When a series of games has reached its fifth installment, there are bound to be attempts at “changing things up” to keep the series feeling fresh and new, while at the same time trying to hold onto some elements from previous games to please those afraid of change. The key to being successful this far into the game is finding a good balance between old and new. If too much is changed, previous fans of the series will drop the series, and if not enough is changed, people will complain that it is just a re-release of the previous games. SoulCalibur V has found a decent balance between the two, with changes to the combat system that are not too daunting to learn, the return of most of the most memorable characters in the series, and the addition of a few decent new characters as well.
The story mode in SoulCalibur V takes place 17 years after the events of SoulCalibur IV, With Siegfried having shattered the Soul Edge, defeating Nightmare and bringing about a short era of relative calm to the world. The player is not given a choice of which character they will be playing through the story mode with, as each “chapter” in the story has a specific character already selected. Most of the story has the players controlling the two new characters, Patroklos and Pyrrha Alexandra. Patroklos spends most of the story looking for his kidnapped sister, while Pyrrha attempts to survive in a world she feels has cast her aside. Along the way, players will be introduced to all of the new characters, all while experiencing possibly the most in-depth storyline in the series so far. Previous installments in the SoulCalibur series allowed players to go through a series of random fights with whichever character they chose, each character having a different ending upon completion. With the loss of character selection in the story mode, the story itself becomes the focus. Told through a combination of cut scenes and a storybook style of narration, the story mode familiarizes players with the new characters while giving a good taste of how the world has changed.
The most important element of a fighting game is, of course, the fighters. While many fighters from the previous games have returned, there are some slight changes to the roster for SoulCalibur V. First is the addition of Patroklos and Pyrrha, the son and daughter of Sophitia, a character Soul Calibur veterans are quite familiar with. They each have two different incarnations: Patroklos Alpha and Pyrrha Omega. Along with these two there is the addition of Z.W.E.I., a broody and mysterious man who can summon a werewolf spirit named E.I.N. He has a companion named Viola, a fortune teller who uses a metal claw and a floating crystal ball as her weapons. There are also a few replacements for some of the older characters. Kilik has been replaced by a young man named Xiba, with a typical silly personality who is always looking for a meal. Taki has been replaced by Natsu, an apprentice to Taki who is searching for her master. Xianghua has been replaced by her daughter Leixia, who is a Chinese general. Ezio Auditore da Firenze of the Assassin’s Creed series is available as a guest character to the series.
Patroklos uses a sword and shield combination style, while his alpha form uses a quick striking katana style. The first incarnation is relatively simple to use, although lacking in reach. The quick striking form is extremely fast, but suffers from short reach, lack of power and little to no combination moves. Pyrrha uses a sword and shield style for both of her forms. Both are pretty fast, and also quite powerful. Z.W.E.I. is not very powerful, but has many combinations and a good amount of speed. Viola is ridiculously fast, with some pretty mean combinations involving her floating crystal ball. Ezio is, of course, very fast and very powerful. He makes use of every weapon you acquire in the Assassin’s Creed games, including the crossbow and hand cannon. His power and speed make him extremely formidable. Each of the replacement characters plays almost exactly like their predecessor, with only small variations to their move lists. All in all, the character list is quite strong, with the new characters being decent additions to the series for the most part.
Many changes have been made to the gameplay for SoulCalibur V. The “critical finish” system has been removed entirely, along with use of the soul gauge. Instead, players will slowly fill a special meter known as the critical gauge that will allow them to pull off a super move for each character known as a “Critical Edge.” typically a very powerful move, these can be game-changers if executed properly. Also available are Brave Edge moves, using less of the critical gauge and enhancing character-specific moves. Guard impact has been tweaked a bit as well; instead of requiring the player to press guard and the direction of the opponent’s attack at the precise moment it happens, players now quickly tap the guard button and either forward or backward. Consuming a small portion of the critical gauge bar, the guard impact stops a move no matter if it is high or low unless the move is unblockable. Another new guard mechanic is included, called Just Guard. if a player hits guard the second a move is about to connect, a just guard happens, granting a slightly faster recovery and action from the guard stance.
Each of these new systems is an improvement on the system that it replaces. The Critical Finish system was extremely broken, allowing anyone who used a fast character to easily break the guard and then finish an opponent with little to no effort. The addition of the Critical Gauge system gives the game a more arcade feel. Each of these moves, while powerful, are all capable of being blocked or dodged. The loss of Guard Impact as a move that can be executed at any time is a little disheartening, but the new Guard Impact works better if you have the critical gauge to pull it off. Just Guard is almost unnoticeable, with a small flash of blue light being the only indicator that you have done it properly.
The only ill-conceived changed, in this reviewer’s eyes, are those made to a few existing characters. Nightmare, as well as most of the other large and strong characters, has been given a massive boost in speed while keeping his great strength. Anyone who knows what they are doing can select Nightmare and completely dominate almost any other character. The new stages are relatively pretty, with some of them having special changes that occur during battle. On certain stages, if a fighter achieves victory via ring out the two combatants will fall to a different area and see new scenery. Some stages just change as the fights progress, giving a little bit of depth to the environment around the players.
Another big change in this installment is the character creation system. Far more involved than the system from previous games, players are given the ability to change just about everything on their characters. the limbs and torso can all be individually changed, with a selection of faces and hair that is still a little limited. The costume pieces are generally unlocked by simply playing the game. There is also a sticker system that allows players to put decals on their character or their armor. With so many options, recreating a favorite character from a favorite series is well within the ability of the players.
Overall, Soul Calibur V does not stand out too much from it’s predecessors. The new mechanics are nice, but the new characters are pretty forgettable when put next to their counterparts from the previous games. The combat is more or less standard Soul Calibur fare, which of course is not a bad thing. The addition of the Critical Gauge gives it a feel like something you would expect from a Street Fighter game. Most of the specials are pretty cool, but a couple of them are weak and quite useless in comparison. Still, this game carries the name of SoulCalibur well. Any fan of the series will undoubtedly spend hours making custom characters and showing off their creations online. While the new elements do not really stand out, the game itself is still solid. The gameplay is as good as would be expected from a SoulCalibur game, the music is enjoyable, the story, while short, is worth playing through. If anyone is a fan of the series, then this is a solid addition and should be picked up and enjoyed!