As good as it looks.
Namco Bandai's Soul Calibur V is set to please fans of the franchise. A new generation of fighters, brought to life by a vibrant graphical upgrade and several new mechanics, make for an iteration falling not far from the series' proverbial tree: glorious armed combat for those who know how to unleash it, and stilted movements for those who don't. As it should be in a fighting game, right?
17 years after the events of its predecessor, Soul Calibur V picks up on yet another cookie-cutter conflict between good and evil, narratively laced with words and phrases like "cursed shards", "infused", "lost dimension", "legendary blade", and well, we've seen it all before. Like anyone should care about story in a fighting game, anyway. Seriously, if you finish the game's story mode (set in 1607 CE) and start boasting of a new and Nightmare-less era, you need to learn from history. The thing just won't die. Spoiler-hunch: He's Michael Myers.
But anyway, those 17 years have seen a new generation move in. Many of our favorite fighters have been replaced by their disciples or offspring: Leixia replaces Xianghua, Xiba does Kilik, and Yoshimitsu has been slain and usurped by his rather identical protégé, Yoshimitsu the Second. And of course, Sophitia's twin children—Patroklos and Pyrrha—will be advancing the story.
It's quite a turning of the page for Namco Bandai, as many of these older characters were indisputable icons of the series. The newcomers play as their ancestors did, and with the same weapons. Xiba is perhaps less disciplined than Kilik, constantly exhibiting a Goku-like predilection for food. With a rod, though, he remains just as deadly.
Combat is flashy and makes only a few changes to the familiar Soul series formula. New is the Critical Gauge, built up as you deal damage, that permits a powerful attack full of slow-motion pomp. The gauge can even fill more than once over, allowing for devastating and chained attacks. These aren't too hard to execute, though the attacks are as blockable as any. Other novelties as far as mechanics go include quick sidestepping and a new set of special blocks.
Oh, and Ring Outs are a rarer occurrence. Those playing defense before exploiting that "get behind me" throw may need to go back to the drawing board. Soul Calibur V is a little more forgiving; where players would likely have hit the water/lava/void in past titles, here they stick to the curb a little more. For a quick and happy ending, you'll need to knock your enemy at a bona-fide 90 degrees from the edge.
What's most appreciable is that button mashing won't get you far. Soul Calibur V is full of temporary footings from which button commands output new attacks. If you don't know these (I didn't), you look like you're doing the robot one minute and could use a nurse the next. This learning curve, along with the game’s mechanical novelties, make Namco Bandai's latest seem worth the efforts of mastery it will surely garner.
Soul Calibur V releases tomorrow, January 31st, for Xbox 360 and PS3.