I remember back when the Extreme Sports genre of video games exploded into the market following the massive success of Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater. Eventually, if you could ride it you could play it, as games like Kelly Slater’s Pro Surfboard and others came in to try and snatch their own little piece of fortune. But if there was any sport to rival skateboarding in terms of popularity and variety of games made, it was snowboarding. Continue reading
Fighting games were the FPS’s of the 16 and 32-bit eras. Every year there would be a new iteration of at least one popular franchise, as well as some obscure one-time imitators trying to catch the fighting game fire. Though many have fallen into obscurity (sorry Virtua Fighter) a few have managed to stay relevant by basically reinventing themselves. Last year’s Mortal Kombat, and before that Street Fighter IV, demonstrated that fighting games still have some kick left in them (har har). So does Soul Calibur V fit into that group of battle-hardened elders?
Oh, it tries so hard to do so.
Soul Calibur V feels like Namco’s attempt at rebooting the franchise, with new faces and new playing mechanics. In doing so, however, they’ve stripped the game down past the muscle and straight to the bone, placing heavy emphasis on online multiplayer than single player experience.
As always, the gameplay mechanics are sharp and responsive. What has always drawn me to Soul Calibur is that it’s very accessible; you can get away with button mashing and still have fun, but you’ll do much better if you take the time to learn a few favourite characters and master their moves. Guard repels and parries have been removed for the sake of simplicity. The controversial Critical Finishes have been replaced with Critical Edge moves that dish out a hefty amount of damage, but not instant kills. It’s a very easy game to just pick up and play, and not as crazy in-depth as Street Fighter IV.
The most exciting thing about the game is the new character roster, and for the most part it’s very impressive. I’ll commend them for having the guts to axe series mainstays like Taki and replace them with, essentially, a younger generation of characters (except for Mitsurugi; no one touches Mitsurugi). New characters like Z.W.E.I. and Viola bring unique fighting styles to the mix, and guest character Ezio from Assassin’s Creed is a vast improvement over SCIV’s Darth Vader and Yoda. And, of course, there’s Character Creation mode which has been revamped to include some very cool features, like patterns and accessories (though I feel that the PSP Soul Calibur: Broken Destiny still has the best CC mode in the series). But with these new characters comes the biggest criticism, one that was almost a deal breaker for me: why are they here?
Now, I’ll admit, fighting games have never been one for literary masterpieces when it comes to their story. Much like FPS’s, it’s get from point A to point B and kill everything in between. Simple, easy to remember. But even Street Fighter II had a victory screen with your character giving one last remark to M. Bison’s bloody face. Individual stories are completely absent in SCV. I played through Arcade mode, and didn’t even get so much as a congratulations; just a pop-up menu that said “restart” or “return to main menu”. And when you start axing characters and bringing in new ones, people are going to want to know why. We shouldn’t have to go on the internet just to find out the back story of these fighters—which is honestly the only way to find it out.
That said, there is a story mode in SCV, but it mode focuses solely on newcomers Patroklos and Pyrrha, offspring of series mainstay Sophitia. It’s short, and can easily be completed within 3 hours. The plot was interesting, but the majority of cutscenes are shown via illustrations and storyboards; there were only about 7 or 8 fully animated CGI scenes, and in a series known for its impressive graphics, this felt like a major cop-out. And once you’ve finished story mode, there isn’t much incentive for playing anymore; you’ll never know what happened to old characters, where the new ones came from, or why they’re fighting. Hope you have a good imagination, because that’s all you’ll have to rely on for this one.
The previous three Soul Calibur games have had a second single-player mode, usually designed for unlocking extra weapons, characters, or clothing; SCII had a straight-forward Weapon Master mode, SCIII dabbled in Real Time Strategy with Chronicles of the Sword, and SCIV had the Tower of Lost Souls where players defeated enemies under specific conditions. SCV has Quick Battle. And it’s exactly as it sounds: a quick one-on-one match with a computer to gain a special title for online mode.
Speaking of online mode (segue!), you can definitely see this is where Namco directed most of their efforts. There’s the usual Player and Ranked matches, but there’s also the Global Colosseo mode, where you meet with other players in a lobby and arrange battles with each other or participate in tournaments. Online games play well with little to no lag, which is impressive for a fighting game. Also, there’s something satisfying about hearing your opponent laugh in their headset when they first see your custom FatNinja character. However, a strong online mode isn’t enough to justify a full-priced game, and the single player modes come off feeling rushed.
Final Score: 6.5/10
Despite a strong online mode and great roster, the dearth of offline modes and weak story mode are a major disappointment, and unfortunately we won’t see another Soul Calibur until the next generation, so we’ll have to wait and see what route Namco takes for the series.
The Muslim Take: Soul Calibur has always been known for its… mammary physics. Thankfully, if you feel a character is showing too much skin—Ivy, as always—Character Creation lets you customize them however you like. I’ve made a few awesome sets of alternate outfits for my favourites. Also, there’s no blood and no fatalities if that bothers you; the most you can do is keep kicking your opponent’s body when they’re knocked out, which is always fun.
2 Cents: SCIII is, in my opinion, the best of the series. It had a phenomenal story mode, with each character having branching paths and multiple endings, and The Chronicles of the Sword mode kept me going for hours. It had the largest roster (including special characters you could unlock) and introduced some of the series’ most unique characters like Tira and Zasalamel. It was the first to introduce Character Creation, even though the custom fighting styles were hilariously unbalanced.