Release date: 3/02/2012, Format: Xbox 360/ Playstation 3, Developers: Project Soul, Publisher: Namco Bandai Games.
The tale of swords and souls, eternally retold, has finally received a fifth instalment with the release of the fantastic Soulcalibur V.
For those of you who are unaware, Soulcalibur is a long running series of fighting games which traces its history all the way back to the arcades. It’s a weapons based game, with each character wielding a slightly different weapon adopting their own unique style. The game also uses a comprehensive yet effective realised 8-way run system, which means that each character can move in whatever direction you like, rather than only forward or backwards.
Not much has changed in the series since the first incarnations. You hit the other person with swords or axes or whatever else comes to hand. The idea of hitting other people with swords is pretty much universal and the game is very accessible, even for people who have never played it before. SCV is no exception and I was soon feeling like a pro – even with characters that I’d never laid eyes on before.
There are a few changes of course. The ‘Critical Finish’ system from the previous system has been brushed aside, to be replaced with a new ‘Critical Edge’ system. The ‘Critical Edge’ is a powerful move that can be used at any time, along with brave edges, as long as you have enough soul gauge. It’s a simple change that has a big impact on the game.
All in all however, it’s a Soulcalibur game. The combat is fast and free flowing without ever getting to the point of feeling rushed or frenetic. It’s incredibly aggressive as well, as guard breaks make a reappearance – often at the most annoying times! Blocking is a necessity of course, but it does tend to take a back seat when the frenetic exchange of blows gets heated. It’s a fantastic blend of speed and precision gameplay and the results really speak for themselves.
The developers also took the brave decision to set the game seventeen years after the last one. That means new characters make their debuts and some of the old characters make way or in some cases change dramatically. For some people, whose favourites have been left out, this will be a shock to the system, but there are some fantastic new characters to replace them. Xiba, for example, is the successor to Kilik and wields Kilik’s signature staff. He also has some of Kilik’s moves, but he forges an identity for himself that is completely unique.
Some of the other new characters are really refreshing, simply because they have styles that are completely different to what Soulcalibur fans have become all too accustomed with. The enigmatically named Z.W.E.I summons a werewolf to assist his attacks and the lovely Viola psychically controls a crystal ball as a weapon. Ezio Auditore de Firenze is without a doubt the best guest character ever introduced, as he fits the feel of the game really well. He also posesses a unique style, wielding all the weapons he can in the Assassins Creed games, which makes him effective at all ranges. He is a real success.
Unfortunately, not everything about the game is so excellent. The story mode for example, is weak. It concentrates on only five of the more than twenty characters within the roster, and the story itself is a little bland. It didn’t really catch my imagination and the big finale, which should have felt like a real achievement, completely failed to stick in my mind. I don’t even remember the conclusion of the story.
My real problem with the story of the game however, is that they concentrate on a very select group of characters in the roster and don’t bother to explain the story of the cast. I was really looking forward to finding out about Z.W.E.I’s story. I wanted to know why his name was so unusual, why he fights the way he does, who the werewolf he summons is, what his motivations are. I didn’t find out any of that- I’m not asking for afternoon tea or anything- a bit of background information and context would have been nice. I went to the arcade mode in the hope that it might shed some light on his story, but once I finished the final battle I was greeted with a breakdown of my time. No cut scene, no story, nothing. It was incredibly disappointing and frustrating. I didn’t care about the main storyline at all, but I was made to sit through it anyway, but when there is a story that I did want to know, they didn’t provide it. Having said that, you don’t really play a fighting game for the story, do you?
Another pet peeve that I found was that on the higher levels of difficulty, the AI tended to utilise the same three or four particularly powerful moves over and over again. In one match I played against Leixia, she played a full round using only two moves. It’s incredibly frustrating and if you don’t catch on fast it becomes almost soul destroying. Especially when you’ve lost a few times in a row to the same combination of moves. I decided that I’d be damned if I was going to let a blasted AI spam me to death and battled through, but others may well be discouraged by this.
The online mode is much improved. There is far less lag, even on slower connections, and the room system is far more enjoyable than the random matchups of the previous game. There was obviously a lot more effort put into the online mode and it certainly shows.
This is a fantastic game. It’s fluid, furious and completely addictive. I’ve spent dozens of hours on it and I’m sure that I’ll spend dozens more. There are frustrating flaws however, and that means that this is a very good game rather than a great one. It is certainly the best fighting game I’ve played in the last few months. The fabulous gameplay and the sheer variety of characters mean that I’ll be coming back for more month after month. I just can’t help wondering what this game might have been…