Review: Soul Calibur V

“The Soul, it’s still on fire, or burning, or… something.  Soul Calibur V.”

Soul Calibur is a franchise that I’ve been invested in for years.  The characters.  The story.  The fighting and weapons.  The cheap ring-outs — I’m looking at you, Nightmare.  The chance to create fighting game versions of characters I love — why yes, that is Grell Sutcliff from Black Butler — Kuroshitsuji for the Japanese savvy.  With the recent release of part five of the main series (not counting the side games on PSP and wii) the excitement made my very soul, well… burn! The weapons, the combos, the big music and the breathtaking locations all return to make this the go-to fighter for the start of 2012.  That doesn’t mean that everything is exactly the same as part 4 — IV for the roman numeral savants.  The “Critical Finishes” are gone, but in their place is something that feels like it’s been borrowed from a Street Fighter or BlazBlue — or Guilty Gear for those of us who remember Sol Badguy.  Similar to “super meters” you’d find from battles with Ryu and Ken, once these meters are full to a certain point you can perform “Brave Edge” and “Critical Edge” attacks, more powerful moves you can use to weaken your foes.  Unlike past games there’s no indicator for when armor will break, but that makes fighting more of a challenge because you have no idea when you’ll be left in your underwear in the middle of a battle.  There’s been other small tweaks, such as with “Guard Impact” and other abilities, but these changes don’t take away from the fun of the game.  It’s still rather enjoyable to pick up your bow staff and annoying twirl around an opponent in a series of fancy acrobatics and attacks.

Street Fighter x Soul Calibur?! Naw, that's just how good customization is this time around. (Photo Credit)

Soul Calibur continues to have the best character creation for a fighting game.  There’s been so many details added to Character Creation Mode that you’d swear that, honest to goodness, Sephiroth has always been a playable character in the game.  Clothes, skin color, height, tone of voice, tattoos, scars, you’ll spend more time analyzing what hairstyle fits your characters than actually playing the Story Mode.  The best part, of course, is taking a freshly made character through the six-tier arcade mode and giggling like a lunatic when Naoto Shirogane from Persona 4 wins a match.  Of course, getting your ass handed to you by Zelda or Dragonball Z’s Goku may break your spirits, but that’s all part of the fun.

The biggest disappointment in the game is its story, which is really a shame since Soul Calibur has always had an interesting tale to tell.  If you can’t stomp some folks in versus — or at least attempt to — then you could at least follow the path of the soul swords and the characters entangled in their web.  Sure, Siegfried would angst about Nightmare all the time, and Ivy’s breasts would take up half the screen, but you have to appreciate a fighting game that takes time out to have a plot beyond, “Let’s fight!”  This is the first time that the game has a long running story, complete with cinematic cutscenes and an overarching plot involving most of the characters.  This style may remind you of a little diddy that came out back in 2011 called Mortal Kombat, which had a fantastic Story Mode that went through every single character in the game.  This isn’t the case with Soul Calibur V.  The story focuses on the children of the late Sophitia, Patroklos and his sister, Pyrrha.  The two siblings have been separated and Patroklos is on a quest to find his long lost sister.  However, she’s been under the influence of everyone’s favorite psycho girl with that crazy ring blade, Tira.

This is our main character, ladies and gentlemen.

It’s not a bad story.  It’s interesting to play through and learn the ways of the Patro and Pyrr — no, I am not spelling their names again.  The problem is that the story is much too short.  Two hours later and you’re watching the credits, and that’s being generous because Soul Calibur masters could certainly beat it faster than that.  It’s also disappointing when you realize that Arcade Mode does not go through the stories of the other characters, something that the main story doesn’t do at all.  It’s great learning about Sophitia’s children and all but 17 years have passed, what about the other kids in the story?  Or Maxi?  Or Ivy?  Voldo?  What have they been up to all this time?  This wouldn’t be nearly as irritating if it weren’t for one thing: they all make cameos in Story Moce.

Where, oh where, has my stealth ninja gone?

Then there’s characters who are just missing altogether.  Taki, for example.  Natsu is a new character who serves as her apprentice, but why is there never an appearance of the female ninja who’s been a Soul Calibur staple since the beginning?  And let’s not forget Ezio, who’s appearance feels like a waste.  Out of all of the ridiculous guest characters in the franchise — Link, Darth Vader, Spawn?! — Ezio is one that actually felt like he fit the game.  Soul Calibur should get some credit for trying to give guest characters reason to be there, but why not elaborate on Ezio, the one character who works in that time period?

There doesn’t seem to be enough modes in the game.  It almost feels like a first person shooter in that once you beat the campaign you better play online or else you’ll just be bored with the game and be tempted to trade it in while it’s still worth something.  If you’re not a gamer who likes to play online there really isn’t much to do once the story is over.  You can putz around on Arcade for a bit, or you can challenge friends in Versus Mode, but when you’re sitting in your living room alone after a hard day’s work/school/activity of some sort Soul Calibur V is, sadly, not a good game to go to for single player, non-online action.  There’s no Challenge Tower.  There’s no incentive to beat Arcade with all the characters. You can save up points for… something — I’m not one hundred percent sure what they’re for — and you can try to unlock the other characters but… really?  Is that the only reason to keep playing?  It feels like there isn’t enough of the game, as if they rushed it out to get it to us and forgot to add some key features… like back stories for the characters who aren’t featured on the cover.

It's always fun to join together and strengthen the bonds of friendship with a shot to the ribs.

All and all Soul Calibur V is fun to play, then again, Soul Calibur has always been fun to play.  It’s always been a great fighter to play at home or online.  If someone holds up a copy of Soul Calibur you best believe that I’m grabbing a controller to play.  It just feels like it’s missing… something.  It wets the appetite for wanting to beat people up but it’s not enough to be called a satisfying game.  It’s the bread and butter before the meal, the fried cheesesticks before the pizza, the random analogy of something that comes before something else.

Since I’ve played every other Soul Calibur before this one it feels like they could’ve, and should’ve, done better than they did.  It’s an o.k. game overall, and I do recommend trying it, just don’t get your hopes up like I did.

Final Rating:  7.5/10


CBR Break Down:
Console Played On:  PS3
Time to completion:  Main campaign: About 2 hours, maybe, and it really only took that long because Nightmare is an asshole.
Trophies Earned:  18%, 7 trophies
Price Bought at:  Rented
Current Price:  $60 (normal), $80 (collectors)
Recommend Purchase Price:  Not the full $60, but if you’re a collector the collector’s edition is pretty cool, but with the game not being worth $60 I’m not sure if the collector’s edition is worth the $80.  I’d say maybe wait until it’s around $40, maybe even $30.
Why you should buy it:  A good time fighter if you’re itching to beat some stuff up with weapons and combos.  Also, creating characters will always be a hilariously good time.
Why you shouldn’t buy it:  A really short, kind of throwaway story that doesn’t tell you much of anything.  If you’re not into online play or if you’re not going to have people over whose souls are constantly burning, then there’s no reason to purchase it.

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