Review – Soul Calibur V
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“Transcending history and the world… A tale of Souls and Swords, eternally retold.”

These words used to mean something special to me. Although I missed out on the Original Soul Edge/Blade in it’s prime, Soul Calibur on the Dreamcast was my first real taste of the competitive fighting game scene. My friends and I regularly battled for hours, and due to living with a guy who sold weed, I also had lots of competition from people outside of my social circle. I fell in love with the deep game play that rewarded observation and movement, the unique and likeable characters, and most of all the epic medieval setting.

I loved this game so much, in fact, that I almost had my leg amputated because acquiring Soul Calibur II for the Gamecube and unlocking everything in Weapon Master Mode was more important to me than going to the emergency room, but that’s a story for another article.

Soul Calibur II, much like it’s predecessor, was everything a sequel should be. It further refined the game play, introduced new and interesting fighters, and progressed the plot in a way that made sense. It also added tons of unlockables and modes to keep replay value high when you didn’t have someone around to battle. My friends and I had no end to the enjoyment of eight man Extra Team Battle Mode, where we would choose not only our characters and order, but also a multitude of weapons, adding a thick layer of strategy. Soul Calibur II was literally the perfect game. I still fondly remember the epic Yoshimitsu Vs. Voldo Kumites that my pal Dan and I would partake.

Unfortunately it all goes downhill after this. Soul Calibur III and IV were mere shadows of their prequels, thanks to oddball design choices for fan favorite characters and pointless butchery of their move sets. Suddenly the Nobleman Raphael, a Zorro-like fencer with many variations on stances and clever parries became a vampire who bordered on a parody of his former self. The dreaded Nightmare lost most of his utility when he was literally split in half to make Sigfried a separate character, and Lizardman slowly regressed into a joke character. Perhaps worst of all, however, was my beloved Ivy. Once a complex and rewarding character with multiple stances and back doors, who rewarded proper spacing and control with fantastic damage and flashy attacks, She quickly became a character for beginners to pick up and play, with all of her complexity thrown out the window.

Character destruction aside, Soul Calibur III at least offered more newcomers to learn, an intuitive character creation mode that featured all sorts of new and wacky fighting styles, and a strategy/RPG minigame that was surprisingly entertaining. Soul Calibur IV had the decency to bring another newcomer to the mix (Who quickly became one of my favorites, washing the awful taste of Cumpire Raphael and Gimped Ivy from my mouth), but that’s really the only positive thing I can say about that game. Twice I had wasted sixty dollars of my hard earned paycheck on a game that would quickly be shelved in favor of Soul Calibur II. Thats twelve packs of cigaretes that I could have been smoking, or a hundred and twenty McDonald’s Cheeseburgers.

I had really hoped that Soul Calibur’s fifth iteration would Impress me. I was interested the idea of advancing the plot ahead seventeen years. I liked the inclusion of many new characters to mix with the old guard. I was curious to try out the new gameplay mechanics, and I was excited to see what a new team could do with a dying old horse. While this title technically WOULD live up to my expectations, it wouldn’t live up to the PROPER expectations. Sadly, I have become expectant of disappointment when I buy new games as of late.

SO GLAD I decided to wait and get Dead Island used…

So what’s wrong with Soul Calibur V? Everything. Literally everything. Every single thing is wrong with this game. Everything. Let me break it down for you, bullet point style:

The story

Seventeen years have passed since the events of Soul Calibur IV… and you will NEVER learn what happened in that time. Soul Calibur V instead introduces you to a host of new characters (most succeeding former protagonists) and refuses to tell you anything about them. Why is feminine werewolf sword guy so pissed at Nightmare? Why is spaced out fortune teller chick accompanying him? Why are either of them working for Sigfried? Where’s Cassandra if her sister’s dead and one of her kids went missing? Story isn’t a very important thing in most fighting games, but Soul Calibur has always kinda been the exception to the rule. It’s always had such an interesting world filled with characters that were more than just a fighting style, and it’s a shame to see even returning combatants treated so flatly. I have absolutely NO idea why my three main characters (Raphael, Aeon, and Cervantes) are even in the game. Are they even questing for Soul Edge any more? For what reasons?

Jumping ahead in the Soul Calibur timeline could have been an amazing thing for the plot, but instead it creates a bunch of questions, and refuses to answer them. As mentioned, the new characters are incredibly transparent, and the story mode does nothing to alleviate this problem. Sophitia’s children seem to only have one defining trait: stupidity. Patroklos is somehow talked into murdering HUNDREDS of innocent people, simply because he thought they were “malfested,” and his sister Phyrra manages to do the same thing, but for an even dumber reason.

Also, Alpha Patroklos makes no sense. I can’t stand the fact that a Greek Whiteman has a japanese sword style. Just bring back Setsuka if you want to use her weapon in the game.

Character creation

The best character creation in Soul Calibur history isn’t saying much. Why do I have to grind single player to unlock parts, and why is it so strenuous? Just give me the shit from the start. Also, why did Soul Calibur IV and V take out all of the original fighting styles? What’s the point in creating someone if they’re just going to fight like a character already on the roster? Create modes are one of the favorite things when they’re included in games. I enjoy the challenge of working with what I have to make something interesting, but some of the limits to this particular create mode are infuriating. Every time I create something, I get a “so close, yet so far” feeling.

I’m not asking for WWE ’12 levels of depth, but at least let me equip a character with a cloak AND a jacket. Why not have extra fighting styles like Soul Calibur III had? It would be a perfect way to include fighting styles for characters like Zasalamel and Talim, who are severely missed. Sure, it might not be balanced, but created characters are never tournament legal anyway. Let my friends and I enjoy ourselves.

Mimic characters

A mimic character by itself is a fantastic idea. It’s a fun way to challenge yourself, troll friends, and frustrate people who try to counter-pick. Three mimic characters, however, is just plain lazy. Edgemaster works, because his backstory establishes him as a badass old man who trains and masters every single fighting style known to man. Why can’t we just stick with that?

Soul Calibur V gives us Edgemaster, who can mimic any style, Elysium (who uses a Sophitia character model, rubbing salt in the wounds of fans who lost their character) who only mimics females, and the biggest “fuck you” to longtime fans, Kilik, who only mimics males. To laugh in your face even further, when you fight against Kilik being controlled by the AI, he always uses Soul of Xiba (the rod style that used to belong to Kilik).

So to recap, we have a fan favorite character being replaced by a moron who’s only defining trait is that he’s hungry, who takes a legendary weapon and places it between his legs like a tail and slams it on the ground with pelvic thrusts. That character is then put back in the game as a literal blank slate, and he pretends to be the same old character, as if to laugh in your face.

In the transition from Soul Calibur IV to Soul Calibur V, we’ve lost Yeoung-Sung, Talim (who’s about the only Soul Calibur character who would still be interesting seventeen years later), and Zasalamel. All three unique fighting styles who are sorely missed. Yet we have two Phyrras who are almost the same, and three mimics taking up precious character slots. This screams of last minute character count inflation syndrome(tm).

Artificial Intelligence

I pride myself on never getting pissed at a game, because I’m a mature enough adult to not let my temper get the best of me over something as silly as a video game. I broke two controllers and a fightstick while playing Soul Calibur V. The A.I. is so unbalanced that it’s not even funny. Did anyone even test this game before releasing it? Sometimes it will literally stand there and let me walk up and throw the entire fight, and then in the third round it kicks into Super Saiyan mode and becomes unbeatable. Grinding through quick battle to unlock parts for Create mode is a chore, made even worse by running into souls using Alpha Patroklos, and don’t even get me started on fucking Legendary Souls mode. I STILL have no idea who you fight after Kilik, and there’s NO reward for playing through it.

Seriously, I hate this character.
Just Defense, Hyper Combos, and meter management

Why? Why why why why WHY? WHY?!?!?!

This isn’t Street Fighter. This isn’t Marvel. This is Soul Calibur. Super moves that blow through pokes and do forty percent damage for free completely destroy the momentum of the match. Sure, they’re blockable, but how many times have you been caught on wakeup and lost a match to scrub tactics? What’s the point in training an opponent to zig when they should be zagging when they can just mash out a super on reaction?

“Parrying” is also out of place. sure, it requires incredible timing, but once you get that down, you get free punishes on attacks that should have hit you. It devolves the entire game to nothing but baiting swings for safe hits. It also makes Guard impact obsolete. In fact, Guard Impact was destroyed altogether in Soul Calibur V. Fuck it.

I know it may seem like I’m being unnecessarily hard on this game, but one cannot POSSIBLY imagine my disappointment. Soul Calibur is a series that I truly love with all of my heart and soul (pun intended), and sadly this title simply doesn’t stack up. It annoys me even more, considering Soul Calbur II was literally perfect in my eyes, and that game is a decade old. I also call bullshit on charging me full retail price for a game that was admittedly unfinished. With a story mode that’s only a quarter complete, multiple copycat characters taking up precious space on the character select screen, and an overall lack of single player replay value, I honestly feel ripped off.

The saddest part is that if the rest of the story mode and new fighting styles for create mode were available as DLC, I would pay for content that should rightfully be mine for free.

To end on a good note, the sound design in Soul Calibur V is fantastic. If you have good speakers or headphones, you are in for a treat. all of the sound effects are solid, and there isn’t a single bad song to be found. Online is also flawless, with plenty of options to keep you busy. That’s pretty much all I can really say without winding back up into a frenzy of hate, and I’d rather be playing Soul Calibur II.

Wait for it to hit half price so you won’t feel ripped off like I do.