SoulCalibur has emerged as one of the most eminent fighting series of this age. Combined with Tekken, Namco’s other fighting franchise, the developer/publisher has obtained a predominant position in the fighting game genre. Yet despite having released over fifteen fighting games in as many years, Namco-Bandai has been relatively quiet as of late. It has been some four years since SoulCalibur IV, and the last Tekken instalment was released in 2009. So, what does SoulCalibur V bring to the table that its predecessors did not?
The answer is, sadly, not much. If you have ever played or seen Street Fighter II or Mortal Kombat, both from way back in 1992, you’ll know the drill. Despite the capacity in SoulCalibur V to roll away from your opponent on an apparently different axis, the game is, for all intents and purposes, two-dimensional. The pull of the game is the rock-paper-scissors method of pre-empting your opponents’ moves and memorising and executing combos (or, if desperate, mashing buttons randomly). It is a little frustrating that some of the more impressive combos are difficult to execute with the PS3’s directional key inputs, but on the whole the format is fast and furious.
SoulCalibur V makes a couple of slight tweaks to the Soul Gauge (a device brought in for IV to limit the capacity to deliver ‘super’ combos), changes the wardrobe and combos of some of the characters, dumps a few of the previous instalment’s members (including the memorable Star Wars guests), and gives temporary bed and board to Assassin’s Creed’s Ezio. The game simultaneously removes or dumbs down a number of the extant single player features (bye bye Tower of Lost Souls). The single-player plot is painfully bad, introducing two new characters, Patroklos and Pyrrha, whose exploits are predominantly relayed through pencil-drawn concept art and budget radio drama special effects. The story gives some context to the fights, but is both sloppy and shallow in its execution.
The undoubted highlight of the game is the online and versus modes, both of which are slickly designed. The game also inherits the character appearance customisation of SoulCalibur IV. V is additionally fitted with a training mode, which provides a useful means to learn off combos, although there is no specific guidance for newcomers to the series.
One would be tempted to say that SoulCalibur V is ‘old school and proud of it’, but a more honest assessment would be that Namco are being economically conservative by releasing a game that is virtually a re-release of their previous title. But, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, right? Well, going by that philosophy you can just buy SoulCalibur IV, which ain’t broke, but is decidedly cheaper than SoulCalibur V.