There is nothing quite so satisfying as trouncing someone in a SoulCalibur game. It’s one of the more comfortable-to-play fighting games on the market, boasting near-infinite replay value and a rather loyal fanbase. The Soul series is an exercise in calculating weapon range and fighter weight; the concept is impossible to misunderstand, and with the ability to select everything from Siegfried and his giant sword to nimble Taki with her more tightly arranged attacks, there is no limit to the amount of strategy that must be crammed into the player’s head. Of course, there is also something so visually satisfying about a 3D fighter in which batting your opponent back and forth across the screen requires frantic execution of multi-button combos faster than your heart can beat.
SoulCalibur V, the sixth installment in the series and the direct continuation of Sophitia’s saga from Soul Edge — now passed on to her children — is no exception to this frenetic fun, introducing new ways to fight while remaining true to the games’ more classic elements.
The game takes place seventeen years after the events of SoulCalibur IV and revolves around Patroklos and Pyrrha Alexandra, progeny of series heroine Sophitia. Separated for seventeen years, Patroklos has set out to find his long-lost sister and destroy the “malfested,” humans infected by the cursed sword Soul Edge. He is told that Pyrrha is travelling with ring-blade wielder Tira, and as brother and sister come closer to their reunion, all hell breaks loose when Patroklos is chosen to wield Soul Calibur in the epic showdown between good and evil.
Story Mode progresses fairly quickly — unless, of course, you’re having trouble with the fights. Character introductions come out of nowhere, with the goal obviously being to cram as many playable characters as possible into the storyline without seeming too superfluous. These games are not exactly well-known for their story, but the team over at Project Soul does a good job of wrapping up the Alexandra family saga and running the gambit of fighters without being disgustingly random.
Fighting is still standard, still the way it’s always been. Each fighter has a range of motion and a set number of attacks and combos. The game offers a Training mode in which players can spend as long as they like testing the move sets of individual characters. This is exceedingly helpful, especially with the slew of new and altered game mechanics thrown into the mix.
For one thing, the Soul Gauge has been changed to a meter system and dubbed the Critical Gauge. The gauge holds power for special attacks up to 200% and refills gradually as players attack and block. Losing a round will grant the player a starting gauge advantage of 100% at the beginning of the next. The Critical Edge attack has also been altered to drain exactly half of the Critical Gauge, making it useful only twice in one battle.
Depending on the selected character, Critical Edge moves can be comboed or used to throw opponents. The new Brave Edge mechanic allows certain moves to be enhanced by pressing A+B+K (Square + Triangle + Circle) directly after the input. Each upgrade drains 50% of the Soul Gauge, with good strategy earning you win by executing Brave Edge combos after a Critical Edge attack. This last bit is exceedingly frustrating when fighting CPUs in the Story or Legendary Souls modes, making it almost unfairly difficult to land an attack during a string of combos allow minuscule recovery time. These special attacks can also perform double-duty as Guard Breaks, so don’t even think about camping out while holding the X button. This is particularly infuriating in Story Mode against certain bosses that shall remain unnamed.
Guard Impact has also been altered, with the ability to parry being removed and each move draining 25% of the Critical Gauge. These moves have been altered to require a single input and now repel both high, middle, and low-ranged attacks over a longer attack window. Coupled with Guard Impact is Just Guard, which players must input just as their opponent’s attack is about to connect. If successful, the player can interrupt the attack and push back with a string of moves, offering significant advantage to the player with a quick eye. Chaining all of these specials together, however, makes spamming your opponent super easy; it gets the job done fine against a CPU, but you can expect to hear a word or two should you be playing in versus mode.
The last edition to the new-moves arsenal is Quick Step. Players can now move quickly away to the side of an opponent and dodge the attack. Again, these moves favor players with lightning reflexes and puts those far from seasoned pros at a severe disadvantage. This is alot to memorize, but thankfully thirty minutes or so in the game’s Training mode will bring players up to speed. I found it exceedingly helpful in mastering the moves of guest fighter Ezio Auditore, of Assassin’s Creed fame, who would go on to become my favored combatant, mostly because three-quarters of his lines are in Italian.
But where SoulCalibur V really shines is in its impressive amount of choices for versus multiplayer and online play. The game boasts more than twenty fighting stages to choose from, many of them multi-tiered or featuring transitions into different areas. Players can also choose the background music — and let’s be honest with ourselves, a good soundtrack can heighten a battle experience. SoulCalibur V‘s soundtrack is nothing short of epic, with production overseen by the game-centric Eminence Orchestra. Players have their pick of every character and stage theme used in the game when setting up their own fights, just a small sampling of how much the game places experience and enjoyment in the players’ hands.
Arcarde Mode pits players against a series of six CPUs, which can chosen at random or selected based on different “routes.” Players can choose to fight characters from only Asia or only Europe. The CPU levels gradually escalate, but the six fighters never appear in quite the same order. This creates meticulously tailored play, a gaming moment in time that is intimately crafted to the player’s wants and needs. On the same note, the Quick Battle area allows you to choose characters created by other players online, testing how you stack up on the world battlefield.
Play via the PlayStation Network (or Xbox Live) allows you to search out opponents based on criteria of your choosing: area (North and South America, Asia, Europe, Japan), rank (similar or higher to your own), connection status and the side of the screen you prefer to fight on. In addition to viewing these rankings and watching replays of your fights, players can also create rooms with up to six players for personal tournaments. These rooms are also text-chat enables, which is pretty neat when used maturely. Global Colosseo features an expanded lobby with fifty player slots, with players challenging others by clicking on the card representing them.
Classic Vs. Battle is where you will most likely spend most of your time, fighting either against a CPU or with a friend. There is an option to watch two CPUs fight each other, but there’s no real enjoyment unless you’re doing so in order to scrutinize moves and combos. By the far the most challenging mode SoulCalibur V offers is the one through which you must unlock secret characters, the game’s boss rush mode — Legendary Souls.
Legendary Souls puts players through their paces against seven high-level bosses. This was the part that gave me the most trouble, not because I’m a crappy SoulCalibur player but because the bosses spam. There is really no other way to put it. The Guard Impact-Critical Edge-Brave Edge combos never seem to stop, making this mode impossible unless you’ve spent a significant amount of time in Training and Vs. Mode studying opponents’ and your favored fighter’s attack patterns. It’s sickening how fast Siegfried can destroy you without you landing a single hit. This makes the boss rush mode infuriating, with cheap K.O.s and little time between strikes to execute a tight combo on your own end. Opponents’ levels increase based on the player’s level, so if you’ve been cranking away at the game for a while you can expect to have Kilik juggle you for an entire match only to fling you unceremoniously out of the ring. Obviously the bar should be set high for a boss rush mode, but that of SCV seems wildly unfair. Not impossible, just unfair.
This time around, character creation has expanded to give the player more freedom in designing their fighter. You can now change the size of individual body parts independently of the rest of the body, height, weight, and muscle mass. Male equipment can be put on female characters and vice versa, and the creator offers height suggestions for the fighting style players select as their base. Weapon colors and effects can also be changed, you can add stickers and tattoos virtually anywhere, and there is evil an exclusive fighting style reserved for original characters. I spent a good hour creating my own character, adding patterns to my clothing, changing my hair and eye color, and fiddling around with the voice choices. If this was your favorite part in previous SoulCalibur titles, then you will fall in love with what they’ve done for this game.
In the end, SoulCalibur V is going to be one of those fighting games that gets pulled out at large gatherings and holidays or popped in for a quick few rounds with a roommate. The game will continue to capture the interest of fighting enthusiasts the same way the Gamecube version of SCII became a party staple for gamers. While gameplay can get a little crazy with the additional chains of critical attacks moonlighting as guard breaks, ultimately it’s memorizing the moves and pitting different combinations of fighters against each other that makes the game fun and addicting. At the core, SCV is a fighting game with the whims of the player solely in mind, dedicating countless modes and customization options to ensure that each player has an experience tailored to their own style.