Fighting game fans have been served quite well lately with titles like King of Fighters XIII and Ultimate Marvel VS Capcom 3, but those who prefer fighters that take the 3D approach were probably eagerly anticipating the release of this brand new chapter in Namco’s SoulCalibur franchise. Does this fifth installment fight its way to the top or does it take a beating? We gave it a spin to find out…
It’s no coincidence that SoulCalibur is one of the most popular fighting games around; the series represents exactly what fighting fans want: Impeccable gameplay mechanics, eye-popping visuals and a large cast of characters, each with their own unique abilities. Ever since the very first episode in 1996, the series has only grown in popularity, finally becoming one of the fighting genre’s top franchises. This time around, a number of changes have been implemented both in terms of gameplay and story. This game does in fact put a lot more emphasis on story than you might expect from a fighting game. Taking place 17 years after the events of SoulCalibur IV, the one follows the adventures of both children of Sophitia: Pyrrha and Patroklos. Their origins lead them to take part in a mystical fight between the two sacred swords. Pyrrha finds herself destined to wield the Soul Edge while Patroklos’ fate is linked to the Soul Calibur. As you can imagine, conflict ensues…
While the story is engaging for a fighting game, it remains quite limited and it quickly becomes obvious that its purpose is mostly to justify a renewal of the cast of characters. Some fans of the series might be quick to pull the trigger and complain that Namco didn’t need to change the cast, but keep in mind that the old fan favorites remain, they’re simply 17 years older (and it rarely looks like it). Overall, though the story is impressive for a fighting game, it is clearly not the biggest strength of this title. Actors do a fine job voicing the characters, but don’t expect anything stellar. I suspect a lot of players might skip the story mode altogether and quickly jump to the fights.
"While some of the changes are questionable and some might blame Namco for not taking the “if it isn’t broken, don’t fix it” approach, this remains a welcome new entry that will give another boost to the fighting genre."
Here is where things get interesting. The gameplay in this installment features arguably the boldest changes in series history. Those who are new to the series or only casually played the previous enteries might not notice right away, but a good number of changes have been made. First is the blazing speed of combat. In the previous chapters, the slow, weapon-based combat was a trademark. The slow pace allowed for more strategy in combat and lengthier fights. This one, however, speeds things up significantly. The new pace provides some truly great moments and more nervous fights, but comes at the price, costing of a bit of the series’ originality. There are times where I felt like I was playing a generic fighting game rather than a new installment in the SoulCalibur franchise.
Newcomers are sure to find a lot of entertainment in this sixty dollar package, and the faster, less tactical combat does end up being more accessible to the masses (as long as one is willing to practice). While fans of the series may be unhappy with the changes at first, it must be noted that when you master the new style of gameplay, the game quickly becomes incredibly rewarding and reveals quite a bit of depth. For example, players that have a great sense of timing will be instantly rewarded if they perform certain actions like blocking an attack exactly at the moment of impact. Veteran players will be quick to notice the complete revamp of the user interface with new features surfacing and others disappearing. Things like the indicator showing the state of a character’s armor is completely gone, revealing that even if players still have the ability to destroy their opponent’s armor, it will not have an impact on the fight anymore as the changes are only visual and don’t effect the player’s health like in previous episodes. The Soul Gauge is another thing that was taken out, but the Critical Edge is there to replace it. Critical Edge has two different charges that fill up as you block attacks or unleash impressive combos on your opponents. A full charge of the new gauge will give you the ability to perform three separate moves. The first one, Brave Edge, is basically your standard, character specific special move and will cost you half a gauge. The Critical Edge, which is the real star of this new system, is an enhanced version of the Brave Edge which, while being much more powerful, will cost you a full charge. The third, and far less interesting move is the Guard Impact from previous games that will now cost you some of your charge.
A returning feature that is well worth mentioning is of course the online mode which doesn’t offer much more than the last installment, but still remains a very enjoyable experience. Fighting games are often plagued with technical issues as no other genre is more reliant on good connections and low latency than this one. SoulCalibur IV was absolutely atrocious with its connection issues, and was known for being practically unplayable online. Thankfully, the netcode for this one is magnificent and during out play sessions, the game disn’t suffer from any lag issues whatsoever. Finding players matching your skill is a breeze and various filters make this a highly customizable experience. While the gameplay changes might not appeal to all players, open-minded fans will find a very enjoyable new set of features and a more frantic, nervous pace that contributes to making the fights more exciting, if a bit less tactical. The changes do come at the cost of some of the series’ unique identity, but it still manages to keep most of the charm coming from its roots.
Graphically, this game is simply incredible, and the faster pace only contributes to showcasing the wonderful visual effects associated to the characters’ moves. Players will often feel like they’re watching fireworks rather than playing a video game. Thankfully, those effects never ruin the visibility of the action, and the crisp visuals are simply a feast for the eyes. The game also sports a rock solid framerate that is often said to be essential in fighting games since timing is always so important during fights. In regards to the soundtrack, it simply fits the action perfectly. Each stage has an appropriate theme and the music manages to get you in the mood to fight. The game does however suffer in some areas of its presentation. While the sound design, music and visual fidelity are absolutely remarkable, the story mode sadly does not feature enough eye-popping cinematics for my taste. Instead, it offers us bland black and white still-framed artwork, and simply doesn’t look that great. I’d much rather be looking at something pre-rendered or produced by the game’s crisp visuals than look at those. It seems like Namco lacked the budget, time or motivation to offer the player something truly compelling in this department and it is a disappointment considering the stunning presentation of the game in other areas.
After a long break since the fourth episode of the series, fans of the franchise will be happy to jump back into the fray with SoulCalibur V. While some of the changes are questionable and some might blame Namco for not taking the “if it isn’t broken, don’t fix it” approach, this remains a welcome new entry that will give another boost to the fighting genre. At the end of the day it all comes down to one thing: Does SoulCalibur V provide enough entertainment to justify its $60 price tag? The answer is a resounding yes.
Release date : 2012-02-07
Publisher : Namco
Developer : Project Soul
Gameplay : Fighting & Wrestling
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