Game Review: Soulcalibur V

Soulcalibur V

Understudies Take the Stage of History

Namco-Bandai Games / Project Soul
Xbox 360 and PS3
Release Date
January 31st, 2012
Review by Ari Rockefeller
                Soulcalibur V is the latest installment in the “Soul” fighting game series (the first game is called Soul Edge in arcades and the Dreamcast and Soul Blade on the PS1) and the other mainstay fighting game series published by Namco—the other being Tekken. While the previous three canon entries (supposedly) take place within the span of one year, there is a 17-year skip between V and IV.
                Using time skips in a story is always risky. On one hand, the writers can use the interim to flesh out new characters, relationships and rivalries, and even confirm the passing of one or more proverbial torches, while giving the previous heroes some prolific but ultimately supporting roles.
                Or they can just copy-paste the move sets of older characters and be about their merry way. Guess which decision Namco went with.

SPOILER ALERT: Story details below!

                During the events of IV, the players were treated to more of the nature of the Soul Edge and Soul Calibur. As it turns out, Calibur is just as single-minded as Edge in exuding its influence on the entire world; and while Soul Edge wants to bathe the world in chaos, Soul Calibur wants to turn the entire world into a Swarovski display case, covering the world in crystal and bringing absolute order. Siegfried, the last wielder of Soul Calibur, spent the events of IV not knowing any of this, instead believing it to be just a holy relic. Oops.
                When V rolls around, we’re introduced to the stars of the game’s one-player story mode—the children of Sophitia Alexandra, who has died in the years between the games (killing off precursors during a time skip can be plausible, but for a period of less than two decades, it cheapens the story considerably). Her son, the overly-symbolically named Patroklos, has spent most of his life searching for his estranged younger sister, the infuriatingly-symbolically named Pyrrha. She’s the only family she has left, as his father Rothion has passed away, his aunt Cassandra vanished from reality when she was sucked into the abyss created when Soul Calibur was used to destroy Soul Edge, and his mother, Sophitia, was killed at one point by Tira, the ring-blade using sociopath and reason #384 why people are afraid of clowns. Patroklos and Pyrrha fight using the sword-and-board style of Sophitia and Cassandra, respectively, thus emphasizing the earlier point I made about copy-pasting older fighting styles onto new characters. But they wouldn’t have been spoken of as the main characters if the two McGuffin swords weren’t a part of the plot, would they? Pyrrha is manipulated by Tira throughout the story, and eventually strikes down Nightmare (whom Tira dismisses as not the genuine article), and becomes the new wielder of Soul Edge, becoming Pyrrha-Omega in the process and taking on a blend of Sophitia’s and Cassandra’s move sets. Patroklos starts off as a copy of Sophitia, but halfway through his story, and after a confrontation with Hildegard, Siegfried, and their werewolf warrior companion named Z.W.E.I., he becomes the new wielder of Soul Calibur. He gets a separate fighting style as alpha-Patroklos, and when he takes up the blade, it becomes…an iaido sword.
                I and everyone else who saw this for the first time went, “Wait, how…?”
                You see, in his search for his sister, Patroklos spent a lot of his time in Istanbul, learning iaido from Setsuka, the blond-haired, blue-eyed European woman orphaned and raised in Japan, who had absolutely no bearing on the plot in the two games she appeared in before. She relocated to Istanbul and taught Patroklos in the style first; Patroklos took up his mother’s style out of respect long after the fact. Their meeting is as least feasible, because at the time of the games, both Greece and Turkey are regions of the Ottoman Empire. Of course, you wouldn’t know any of this simply by playing the game, or even completing the story mode, because this isn’t explained anywhere in the game itself.
                Anyway, throughout the story, Patroklos is visited by a vision of his mother, taking the form of an angel…an angel wearing the absolute skimpiest and most transparent outfit ever seen on a canon Soul character. Considering it’s supposed to be his mother, this is indescribably awkward. Of course, it’s really not; as the story comes to its climax, “she” reveals herself to be Elysium, the avatar of the Soul Calibur, much like Inferno was to the Soul Edge. Elysium is genderless, but took Sophitia’s form just to dick with him, even telling him that if he doesn’t do as he’s told (by “her”), she’ll simply possess him, the end result being a divine version of Nightmare. After schlepping across southern and central Europe, alpha-Patroklos and Pyrrha-Omega do battle. Pyrrha has a meltdown when Patroklos winds up sealed in a massive crystal shell, and her pleading (to Soul Edge!) to release him helps him in his own spiritual battle with Elysium, and he is freed. They decide to destroy both swords, and with them no more—again—they wander off to live their lives in peace, trying to make up for the seventeen years they spent apart.
                Oh, and Tira, the hateful bitch who manipulated the events and killed their mother, disappears about ¾ through the story and doesn’t suffer for her atrocities.
                You know, Namco, fighting games can have enthralling plots and storylines, too. Capcom knows it, SNK knows it, even Nintendo knows it. Hell, you were doing a pretty good job of it yourself with the Tekken games…up until 6, at least. But the storyline for Soulcalibur V is positively abysmal. For one, the story is only twenty chapters long…that may seem like a lot, but the chapters are typically one or two bits of dialogue/exposition/cut scene, with (more often than not) one battle added in. There isn’t a whole lot of meat on those bones. Only a few other characters are even mentioned throughout the story, and they just serve to show off that you actually made them in the first place. About the only thing they do is make players wish you had just left their inspirations in the game in the first place. The game does, however, keep up the trend of bringing in guest fighters that are typically used in multiplayer with friends, and kept far, far away from the storyline and tournament play. Ezio Auditore da Firenze from Assassin’s Creed II shows up, which, despite the anachronisms played fast and loose in the rest of the Soul series, makes sense seeing how both games take place around the same period of time. You can also battle against—and unlock—Katsuhiro Harada, current director of the Tekken series. He uses Devil Jin’s fighting style. And this is far from the only thing tying the Soul series to the Tekken series.
                The graphics are stunning, and the development team went to great lengths to add insane amounts of details to the stage designs. Each stage is lovingly detailed, and many have gimmicks in which the “layout” of the stage changes; this is brought around either automatically after a specific round, or when something specific occurs (usually a ring-out, facilitating the characters to move down to a lower level) during the fight itself. Speaking of ring-outs, characters that lose in such a way will toss off a disbelieving verbal jab as they fall into oblivion, possibly to mirror the player base’s view of ring-outs as inherently cheap ways to win. Still, most players will probably just think they’re funny.
                Just like in IV, there is a character customization feature, wherein you can make your own character using an array of unique clothing and armor choices. Of course, each character has one of the established characters as a base, and when you select them, they’re introduced with “Soul of…” and then the name of the character you based it on. Additional pieces and weapons can be obtained by playing through the other one-player modes, or by racking up experience points playing online against others. Character customization is much more involved than in IV, which allows for more elaborate designs, stickers or tattoos (depending where on the body they’re placed), and elaborate patterns. The Skills sub-mechanic is gone, meaning that, technically, every piece of equipment is just for show, and doesn’t assist or hinder your created character in any way. It also means that your character doesn’t have to min/max the best stats available while looking like he had twenty dollars and five minutes to spend at The Goodwill Store.
                You’re obviously going to get a lot more replay value from the online play. You build up your player level by fighting other players from around the world, in simple ranked matches or tournaments, or just making your own room and your own rules and inviting your friends along for the ride. This is also the place to show off that create-a-character you’ve worked so hard on, as well as seeing just what kind of clever, creative, redundant, or absolutely insane fighters others can come up with. Word of warning: playing as someone with Devil Jin’s fighting style will get you hated out of the game. You can also count on the competition to be exceptionally fierce, either if you want to hone your own skills, or test yourself against other players of the same skill level. Naturally all the ups and downs of playing others from hundreds of miles away will be present, but from my research, the homophobic, ethnic and/or sexist slurs have been considerably less than in other communities. Gotta take what you can get, honestly. The connection is fairly solid, but if someone’s about to rage-quit on you, expect the frame rate to spend several seconds in the single-digit rate before an inevitable “Connection Lost” message.
                Overall, Soulcalibur V is a solid game, but the story drags the rest of the experience down. The time skip, the unimaginative new characters, the demotion of other regulars to in-story cameos (if that) and the outright killing of perennial favorites, contribute to one of the weakest rosters in the series. It also wouldn’t hurt to flesh out their backstory just a little bit more, or make the cut scenes a little more interesting. Granted, not a lot of attention is paid to story when you’re actually playing the game against another person—online or otherwise—but it never hurts to have a little context as to what’s going on. The parts where it does shine, though, it shines like a brilliantly polished diamond. Because, let’s face it…where else are you going to be able to swing around any matter of swords, staves, whips and axes and not only beat someone senseless with them, but not draw a single drop of blood in the process?

Ari Rockefeller

When he is not training Pokémon and being the very best, the Master of the Written Word churns out convention, video game, anime and movie reviews like clockwork. No one is more productive and dangerous with a pen and paper (or, in this case, a keyboard).

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