Fighting games generally have a meat and potatoes gameplay aspect about them, anything beyond that is just an added benefit, but there are very few where I can say I feel like more was taken out than put in.
The Soul Calibur series has been a staple of fighting games for awhile now, with Soul Calibur V actually being the sixth installment of the series, eight if you include Soul Calibur Legends for the Wii and Broken Destiny for the PSP, but I know you aren’t and neither am I.
However, things are different this time, the overall battle speed has been increased, the story mode is almost exclusive to new characters and the older characters have been replaced with newer, younger looking characters. If you’re like me and you were looking forward to characters like Kilik or Taki being playable, prepare to be disappointed.
Story mode has been stripped down to the story of a single character, Patrokolos, a young man on a journey to find his sister and avenge his mother’s death. Many people have been attributing this choice to the success of Mortal Kombat 9’s story mode, but I’ll start by saying that the involving and adaptive storyline of MK9 won’t be found here.
Most of the story involves you being a very typical hot-headed teenager on the path of revenge and he won’t listen to anybody about changing his ways, a least not until half-way through, in which he’ll do a 180 and suddenly see the error of his ways. In fact, I would recommend avoiding the uninspiring and overacted story if it wasn’t for the fact that there are unlockable characters at the end of the short journey, clocking at just over two hours.
The other bad news along with this is that the previous iteration of story mode was dropped in favour of this linear path. Instead of seeing what your favourite characters have been up do and what their motivations are within the greater storyline, we’re left with the story of Patrokolos. What I don’t understand is; why keep most of the staple characters in the game if they had nothing to do with the story? At least when MK9 did it every character that was playable had been a part of the storyline.
Perhaps part of the diminished story goes hand-in-hand with the most talked about aspect of Soul Calibur since its inception in SCIII, character creation, which has been greatly expanded upon since we last saw it in SCIV.
Just like previous iterations of this system the character you create will end up being a skin for an existing fighter setup. So if you want to use a staff or spear for instance you’ll probably want to pick a character like Xiba. What this does though is limit how unique your character feels in contrast to the existing roster.
Overall the changes to the character creator are good, with greater control over the look of your character from personalized limb sizes to additional accessories to place wherever you like, I’ll reiterate that, wherever you like. Keep that in mind before trouncing online, because you’ll find some very special people there.
That said, Namco-Bandai knows exactly what kind of characters you plan to make with the character creator and has more or less equipped you to be able to do just that. Let’s just say that trench coats, long swords and body straps are available pretty much from the get go, just to make sure that everybody can get that out of their system. (Hint: I’m talking about Sephiroth from Final Fantasy VII.)
One thing that can absolutely be said about SCV is that it is an extremely gorgeous game, which has come a long way since IV, being on the same system gives you an appreciation for what it means to push a system to its limits and that we never really see what can be done with the console until the later years. I’ve found myself playing through modes just to appreciate the work that has gone into characters and environments to make this game stand out graphically. If you’re like me, fiddling with the character creator will consume hours of time just because it’s such a good looking game.
My main gripe with the character creator though is that while the male facial options have been expanded upon, I feel that the female options are more or less the same that they were in IV, which weren’t that great. I also don’t think they’ve added too many hair options compared to IV. This isn’t a complaint that lasts too long though, as you’ll soon get lost in creating your character with many of the updated options.Tattoos, accessories, make-up and even customizable battle colours and effects allow you to make the base character you want and upgrade them as time goes on and you get more gear for your character, but there’s a catch to that.
Single-player mode isn’t what it used to be and most people I’ve seen have defended these changes saying that single player isn’t important when there’s online, but my beef with that comes with the territory of aging, online is swell right now but even going back to SCIV for a refresher taught me that online has an expiry date.
You have a few modes available for you are Arcade Mode, in which you can go through three paths, Europe, Asia and Standard and Legendary Mode, which is more or less a replacement for the Tower of Souls, but is nowhere near as interesting or fun; in fact it really is just like a supercharged Arcade Mode. There is also a quick battle mode in which you go one on one with a random character to gain a title, which is used to characterize you during online play.
All of these modes serve to level up your character, which in turn gives you more options to dress up your character or more likely the case either dress down your character or give you a greater variety in which to remake characters from other games.
As for the battle system, I have two words for you, balancing issues. With the game pace increased significantly, strategic fighting is more of an afterthought than an active part of the battles;you’ll find yourself sticking to a single character that you know inside an out rather than exploring the roster to get a taste for everything. This also means that button mashers are more common to come in contact with online, taking the path of least resistance to winning the match. Along with the sped up battles comes the fact that even heavy hitters have been put into overdrive, meaning that larger weapons no longer mean slow and slogged movement, making short distance characters a little less desirable as a result.
My biggest problem with all the changes made is that the game feels like a fighter-maker under the guise of a Soul Calibur game. An even greater problem is with the single player being short-changed, you’ll often slug through the same or similar scenarios over and over again just to get interesting gear for the character creator.
Overall the game leaves me wanting, from removed features, truncated story and limited single player feature. I just feel that too much was taken from the game without really enough being given back.
I think Namco-Bandai needs to get fighter maker out of its system and simply create a separate game for people who want to create their own characters and leave Soul Calibur to be its own game.
This review is based on a retail copy of the 360 version of Soul Calibur V.