Thursday, February 23, 2012

SoulCalibur V (PS3, 360) Review

Earlier in the month I reviewed Super Street Fighter IV: 3D Edition for the Nintendo 3DS. Now it is time for another fighter to step up into the arena and face the fury of my judgment. It strikes fear into the heart of men with its unbridled rage. I'm talking about my fury, of course, and not the game I'm going to be reviewing. Regardless, I do indeed have a new review to share. It's SoulCalibur V for the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360.

The soul still burns, yadda, yadda, but it's
more of a weaker ember than a raging inferno.

Since its inception in arcades and on consoles with the Dreamcast, the SoulCalibur series is known for its weapon based combat and superb visuals. Armed with a new generation of characters along with some returning old favorites, SoulCalibur marks its second outing on the HD consoles with installment number five. As a fighter the soul still burns as it is wont to do, but is the series now on cruise control and just relying on name recognition at this point?

Story ~1607 A.D.~ is the episodic mode of SoulCalibur V and it tells the tale of the dueling soul swords and Patroklos Alexandra, son of Sophitia from past entries in the franchise. In search of his sister, Pyrrha, Patroklos starts out as nothing more than a puppet but by the end of the game becomes a full-fledged warrior with his own resolve. The story is told mostly through storyboard-esque stills backed by narration. Some of the more important scenes get the full cinematic CG treatment. Regardless, the narrative does little to get you invested in the fates of the various characters you come across, and the majority of the battles you fight are a result of the flimsiest of excuses.

Nightmare is having a nightmare of his own--
getting his butt kicked by a girl.

Apart from the multiple episodes and tales of the story mode, there's also the Arcade Mode where you choose a difficulty (Easy, Normal, or Hard), choose a path (such as Asia or Europe where you combat against fighters from the continent chosen), and duke it out in six successive battles to aim for the fastest time. There are also modes where you battle the various bosses of the game (unlockable mode), take on created characters manufactured by the developers, and fight locally with a second player or against an AI opponent.

Online is an important piece to the SoulCalibur V puzzle, and it is crafted quite well. There's the traditional Ranked Match where you have a quarrel with a single opponent. If you win, you earn points that go towards your overall rank. There's Player Matches where you can create rooms where you are able to send invitations to friends which you can then set up bite-sized tournaments with. With Soul Link you are able to check in on (see: stalk) a trio of players' stats and monitor what they do on and offline in the game. Then there's the most ambitious part of SoulCalibur V's online, the Global Colosseo. This is essentially a series of online lobbies which can be occupied by up to 50 unique players. You can select random fights, ranked matches, or even participate in tournaments. You can also check occupying players' stats and challenge them by choosing their card. It is yet to be seen if Global Colosseo will be accepted by the community and will take off. Hopefully it shall because it is a very intriguing concept in theory.

Kickin' it old school with some new school characters.

For every match you throw you hat into the ring in, you earn Player Points or PP which adds up to earn levels akin to getting experience in an role-playing game. As you level up you receive new characters as well as new options such as equipment and weaponry for the Create-A-Soul mode. In Create-A-Soul you craft a custom character for use in the various other modes in the game as well as online. You can set the sex, height, voice, and outfit your fighter with a myriad of different equipment. Unfortunately you are immensely limited in what you can do at first. Until you gain levels, your creativity will be stifled severely. To unlock all of the goodies you can put on your custom character you will need to invest dozens of hours to reach the appropriate levels. This is a huge turn-off for yours truly, and it will no doubt turn off a fair chunk of players. Additionally, when doing battle as a custom character and you take damage your armor and clothing falls off with each successful strike. This means that you should be prepared to see your fighter in underwear more than you will see them in your fully made attire.

At first you have few options to choose from,
but as you gain levels you earn more clothing choices.

SoulCalibur V continues the eight directional 3D fighting the series is well known for, but it really changes up the fighting formula the series was well known for. You still combat your opponent with weaponry such as Patroklos' sword and shield, Maxi's nunchaku, Astaroth's giant axe, etc., you still use horizontal slashes to fend off foes moving around you, and you still try to beat the living snot out of your opponent or force a ring out. However, there's new items to put into consideration. A new gauge rests by each players' health bar. As you do damage, take damage, and guard against attacks your Critical Gauge increases. It can fill two bars or be filled by 200%, and you can perform three individual maneuvers at varying levels: 1) By using 50% of the meter you can perform a Guard Impact which deflects any attack. If you do it just right, you can temporarily stun your foe, 2) Also by using 50% of the meter you can use Brave Edge which turns all throws and attacks into EX ones, and 3) Critical Edge attacks use up 100% of the meter and unleash a massive amount of damage onto your unlucky target.

Different fighters use different weapons in combat.

Also new to battle are Guard Bursts which occur when you or your opponent guard too many times. Your health bar will flash when you become dangerously close to getting Guard Burst and entering an extended session of being stunned, opening you up for any number of attacks from your assailant. Finally, the Just Guard move allows you to take lesser damage or period of stun time from an attack by pressing the guard button exactly when you are hit. These new moves and maneuvers make SoulCalibur V into a completely different beast than past games, and fans who have mastered the skills and abilities from prior installments will feel like they have to learn a whole new game (which essentially they will).

But that's not the main problem I have with SoulCalibur V. The source of my frustration with the game comes from all of the content that seems to be sucked from the game that was in past entries of the series. There's far less modes to be found in local play (not everyone wishes to play online-- even if it is relatively lag-free), little from SoulCalibur IV was improved upon in this sequel, and this was touched on before but having to unlock the most interesting items for Create-A-Soul is ludicrous. You have a blank slate and there's nothing but scraps to begin with.

Ezio from the Assassin's Creed acts as
guest star in SoulCalibur V.

The SoulCalibur series is known for its rich and wonderful presentations, and this is a part of the game that does not disappoint. Each arena from river raft rides in a ravine to a burning medieval town all look sensational. Seeing little particle effects and bloom make for impressive settings and scenes. Meanwhile, the narration before each battle as well as the marvelous symphonic score get you pumped to duel it out, and the character animation is fluid and looks quite impressive. While the brevity of content is maddening, you can be sure that you are getting a top-notch product at least presentation-wise.

The battlefields are lush and full of interesting items.

SoulCalibur V doesn't necessarily reinvent the franchise, but it does attempt to try new things. The poor story mode, lack of local options, and the need to unlock anything worthwhile in the Create-A-Soul mode are upsetting, the combat (which does take getting used to for those who frequented past games), online options, and presentation all make for an above average fighter. While most series would play it safe, I admire that SoulCalibur V went in a bold new direction, even if it didn't pay off completely. The soul continues to burn, but it's shun much more brightly in the past.

[SuperPhillip Says: 7.0/10]


Chalgyr said...

Solid review. This is a game I want to pick up eventually. I was new to the series with SC 4, but I really enjoyed it.

Matt Sainsbury said...

I'll never understand why developers of fighting games insist on throwing in story to these games. It never works.

Still, I love this series, and I need to eventually get this game. Great review Phillip!