Project Soul has developed another brawny and lithe entry in the SoulCalibur series that, though it won’t convert me to the fighting-game creed, plays like an absolute reverie in the throes of its sword-centric mêlées. Boobs will jiggle and hackneyed catchphrases will be uttered. And as characters cut and slash through each other in spherical motions and unified arcs of malice, the colorful animations feel fluidly quicksilver; these giant wielders of the blade surge on screen. Greenhorns won’t be guided by the hand through training simulations like they were with the current generation’s iterations of Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat, and though that’s a full-size mark against the overall experience, it’s not one that will detract the faithful from snagging up a copy.
SoulCalibur V’s roster may be diverse, but its approach to the fighting genre is fairly fundamental, focusing on one-on-one battles in a nondescript 3D environments sprinkled with 2D elements. The ridiculous solo campaign has an outrageous plotline, but chances are you didn’t come for that. This game is an impresario when you’re battling actual human beings and not a frosty CPU.
The online battles are rapid and memorable with hardly any lag. (SoulCalibur IV’s deficiencies in that area are soundly resolved.) Also, a tiny power gauge in the corner returns from previous games, now retitled the Critical Gauge. It’s a standard that Street Fighter popularized that works well for cool-looking, soul-crushing attacks. They can enhance certain moves, or let loose one enormous wallop. The defensive moves are a hodgepodge though.
The new Guard system uses half of your Critical Gauge and the timing is more relaxed, and since you can’t spam it over and over, “turtling” won’t be an option.
Traditionally, SoulCalibur’s Guard Impact/Repel is usually easy to use in a round and the window frame to use it was forgiving, and the best part was that a player could do it as many times as they wanted. The new Guard system uses half of your Critical Gauge and the timing is more relaxed, and since you can’t spam it over and over, “turtling” won’t be an option.
The new Just Guard move is extremely hard to pull off and only tournament-level players will truly master it. (I think I did it twice, maybe one time by accident.) Just Guard creates a huge learning curve for lame-duck players like myself. The delicate tactics utilized within the game are still quite compelling, but it’s just a little frustrating to get started. Combine that with no tutorial levels and SoulCalibur V becomes needlessly difficult to pick up and play.
Strangely enough, the game is a little more accessible due to what my fighting game friends calls the “Street Fighter-ization” of the series. The inclusion of Critical Edge and Brave Edge attacks works well. In the instance of the latter, unleashing it will morph certain movies to do additional damage and string together intricate combos. (It’s something I’m still learning to do, but it sure looks great when I get it right.)
The new fighters are also uninspiring. Z.W.E.I. is a strange character similar to Mortal Kombat’s Nightwolf; he summons a spirit wolf and his move set is more annoying than practical. Main-story protagonist Patroklos is a solid midrange combatant; it’s easy to pull off juggles with his style of swordplay. Assassin’s Creed favorite Ezio is decent to handle and Fiona’s orbs can devastate your opponent from long-range. Longtime fans will no doubt stick to their traditional “mains.” And if you don’t like any of the characters, you can create your own with the game’s robust character-creation tool.
SoulCalibur V is a utilitarian entry in the series. It slakes longtime fans’ thirst for more swordplay, but doesn’t aim to reach out to any new gaming demographics by experimenting with the series’s threadbare formula. Call me a newb who just doesn’t understand the genre, but last year’s Mortal Kombat showed that fighting games can be much more than you think they could be circa 1993. There’s no reason to expect more variety of modes in a 2012 multiplayer game. SoulCalibur V is a durable wooden sword when it could be a gleaming ring blade.