course, although some characters have been cut or replaced by like-for-like fighters. So, Natsu is Taki for all intents and purposes, the nimble Leixia stands in for Xianghua and the food-obsessed Xiba takes up Kilik's trusty red staff. The only truly new combatants are Viola and ZWEI, who are both strange and offbeat, wielding some pretty bizarre weapons. ZWEI can summon up a white werewolf sidekick and Viola controls a glowing orb capable of ambushing an opponent from pretty much anywhere on the screen. Both fighters are incredibly distinctive, and also rather difficult to master.
In a world where Street Fighter IV and Marvel vs. Capcom 3 cater to the bombastic arcade sensibilities of the fight genre nowadays, Tekken offers button-mashing gratification, and Dead or Alive and Virtua Fighter promise something slightly more measured, Soul Calibur V strikes a happy medium somewhere between all of the other fighting games out there. At times graceful, SC V sometimes lacks fluidity between otherwise beautifully flowing combos somewhat, but the mechanics of holding a button to block, swiping horizontally, swiping vertically and kicking are still reliable and intuitive. So much so that you can forgo the training section and learn moves on your own, although there's a solid training and tutorial mode should you want to learn the many combos and moves in more detail.
Soul Calibur V plays slightly more like Street Fighter IV too, with flashy Critical Edge finishing moves that utilise a similar input and chip away a substantial chunk of vitality. Knowing when to unleash a Critical Edge move is integral however, as they can leave you open for a drubbing if mistimed. The same goes for the new Brave Edge moves, which like Critical Edge expend your soul gauge, and demand smart timing to ensure they connect. They're valuable tools in your arsenal, and knowing when to deploy them to turn the tide is key to making an impact against online opponents or the tougher AI challengers.
Heading online, you can set parameters and go looking for a room to queue up in and wait for your turn to fight, which is especially frustrating in a room of six players, where viewing other matches can drag on for a protracted length of time. This can be truly maddening if you're sat waiting, only for the host to then quit. Should the host choose to leave the game, the room disbands and you're back to square one, which can be a massive pain. Once you're into a match, there's occasionally a tiny bit of lag that rears its head, but never to the point where it ruins things completely. In fact, Soul Calibur V works perfectly well online, with a host of options including viewing and uploading replays, linking up with rivals and entering tournaments in the Global Colosseo.
There's a rather hefty chunk of online achievements to work your way through too, requiring hours of fighting to achieve 50 wins, register 100 online battles and work your way up the rankings. All of your activity within the game – offline or online – counts towards your persistent player rank, and there are achievements for maxing that out too, which will take forever. Put it this way: it took us almost 20 hours to reach level 16, so it'll conceivably take an eternity to get to level 50 and beyond. Given the wealth of modes and the infinitely replayable nature of Soul Calibur V though, you'll want to give it a bloody good go.
While we miss some of the series' bygone characters like Setsuka, Talim, Amy et al, Soul Calibur V is a fine sequel, building upon and improving the weapon-based combat its always been famed for. The guest character of Assassin's Creed's Ezio is a masterstroke too, slotting seamlessly into the universe with his hidden blade, sword, dagger, crossbow and concealed gun all present and correct. Soul Calibur V is still every bit as accessible, intuitive, outlandish and as glorious to behold as its forebears, and is so much more than the sum of its parts. Soul Calibur V is transcending history and the world. A tale of swords and souls, eternally retold. And as far as we're concerned, Namco and Project Soul can keep on telling Soul Calibur's barmy, over-the-top yarn for as long as they like, because Soul Calibur V is simply fantastic.
SC V's soundtrack will delight die-hard fans of the series, as it's still the same orchestral noodlings that Soul Calibur is famed for. The sound effects are also typically brassy, bold and exaggerated, although you can now tweak the noises to your own liking in the audio options. You can make them more realistic or exaggerate them even more if you like, which is a neat little touch.
The colour palette in Soul Calibur V is slightly more muted this time around, but that doesn't mean that it's any less sumptuous, detailed and rich. If anything, it's quite possibly the most beautiful entry in the series yet and one of the best-looking fighting games money can buy.
A pitch-perfect balance of characters on the roster – including Ezio – makes Soul Calibur V an absolute joy to pick up and play. Simple to learn yet tough to master, Soul Calibur V is pretty much all things to all fight fans, especially with the Critical Edge and Brave Edge moves in the mix. And the elegant 8-way run system still ensures tactical movement and dodging plays its part.
Soul Calibur V's 1607 AD Story Mode is essentially throwaway stuff, but the rest of the game is meaty to say the least. There are hundreds of battles in single-player Quick Battle, plenty of replay value in Arcade Mode and an immensely exacting challenge awaiting hardcore players in the unlockable Legendary Souls Mode. Online is also superb, bolstered by a head-spinning Creation Mode that enables you to craft your own fighter to take into the online arena and show off to the world.
A list that presents you with a modest smattering of single-player achievements, then demands that you sink a huge amount of time into multiplayer, Soul Calibur V's achievements are a pretty unimaginative bunch. That said, there's a good spread of achievements across all modes, spurring you into exploring everything the game has to offer. And there's a lot of stuff to discover too, meaning it'll take you a long time before you 100% this one.
Soul Calibur V is an assured return for the franchise that boasts a robust roster of fighters, a good selection of modes and the best visuals yet seen in the series. There's more in the gameplay system itself to tempt Street Fighter IV fans with Critical Edge, Brave Edge moves and whatnot, and the array of options presented by the character creation suite are superb. 17 years on and the story's still a bit daft, but Soul Calibur's overall enduring appeal hasn't dulled in the slightest.