Fighting games have come a long way since the release of Soul Calibur IV back in 2008. In fact for fighting fans I think this has been a very good generation to be into the genre. Now Soul Calibur V is here. Has it managed to keep up with its rivals who have raised the bar so high in the last few years alone? Or is this just more of the same that we saw four years ago? To be honest it’s a bit of both but to fans of the series I have to say you will not be disappointed with what this game has to offer.
I have always found the Soul Calibur games to be very easy to pick up and play. The combos aren’t overly complicated which is a huge plus as it makes for a nice learning curve. I’ve found with other fighting games – like Blazblue – you had to take in quite a lot before feeling comfortable with the controls and nuanced mechanics, also you had different combos for each character’s special move to memorise and study. Soul Calibur V completely streamlines this by making every character’s special move assigned to the same combo. These moves are called Critical finishes and can only be attempted after you have filled up your Soul Gauge, this is done by successfully landing strikes on your opponent. Using your guard will also drain your Soul Gauge so the game encourages an agressive playing style.
The controls are really responsive, as they really need to be in a game like this. What I love about the controls is that they seem to have taken into account that not every person playing it has a fight stick on their lap. Going back to the Critical finishes; these require you to hit all three attack buttons at the same time at the end of the combo. Now at first I struggled to make sure I hit them all at the same time, even messing up my fight as I changed my hand position on the controller to make it easier. Then I realised that they had assigned this three button press to a single press of the R2/RT. Also the other trigger buttons are assigned to other two button presses. Once I realised this it instantly improved my game. It’s a smart design choice, one clearely inspired by titles such as Marvel vs. Capcom 3 but a excellent addition nonetheless.
The fighting style in Soul Calibur games is quite different to that in other fighters. In most you have you light, medium and heavy attacks which you can chain together to make combos. Soul Calibur instead focuses on horizontal and vertical strikes with a heavy emphasis on kicks. If someone uses a vertical strike on you then the best way to avoid it is to strafe left or right. Horizontal strikes will hit you if you try to use this method, so the best thing to do is to step back out of range or use your guard. I really do enjoy this fighting system; it feels so good when you perfectly time a side step that leaves your opponent completely open to a barrage of pain.
The story mode takes place seventeen years after the events in Soul Calibur IV. You play as Patroklus and Pyrrha who are brother and sister and the children of the series’ familiar face, Sophitia. The presentation in this story is a bit all over the place if I’m honest. Some of it is presented in beautifully rendered cut scenes with not so great voice acting. Other times it is just narration over still images and finally there is a small bit of text you have to read before you click on a new episode. It’s a real shame that there wasn’t more cut scenes in this game because I really enjoyed the ones that are there. After seeing the story mode in last year’s Mortal Kombat – which had brilliant cut scenes that seamlessly transitioned into the fights – Soul Calibur V just seems a bit lacking in this area. Also the story isn’t that long at all; I managed to clear it in around three hours. I can kind of forgive the length of the story, however. While it’s short and rather forgettable it serves as a decent introduction for new players.
The training mode was a real disappointment for me. It’s pretty much the same thing you see in most fighting games; you against an opponent that is essentially a punching bag. While this is a great place to learn your combos without hindrance from the AI or other players I feel that a lot of players new to the genre expect the game to hold their hand a little more in this mode. Even if it was just a simple explanation of the fight system followed by “now you give it a try”
Now to quite possibly the most important question asked of pretty much every fighting game of the last five years. Does the online work? Yes it does and I think it does it very well. Namco have clearly been paying attention to what their rivals have been up to lately. Match making is handled very well as you are able to filter your searches to look for players around your own level or higher if you are looking for more of a challenge. I think that this little option is great for entry point players as they are more likely going to go against players like themselves and not immediately get matched up with a series veteran and get scared off at the first hurdle.
Player lobbies can hold up to six players but only two players can fight at a time in a simple tried and tested winner stays on format. While you are waiting for your match you can watch the fight that is going on in real time. Another nice feature is the text box; this may sound like only a small tweak but I feel that the game is taking into account that not everyone has a headset. This simple text box gives everyone the opportunity to communicate with the other people in the lobby.
You will also be pleased to hear that during my experience online that I experienced next to no lag at all in the gameplay, even when matching up against people in America and Japan.
The visuals in this game are nice but it fails to match the overwhelming sense of style of its contemporaries. The Soul Calibur series has always stuck to its clean, crisp aesthetic of armoured combatants wielding a host of melee weapons, but visually it lacks flare. Games like Street Fighter IV and Blazblue have distinctive art styles that are instantly recognisable as their own. Soul Calibur V just seems quite plain in comparison. The music, however, is another story. It’s powerful and inspiring and it really helped me get into the zone.
Creation mode has returned again. This allows you to make your own character of any shape and size and also allows you to choose between a reasonable variety of clothes for them to wear. You do not get to create your own fighting style; instead you pick a character that is in the game. This I feel is a fair compromise as you are able to take these characters online. So if you could create your own combo list then the online experience would quickly become unbalanced and generally not a fun place to be.
Other modes that are practically a standard with fighting games are also present here. Arcade mode presents you with the challenge of going through six different opponents to reach the end. You are then graded based on your time and difficulty. Quick Battle and VS mode are also featured. Quick battle just throws you against a random CPU opponent – you can earn new titles for your player card by playing this mode as well. In VS mode you can play against either another player or the CPU. You can also watch the CPU fight itself.
The Soul Calibur series has started to make a tradition of featuring cameo appearances of characters from other games or even film licences. I remember buying Soul Calibur II on the Gamecube because it featured Link from The Legend of Zelda”. This time around it is Ezio from the Assassin’s Creed games. He fits into this game perfectly. The way he dresses, the weapons he uses. It’s a sensible move and a much better choice than Yoda and Darth Vader from Soul Calibur IV. As cool as they are they just seemed out of place.
Overall I feel that Soul Calibur V is a strong and worthy successor to its predecessor. It doesn’t take leaps and bounds forward from previous games in the series but I feel the key word here is refinement. The story mode brings it down a bit with its disjointed presentation and short length – I worry that people playing this part first may get switched off and not want to do anything else. I implore you to carry on. The online is very strong and the lobbies are a great place to hang out with friends. If you are still unsure whether fighting games are for you then I say give this one a go. It’s very easy to pick up and play and like all great fighters it has enough depth in its fighting system to keep veterans interested. A great start for fighters in 2012.
MLG Rating: 8/10 Platform: PS3/ Xbox 360 Release Date: 03/02/2012
Disclosure: Midlife Gamer were provided a physical copy of Soul Calibur V for review purposes by the promoter. The title was reviewed over the course of one week on a PS3. For more information on what our scores mean, plus details of our reviews policy, click here.