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In Memory
Sean Pettibone

Review

Soul Calibur Screen shotSoul Calibur V (Playstation 3)

Namcoís Soul Calibur V brings a fresh set of characters and fighting styles to the long-running series. Set several years after the last installment, this provides the opportunity to make a few tweaks to the fighting engine as well. Itís a little more challenging than previous games, though not by much. The seriesí trademark lush visuals remain impressive and the extensive customization. Multiple modes of play allows for traditional arcade and story modes with extensive online matches complete with leaderboard rankings. Itís a solid fighter but does the soul still burn? Read our review and find out!

Besides arriving in a saturated market filled with Capcomís recent titles, Soul Calibur is also competing with itself. Itís taken a bit of a break over the past few years and Namco has taken some time to recalibrate its balance and approach. Players who enjoyed previous games will find the fifth installment features a mix of the new and familiar. On the surface, not much has changed. The extensive character roster includes a number of returning favorites such as Mitsurigi, Kalik, Voldo and Cervantes along with a new generation of fighters. Unlike many other fighting games, Soul Calibur V also includes some cool character cameos from other series, though you wonít find the gimmicky ones seen in the last few titles. The biggest guest star this time is Ezio from Assassinís Creed, who is quite powerful, but doesnít unbalance the game. While he brings a slightly different feel to the series, Ezio fits the timeline relatively nicely, so there arenít odd moments like a battle on the Death Star this time around. Heís a nice change of pace from the other characters. While the developers have worked hard to bring some new life to the series, it still a traditional cast for the most part. Even the new characters have a ring of familiarity to them, since many of them are descended from the original cast. This makes the game feel immediately familiar, and its backstory where fighters battle to attain the legendary Soul Edge sword hasnít changed all that much. The most innovative aspect of the game comes in its new character creation mode, which carries over from the last game. This allows you to create your own characterís look, clothing and weapons in an easy to navigate menu, save them and use them in battle. Thereís loads of options, including your characterís voice, facial expression, and most importantly, their fighting style. While the initial options you have are limited somewhat, you can unlock additional items to use during the game.  You can mix and match between the standards set by existing characters, or create your own unique fighting style. This sense of personalization really opens up the game, and gives you the freedom to really make the game your own. These customization options donít change the standard modes too much, but definitely add a personality to the online matches, where you can gain a competitive edge.  

Once youíve set up your character and gotten used to the basic gameplay mechanics, youíll find that there are plenty of modes and options to explore. Soul Calibur Vís gameplay modes are likewise delineated on traditional ground with an arcade mode where you battle a series of opponents until you reach an end-stage boss delivering the action youíve come to expect from the series. This mode is timed and completing it quickly allows you to post your best time in the online leaderboards. Thereís the traditional story mode where you can follow a fighter through a series of battles and watch their battles unfold. This is a deeper mode than other sections, and thereís a little more skill required since some of the opponents you face arenít the usual foes you see in battle. This keeps you off-balance and the element of surprise can make things more challenging. You can also enter the Hall of Souls mode where you have to complete a series of missions in order to unlock additional extra items. SCV also includes an extensive training mode where you can practice your moves and skills. Itís online modes extend the gameplay even further, allowing you to challenge opponents online to single battles, compete in tournaments, and compare you rankings to other players in the gameís various fighting modes. This all leads to a deep and satisfying experience in terms of game modes, and the action itself remains quite satisfying.

This installment has undergone a few tweaks in the control department some of these changes help the balance. After you start playing through a few rounds, youíll find that SCV hasnít messed up the successful formula too much. Its still one of the more accessible fighting games, though it offers some depth if you look hard enough for it. Each character brings a unique weapon to battle, and these can be used to inflict plenty of damage on your opponents. Some of these are more effective than others, but they can all be blocked and attacks countered, so you need to be careful. As in previous SC games, the battles are mostly exercises in momentum, since once an opponent gains the upper hand with relentless attacks, itís very difficult to stop them from defeating you. The game has balanced a little bit better this time around, but there are still plenty of super attacks. Rounds usually end with either what feels like an easy triumph or a frustrating defeat that feels cheap. Another annoying aspect of the previous games that carries over are the ring-outs, which still occur far too often and make the game feel a little annoying sometimes. The fighting system is well thought-out with a straightforward command structure that allows you to perform complex attacks easily. The charge meters work as they should. Contact with opponents usually inflicts plenty of satisfying damage, and the opponent AI in most modes is somewhat predictable, making the game a cakewalk once you learn its strategies. However, this doesnít mean that SCV isnít fun, itís just not as long-lasting as it could be.

From a production standpoint, the game looks as sleek and polished as youíd expect from the series. The characters look magnificent with their fluid animation and movement, each bringing a unique personality to the battle. Each round is accompanied by its bombastic announcer, which brings an over the top approach to each battle. The backgrounds are also quite impressive, and the vibrant medieval world come to life in vivid fashion thanks to extensive light-sourcing and detailed texture maps. The gameís background music remains is also cinematic, with familiar themes and songs that create an epic feel to the battles that makes them feel more important. The gameís visual style is further enhanced by the glowing trails you leave behind as you fight, which is still a cool effect after all these years. Youíre definitely going to get plenty of eye-candy from this game, but its substance isnít as deep as youíd like it to be. While Namco has clearly tried to add some new elements to the game and rebalanced the fighting system, itís still very much a glossy fighter that emphasizes stylish moves and combos. As you progress deeper into the various modes, some nuances begin to emerge and you can more effectively block attacks and supers become easier to counter. Its accessible fighting system has always been a key part of Soul Caliburís appeal, so while the game is a little unbalanced in terms of individual battles, itís still enjoyable. SCVís gameplay mechanics havenít changed that much with this installment. However, the addition of extensive online modes, a plethora of customization features, excellent production values, and appealing cast go a long way towards combating those deficiencies. In the end, itís an entertaining fighting game that delivers a satisfying portion of the hack and slash weapons based combat youíve come to expect from the series.

- Michael Palisano

Grade: B

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