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The latest iteration in the long-running, weapons-based fighting game series, Soulcalibur V, takes place 17 years after its predecessor and continues the core story of a battle between two swords–Soul Calibur and Soul Edge–and the warriors who pursue them.
The series is known for its medieval setting, featuring a cast of knights, samurai, golems, undead pirates, kunoichi, and several more off-the-wall characters such as Voldo and Yoshimitsu: a bald, deaf, blind, and dumb Italian masochist who wields cat-claws and slithers around the stage like a serpent and a clockwork undead samurai respectively.
Guest characters are another staple: the series has played host to Yoda, Spawn, Link, and now Ezio Auditore from the Assassin’s Creed games. Unlike many of its genre peers, the ‘Soul’ series is not set in a tournament, but in a fictional universe where the warriors’ ambitions and alliances are complicated, and the story actually has a bit of body to it.
The previous game, however, was intended to be the final installment, so this game is a ‘Godzilla Returns’ of sorts. The monster was killed last time, but forget about that because the franchise must go on!
As such, this game is the product purely of fan-demand. The head director of the game, Odashima Daishi (@daishi_calibur), announced via Twitter that they would make a new game in the Soul series and welcomed suggestions of things fans wanted to see. Both Japanese and international fans wrote in to him throughout the entire development period, and even towards the end, according to Odashima, they were making changes according to the most popular requests.
One of the most popular features of the Soul series since its introduction in Soulcalibur III has been the Character Creation Mode. This allows players to choose from a range of fighting styles, weapons, costume parts, faces, voices, and so on to create one’s own unique warrior. In Soulcalibur V, the system has been vastly expanded.
The possibilities are now near-infinite, with full control over the warrior’s appearance, including custom cloth patterns, tattoos, free manipulation of accessory parts, makeup, body size, and so on. As the story is set 17 years after Soul Calibur IV, some of the more popular female characters–such as Taki and Sophitia–have been cut.
Ivy Valentine, arguably the most well-known character from the series alongside Mitsurugi, stopped aging due to a convoluted story element involving the destruction of her soul, which means she remains on the cast as a relatively young woman. Taki and Sophitia are replaced by a slew of brand new characters, including the protagonists, Patroklos and Pyrrha, Sophitia’s son and daughter.
Several small and large tweaks have been made to the combat system. The Critical Gauge replaces the Soul Gauge of Soulcalibur IV, allowing players to build up a charge of sorts to perform Guard Impacts, Brave Edge attacks, and Critical Edge attacks. The bar fills up when you attack your opponent, as opposed to when you are hit.
This makes the developer’s claim that Critical Edge attacks are meant to help you turn the battle around somewhat spurious; what actually happens is that when you finally manage to get two out of three wins over the final but exceptionally difficult opponent in Arcade Mode, he gets two Critical Edge attack opportunities that make it even more difficult to get the third win.
If you are already behind, your opponent will be building up that Charge Gauge with every attack they land on you, giving them a greater advantage.
Guard Impact (the ability to parry or deflect an opponent’s attack by blocking at the right moment) from Soulcalibur IV has also been relegated to the Charge Gauge and requires a three-button combo to perform. This makes it a bit difficult and clunky to pull off mid-battle, but as a trade off, you can hold guard endlessly without any risks.
The goal of all this seems to have been to de-emphasize tournament play and reward average players who probably would not use Guard Impact much anyway and who want to pull off some cool-looking moves. On this front, Soulcalibur V delivers. It is very easy to perform impressive combos and flashy attacks with many of the newer characters, and the veteran characters have also gotten some new tricks.
Character Creation is probably the first mode many fans of Soulcalibur will want to try, and it provides hours of fun and endless minute details to manipulate. As you play the game, you build up your Player Level, unlocking various rewards along the way, including equipment, patterns, and stages.
Equipment no longer affects your character’s statistics; that is determined by their fighting style and, to some extent, height. This leaves you with complete freedom in choosing the look of your character, without worrying about how effective or ineffective it will make them in battle.
Soulcalibur V is a worthy successor in the Soul series. Combat looks and feels great, the character costumes are beautifully designed, and character creation is addictive and fun. It would have been nice if Guard Impact had remained the way it was in Soulcalibur IV, but I also understand the developer’s decision to shift the focus to fast paced, offensive action.