Soul Calibur V ReviewBlake Anglin
I love this fighting game renaissance we are going through. We're finally realizing that fighting games were actually good back in the day, so we are basing them off the glory days of yesterday. Therein lies Soul Calibur's biggest problem. It plays too much like the past games we remember…for better or worse.
On a basic level, the game works as well as any Soul Calibur, and has a few improvements to help balance out the combat. Soul Calibur has always presented a very character-driven fighter, but it was difficult to master everybody's special moves, leading many to stick with their two or three favorite characters. While learning your favorite fighter's ins and outs certainly helps, a universal input for powerful Critical Edge moves helps alleviate this somewhat, and the new Impact Guard system improves on the brutal timing of Soul Calibur 4.
These tweaks are welcome, but the rest of the combat is still beautiful. The eight-way move mechanic feels as smooth as can be, and the attack, block, throw paradigm works as well here as it ever has. Side-stepping somebody's unblockable attack and throwing them off the edge of a pit is as satisfying as it gets. Almost every character is a blast to play and learn, from Raphael's lengthy rapier strikes to Astaroth's massive hammer blows, I enjoyed practicing with every one of them. I was less impressed with the new characters introduced, with the exception of Pyrrha (who is basically Cassandra) and Viola (who uses an interesting magic orb/claw combo.) Z.W.E.I is by far my least favorite, and I was less than fond of the new Soul Calibur wielder Patroklos. Guest character Ezio is another excellent addition to the cast, but lacks the overwhelming advantage Link or Yoda conferred.
These characters are introduced in the new Story Mode, and you'll be stuck playing with them for its duration. While I appreciate the attempt at a cohesive a fluid story mode, Soul Calibur V fails on the storytelling front. The story is marred by poor voice acting and last art stills, as pretty as they might be. The few cutscenes, however, are gorgeous, but get ready to scream in frustration at the difficult final fight. I'm not sure if it was a worthwhile trade-off for the individual endings for each character, which are completely gone.
Character creation returns with some expanded options, and a number of appreciated tweaks. Pieces of armor no longer have stat boosts attached to them, and can be moved and placed basically wherever. You are still limited to the existing character's fighting styles, with the exception of an unlockable Devil Jin style, but the varied and unlockable clothing and weapon options offer plenty of customization. I grew quite fond of my tiny elf female who wielded Nightmare's sword like it was a toy bat.
While the other modes are ancillary to the standard arcade mode, they work well enough. The training options are invaluable and intuitive, and go a long way towards easing the sometimes tough learning curve of Soul Calibur. While the online options are basic, a cool Theatre Mode and solid infrastructure make it work well enough to enjoy.
While it's hard not to recommend this to Soul Calibur friends, it strikes a weird note between the new and returning camps. It's easy enough to pick up and play, but newcomers may be put off by the lack of options. While returning vets will be able to instantly pick up where they left off, the small number of innovations may be a deal-breaker. For passing a controller around a group of friends though, few games beat the fun and beauty of Soul Calibur.
Disclosure: We are provided copies of games from the game companies for some games that we review.