Soul Calibur V review
Almost a continuum shift in the calamity trigger


I'm going to be honest in saying that I don't particularly like fighting games all that much. I tend to buy one, play it for a little while to learn how a character functions, go through the story mode or play arcade mode, and... then add it to the trade-in pile because I'm already bored of it and am instead playing something else. But Soul Calibur 2 and 3 were like the complete opposite - I'd actually spend heaps of time going through those games, playing through their arcade modes to learn about the individual fighters and play through the story mode to experience a different (albeit not exactly well told) story while fighting waves of opponents under different (sometimes cheap) conditions. I skipped Soul Calibur 4 because at the time, I didn't have a 360 or a PS3, and... I don't know why I still skipped it. I guess... because I didn't want to be disappointed by a Soul Calibur game, even if 4 had the capacity to give me a super boner. So I skipped to 5, just to check and see what's up because it's introducing new characters and is taking place nearly 20 years after Soul Calibur 4.

What did I think? As far as the characters and the story goes... meh. 17 years after Seigfried defeats Nightmare and seals the Soul Edge using the power of the Soul Calibur, Sophitia's children Patroklos and Pyrrha are having their own merry adventures... well, not exactly "merry", but they're certainly having adventures! Patroklos is out looking for his sister while being guided by some guy named Dumas, who he thought was looking for his sister. Pyrrha, on the other hand, is being manipulated by Tira to kill humans. You want some bad news? That's... kind of all you get. Yep, no interesting point of views of the other characters - just Patroklos and Pyrrha... and Tira, ZWEI and Seigfried if you want me to drop names of characters who appear more than twice in the Story mode. This is weak on many levels, and the shortest way to explain it is this - Patroklos has the hots for his sister, Pyrrha was kidnapped by Tira when she was a baby and Seigfried went from legendary knight to a mere guard... that's all I got from the Story mode, and to say I was disappointed is quite a *bleep*ing understatement! Fanfic quality doesn't even begin to describe how lame it was...

Oh yes, I only mentioned Story mode. You see, Arcade mode doesn't give you diddly squat! Beating it with Nightmare or Natsu doesn't give you any story from their points of view - nope, all Arcade mode is, is a *bleep*ing TIME TRIAL MODE! One I was particularly interested in learning about is Ezio, like what is he doing in the Soul Calibur universe? Then you have the Kilik/Xianghua/Maxi trio-- err, sorry, I mean Xiba/Lexia/Maxi trio. In fact, I want to know what happened to Kilik and Xianghua, and why Xiba has Kilik's weapon. I want to know why Maxi doesn't have somebody replacing him. I want to know more about Natsu. I want to know where Talim and Zasalamel are (oh wait, let me guess, they're DLC? Are we going to be Capcom all of a sudden, Namco?). Again, I want to know what Ezio's doing here. I'm only having an issue with this because previous Soul Calibur games, especially 3, actually did this thing called telling the story from everybody's perspectives! Why the sudden laziness, Namco? No, I will not look it all up on the Soul Calibur Wikia because I would appreciate it being put into the game... hell, there aren't even any bios on the main menu for *bleep*s sake. I'm only cruel because the older games did so much better in this regard, especially the third game.

The fighting in this game feels fairly different compared to the past Soul Calibur games. In fact, I'd probably compare it to Guilty Gear or Blazblue more than any of the past games, although it's not quite at that level of craziness... but it's sure as hell getting there! It may seem like the idea is to use a strong attack or a short combo on the opponent when they're vulnerable like in the games of old, but actually, what you're meant to do is chain combos together because that's how modern fighting games are meant to work and Soul Calibur wants a piece of the pie.

Most of the change is tied to the Soul Gauge, which controls three things - Brave Edge, Critical Edge and Guard Impact... wait, what was that last one, Guard Impact? Yeah, instead of being allowed to press left or right on the d-pad and guard, now you have to have at least a 1 on the Soul Gauge, pull back on the d-pad and press horizontal, vertical and kick buttons (which is thankfully compressed to R2)... that, my friends, is bullshit. That will seriously throw older Soul Calibur players off their games, and this Just Guard thing where you have to press guard JUST AS THEY'RE ABOUT TO CONNECT WITH YOU has extremely strict timing... that, and you just press guard. No left or right input, just guard. If that doesn't sound bad, well... let's put it this way - After playing this for a while, I played Soul Calibur 3 again, and god *bleep*ing damn, I kept on doing guard impacts (with such poor timing, I might add) when I was intending to guard because I got soo used to this, and I'm sure it'll happen to you too.

Moving onto the Edges – Brave Edge is like a super finisher to character specific combos that looks flashy and does a decent amount of damage. Critical Edge is a super attack with a level of flashiness that fluctuates between characters, like how some just perform a combo attack while some have special powers (especially my man Lizardman and his flamethrower attack). Surprisingly, only maybe a couple are unblockable. This was sort of featured in Soul Calibur 4, but only doable if the opponent guards way too much and the gem on the side of their health bar glowed red – here, it's as long as you have 1 full Soul Guage, do two quarter rotations and hit the three attack buttons at once. Theoretically, it's so that newbies can feel badass, but in practice, it's just a strong attack or combo that looks cool.

Don't get me wrong , I don't hate this – I'm not even indifferent to it. In fact, I find it enjoyable, and it's still pretty well executed. Shit, it even stays within the confides of a Soul Calibur game, just with more speed in an effort to seperate it from the other games in the series (though many reviewers will claim that it's very similar to the rest – yeah, except Soul Caliburs 1-4 weren't flashy, speedy, combo driven fighting games, unlike Soul Calibur 5). You still have the good old vertical/horizontal/kick attacks that each have their uses; you still have to catch the opponent when they're the slightest bit vulnerable, particularly with an attack or two that'd suit the situation... yeah, stuff that's true for any fighting game, but Soul Calibur, in particular, got this right, and this game keeps up the tradition, albeit in a more Blazblue-sy way than you'd expect, particularly if you've just come from Soul Calibur 2 or 3. But one thing I'm glad stuck around was just how it operated... like, it's easy for newcomers to hop aboard and get used to the characters through a bit of trial and error or bits of advice in the training mode, while there are enough combos to keep veterans interested.

I have to say, though, the AI blows. At times, they put up a reasonably fair fight, but between idiotic opponents who barely fight back and opponents who will cheap shot you with oh so well timed combos (they can see into my mind!?) and Critical Edges, fighting can be pretty frustrating. Not that fighting games ever had great AI, but you were always forced to actually use strategy. Here, it's so much easier to win by spamming two or three attacks and grabs, and that's if you aren't getting cheesed by certain characters' combos. It's like you make one mistake and you might as well throw in the towel because they can execute combos ever so flawlessly – meanwhile, the opponent can make a bajillion mistakes and you can still lose. Shit like this is what stops me from enjoying fighting games, because instead of putting effort into mastering a character, you just master a few cheap attacks to fight cheesing with cheesing.

So if you want to feel like it's okay to master a character, play online, because you'll be playing against people of varying skill levels. Much more often than not, you'll fight somebody who won't cheap shot you as much as the computer opponents do, mostly because it's people operating the fighters instead of the computer itself. The options for online matches are simple enough – two sorts of ranked matches (one being one-on-one and one being in a lobby of sorts) and one sort of unranked matches, search for people in a country at a certain skill level... not much else, but when you play with little to no lag, it just feels right. Mind you, if you're getting just 1 bar for connection, it'll have a 1 second lag which can *bleep* with your timing, but any more than 1 bar will result in less or no lag. Pretty much due to this, the online is fantastic, and fighting other humans... it's tricky to explain why it's so satisfying (and the XP isn't it – sorry, I'm not Johnny OCD) without simply saying “humans don't cheat nearly as much as the AI” and “it makes you think that these combos are actually possible to pull off with practise”. Probably not the best reasons in the world, but it's something you have to experience for yourself to see why it's more satisfying.

Right, this has been bugging me for a while - why is it that the story mode has maybe a handful of cutscenes that are actually scenes while the majority are filled with storyboards?.Yeah, storyboards, like they didn't have time to finish it up (and yeah, I heard rumors that they didn't, but still)... they didn't even do fully colored still images, which really kills my boner because the scenes (you know, the ones that move) look really damn pretty. Everything looks just right, with appropriate colors and tones for the objects and atmosphere, models that have some well defined features (and surprisingly, only Ivy sports DD boobs... the rest are a bit more modest in size... and I've probably iced a few boners – NOW YOU KNOW I FEEL), and the textures define the environments and objects just right... except for some blurs, but eh, what can you do? Meanwhile, the storyboards are sketches – well drawn sketches, mind you, but sketches nonetheless – of the characters and important objects... on top of brown paper. Hmm... maybe I need motion to go with my voice acting? Yeah, I'd say so. Not sure about you, though.

Then there's the sound design, which is pretty much what you'd expect of Soul Calibur – soaring tracks that just give every fight a sense of epicness, like every fight is important. Mind you, some tracks are more epic than others – particularly ones for the more otherworldly battlefields, which have that “final battle” feel to them. THOSE are the ones that stick inside your mind like tar. The rest are great, but none too memorable. At least they didn't recycle the Soul Calibur 2 soundtrack – looking at you, Soul Calibur 3. What I didn't care for is the voice acting. A lot of it just feels like it was ripped from a mid 2000s anime – it's either over the top, or dull. Whatever happened to balance? I mean, Soul Calibur never had good voice acting and this probably has the best, but a lot of the more overactive performances, for all the effort they put into it, comes out as fairly mediocre and doesn't really draw you into the story, and the dull ones... no thanks. But since the story only lasts like 2 hours and the rest is through entrances and victory poses, it's a minor thing and it's kind of silly to bitch about it in hindsight.

Gameplay: 3.5
Although it feels a bit more like every other fast paced, combo heavy fighting game on the market, it still has a Soul Calibur flavor, and poor AI aside, it's still well made and accessible to newcomers while interesting enough for veterans.

Controls: 4
Although you'll be inclined to keep trying to Guard Impact to no avail (unless this is your first Soul Calibur game) and the timing on Just Guard is pretty damn strict, the controls are pretty tight. Some commands can be a bit ridiculous to pull off, but eh, something for the pros to do I guess, and it's easy for beginners to get the hang of as a fair amount of commands are simple enough to pull off.

Story: 1.5
Unlike other Soul Calibur games, there's practically nothing on most of the characters... not even a simple bit of text to tell us what they're doing or whatever, and if there is something... do you even care about this this fanfic quality bullshit?

Graphics: 3.5
The scenes and fights look pretty, but damn, the storyboards... maybe they're technically nice but it looks lazy/rushed when they're used as cutscenes.

Sound: 4
The soundtrack is pure Soul Calibur... in that it's pretty damn epic and always gets a good mood going. Voice acting ranges between meh and SHUT UP BITCH!

Lastability: 3
There's very little to actually do offline, and who knows how long the online community will last... or you if you aren't very good.

Funfactor: 3.5
Fighting is often fun, but the cheap AI will piss you off to no end due to constant cheat-- I MEAN SUCH IMPECCABLE TIMING FOR THEIR COMBOS!

Bottom line:
Soul Calibur 5 is very much an online fighting game. It does an excellent job with the online mode, having little to no lag and fighting humans, win or lose, is fun and satisfying. However, the offline content leaves a lot to be desired, doubly so when you consider what other games in this genre are doing these days versus what they did about ten years ago. Not to mention, fighting games have gone beyond the genre you play with friends and just friends – Blazblue has a good amount of single player content, as do Mortal Kombat 9 and King Of Fighters 13. Soul Calibur 5 is a step or three back from that. It's still a reasonably well made game, but the thing is, every Soul Calibur game is at least good, so this doesn't really impress me. Online's great, but when nobody's playing, you'll be left with the offline stuff, and with bugger all to do offline, well, you better be a trophy hound or this game will be worthless.

Eh, if you can only own one Soul Calibur game and wanted the worst, go for this one... yeah, it says something when the worst of a series is actually a good game, despite some flaws and general bullshit.


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