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Soul Calibur V

16:2214/02/2012Posted by Chris MorellNo Comments

The elder generation collides with the new in this latest chapter of the sword-swinging Soul Calibur franchise. A host of young upstarts arrive to steal the spotlight on the stage of history, pushing out a few beloved faces in the process. These changes might prove controversial, but players will soon discover that the heart of the series remains the same. Thankfully, Soul Calibur V doesn’t fall foul of its own ambition, but has it moved with the times to win the battle against stagnation?

Almost two decades have passed since the events of 2008’s Soul Calibur IV. A new Nightmare rises, old villains return and new heroes emerge to wield the legendary blades – namely Soul Calibur and Soul Edge. The story mode does a solid job of introducing players to Patroklos and Pyrrha (both offspring of series veteran, Sophitia); handing you over to a few more fresh faces in the process. It may be a good way of cementing these newcomers into the series lore and making them acceptable – and their gameplay styles digestible – to fans, but those hoping for a return to SC II’s Weapon Master Mode are once again set for disappointment. The story takes no more than two hours to complete, but doing so unlocks a number of characters to bolster the roster.

Arcade presents six battles, each made up of three rounds. Unlike SC IV, different routes are offered, each with separate characters to take on and in various arenas. This is probably where those with the inclination to grind will spend most of their time, as completing a run through will often result in a quick level-up, unlocking rewards in the process. We couldn’t find much of an advantage to playing on a harder difficulty (with easy mode being the best by far when it comes to grinding for points) so feel free to adjust the challenge as you see fit. Reaching a particular level opens up a new path (entitled ‘Extra’) with a slightly altered camera angle and an old face to take on, so there’s something to shoot for early on even if the usual rewards offered aren’t to your liking.

Where Soul Calibur V shines brightest is in its robust character creation system. Netting points and levelling up rewards you with tops, trousers, armour, headgear and all-new stickers (which double up as tattoos), make-up and patterns. The size, angle, position and colour are adjustable for most of these items and it’s quite a selection, so expect to sink hours of your life into deciding the exact look and fighting style of your own, unique character. Go the cute girl route with metal bikini and sparkling combat effects, or create a lumbering behemoth with dark armour and a booming voice… or maybe you prefer the outlandish; favouring bright colours, ill-suited clothing, gothic makeup and butterfly wings – the choice is entirely yours. It would be nice if the content wasn’t quite so level dependent making it a necessity to grind, but at least you’re handed usable rewards for your playtime. There’s no concept art here, folks.

Those who played the previous game might remember the finishing moves, or perhaps their shoddy implementation rendering them useless outside training mode. These have been removed in favour of flashy power techniques known as Critical Edge. Once the top left meter has been filled via successful attacks, each character has a unique move that can be pulled off, though only if timed correctly. These add an extra dimension to the way each round is played, turning the tide of battle in a pinch. The usual horizontal attacks, throws and taunts return in full force, though SCV is not a game that expects you to memorise an extensive move set. This remains one of the most accessible fighting franchises out there, and one that won’t bog you down with its intricacies.

As with each release in the series, this latest iteration includes a guest character. Bouncing Yoda vs. Yoda matches were hilarious at the time, Darth Vader was imposing and The Apprentice (Starkiller) was a royal pain in Arcade, but SCV gets it very right with the inclusion of Ezio Auditore. Hailing from Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood, this middle-aged form of the character is well balanced and comes packing hidden blades, a sword and crossbow. Unlike the last game, which gave brief glimpses of each character’s place in the tale, story mode is the only form of canon so you’ll just have to take Ezio as he comes and enjoy the moves and one-liners delivered. Link retains his crown as the ultimate guest, but the Florentine noble holds up well enough to take second place.

One complaint is that three unlockable characters wield random character styles rather than unique ones of their own, even if their Critical Edge techniques and victory poses are unique. Xianghua has been removed in favour of her identical daughter Leixia, Journey to the West-wannabe Xiba stands in for Kilik, Natsu serves as an altered Taki, and Talim fans will have to make do without. The developers should be praised for attempting to advance the story, plus the characters that bring fresh moves serve as very welcome additions. The AI can be unforgiving on the normal setting, psychically reading your moves at higher difficulties. The greatest challenge can be in trying to get back on your feet, as the AI likes nothing better than to wail on you once you’ve hit the ground, so staying on your feet and on the offensive tends to be the winning strategy.

When it comes to presentation, Soul Calibur has always been among the very best. There are high production values, orchestral music and smooth animations all the way, so it’s tough to critique an aspect of a game that’s been crafted with such flare; colourful and flashy, Soul Calibur V is one stunner of a game. Only a few cutscenes are present in story mode however, with much of the tale spun by poorly developed sketches and voice overs. Arenas feature superb lighting and are multi-tiered with the usual ring-outs providing impromptu laughs in multiplayer. Online play (generally a given these days) is available for those who want to avoid the AI for a while and take on a more a more human challenge, but the real charm comes from talking trash with a few other players in the room. Online is more functional than before, so lag should never be too much of a problem.

Faster, flashier and every bit as accessible as before, Soul Calibur V is the sequel the series needed. Some design choices might leave you scratching your head and the lack of a few favourites will irk returning fans, particularly Talim and Zasalamel players where no similar alternatives exist. The AI can irritate at times and the unlockable characters may disappoint, but those into character creation will find themselves losing many hours in their pursuit of the ultimate, and personalised, fighting roster. It isn’t perfect, but as far as fancy fighting games go, Soul Calibur V may well transcend the competition this year.

This review is based on a retail copy purchased by D+PAD.

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