Soul Calibur IV is one of the only non-classic fighting games that I was playing as recently as late 2011 - 3 years after its release. Wait, does that make it a classic? Er, well instead of splitting grey hairs, let's get back to the matter at hand. Soul Calibur V has supplanted its predecessor, but how much time should you invest in this one, if any?
Soul Calibur V is set 17 years after the conclusion of the fourth. The old Nightmare has been defeated, and the Soul Edge has chosen a new master, much like the Soul Calibur has chosen one other than the ageless beast, Siegfried. The story follows the adventure of Sophitia's offspring, Patroklos and Pyrrha, as they quest against the Edge in the name of the Calibur, and in the name of revenge.
Put simply, the story mode is atrocious. The tale is blandly told with voices layered over black-on-parchment sketches that aren't even fit for concept art. There's some sort of world map to make it seem like the player has a destination and purpose, though there is no real reason for it, the battles move forward very linearly. Every now and then the player is rewarded with a cut-scene for their hard work, which seems like more of a thrown bone than anything else. Fortunately, the fight mechanics are tight and tuned, and the battles hot and heavy.
The game has drastically changed in many ways, except for perhaps Ivy's bust size. Gone are many of the characters known and loved by the series' fan base, replaced with alternates of similar styles. Some old favorites stand the test of time, others are gone completely. Most notably, Kilik is replaced by a younger Kali Yuga disciple, Xiba. Though Kilik makes a special appearance as a hidden character, he is without pole arm, and instead uses the weapon shifting style of his mentor, the Edge Master. The complete omission of my all-time favorite style, that of Hwang/Assassin/Yun Seong is what really hurts most.
Questionable design choices aside, I'm still captured by the combat. In my arcade adventures and versus violence, I grit teeth, shouted at the screen, and attempted to snap my controller on quite a few occasions. Mostly to clean, close battles as opposed to computer cheese and frustrating controls. The fighters are responsive to input commands and combos, as tricky as they are. The biggest change is perhaps the ease of firing off Critical Edge 'super' moves. Whereas they previously required a bit of skill and a bit of chance to open the window for a Critical Finish, now all you need is a full Critical Edge gauge and, boom, instant gratification at the expense of your opponent's life. As with many true 3D brawlers, command sequences are king and memorization is the queen, so the uninitiated should not expect to be pro from the go. Even with an inhumane amount of hours logged in SC4, it still took me some time to reacquaint myself with SC5's action. Button-masher beware!
My excitement for Soul Calibur V lie directly tied to the revamped character creation tools, the very thing that kept me locked on Soul Calibur IV for so long. This time around the tools do not disappoint, with the ability to add numerous patterns to clothing, position pre-made labels, and tack on extra bits of equipment just about anywhere on your characters person. Make yourself and your friends, make your favorite movie stars, hell, even make fighters from other games. Just about anything is possible. The selection of faces leaves a bit to be desired, but the other customization options are so robust, I'm pretty sure the avid creator will not mind too much. Unfortunately, back is the limit of 50 characters, which I probably shouldn't be bitching about, but here I am doing it anyway. Creation is as addictive as huffing spray paint, so if you're anything like me you'll hit that 50 character limit in no time flat.
Ronald McDonald, created by the boys at Japanese blog Esuteru
Offline modes are a bit limited, with the usual story, arcade, training, and versus fares. Online multiplayer on the other hand, has quite a few interesting option for the brave digital warrior. Player matches allow you to jump in a room of up to 8 people, with rotating battles where the winner stays on, and all others become a voyeur. You can voice and text chat with everyone else in the room, so be sure you cheer against the guy who just kicked your ass. Ranked matches pit you one-on-one, where victory leads to a load of player points for increasing your rank, and a loss nets you comparatively less. The most interesting online mode is probably Global Colosseo, where you can choose one of an assortment of regional lobbies, which house dozens of fighters. Once settled, you can see an overview of all players in the coliseum, and from there you select a specific player to battle, or drop your name into a digital hat, letting the system match you up against a random who has done the same. It's a neat take on instant action, and probably the mode I enjoyed most, since I rarely had to wait to take on my next opponent, who most times was a created character that looked no where as lovingly detailed as my own.
The story of Soul Calibur V doesn't make much sense, nor does it need to. The engine is tight, the action is smooth and deliberately paced, beneficial of those who train themselves to be the best, rather than button mashing. While series fans may be rebuffed at the exclusion of some old favorites - give me Hwang/Yun Seong as DLC! - the new additions fill the gaps well enough. If you're a crafty creator, and love going to war with the models of your machination, Soul Calibur V's character creation is second only to wrestling games in the fighting genre. It's enough to keep me entranced, and I feel is a fine 60 bucks spent, especially if you're playing with a group of friends or constantly hitting the online stage.
The Score: 8 outta 10 Blasters!