Soulcalibur V – The PS3 Attitude Review
Soulcalibur is back for another instalment, don’t be fooled by the Roman V, Project Soul has actually squeezed out more than five Soul games in the past six years, more than is probably healthy for the series.
But neither should you fall into the trap of thinking that Soulcalibur V is simply a rehash with small refinements, outlandish new character skins and a few new gimmicky characters. That’s partially true, but it doesn’t tell the whole story.
For starters, character designs are now much more in tune with the original tastes of the series. With each sequel, designs grew steadily more creative and wilder, but V sees a return to the less complicated and more refined designs. Cervantes, for example, who looked positively ghost-pirate-like in Soulcalibur IV, now looks like a handy life-like pirate, as he used to. That same logic applies with most of the characters, and far from looking dull, it looks more assured.
That’s not to say it isn’t capable of being outlandish anymore. The circus-goth look of new character Tira and the devil-samurai styling of Yoshimitsu show Project Soul still have artistic impulses. Soulcalibur has always been a treat on the eye, but V looks exceptional.
Gimmicky guest appearances are back again; but rather than having the jarring sight of Yoda and Darth Vader crossing light sabres, we have Assassin’s Creed’s Ezio Auditore in Renaissance garb using his hidden gear to devastating effect. Rather than feeling far far away from what Soulcalibur means to fans, Ezio perfectly complements the rest of the roster. He’s also great fun to use, a nice balance between agility and power.
The big changes, more importantly, come with how it plays with a new simplified offensive and defensive game replacing the cluttered system that was in place before. It still plays largely the same with kicks (CIRCLE) supporting an assault of horizontal (SQUARE) and vertical (TRIANGLE) slices, and blocking (X) is also still very important.
The changes to the offensive game come in the form of Critical Edge attacks. These replacements for the Critical Finish are lifted straight from Street Fighter. It’s a simple fill the power gauge halfway, perform a couple of forward arc motions on the stick and then press the three-buttons combination (or simply R2 on your controller).The result is a brutal slow-motion combo that will do massive damage to your opponent. But crucially, the Critical Edge attacks are not overpowered and they can be blocked.
Some veterans will no doubt scoff at this change, and admittedly it can sometimes be overused, to a frustrating degree. But I think the new shift towards accessibility is something worth celebrating. The focus is now on sound judgement and precise timing, no longer favouring those with the most dextrous hands.
The defensive game is now split into three different approaches, which are Quick Moves, Just Guard and Impact Guard. Quick Moves (double-tap in one direction) allow for quick evasive manoeuvres, providing a way to avoid staff-equipped opponents who are determined to jab you from afar – I’m looking at you Kilik.
Just Guard, meanwhile, is a redesign of parries. Tap X at the last moment before the attack lands and you can make a quick recovery. Guard Impact, alternatively, allows you absorb an enemy attack and return it with interest. You will take a hit on your meter but your opponent will come out worse, if successful. The more subtle Just Guard, so far, appears to be the more effective option for most situations.
These changes, while sounding modest, go a long way to altering the feel of the game. It is sharper, more fluid and certainly more enjoyable than IV. You feel in control and that you will be rewarded for your skill. The Critical Edge attacks also allow for quick shifts in tempo. You could be taking a spanking, but with a carefully timed Critical Edge attack you can see the momentum quickly shift in your favour.
There are 27 fighters in Soulcalibur V, most are familiar faces returning to fight 17 years on from the events of Soulcalibur IV. They are joined by Leixia, Viola, Pyrrha, Patroklos, Natsu and Z.W.E.I. None of them manage to overshadow the original stalwarts, but it is still early days. Z.W.E.I’s ability to summon a werewolf spirit is, admittedly, awesome fun. We are also fans of Xiba’s bo staff.
The relatively lengthy story mode introduces the new characters, but it particularly focuses on the tale of Patroklos and Pyrrha, the son and daughter of Soulcalibur vet Sophitia. The narrative and acting in the cutscenes between fights are shoddy and the twists can be seen a mile off, but the story mode is good for introducing the new characters and the tale of the two blades. The difficulty curve is also pleasantly forgiving for newcomers. The story progresses in a linear fashion with sadly none of the weapon-collected fun of previous titles, so once completed it’s unlikely you’ll want to return to it.
Instead you’ll move on to the Arcade and Legendary Souls modes. Both offer a traditional arcade format, but the latter is much tougher. It’s essentially a boss rush mode starting from Kilik to Algol. It really is ridiculously hard, with every error punished, so it’ll certainly be rewarding for series veterans.
In addition to these, there are standard quick fight and training options. The Quick Battle mode lets you take on a wide range of colourful customised characters from around the world, and if you search for long enough you’ll come across Katsuhiro Harada, the legendary developer known for his work on Namco’s Tekken series — he’s tough and you’ll get a trophy for beating him. Speaking of customisation, Soulcalibur V’s create-a-fighter allows you to alter the appearance of your warrior to an impressive level.
Soulcalibur V has a strong showing online too. Players have the option to take on ranked and unranked matches, join region-specific lobbies, and take part in tournaments and chat. You can also save up to three rivals in your licence screen, for you to compare your performance against. You can also view opponents saved replays, which is a nice touch.
Throughout the game you are earning XP and gaining new titles. There is plenty to keep players entertained for months, assuming they like fighting games.
The team has developed a new netcode from the ground up, designed to create a responsive online experience. I’ve sadly had quite a few tech issues of late, which have made it difficult to get into games, so I haven’t been able to test the online mode as extensively as I would have liked, but the games I have played have been lag-free and very smooth.
Across the board, there is very little to complain about with this sequel. The gameplay has had enough work done on it to bring it in line with current trends, while freshening it up and making it more exciting than ever. But at the same time it still retains that core Soulcalibur feel which is completely unique.
The expansion to the online mode and the huge variety of the offline modes ensure that this is excellent value for money. No other fighter can match Soulcalibur V offline.
A special mention for the level designs as well. Every stage is rich with detail and many are partially destructible. Some will also alter completely between rounds. Very smart.
There are few things more satisfying for a gamer than seeing a much-loved franchise find its rhythm again. That’s exactly what we’re seeing here. After a sluggish few years, Soulcalibur means business once again. Project Soul has also managed this while doing the unthinkable: they’ve successfully created a more accessible Soulcalibur without alienating core fans. Bravo.
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