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Soul Calibur V hands-on preview

Between SFXT, Tekken Tag 2, and nowAksys' new Persona fighting game, there's no shortage of action on the horizon for fighting game fans. While Soul Calibur V's vague “2012” release date is still a ways off, the game is already looking in prime form. We sat down with Namco's Nick O'Leary and their resident fighting game guru Rich Bantegui (@filthierich), and took a look at the latest from Project Soul.

Above: Yet again, Voldo takes home top honors from Burning Man

Nick and Rich mentioned that the general speed of the game has been increased over SCIV, and while it was hard to notice in the short amount of time we had with the hands-on, the new mechanics definitely support their claim.SCV sees a number of changes from SCIV: gone is the old Guard Impact system, performed by pressing forward or back and block, replaced by the Just Guard system: press block at exactly the right moment and you'll block the attack quickly, creating a small window for a counterattack.

A glowing bar outlining your health meter appears if you block too many consecutive attacks, indicating you need to get on the offensive. Continue blocking and you’ll be put into a stagger state resembling the Soul Crush from IV. You’re defenseless once this happens, so prepare to eat some big damage. This change addresses some of the complaints about SCIV, a game where the defending player generally had the advantage, which discouraged aggressive play.

While SCV’s character graphics were bright and fluid, the backgrounds were interesting as well. One of the levels took place in front of a castle under siege, battering rams and small marching armies skirmishing in the background. The new levels also serve a gameplay function as well, as there are now infinite levels, meaning no ring outs, and deformable levels, a la Tekken, where walls can be knocked down and the size of the active play field expanded.

Above: Hilde's spear makes poking and zoning your opponent out extremely effective.

While there have been some changes, SCIV’s unique Just Frame system returns. When performing a special move, precise timing of the input will result in a Just Frame version of the special move. The Just Frame version of a special move gains extra properties such as a knockdown or additional damage. The benefits were pretty large in the build we played, as Patroklos' shoulder tackle special move (QCF A) did a much larger amount of damage AND gained knockdown.

While there's still a large number of the cast to be revealed, Rich and Nick said to expect 50% newcomers and 50% familiar faces. Series veterans, Mitsurugi, Ivy, Maxi, Seigfried, Hilde, Tira and the sexy sexy Voldo, were usable in the build we played. From our brief hands-on session we can definitely say that each character feels similar to their previous versions, though Ivy’s stance system has been scrapped in favor of a more user friendly moveset that incorporates moves from each of her previous stances.

New faces include Patroklos and Pyrrha, the son and daughter of Sophitia. Patroklos is equipped with his mother’s sword while Pyrrha uses her mother’s sheild. Z.W.E.I is also a new addition, equipped with a short sword and a wolf familiar named Ein. Ein looks to be some sort of spectral, cybernetic wolf, and definitely makes Z.W.E.I capable of some really interesting attacks. Holding down an attack button begins the charge to summon Ein, a la Balrog/M. Bison’s turn punch from Street Fighter. Once you let go Ein appears, adding an additional attack to Z.W.E.I’s sword strikes. This means that Ein can be worked into some very interesting combos, especially since a few of his attacks have long startups. For example you can activate a slow Ein attack, sidestep around your opponent with Z.W.E.I, and hit him from two sides at once.

Above: Tira has two stances, Joy and Sorrow, each of which has its own pros and cons

Ultra attacks were a hugely successful part of Street Fighter IV and SCV has decided to incorporate a similar idea with their Critical Edge attacks. These moves use 50% of your meter, but do big damage when they connect. They feature a short animation beforehand a la Ultra moves, though they can be blocked and feature little to no invulnerability on startup, meaning a well timed swipe or kick can stop the moves cold. Each Critical Edge varies depending on character, some are striking combinations, while others like Ivy's are grab moves. The Brave Edge system is also in play, allowing you to use your meter to both cancel special moves and make them more powerful. Brave Edge moves open the door for new combos, as it can cancel the recovery animation of special moves, letting you get some additional hits in on your opponent.

Namco is still hush hush on the multi-player and story mode at this point, though we feel pretty confident that we can expect the same kind of robust item collection and sprawling single player content we've seen in past games. Until we see the full roster and get some serious sit down time with the game, it'll be difficult to talk about balance and how well the new gameplay and character additions work together. With its faster, more aggressive gameplay, meter system, Critical Edge attacks and easier inputs, SCV is making a hard push to draw in fans of other fighting games. We'll have to wait until next year to see if it pays off.

Sept 8, 2011