Game Rant's Riley Little reviews Soul Calibur 5
It's been nearly four years since Yoda and Darth Vader invaded Soul Calibur 4, and brought us one of the best fighting games of the past decade. Soul Calibur 5 is looking to pick up where the last game ended, and the final product may or may not be the game fans were hoping for.
The story campaign is weak, the single-player modes can be underwhelming, and there just isn't as much content as prior titles. That's not to say that there isn't a lot Soul Calibur 5 has going for it - but it's unlikely players will hold it in regard as the best game in the series.
The Soul Calibur franchise, for those not in 'the know', is a weapon-based fighting game that focuses on the pursuit of the two legendary swords Soul Calibur and Soul Edge. Soul Calibur 5 continues with the tradition of its predecessors, and offers something that other fighting games on the market don't. The combat system is unique, providing gamers with the opportunity to attack high, medium, or low whilst in the midst of battle, and targeting certain pieces of your opponent's armor — which can actually break if enough damage has been inflicted. The blocking system works in a similar fashion — making skill/luck a huge part of the actual gameplay.
Soul Calibur has also become infamous for its quest character inclusions. We've seen everyone from Link to Darth Vader join the fray in past games, and players can lace up their boots as Ezio Auditore from Assassin's Creed fame this time around. Ezio fits in swimmingly with the cast of Soul Calibur 5, and his arsenal from Assassin's Creed has been transitioned quite well into a fun set of moves. Everything from Auditore's sword, to his crossbow, to his signature hidden blade have all been implemented into one of the most entertaining and nostalgic movesets seen in any fighting game.
Fighting game enthusiasts will be thrilled with the combat mechanics. The gameplay itself is balanced for the most part, and even the most dedicated fighting game fans will be hard pressed to dispute that. Blocks, strikes, and grapples all flow together quite nicely, and require a certain amount of skill for anyone who hopes to use them efficiently. First-time players won't be able to execute many combos right off the bat, but after some practice they'll be able to tie together some nifty, and dare I say impressive, looking combos.
Of course, the biggest alteration to the actual fighting mechanics is, no doubt, the addition of the 'Critical Gauge' system. Comparable to the likes of Mortal Kombat's 'X-Ray gauge' or even Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3's 'Hyper Combo gauge,' the 'Critical Gauge' accumulates energy as the individual performs moves or takes blows. After the gauge is filled, all players have to do is activate it and unleash a devastating flurry of attacks on their opponents. The same bar can also be used for 'Guard Blocks,' which are an entertaining, yet challenging, way of countering an attack.
While there are basically no issues to be found with the actual combat, there aren't many additional Soul Calibur 5 modes - and it's hard to not be disappointed by the lack of offerings.
The promise of a new campaign mode that featured a much more immersive story seemed like a dream come true, but the actual mode itself is more of a dream turned nightmare. The story sticks players in the shoes of the arrogant Petroklos, the new wielder of Soul Calibur, as he tries to reunite with his long-lost sister Pyrrha. The story itself is horrible, and does very little to keep players interested in actually completing it. It seems developer Namco Bandai prepared for that though - and, as a result, the story doesn't have to hold anyone's attention for long because it's only 20 chapters in length.
Players can easily tear through it in one sitting if they felt so inclined but it won't be very rewarding. Those hoping for in-game cutscenes will also be upset because, while the game features a handful of 3D cutscenes, the majority are just pictures combined with a few uninspired voiceovers. After this mode reaches its horribly stupid, anti-climactic ending, however, there's very little to do.
The traditional 'Arcade Mode' is still kicking around, but it's been severely gimped compared to past games. All that remains is a fun but unsatisfying six-fight romp that has removed the character story component entirely. There are a couple of characters and pieces of armor that can be unlocked by playing through 'Arcade' but, other than that, there's not much incentive to actually play it.
'Legendary Souls' mode also makes its debut, and proves to be an incredibly challenging endeavour, which is not for the inexperienced or weak of heart. 'Quick Battle', on the other hand, will earn players new titles for every fight they complete. Titles can then be used online and, as many would expect, the online component is the highlight of the entire game.
After playing through a handful of online matches, it's safe to say that the online is really where the main appeal (and replay value) is going to be. Connecting to matches is near-flawless and the actual gameplay occurs without so much as a hiccup. There are a few moments where the fight will occasionally lag but overall it's a very polished experience that will keep Soul Calibur 5 in a console longer than the story mode ever could. Of course, having a roster full of the same warriors as other players online means that there will certainly be a few bouts between doppelgangers. That's why the character creation option is such a great way to customize a challenger that's as elegant as they are deadly.
The character creation mode has been completely flushed out - and the options available to gamers' disposal are nothing short of abundant. When players first start out there aren't many clothing options to choose from, but those who manage to keep playing some of the single player modes will be rewarded with different pieces of armor and clothing that they can equip on their creations. If creating a character doesn't sound appealing, then players can also customize new costumes for existing people on the roster. If you thought Petroklos was an unlikable idiot in the story, then you can literally make him dress like the clown he is.
Soul Calibur is one of my favorite fighting game series of all time, but Soul Calibur 5 seems to have a mild identity crisis. The lack of single-player content, coupled with the lackluster single-player content that is included, takes away from the characters and story that franchise fans have invested in previously. Petroklos and his sister Pyrrha are really the only characters that we follow, and everything around that — including the addition of Ezio to the roster — has no backstory.
As wrong as the game goes in some aspects, it does manage to do a number of things right. Online is definitely the highlight of the entire game, and fighting with friends is a lot of fun - especially once the playful insults start flying. The character creation mode and core gameplay are both spot-on with the kind of experience we expected from the next installment in this classic fighting game franchise. Long-time fans will still get a kick out of Soul Calibur 5 but newcomers may want to hold off until further DLC drops or Namco Bandai patches the title with more single-player gameplay offerings.
Soul Calibur 5 is out now for PS3 and Xbox 360. Game Rant played the Xbox 360 version for this review.
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