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Soulcalibur V review

Excellent
AT A GLANCE
  • New tweaks to gameplay
  • Visual splendor
  • Blend of fresh faces and familiar fighters
  • Cheesy story mode not for the lactose intolerant
  • Legendary Souls mode will drive non-hardcore players crazy
  • Did we mention the voice acting for story mode?

Soulcalibur V isn’t a reboot in name, but as we spent hours diving into its intricate system, it sure feels like one. If Soulcalibur III was a largely-forgotten misstep, and Soulcalibur IV was a good sequel for its time, Soulcalibur V marks a solid improvement. It has some questionable moments in its presentation, but overall, it weaves nostalgia together with reinvention for a reasonably sound fighting experience.

SC5’s plot takes place 17 years after the events of SC4. Outside of some age-less characters, the biggest impact of this temporal change is a fresh new roster of characters for you to learn and explore. It also gives Project Soul a chance to extract fan favorites from the more forgettable faces of the last two titles. The result is a group of great new characters to dive into (and if you’re playing competitively, dissect and master), and enough familiar ones for lapsed gamers. So if you play Soulcalibur frequently, or you ignored each game since the halcyon days of Link, Spawn, and Heihachi, there’s something here for you.

SC5 eschews the numerous guest cameos for a less bloated star roster, featuring Ezio Auditore from the Assassin’s Creed series, and the unlockable Devil Jin, a Soulcalibur-ized version of the Tekken brawler. Both are far more impactful than the likes of the three Star Wars characters of prior games. The benchmark of a solid guest character largely lies in how they play were they not skinned with a familiar face. Ezio’s attacks feel effective and strong, and he’s just as accessible and fun as long-time favorites like Mitsurugi and Maxi.

When souls burn, does it smell?

If you’re not sure about sampling the youthful roster, SC5’s story mode eases you into trying them out. Over the span of 20 chapters, you’ll play as Patroklos, son of Sophitia, as he battles his way through numerous characters and combatants to reach his long-lost sister Pyrrha. Things are, of course, never as simple as they initially appear, and the lingering effects of Soul Edge still cast over the land. The malfested are still spreading evil, and Pyrrha has been exploited by Tira, who is grooming her to wield the evil blade.

It’s all a fantastic excuse to let you test out Patroklos, Pyrrha, and other new fighters, including the spirit animal-channeling Z.W.E.I. (and there are more combatants who evoke classic characters). You will, however, endure some downright groan-worthy moments in its cheesy motion comics. It’s bad to the point of endearing, but then, how heavily does credibility play a role in a game featuring people battling in these outfits? By the time it’s done, you’ll feel rather comfortable with the two siblings’ style, and arguably more than you would simply grinding through Arcade mode.

Aside from Story mode, look for Arcade and Legendary Souls modes to help you earn XP to unlock more stages and characters. They won’t come easily for casual players, though.  Without some time invested in SC5’s nuanced defensive system, you’ll be re-fighting Nightmare quite a bit in Arcade mode. Legendary Souls is not for the faint of heart. It’s a mode designed for you to brawl through on Very Hard difficulty. For the completist, you’ll need to clear the mode to unlock certain characters. Buckle up.

Building up the meter

Soulcalibur V feels like a fresh start for the franchise, and that’s not just thanks to its new cast of combatants. The Soul Gauge has given way to the Critical Gauge, a two-tiered meter that falls in line with similar features in other fighting games. You can use it for features such as Brave Edge, which allows you to add a bit more spice to your combo for more impact, but at the cost of some of your Critical Gauge. Also, Critical Finishes, introduced in SC4, have been pared down to Critical Edge, which allows you to execute a dramatic ultra combo sequence, but it doesn’t immediately end the round. 

There are subtleties at play that tournament-level players will dig for that the average fighting game fan won’t nail down immediately, such as a Street Fighter III: 3rd Strike-like parry system, known as Just Guard. It has less meter-cost than the Guard Impact system (which returns from SC4), and for those who master it, it’ll likely serve as a tactical linchpin.

A more apparent addition for any player is SC5’s introduction of a dashing side step that allows you to get to your opponent’s vulnerable side a bit faster than before. It’s a great feature that lends a quicker pace to fights than in prior games. The combination of new fighters, and the speed of battles makes for an experience that evokes the chaotic fun that made Soulcalibur II a favorite for both competitive players and the average gamer.

It’s often tough to gauge the netcode for a fighting game on launch day, so we can’t guarantee that your online fights will clip along at fluid pace, but the social features, such as the Global Colosseo, add a nice touch. The Colosseo is a lobby set up for local players to hang out and set up matches. If you live in a city where there are organized meetups, it might not be as useful, but in case your local area doesn’t have anything in place, it could be useful. For what it’s worth, the matchmaking and games we played flowed smoothly and we didn’t encounter any lag.

Is it better than...

Soulcalibur IV? Yes. The Critical Gauge gives it a momentum meter that falls more in line with the standard two-tiered charge of today’s popular fighters, and it’s less bloated with licenses. If SC4 was proof of concept of Soulcalibur in HD, this is the fully realized experience.

Soulcalibur II? Not quite. With the nostalgia glasses on, SC2 wasn’t just a fighting game for competitive players, it was accessible for the masses and was simply loads of fun. It’s a different time and era in gaming. In its defense, SC5 comes closer than any other game in the series since.

For those who skipped straight to the end

With its increased pace, defensive tweaks, and reincarnated fighters, Soulcalibur V feels like a sorely needed reinvention for a series whose formula has gotten too long in the tooth. It feels as accessible and nearly as entertaining as Soulcalibur II and soundly one-ups its HD predecessor. You won’t realize how much you wanted this revamp until you’ve put in a few hours on the arcade sticks.

More Info

Available Platforms: PS3, Xbox 360
Genre: Fighting
Published by: Namco Bandai
Developed by: Project Soul
ESRB Rating:
Rating Pending
PEGI Rating:
Rating Pending

28 comments

  • revrock - January 31, 2012 11:18 a.m.

    I did not expect such a good score... I am truly impressed!
  • ObliqueZombie - January 31, 2012 11:27 a.m.

    Gah, it's between this or Dark Souls for me... I'm leaning more towards this, because it won't require as much of a time-sink, and I haven't played a good fighting game in years. Yeah, I think I'll be picking this up soon! Maybe... unless Dark Souls is good... no wait! I can't! I have to balance college and SWTOR and either of those games... so maybe this? No, no! Dark Souls! HELP!
  • slickmcwilly - January 31, 2012 11:57 a.m.

    i can't speak for soul calibur, but dark souls is great, it's frustrating at times but it keeps bringing me back for more.
  • BladedFalcon - January 31, 2012 3:39 p.m.

    Well... Have you played a soul Calibur game before? if you have, what you are getting here is mostly the same with with prettier graphics, and super combo gauge and such. If you really like the series, or 3D fighter games in general, then you'll probably like this. With Dark souls however... I can GUARANTEE you have not played anything like it. (Except for demon souls... and i suspect you haven't.) Yes it's challenging, yes it's long, and yes it doesn't have much in the way of actual, spoon fed story. But the scale of the game, the setting, and the surprisingly fair, methodical combat and exploration are one of it's kind. Like slick, i can't vouch for SCV, but i CAN vouch for Dark Souls. I absolutely loved the game, easily one of my top 5 of last year. But well, more than the length, you have to ask yourself how much do you want to be challenged? Because DS will NOT go easy on you, but if you embrace the challenge and overcome it, it really does offer a gratification most games this generation simply don't have. However, if you want an accessible, fast and simple good time, SCV is likely to deliver that better.
  • ObliqueZombie - February 1, 2012 8:20 a.m.

    Good opinions guys, it's really helping! However, my ONLY issue with Dark Souls is this: I need to make time for other games, especially SWTOR which has a monthly subscription (however, recent birthday has granted my a few time cards, so no biggie there). One of my best friends has it, and he's told me NOTHING but good things about. So many good things, in fact, I started having the biggest itch to play it, and I almost sold a few games for it, despite my lack of money. The challenge? I know of this. I did extensive research on Demon Souls when it came out, and I couldn't WAIT to try it--and then I realized that I won't be getting a PS3, and my dad didn't want me touching his. So yeah. Then Dark Souls came out, and I couldn't WAIT to play it! The challenge, as well as the combat system and beautiful Gothic graphics, made me ecstatic to try it. But with Soulcalibur, well, I haven't played one since IV, and that was only a few times. I'm not too familiar with fighters, and I keep asking myself when was the last good fighting game I played? Never, I tell myself, and that seems a good enough reason to purchase this one. Plus with college and my other gaming addictions, Soulcalibur V seems to better buy. For now, at least, because Dark Souls is STILL one of my top Must-Play Games. TL;DR: Thanks for the advice, guys, it'll go into consideration when I go to GameStop!
  • samsneeze - January 31, 2012 11:51 a.m.

    If it isn't as good as Soul Calibur II, then there really isn't any point in me picking this up anytime soon or at all really. Virtua Fighter 5: Final Showdown will be out on Xbox Live Arcade and Playstation Network Q3 of this year and Dead or Alive 5(My real "fighter fix") will soon follow that with its Winter release. So yeah, I'm going to pass. I may rent this at some point, though.
  • shawksta - January 31, 2012 12:13 p.m.

    I see where your coming from, but in general 5 is better through this gen, 2 was more open to all types of people, competitive, or just wants to have tons of fun.
  • samsneeze - January 31, 2012 1:04 p.m.

    Five is better because of updated visuals and online? I'm sorry, I'm not following you here. Even then, that's stuff I can do without since there is no point in getting something that I'll honestly only play for a couple of months before Virtua Fighter and DoA come along. They are fighting games that do it better than the rest in my opinion. I still play Dead or Alive 4 online semi-regularly and the game itself was practically a launch title for the 360. Whereas when Soul Calibur IV came out I played it for a few months and then sat it back on the shelf. Getting it now would be crazy. Paying sixty dollars for a series that I only kind of like and won't play very long would be crazy. And at best, by the time Virtua Fighter: Final Showdown comes out, the game will still be upwards of thirty dollars. The review says II>V (Even if it's just a bit) so I'm going with that to be honest. Now if the review had said something like "This Soul Calibur blows every other out the water and sets the new standard for 3D fighters" then I'd be hard pressed to go ahead and give it a shot. The way I see it, Virtua Fighter and Dead or Alive function better as fighting games. Their community may not be as strong Soul Calibur's(Mainly due to the fact that VF is viewed as "Hard" or "boring" and DoA is viewed as "lol boobz") but that doesn't really matter when it boils down to the fun and depth to be had with the Virtua Fighter and Dead or Alive series.
  • CrashmanX - January 31, 2012 5:15 p.m.

    So rather than find out something yourself, you're going to go off an article that is based off of opinion? I myself never really got into SCII. I played I, III, and IV. I've found III and IV to have good points and bad points. II just never really felt that great to me. If anything, I think far too many people look at II with nostalgia goggles on because Link was in it.
  • samsneeze - January 31, 2012 10:09 p.m.

    This is why making assumptions is bad: I had the Xbox version of Soul Calibur II. A friend of mine had III and I didn't really think I was missing much by not buying it. When IV dropped I figured that there would be enough added by that point to keep me interested, but no, I was wrong. Soul Calibur V is traveling down the same road of "not much happening" as far as I can see. I'll probably get it used when it's like twenty dollars or something. II being better than V was the last thing I needed to hear about the game and has honestly made me lose what little interest I had in the title. And of course I'm going to partially go by the reviewer's opinion, why else would I even bother reading the article? I find it's better than wasting money on a rental or purchase for more of the same.
  • shawksta - January 31, 2012 10:41 p.m.

    Hey hold on, you misunderstood me, im not comparing SC to the other fighting games, each fighting game is unique in their own way, Virtua,Dead or alive, Mortal Kombat SF,MvC, ect. I never compare Fighters cause they each bring something different. Im ONLY talking about Soul Calibur for its series in this gen not with others in terms of new standards. 5 beats 4 by a longshot, thats it, 2 was technically more fun for everybody.
  • samsneeze - January 31, 2012 11:11 p.m.

    No think you're the one who misunderstood(I can see where you got that from). I was only giving examples as to why I wouldn't be purchasing Soul Calibur V. Soul Calibur IV just wasn't interesting as a game. Gameplay hadn't evolved much, the online community was terrible, story was bad, the guest characters were stupid. I'm not really saying Virtua Fighter and Dead or Alive are definitively better, but rather how they appealed to me, their release schedules and why Soul Calibur can't really grab hold of my interest. It's better than Soul Calibur IV "by a long shot", but is that really an accomplishment considering that it's still not as good as Soul Calibur II? I don't think so. It's like saying Final Fantasy XIII-2 should get all my money because people agree that it's better than Final Fantasy XIII(Which I thought was terrible by the way.). I'm sorry no, but that's silly. In all honesty though, there really isn't anything wrong with comparing games at all, especially fighters. So long as 2D and 3D fighters are kept separate and the comparisons are kept to variety, balance, and gameplay mechanics. Most people are completely shocked when they find out how deep a certain game can get.
  • shawksta - February 1, 2012 8:13 p.m.

    Hey its your opinion, im not gonna tell you what you should buy, if soul calibur isnt your things with 4 then thats fine, its your preferences. I dont want to go there with Final Fantasy, point given, 5 is better than 4, simple as that, Yoda and Vader were unnessesary. And its hard nowadays for any game of that matter to reach the awesome level of the last Gens.
  • shawksta - January 31, 2012 12:11 p.m.

    Awesome. Eh, sure Fighting games are taking a stand but their being too rough to the noncompetitive and casual types, especially on teaching them how to play the games. They are just for fun, and competitive for the types. Anyways, if SCV makes it to the Wii U/3DS Link better be there.
  • kit07 - January 31, 2012 12:45 p.m.

    i thought Mortal Kombat was good at bringing in the casual types, i had more non-gamer friends play that then any other fighter in recent memory. but that's just my experience with it.
  • talleyXIV - January 31, 2012 12:19 p.m.

    I guess there was a good game behind those boob and ass advertisements.
  • ZhugeLiang - January 31, 2012 12:25 p.m.

    HELLLLL YEESSSSS I'm gonna create souls so hard
  • Squander - January 31, 2012 12:28 p.m.

    great review!!! no word on the music, did you like it?? I heard the OST has been performed and recorded by the Eminence Orchestra, so it must be good, right ;D
  • pr0tostar - January 31, 2012 12:32 p.m.

    Nice review Sterling. Touched on a few things that were pretty unclear to me up till today. Real quick I gotta mention that you wrote that Devil Jin is a guest character; just for the sake of preventing misinformation, it's only his STYLE that's unlockable for create-a-soul (another guest character appears using Jin's style, but I won't spoil his identity lol.) Anyway, the Legendary Souls difficulty and the push for online are pretty discouraging (I've always been a fan of SC for the lore and unique gameplay... I'm more about challenges in the 2D realm.) but since I'll have plenty of actual friends to play this with, and the new CAS looks amazing; I don't think even I can go wrong.
  • FauxFurry - January 31, 2012 1 p.m.

    I was really hoping for at least a passing mention to the options available to players in the Create-A-Soul mode and how it stacks up to the previous iterations' character creation modes. That mode was the reason why many people who aren't 3-D fighting game afficianados purchased Soul Calibur 3&4, after all. Oh,well. It's nice to know that Namco has its priorities straight, focusing primarily on refinements to the game play yet not skimping on the visual polish while letting neither of those areas suffer due to putting undue importance on story in a game whose conflict basically always boils down to a scramble over a pair of living weapons.

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