SoulCalibur: The Next Generation
It can be a little hard to cope when a franchise you love takes a complete left turn. Fans either love or hate all the new changes and it’s hard for sequels to re-brand themselves successfully once they’ve completely changed. However, what’s even harder to take sometimes is the soft left turn. SoulCalibur V is definitely a soft turn away from the past four entries, and some of the changes have me worried about the future of the series. But then again, quite a bit has remained the same, which means, at least for now, fans should appreciate the newest entry in the “Soul” series.
On the one hand, you’ve got the battle system, which is as polished as ever. Combat is still very much focused on character’s style and weaponry, and your success in the game will depend on your ability to exploit the weaknesses of your opponent’s weapons and fighting style. New this time around is a Critical Edge system that allows you to build up energy via a special meter and unleash cinematic-style attacks with only a few button-presses. This metered attack system is a little bit more user-friendly than those we’ve seen before, and if you are a fighting game fan who doesn’t like memorizing button patterns over and over, you’ll love the new critical attack system.
The superb fighting system will certainly be appreciated by old fans and new, but if you are a die-hard SoulCalibur fan, there’s something under the hood that might disturb you: the roster. As far back as I can remember, fighting franchises would build on existing rosters to help placate old fans while bringing in enough new faces to keep things interesting. However, instead of simply adding new characters, SoulCalibur V has swapped out many old favorites for new characters that are kind of like them.
For example, Sophitia has been swapped out for her two kids, Talim has been swapped with a young girl that has similar fashion tastes, and Xianghua also has been swapped with her offspring. It’s a risky move, and I can’t say that I’m in favor of it, especially when third and fourth generation characters like Tira and Hilde are still in the roster. Though their fighting styles are still represented, I do miss the old characters, and I hope that they will be back for the next iteration of SoulCalibur.
Still, the newbies aren’t that bad, and the few that aren’t related in some way to former heroes have some pretty cool stuff going for them. There’s Z.W.E.I., who can summon werewolves, and Viola, who carries a mysterious floating orb and has no past. These characters are unique enough to stand out amongst all the “new generation” people. I almost wish that if the decision was going to be made to swap out all the old favorites, they would have at least replaced them with unique characters so we wouldn’t have to deal with having all the same moves in a new avatar.
But once you make peace with the fact that many of your favorite characters are gone, you’ll want to hop directly into the game’s story mode. SoulCalibur is one of the few fighting franchises with some decent lore behind it, and, to its credit, the story starts off pretty well. Sophitia’s children have been separated and chosen by SoulCalibur and Soul Edge, and must find a way to come back together. Soul Edge’s influence has corrupted many people in the world of SoulCalibur V (which is set about two decades after IV) and barely-human creatures known only as the Malfested are a constant threat to our heroes (who are led by an unusually subdued Siegfried).
Unfortunately, the story mode doesn’t reach its fullest potential because of one really huge technical flaw: a complete lack of animated cutscenes. Although each chapter break begins with an animated story sequence, every other plot or dialog sequence is displayed via crude storyboard drawings. These non-animated pictures are not detailed, have no color, and are reminiscent of those you might find on the “deleted scenes” section of an animated movie DVD. The effect is jarring, making the entire experience feel halfway finished. I understand that animation costs development time and money, but I would rather wait another six months for a game to come out then deal with storyboard-quality drawings to display what should be an emotional and involved plot point.
In addition to the story mode, there are two other main modes rounding out the game’s content: online matches and an unlockable legendary mode that presents advanced users with some seriously punishing challenges. The random-but-fun tower mode from SoulCalibur IV didn’t make it into this game, which is a real shame, but I suppose the ultra-hard mode should satisfy those still looking for a challenge.
If you are looking for customization options, SoulCalibur V also has plenty here for you, as the customization tool has been expanded yet again to feature more character layers, a paint tool, some 3D placement features, and a new picture taking system that gives you more control over character poses, locations, and even gives you the option to add one or two “fun frames.” Customization in SoulCalibur V definitely has been improved quite a bit, and, if you don’t mind sitting down for an hour or two, you can make some pretty awesome characters.
Visually, the game is on-par with SoulCalibur IV, which isn’t a bad thing. Characters are nicely detailed, and environments are fairly diverse. Again, my only problem here is the non-animated content in the story mode. However, if you are just playing in the versus or online modes, you won’t be disappointed by the game’s visual style. Audio is also pretty much the same as it has been. Voiceovers are done well, and orchestral background music is pleasant to listen to.
On the surface, SoulCalibur V feels like a complete departure from what we’re used to. The absence of old characters is jarring at first, and, as a fan, it is hard to adjust to the changes without a little bit of ire. However, as you play you notice that the game still feels the same old SoulCalibur. It’s still fun, the characters are still bursting with personality, and despite my misgivings about the style, the story is still memorable. It’s not a complete departure for the series, but the move away from classic characters may be indicative of the series as a whole turning away from its roots. And that may be something to worry about when we finally get around to talking about SoulCalibur VI.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 3.5 Graphics
Character models are very detailed and fight animations look good, but non-animated storyboard scenes mar the story mode. 4.5 Control
The fight system feels as good as it always has, and introduction of new fight mechanics keeps things fresh. 3.9 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
Music and voiceover are done masterfully. 3.6 Play Value
The content isn’t as robust as it has been in previous entries, but the extra difficulty modes provide a challenge for those who seek it. 3.8 Overall Rating – Good
Not an average. See Rating legend below for a final score breakdown.
|Review Rating Legend
|0.1 – 1.9 = Avoid
|2.5 – 2.9 = Average
|3.5 – 3.9 = Good
|4.5 – 4.9 = Must Buy
|2.0 – 2.4 = Poor
|3.0 – 3.4 = Fair
|4.0 – 4.4 = Great
|5.0 = The Best