SoulCalibur V Review - The Next Level

Game Profile

System:
Xbox 360
Release date:
January 31, 2012
Publisher:
Namco Bandai
Developer:
Project Soul
Players:
1 - 2 local and online
Genre:
Fighting
ESRB:
T

SoulCalibur V

So the time has come.

Review by Chris Bahn (Email)
February 17th 2012

I've invested a great deal of my life in Chun-Li and the gang in Street Fighter IV. I've had some memorable experiences, meeting new faces and connecting with old ones that I haven't seen in years. Along the way, I've even reveled in some rather witty catchphrases, such as "You mad, bro?", "Stay free!", and my personal favorite: "bodied." Needless to say, it's been a great journey, but after three years, I reached a point where I needed to switch things up a bit. It was time to get back into the stage of history.


The netcode and online multiplayer in SoulCalibur V is simply amazing.

First, a quick overview of some notable changes. SoulCalibur V retains the vision of maintaining offensive play, putting highly defensive types on notice. The controversial Soul Gauge was reinvented into what is now known as Guard Burst, which follows the same principles seen in Street Fighter Alpha 3 when you block too many attacks. The Critical Finish was also scrapped in favor of two new systems: Brave Edge (an EX-style attack that delivers more damage for specific special moves) and Critical Edge, which can be compared to the Ultra attacks from Street Fighter IV. Guard Impacts (or GI for short) have also been modified to a single command input and require at least two stocks of meter. Just Guard is a new, advanced form of blocking, initiated by tapping Guard and releasing before the attack connects. If the attack was successful, a blue glow appears in front of your character. This is an excellent technique against some of the heavier attacks, such as those used by Nightmare, thus allowing you to recover faster and retaliate with an guaranteed hit.

Despite the relatively strong positive reception SoulCalibur V has received in the community, it still doesn't seem to be gaining the traction and momentum I expected compared to its predecessor. Some seem to be bothered by the fact that GI's can no longer be liberally executed without building up meter, which puts novice Maxi players at ease should they wish to spam with reckless force. Others are disheartened by the fact that certain fan favorites like Talim, Amy, and Taki were left out of the party. Or perhaps it's just that the series hasn't really evolved enough to their satisfaction and is lacking in a few areas. We'll talk about a few of those gripes in a bit, but for now, let's talk about where SoulCalibur V shines and makes my soul burn with the desire to play non-stop.

Developers have come to recognize that when it comes to online multiplayer, it's all about the community. It looks like Namco definitely got the memo because the netcode and online multiplayer is simply amazing. 99% of my matches have been about as smooth as I would expect from playing in an offline session. Typically, the greatest concern when it comes to fighters online is input delay, where those few seconds can have a crucial impact in a match and tend to lead to a lot of upsets, headaches, and rage messages. Yeah, they mad, bro.

Player Match behaves a lot like the Endless Battle in Street Fighter IV and is the ideal mode for casual sessions and training, supporting up to six players at any given time. For those seeking competition on an even larger scale, Global Colosseo is the mode to play. Here you can join rooms based on geographic location and you're represented by a player card: a real-time digital dossier that tracks your performance, including each player you designate as a rival through the Soul Link feature. Your card's location will vary based upon your tendencies and player group - great if you want to single-out players who like to play similar match types.

Wait, it gets better! This central hub also gives you the ability to create your own personal lounge, allowing you to host sixteen-player rooms to fight and congregate in. Once the mode is created, players can opt to play Random Match (pits you randomly against other competitors associated in the same pool) or Free Match (a one-on-one battle against another player).

Of course, none of this would be complete without the ability to spectate matches, a process that thankfully is not only smooth, but convenient. Players can toggle to view matches in an ESPN-type PIP window or enjoy the battle full-screen. A text bubble can also be utilized at any time, should you choose to skip using the Xbox's built-in SMS format. I'd recommend against it, since SoulCalibur V's system oddly truncates text after thirty characters or more, despite the text bubble giving the impression you can write as much as you'd like. You may have come across a hub marked "Competition." These will be available periodically and are great for anyone serious or casual to take on other challengers. If you've missed out, there's always the Ranked Match mode available 24/7 to take on challengers throughout the world.

Hey, did any of you happen to catch that attack I just did the other night with Xiba? Oh well, I saved the replay (available at the conclusion of this article). Yes, SoulCalibur V wouldn't be complete without the ability to revisit memorable battles. Your last eight matches are automatically stored under Battle Log and you can save up to sixteen matches under My Battles. In addition, you can access other player replays and store them for later viewing via their Player License or Ranked Match Leaderboard.

If you're new to the series, selecting a character can be a daunting task, especially when you seek to identify a character who matches your play style. Fortunately, SoulCalibur V offers a diverse range of characters who specialize in rushdown, zoning, shenanigans, or all of the above. Veterans will be delighted that many familiar faces, including Ivy, Mitsurugi, Hilde and Siegfried are still in the mix. SoulCalibur V introduces several new warriors: Xiba, Leixia, Natsu, Z.W.E.I, Patroklos, Pyrrha, and Aeon. In addition, there are several "supreme" variations of past and existing characters to choose from, including Elysium (who bears a strong resemblance to Sophitia). Pyrrha and Patroklos also have "supreme" versions of their standard counterparts: Pyrrha Ω and α Patroklos. Keeping in the tradition of guest characters, this installment introduces Ezio Auditore from Assassin's Creed II and the fighting style of Tekken's Devil Jin. No more cameos from galaxies far, far away.

Aside from character selections, most concerns tends to stem from a "style" we have all encountered at one point or another: mashing. Folks, if you're dropping $60 for a game just to randomly hit buttons, not only have you wasted your money, but you're missing out on a much deeper, rewarding experience that games like SoulCalibur V have to offer. Fortunately, there's a training mode that will help you to ease into getting past those spammy tendencies and develop as a player. You could also invest in the official strategy guide and practice to shut the traps of every troll who ever ridiculed you once and for all. Maybe.

That's why I really dig the Training Mode in Soul Calibur V. Let's be honest, innovation is really lacking in this department. Players hop "in the lab" to develop their skill set, but the tools have been lacking features that help educate newcomers in particular how to actually get to a level that will produce effective results. The first thing, of course, is to get familiar with your character. It helps to govern the purpose of a particular practice session where you're looking to recreate specific situations or develop advanced strategies. There are multiple CPU states that can be configured, complete with recommended basic moves, combos and counter options, to highlight just a few of the comprehensive features featured within this mode. And to top it all off, the Replay option offers the ability to record up to three slots of footage in order to recreate just about any type of scenario you desire for offensive and defensive tactics. 

I also love that this mode offers suggestions for basic moves and combos that a player should incorporate and hope that someday, developers can build upon this further by offering an interactive tutorial or something to make training less of an intimidating experience. However, this is definitely a step in the right direction and the SoulCalibur series holds the crown for the most comprensive training mode to date.There are a lot of practical uses training mode can offer, whether it comes to block punishment (which you'll encounter a lot with rushdown players, practicing combos, developing wall combos (critical if you want to incur massive damage with environments that offer the opportunity) or just focusing on specific character shenanigans. 

Of course, not everyone cares to be a virtual powerhouse. Some just want to show off their talents elsewhere, like the Character Creation Mode. To be honest, despite being an artist, I never found myself getting too excited about this option ever since it was introduced in SoulCalibur III. However, now I am starting to warm up to it, especially after coming across some impressive creations on Tumblr. As you might expect, there are a decent number of options to customize the character's facial appearance, height, weight, voice, apparel, etc. Project Soul dropped the ability to enhance character attributes like speed, health, defense and power. That's a relief, because I can barely accept dealing with all the mindless spammy Nightmare, Ezio, and Pyrrha players as it is. The last thing they need are buffs to help them be more random.

I'd be remiss if I didn't take a moment to talk about the single-player offline modes: Arcade, Story - 1607 A.D. (a.k.a. Story Mode), Vs., Quick Battle, and Legendary Souls. Arcade can be compared to a "time attack" session where you're challenged to defeat six randomly selected opponents in the best possible time. Different routes will set the tone for a different battle experience (i.e., the Asia route will only put you in a pool against characters whose origin is from Asia). After meeting certain conditions, a new route will become available that allows you to enjoy the battle from a unique perspective. The Story Mode is divided into twenty chapters based upon the journey of Patroklos to find his sister, Pyrrha, and purge the Malfested, evil minions spawned by the Soul Edge sword. Depending on your personal skill level, most can breeze through this within an hour or less.

The VS. Mode is geared towards fighting players locally or to practice sparring against specific CPU opponents. Quick Battle gets the runner-up award for Most Likely to Keep You Busy Offline as you face off against 100+ opponents, which are submitted by actual players and feature some recognizable names, like Tekken producer, Katsuhiro Harada and French tournament player extraordinaire, Kayane. If you're looking for the ultimate challenge, Legendary Souls is for you. This is an exclusive single-player mode designed for advanced players (or aspiring players looking to develop their techniques). To call this mode challenging would be an understatement; at times the CPU is just downright grueling. It excels at frame traps, Okizeme, Ukeimi Traps, and hit confirms that will punish you every. single. time. Until you have a solid grasp of the game mechanics, consider this mode off-limits.

In an era where depth and complexity tend to be rare qualities in fighters, it's refreshing to see Project Soul hasn't sold out for the sake of appealing to a broader audience. No ridiculous hitboxes, no gimmicky characters, and best of all - no dive kicks (well, broken ones anyway). SoulCalibur V balances traditional fundamentals that reward intelligent play and strategy, and yet, manages to still give novice players a reason to throw down and gain some degree of satisfaction.

 

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