Review: Soul Calibur V

5 02 2012

2012 is already shaping up to be a booked year for fighting games and the first arrival comes to us as the Soul series’ 2nd offering on current-gen systems. Soul Calibur V brings a number of new things to the battlefield in an effort to reinvent and inject new life into the enduring franchise with revised gameplay systems and core mechanics. A delicate balance must be struck to create something both fresh and formulaic, where there must be both novelty yet a firm sense of familiarity. Does SCV hit the mark or has the soul finally burned out?

In terms of the story and setting Soul Calibur V represents the furthest chronological leap in the series, taking place a full 17 years after Soul Calibur IV. Many of the veteran souls return to the stage of history, and an equivalent amount of mainstays of the franchise have bowed out to younger replacements, bequeathing their fighting styles onto their progeny or understudies. However, there are also several jarring omissions from the expected roster, as many other staples are inexplicably missing: Seung Mina, Talim, Yunseung, and Zasalamel have been unceremoniously axed (insert Astaroth joke) and have no equivalent or replacement. Is it just me, or do I smell DLC shenanigans?

The core gameplay is of course at the heart of this review. The addition of the Soul Gauge (read: super meter) has overlayed a new aspect borrowed from many other legacy fighting games of meter management and devastating comeback moves that must be integrated into the routines and arsenals of those wishing to master the game. The classic “Guard Impact” mechanic has also been completely revised, requiring usage of a portion of the Soul Gauge to utilize rather than being on on-demand technique. Additionally a new “Just Guard” mechanic has been introduced as somewhat of a substitute to the conventional Guard Impact, but it feels more similar to the parrying system of Third Strike; much stricter in terms of timing and requiring speedier execution to capitalize upon.

The new systems introduce significant considerations in the flow and play of the game, however the overall feel of the characters is very much preserved and familiar. Although there are always tweaks to their movesets between games, many players will find that they can return to their mainstay characters within minutes with the majority of their staple moves intact. Some characters have had a bit of balance tweaks and re-focusing; for instance Tira is much faster and more dangerous with her wide-arcing swings, Astaroth is more sluggish and cumbersome but does truly monstrous damage, and Yoshimitsu may be the most dangerous he’s been since SCII. The wholly new characters Z.W.E.I. and Viola are very unorthodox compared the rest of the cast with their mystic-infused fighting styles, but seem like strong competitors with their difficult-to-read movements and helper mechanics to assault the opponent in tandem (I am reminded of Eddie and Bridget from Guilty Gear). Ezio Auditore of Assassin’s Creed is perhaps the most appropriate guest character of the franchise history and he fits in well with the cast. Due to the absence of conventional Guard Impact, characters with built-in GI moves like Cervantes and the sword-n-boarders have more incentive to use those maneuvers in a match. Although concrete tier lists have not yet emerged, from what I’ve seen I expect Leixia, Xiba, Siegfried, Alpha Patroklos and Yoshimitsu to be in the upper echelons.

Online play is somewhat spotty at the moment, but I’ve played several successful matches with serviceable latency. As far as online modes it’s the best the Soul series has done so far but still nothing to write home about.

Other than conventional versus modes, there are a few side modes worth investigating. Create a character mode is back and quite robust in terms of freedom and customization, but lacks any of the unique styles from previous iterations other than Tekken’s Devil Jin, thus any custom creations will simply imitate an existing character. The wealth of options is impressive, and you can create some authentically slick-looking customizations (or hideously inappropriate abominations, if you prefer). The story mode follows the quest of Patroklos and Pyrrha, Sophitia’s heirs, to reunite and vanquish the curse that has plagued their family for generations. While it’s par for the course on fighting game story modes and therefore fairly underwhelming, it introduces some interesting twists and revelations of the SC world and even a few geniunely thoughtful and introspective moments. You’ll have to wade through it anyway in order to obtain the unlockable characters so be glad it isn’t intolerable.

Even after spending a good dozen or so hours with the game, there is always a difficulty in evaluating any fighting game in its infant months. It is hard to say if the systems and balance are solid enough that the game will be worth playing “for serious” over the long run. Past Soul games have always have exploits or anomalies unveiled that have dispelled the game’s tournament potential but Namco has been pretty good about pushing free updates and balance patches; they’ve already released a 1.01 patch to remove a supposed “fuzzy guard” exploit. All doubt cast aside, what I can say conclusively is that right now, at this moment, the game is damn fun and I’m going to be playing it in the forseeable future. For now, that’s all I need it to be.

Uncle Nightmare will be seeing you all online.


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