Does the Soul Still Burn?
I think Namco hit a high point with Soul Calibur II on the Xbox, Gamecube, and PS2, with Nintendo's console receiving the best version of the game. Of course, relegating itself to the PS2 with Soul Calibur III and bringing Darth Vader and Yoda to Soul Calibur IV put some distance between the series and many gamers.
Ultimately, we've been left wanting—wanting a sensible guest character, wanting a return to form, wanting a sense of balance on the battlefield, and wanting a Soul Calibur with fighting mechanics you could really sink in to. Does Soul Calibur V deliver?
There's plenty to love in Namco Bandai's latest release, but a few disappointments got mixed in. Upfront, you'll notice that series favorites, like Sophitia, Cassandra, Talim, and Kilik (at least in his original form), have gone missing. Most of them have been replaced with their offspring, apprentices, and fighters with similar skills.
So why bother removing the characters at all? It's a cop-out to say that Taki is too old to fit in Soul Calibur V's timeline, and then flaunt Ivy and all of her overly-abundant assets at the age of 50+. Why remove the characters at all if you're going to replace them with cardboard stand-ins?
The most apparent flaw in this sequel is V's story mode. Maybe we've been spoiled by Mortal Kombat's excellent single-player journey, with its multiple characters, high-production values, and ham-fisted dialogue. In fact, story mode only really delivers on the ham-fisted part, and not just the dialogue either, but the entire mode. Aside from unlocking a handful of characters and earning an avalanche of player card titles and fighter points, you'll want to avoid it at all costs. If we were grading Soul Calibur V on its story mode alone, it would be a poor excuse for a fighting game, lacking balance, variation, and any semblance of entertainment.
Now that the flaws are out of the way, I can confidently say that Soul Calibur V marks a return to form for the storied fighting franchise. It offers new balancing mechanics, an insanely deep create-a-fighter mode, and top-notch online play.
Fighters can now build up a meter to pull off Edge-enhanced attacks and Critical Edge attacks. These are somewhat similar to Street Fighter's EX attacks and Mortal Kombat's X-ray moves, except it takes longer to build up meter for the EX-equivalents and the full meter attacks aren't as powerful a game-changer as X-ray moves.
Gameplay ultimately comes down to a satisfyingly smooth match of rock-paper-scissors. Fighters with better speed can punish those with a lot of reach. Characters with a lot of power can punish anyone with openings in their defense, and so on and so on.
This dedication to balancing continues with the game's Create a Soul mode. As you level up in the game, you'll unlock more and more parts for customization. Start with one of the game's existing characters or build up your own from scratch with an existing move set.
There are some truly bizarre creations out there. Venture into the Japanese multiplayer lobbies and you'll face off against a Patroklos with nothing but a pair of undies and a green afro. You might even find yourself up against a Mega Man or Super Mario lookalike with Cervantes's move set.
The best part of exploring uncharted waters online is that you'll never experience lag and you'll never encounter a match you can't connect to. Soul Calibur V features genre-defining netcode. It is literally the most stable environment I've ever seen in a fighting game.
While online multiplayer doesn't have the same lobby size as Mortal Kombat's or the dedicated playerbase found in Street Fighter games, the strength of the experience comes from being able to choose whether you want to face regional opponents, friendly players you might find in a lobby, or ranked opponents who are in it to win it.
It's hard not to recommend Soul Calibur V. The balanced gameplay makes for an open invitation to new players, and stalwarts of the series will find a return to form for the series. Even if you're not that into fighting games, the depth and variety in Create a Soul is a game unto itself.
Oh, by the way, Ezio's inclusion is easily the best cameo character to ever featured in a fighting game. His moveset and design are handled seriously and implemented with reverence, not just towards the Assassin's Creed franchise, but to Soul Calibur lore as well.
Does the soul still burn? Consider mine reignited by Soul Calibur V.