[6 February 2012]
SoulCalibur is a weird series of games. It’s always been popular, but unlike Street Fighter, it’s never been a game that people play in tournaments. It’s the fighting game for the casual fan, and as such, it refuses to take itself seriously. Each game is populated with weird guest fighters and increasingly nonsensical costumes, even for a fighting game. SoulCalibur V continues the bizarre traditions of its predecessors, and it works. It’s a flashy game that’s fun to watch, easy to get into, and lets you fight as Ezio from Assassin’s Creed.
The Story Mode is mildly interesting. The eye-rolling melodrama is appealing as a guilty pleasure, but for some reason, Namco decided to allow the story to revolve around the most boring character in the game, Patroklos. Surely there’s a much grander tale begging to be told, especially when you consider that many fan favorite fighters (Taki, Xianghua, Sophitia, Kilik—his name is there but that’s not the Kilik I know) aren’t in the game but their children are here. The result is a story that feels pointless, though not awful.
If you’re looking to play offline, you’d best stick with Quick Battle. This mode mimics online play with a ton of randomly chosen AI opponents. What’s great about this mode is that the difficulty of each opponent is broken up into dozens of very specific ranks (this ranking is also used online). You start with a rank of E5, rise to E1, then D5 to D1, all the way up to A1. This allows you to fight slightly more challenging opponents each match until you find a sweet spot. After about a dozen matches, I knew my best fights would be at the C level.
Quick Battle is also a great primer for the character creator. You’ll almost never fight a default character. All of your opponents look like they’ve been made with the creator. It’s a great way of showing off what you can do, and once you start digging, the creator is almost more fun than the fighting. That’s not a bad thing. Instead, it’s a testament to how deep and absorbing that the creation system can be once you start unlocking more and more stuff. If you don’t want to start from scratch, you can just edit an existing character, keeping their body, voice, and fighting style, while adding equipment or switching out clothing to create a new costume. With such an impressive degree of personalization, playing as a default character just seems boring.
Of course, there would be no point in making a personalized character if you couldn’t show him or her off. Online matches are organized into lobbies of varying size. Player Matches put you into groups of six, while the Global Colosseo can have as many as 30. The smaller lobby lets you watch the current match, even if you’re not a part of it. Sadly, though, you can’t do the same with the larger lobby. It’s either fight or get out. Thankfully, with 30 other people playing, it doesn’t take long to get into a match.
The Global Colosseo is my favorite place to fight simply because I’m not very good at the game. Getting constantly beaten in a lobby with only six people starts to make one self-conscious about your won lack of skill, but getting constantly beaten in a lobby with 30 other people lets me comfortably bask in anonymity while still being communal and social thanks to the global chat.
While there’s nothing egregiously wrong with SoulCalibur V, there are parts that feel rushed. The story mode opens with a typical cinematic CG cut scene, and then you’ll get a couple of cut scenes made with the game engine that look great, but then the mode just features cheap looking motion comics for the rest of the story. This isn’t a motion comic in the way that we’ve come to know them in video games—with lots of dynamic movement. These are just manga style drawings with some voice over and the occasional basic panning shot. What’s stranger is that the game switches between these cheap comic movies and the movies made in engine, but there’s no consistency between them. It feels like every cut scene was supposed to be done in-engine, but for some reason Namco had to ditch this goal for something faster and cheaper.
The Training mode also suffers. You can bring up a tip window that suggests what moves you should practice, and in addition to the button combo itself, the window explains what this move does, when to use it, and even how to defend against it. This could have been a wonderful way to teach fighting theory rather than just button combos (which is arguably more important, since learning combos can make me a fan of the game but learning theory can make me a fan of the genre), but there are only two of these tip windows per character. It’s a painful missed opportunity, and as a result, I had to go online to find information about guard breaks and unblockable attacks.
Still, SoulCalibur V remains fun. The characters and attacks are flashy; it’s a very vibrant game. The moves seem to flow with each other, making every match fun to watch even when you’re getting slaughtered. It remains the most accessible fighting game series out there, but it certainly won’t make anyone a pro.