Soul Calibur V
Namco has been shaking things up rather a lot in the last eighteen months. Whether it be bringing wonderful new concepts to the world like the woefully underappreciated Enslaved or breathing new life into long-running series like Ace Combat they have not been afraid to take some big risks to throw a bit of variety in to dilute the ocean of tepid FPS titles out there.
This leaves fans of fighting games in a bit of a quandary as to what they will find when they load up Soul Calibur V. To be fair on the series, it has always been more about refinements and upgrades rather than concept-shattering reinvention and, unlike other titles that iterate to the point of tedium, Project Soul has managed to balance the pace of improvement and releases very well.
Of course, Soul Calibur IV was meant to be the last in the series but such was the outcry from the game's community that Namco reformed the Project Soul team to bring the series back. It would never be entirely the same though and, to be fair on Project Soul, fans of the series would be up in arms if Soul Calibur V was just a clone of previous titles with slightly more impressive graphics.
To that end the Project Soul team has done rather well. Soul Calibur V moves on 17 years from the end of the previous title and shifts its focus a bit more onto storytelling and away from the heavy emphasis fighting that made Soul Calibur IV feel a little light.
In fact, Soul Calibur V has a fairly hefty (and entirely ludicrous storyline) following Patroklus and Pyrrha, the children of the now deceased Sophitia as they struggle with their own demons and attempt to avenge the death of their mother.
The story mode is actually quite a bizarre and disjointed experience. It is essentially a succession of fighting challenges stung together by voice-acted stills and cinematics which tell the tale. The reward for completing a bout successfully is a bit more of the story which is usually another ridiculous twist in the tale.
While the story mode is entirely superfluous it does give players a chance to get used to the Soul Calibur V's controls and to have a taste of the characters, old and new, that feature in the game.
Soul Calibur V continues the series traditions of incremental improvements and as the second Soul Calibur game to appear on this generation of consoles Project Soul has taken the opportunity to address all the feedback on SCIV to help create a better, more well-rounded game. The expanded story mode is part of this but the real improvements come in the actual fighting.
The series emphasis on timing and execution over speed has never been more evident than it has in SCV. Parries and blocks play an evermore important role in turning the tide of a fight in your favour if things aren't going too well. SC has always rewarded those who take time to learn how to beat an opponent with finesse rather than button bashing and Soul Calibur V really helps emphasise that. In fact, certainly with the single player options, simple button bashing will soon lead to a perpetual string of losses especially on Hard difficulty.
There is a real beauty to this kind of play that many other fighting games lack. Potentially it makes Soul Calibur that little bit more impenetrable for fighting game novices but at the same time it becomes much more rewarding to progress. This is especially evident in the Quick Match mode where you can face off against a huge array of custom characters of different skill levels allowing players to hone their skills far further than the Story and six-bout Arcade modes could ever allow.
Quick Match also prepares players for the trials and tribulations of online play which is potentially the most rewarding mode of all. As a consequence, online multiplayer can also be the most frustrating mode as human players tend to be just that little bit tougher to handle than AI controlled ones and there's always the chance that you'll come up against a Soul Calibur savant.
Round this off with the return of the character creation tools offering a wide array of options for creating wacky and wonderful characters of your own to fight with. There's something satisfying about defeating a tough opponent by beating them into submission with a large squid.
Soul Calibur V was never going to be an Earth-shattering revelation of innovation in the fighting game genre, but then not all that much change is needed. The graphical updates and refinements to control and gameplay options are more than enough to satisfy series fans and new initiates looking for a change of pace. Soul Calibur will always be Soul Calibur and right now, Soul Calibur V represents the pinnacle of what the series can offer.