Replay Value: 8.4
Just to be clear, although I’m not a huge fighting fan, Soul Calibur is unquestionably my favorite series in the genre. I adored the original (it was one of only three games I ever bought for the Dreamcast), and I’ve played every entry since. I’m almost always satisfied but in the case of Soul Calibur V, I sense something foreign…a keen awareness that with every flashy slash, disappointment lingers in the background. It’s tough to admit but I don’t believe in denial.
First off, the game looks fantastic, as one might expect. The franchise is well known for beautiful, smooth visuals that excel when the attractive action heats up. SCV is no different and offers plenty of sweet, eye-pleasing effects, wonderfully designed characters, and even several top-notch battle backgrounds. That being said, I really think some of this presentation’s appeal is wearing off, and it isn’t due to any particular lagging but to a perceived lack of forward progress.
The sound is solid as well and once again, the effects take center-stage. The soundtrack is classically epic and full of brazen fanfare, per the franchise’s singular style. There’s no doubt that you’re playing a Soul Calibur and your speakers will appreciate the intensity of every hot-blooded clash of blades. But the voice acting is just pathetic and although it doesn’t matter as much in a fighting game, it doesn’t get a free pass. I mean, these voices are a little ridiculous and the story suffers as a result.
While some fighting games are considered more “hardcore” than others, Soul Calibur was always something of a blend. It boasted a pick-up-and-play quality that other titles didn’t have but at the same time, those who wished to dedicate themselves to learning the intricacies of combat would find a rewarding mechanic. That philosophy returns with SCV, as one can easily find entertainment by jamming on a few buttons, but won’t taste fulfillment the way the patient, diligent disciples will.
At its simplest, SCV is all about high and low attacks and on the flip side, high and low blocks. And to emphasize the aforementioned accessibility, the Critical Edge system has been updated and overhauled to give newcomers more opportunity to execute crowd-pleasing combos. Basically, you just build up the Critical Gauge during battle; it will fill when you deal or receive damage. When it’s full, you can unleash a very pretty – and awfully devastating – series of attacks that could cripple your opponent.
You also use this mechanic to execute Guard Impacts, which require precise timing and if successful, will knock your opponent off balance. It’s something the more serious fighting aficionados will appreciate but even at a high level, I think there’s something inherently flawed with the concept. Because they drain energy from the Critical Gauge, this means you may never get a chance to unleash your full power. And even if you get a few perfect Guard Impacts from that, they don’t have the same effect as going on the offensive with a full Gauge.
Now, don’t get me wrong, this is still a reliable, compelling fighting game that can be tons of fun. But there’s one element where the designers dropped the ball and unfortunately, it’s the one element I treasure most: the story campaign. In SCV, most of the stories are told with simple and uninspired storyboards, and the boring (and in some cases, totally nonsense) plots don’t grab you. The awful dialogue and voice acting is just the final nail in the coffin for me, and that makes this an irritating adventure. I had expected much more.
As it turns out, Project Soul farmed out work on the story mode. That’s right, CyberConnect2 handled it and I have no idea why you outsource the most important aspect of your franchise. The new characters, particularly the uninteresting Patroklos, aren’t as good as they could’ve been, and the painfully bad writing and acting make the campaign feel very…amateur-ish by today’s standards. Lastly, there are 20 episodes in this mode and the last few are just unbearably frustrating.
I suppose the latter complaint could be due to my less-than-impressive skills with fighting games, and I’ll accept that. But I maintain that the meat and potatoes of Soul Calibur feels gimped. Arcade Mode won’t help much, either, as you only have access to 6 episodes, all of which are time trials that get tedious fast. On the plus side, you can’t ignore the great fighting mechanic and the fact that each character has his or her own distinct style.
Speaking of the new characters, this is going to be a sore spot for the long-time fans, although it doesn’t bother me quite as much. There are ten new fighters on the SCV roster and actually, several of them will remind you of the missing faces. Xiba will remind you of Kilik, for instance, and Natsu is similar to Taki (who was her master). The special guest character, Ezio Auditore, from Ubisoft’s Assassin’s Creed franchise, is great. But with no Sophitia and other losses, this roster may disappoint the hardcore.
However, I will reiterate that the fighting remains pretty damn good, and the character creation mode is as robust as ever. Plus, fighting games are all about playing with other people; in the good ol’ days, this meant your opponent was sitting by your side but now, that isn’t a necessity. Either way, whether you compete offline or online, you’re going to have a blast if you enjoy this accessible yet challenging system. And remember, much of that patented Soul Calibur flash and panache is evident throughout.
Soul Calibur V is a competent, good-looking fighter that’s great with multiple players. It has much of the charm and style that has been the franchise’s calling card over the years, and diving into the mechanic will yield rewards for the patient. But the story campaign is so goofy and nonsensical, the lack of popular characters will annoy some fans, and overall, it just feels like a lesser-quality installment despite the lack of any glaring flaws.
The Good: Spiffy visuals throughout. Great audio and graphical effects. Accessible yet appropriately deep fighting system. Critical Gauge works well for offense. Each character has a distinct style. Playing with others, offline or online, is a blast.
The Bad: Voices are terrible. Story mode suffers from bad writing and boring main characters. Guard Impacts pale in comparison to Critical Gauge attacks. Familiar faces are missing.
The Ugly: “Oh dear God, stop talking. Please.”