You would think that after 14 years and four previous (primary) SoulCalibur games (five if you count the original 1996 Soul Edge), the gamemakers at Namco Bandai might be planning some major freshening for this sword-slashing franchise. But, nope, other than a handful of new characters in the good-vs.-evil storyline, ever-improving graphics and a few minor mechanic tweaks here and there, SoulCalibur V feels very similar to the first game I played on the SEGA Dreamcast system way back when.
For those who've never swung a blade or landed a thundering blow in the SoulCalibur universe, know that this is a weapons-based brawler. Nothing less, and not a whole lot more. Two characters go in to a given environmentally based arena. One comes out. Mix, match and go at it again. The gameplay is fast-paced, fluid, often very challenging and designed to deliver dozens of unique combat choices.
As always, number V offers several modes to choose from. You can jump into quick battles with offline friends or an AI opponent, set up a multi-tiered training session, enter a series of arcade battles that get harder and harder, join in online play against a queue of eager challengers, or start out a bit more slowly with the story mode.
A Tale of Two Swords … Told Once Again
That story side of things takes place in an early 1600s Europe where a "holy warrior" named Patroklos—son of Sophitia, a veteran character of the series—is looking for his kidnapped sister. He has also been "chosen" by the powerful SoulCalibur sword (the good-spirit sword) to be its master. How that came about isn't really explained. But while he rescues his sis, that good blade offers him the quest of saving the world from the malevolent Nightmare and his Soul Edge (the bad-spirit blade).
In a sentence, it's the Asian idea of swords with souls mixed with a German warrior lineage—reduced down to an undulating and often illogical fable that means little more than "good blade conquers bad blade."
To get into it, you have a list of over 25 different warriors to choose from. Some of the classic guys and gals such as the lizard-man battler Aeon, who sports lots of hatchet skills, and the incredibly fast nunchacku-waving Maxi are back. New fighters include a crystal ball carrying magician named Viola and a hard-thumping guy named Z.W.E.I., who can summon a werewolf familiar for short tag-teaming wallops. Assassin's Creed's Ezio Auditore even steps in for a guest spot with wrist blades and mini crossbow at the ready.
Each character (whether prefab or created from scratch with an elaborate interface) has his or her favorite weapon tightly clenched, from lightning-fast rapiers and short knives to enormously powerful, massive blades that are taller than the wielder. Each has a unique look, personality, history and fighting technique—dozens of stylistic moves, flips, hacks and parries that can only be delivered if you take the time to meticulously learn the right button and analog stick combinations.
So while the story might be simple (and short), the skills you'll need aren't. This is no simple button-masher. Gamers who don't want to spend all of their time writhing around on the mat must master the intricately timed combos to outwit their ever-adapting enemies.
Raw Rage and Wispy Wear
What happens when the violence heats up? Well, there's no blood or ripped-out organs to worry about, but the hard-hitting blows are, well, hard hitting. And continuous. And repeated. And endless. And perpetual. And interminable. That gives the raging rumblers a lot of time to scream "go to h‑‑‑!" "d‑‑mit!" or "b‑‑tard!"—except, of course, when they're too busy yelling out in pain or stumbling around in agony.
Gladiator gals get and give with the best of 'em, too. And when it comes to the fairer sex, like many Japanese fighting games of this sort, they're more apt to be clad in lingerie than armor. That doesn't seem quite fair to me. And it's not right, either. They regularly sport short wispy skirts, backside-baring chaps, barely there tube tops and clingy unitards. So even in this, SoulCalibur V is just like its predecessors. In fact, in his review of IV, Paul Asay wrote, " Many costumes you'd expect to find in the newest 'Fetishes R Us' catalog, with … one female wearing a leatherish get-up that exposes much of her chest and all of her buttocks." Sounds quite a bit like what I just wrote for this game, doesn't it?
And that's the name of the SoulCalibur game: consistency. Just not always in the areas you'd like to see it.