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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.
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.
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.
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.
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.