Soul Calibur V

Publisher: Namco
Developer: Project Soul
Release Date: 1/31/2012
Platform Reviewed: XBox 360 & PS3
Difficulty(ies) Played: Normal
Time Played: 20+ hours

Concept and Execution:

Soul Calibur V is the latest installment in the successful Soul Calibur franchise. Featuring new characters, new maps, and new ability combinations, this game is an excellent addition to the long-standing series.

The current market for 3D fighters is small, allowing Soul Calibur V to have the spotlight. As a 3D fighter, the game adheres to all the expectations gamers have made for the genre: Crisp visuals, a robust online and multiplayer experience, and, most importantly, a mechanically sound combat engine that is easy to learn but difficult to master.  Project Soul has gone above and beyond to create a balanced system, able to be enjoyed by newcomers and veterans alike. The ease at which anyone can pick up a controller and be effective, at the very least, is nice, though button mashing will only get you so far, especially when you enter the online play modes and start participating in ranked matches.

Though story isn’t always important in a good fighting game, it’s worth mentioning that SCV‘s plot line is, at least, slightly more coherent than its predecessor’s convoluted and complex history. Though not completely free from head-scratching moments and the always cheesy dialogue, the voice acting is superb and the story is well-presented using simple but elegant storybook sketches punctuated with fully animated cut scenes for important moments. Unlike in past installments, the story-mode forces the player to use specific characters in a predetermined order that is relevant to the plot line, forgoing the old model of separate play-throughs with multiple characters. This set-up makes more sense with the way the story is presented, creating something that feels complete in the first play-though rather than offering a bunch of fragmented pieces through each characters’ own perspective. It also forces the player to use multiple characters, some of which we may have never used on our own given the choice, for better or for worse. This also prevents the inevitable redundancy involved in trying to tell the story through each individual character, and it keeps the time you have to spend on the story mode, either because you are interested or because you want to get all of the unlockables, from being artificially inflated in a game that at its heart focuses on multiplayer gameplay.  The downside to this simplification of the story is that it is significantly shorter, requiring only a few hours to complete.

Concept and Execution Grade:  20/25  (B-)

Mechanics:

The mechanics of the game function like most in the genre. Each character has high, mid and low attacks, as well as the ability to block from the high, mid or low position. Special Critical Edge attacks, which are new to the series, are also present, and require a player to have charged up a Soul Gauge throughout the fight. When unblocked, these attacks can take off as much as 50% of your health, a possible game changer in battle, though this is by no means a sure way to victory. The characters move smoothly, with few moments of frustration stemming from something like your character jumping when you wanted them to sidestep. “Cheap” deaths are rare, as there are very few moves that are easily exploitable for consistent damage, and skilled players can easily block or sidestep those that do exist. There seems to be relatively little difference in the various stages, though there are some in which it is easier to ring out on than others, and most provide a level playing field and plenty of room in which to fight.

Balance between characters has been carefully tweaked, with the deciding factor usually being the skill of the player and the familiarity they have with the fighter, rather than any inherent power bias for any specific character. There is the standard complement of fast, short range fighters, slow fighters with reach, and more specialty fighters that require a significant amount of practice to master, but generally provide a unique and/or more difficult to defend against moveset. Any advantage that is gained by these characters is offset by the amount of precision and skill that is required to effectively use them, providing both a hefty challenge and a suitable reward for those players who are capable of tackling the task of mastering them.

[youtube width=”600″ height=”365″ video_id=”2l69jayhXmo”]Project Soul has created the most innovative system to date for managing, tracking and matching players through a matchmaking system. After every fight on the ranked ladder, each player will be awarded a small or large amount of ranking points, with more points going to the winner. Depending on how many ranking points you have accumulated, you will be assigned a letter and number value associated with your skill level, beginning at E5. Outside of ranked matches, unranked random matches are present in public lobbies for players to hone their skills and earn ranking points without the anxiety of the ranked ladder. In these lobbies, you will be able to join week-long tournaments that rank members based on the amount of wins they have generated throughout the week. As with most fighters, a ranked leaderboard is present and can be sorted by global view or individual continent.

While the ranked system alone is compelling, Soul Calibur V also features a lot of stat tracking. In addition to tracking your own numbers, other players can also be registered as rivals and their stats will be tracked alongside yours at the main online lobby. You are also able to access the licence data of other players in order to view their detailed stats and download publicly-displayed replays. In these replays, you are able to see every command entered by either player during the match, allowing you to see exactly how that player managed to destroy you, as well as seeing how you managed to pull off that sweet combo that turned the tide of your last match. The game gives players plenty of tools for improving your skills, ensuring that you can progress up the learning curve and the online ranks at a decent pace.

Mechanics Grade: 22/25  (B+)[youtube width=”600″ height=”365″ video_id=”iG1r8ds4BwE”]

Atmosphere:

The visuals in Soul Caliber are good without being compelling. The characters are crisp, clean, and detailed and, unlike some previous games in the series, they are each distinct, with little of the “copycat” feel that some characters had in the past. The vistas and opening views of the stages are gorgeous, highlighting some of the epic places the fights occur in. In some stages people are fighting large scale battles in the distance, complete with war elephants. Others take place on a raft flowing down an underground river, or inside a cityscape. While the stages were visually distinct, the lack of a significant mechanical difference between stages causes them to eventually blend together and fade into the background (figuratively speaking) in favor of the fighting itself. In our playthrough, there was a distracting visual parallax effect, at least on some of the stages, when the fighters sidestepped and the screen had to reorient on them. While small, this can prove distracting at the worst possible moment, such as when your opponent has just sidestepped your attack and is advancing inside your reach. There is limited battle damage shown on characters, in the form of outer layers of armor or clothes coming off if the character is subjected to a particularly brutal move, and this is carried over into the next round of that battle. The combat effects are fairly standard for a Soul Caliber game, if well done, with visual effects indicating hits (as opposed to blood or something more visceral) and colored effects accompanying various actions such as blocking, using an unblockable attack, or activating your Critical Edge attack. These attacks, the strongest any fighter can do, are both varied in appearance, and invariably interesting. Soul Caliber has also implemented a short (no more than 2 seconds) “intro,” for lack of a better word, to each of these attacks, consisting of stopping the battle momentarily and allowing the attacking character to utter a short smacktalking phrase (and allowing the defending player to utter a short expletive), before initiating the attack itself. This can prove satisfying for both players, as it gives more gravity to the attack itself, while making it all the more epic if the defender manages to block or evade the attack.

The audio, much like the visuals, sounds good without being excellent. The tracks are varied and suitably epic without distracting from the fighting. The voice acting is superior, with several well-known voice actors (from the video game and anime worlds, at least) lending their talents to the game. The dialog itself can sometimes be excessively campy, but that is not only expected from a Soul Caliber game, it would probably be sorely missed if it wasn’t present. The battle sounds can be repetitive (one character repeatedly screams out “I’m sorry” as they attack), and the combat sounds (weapon sounds and the sounds made by the fighters) are what you would expect, with perhaps a slight overdoing of the “dying” screams, especially after playing for any length of time.
All of these somewhat generic aspects of the presentation do come together to make something that is greater than the sum of its parts. The game feels epic, with the music, the stages, the campy dialog, and especially the narrator, giving it a complete aesthetic that is both subtle and pervasive. The addition of a single storyline, as well as the stylized sketchbook story presentation, lend an air of elegance and sophistication that would otherwise be lacking in the more jumbled, chaotic presentation offered by its predecessors. By allowing each of its components to blend together harmoniously, rather than focus on one to the exclusion of the others, this game presents a coherent whole that is both appealing and unique, without overwhelming the core gameplay, which is the fighting.

Atmosphere Grade: 21/25  (B)

Entertainment Value:

Soul Caliber offers an engaging experience in both single and multiplayer modes. The emphasis on increased storytelling and more cinematic moments during the single player story elevates this mode to something more than simply an afterthought to the online play. Unlike many games in its genre, the story is a reason to play by yourself, rather than something that you might have to go through simply to unlock a fighter.

That being said, the core gameplay of Soul Caliber is still its multiplayer experience, and it is here where the game really shines. The emphasis on matchmaking, stat tracking, and other online features (including tournaments), as well as the ability to designate other players as “rivals,” allowing you to compare your stats and replays against theirs, makes for a surprisingly powerful and flexible multiplayer experience, and the inclusion of more informal lobbies makes it easy to find games whether you are interested in competing in ranked matches or just want to play more casual matches. This allows players to play at their own pace, and coupled with the improved single player mode as well as a practice mode and character creation, ensure that there is always something to do without getting bored with the gameplay.

The character creation system deserves special mention. This system, which was incredibly deep without being overly complex or inaccessible, allows the creation of nearly any type of fighter you could want. By pairing an exisiting fighting style/weapon combination with a custom model, you can create accurate looking comic book characters, characters from other fighting games, or even that strange being that gave you nightmares last night. The depth of options offered right out of the box, from hair, to clothing, to accessories and even different faces, was staggering, with even more available after unlocking them by playing the other modes. There is even an option to choose a random made character that causes the game to generate a new character (your choice as to whether it is male or female) from all of the available options. This resulted in some wonderfully strange characters and hilarious matches. The only major downfall to the character creation system is that, due to the emphasis on a more cohesive storyline, you are unable to play as your custom made characters in the game’s story mode.

Entertainment Value Grade: 22/25  (B+)

 

Overall Score: 85/100   (B)

 

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