‘Accessibility’ is the buzzword king of today’s fighting games. Be it in a positive or negative sense, it’s used by developers, critics, publishers, veteran players and the back of the box blurb. Street Fighter IV, Marvel vs. Capcom 3, Mortal Kombat et al all proudly promote their ‘noob’ friendly nature as a key feature. Whether you like it or not, it’s the heightened levels of accessibility that have resulted in a second golden age for beat ‘em ups.
Soul Calibur V doesn’t attempt to swim against the tide in that regard; incorporating elements designed to ease newcomers very gently into the onslaught of swinging hammers, stabbing swords and spinning nunchucks. It would be a stretch to say that Project Soul’s latest is as intuitive or immediately accessible as Namco’s other big fighter franchise, Tekken (and its button-mash-to-win possibilities) but Soul Calibur V does include systems intended to even out potential skill chasms between players.
However, importantly, it manages to do so in a way that doesn’t detract from the needs of the hardcore fighting game crowd.
The most obvious of these is Critical Edge, a system that bears more than a slight resemblance to Street Fighter IV’s Ultra Combo in that it provides an opportunity to turn the tide of battle in a single attack. As you give and take damage a bar fills up, fill it up enough and Critical Edge can be unleashed.
Depending on your choice of fighter, Critical Edge can be easy or difficult to pull off – although veteran fighting game fans will find little challenge in executing any of the game’s attacks. Again, like Street Fighter IV, the potential damage that Critical Edge can cause relates directly to the skill of player, preventing it from becoming a game-breaking technique akin to the ‘rubber-banding’ of arcade racers.
The truly practised can work Critical Edge into longer combo strings, which not only adds to the potential damage of a prolonged attack but makes defence against it less likely through way of disguise. Less able players will inevitably attempt to deploy Critical Edge as a last gasp effort to get the upper hand and throw it out there in isolation, giving the opponent ample opportunity to pick up on the tell-tell signs of impending danger and either block or dodge.
It’s dodging, rather than blocking, that highlights one of Soul Calibur V’s particularly attractive features; its speed. More than any other other 3D fighter out there, Soul Calibur V makes brilliant use of all of its dimensions thanks to the character’s speed of movement. Side-stepping into the background or the foreground is a legitimate means of avoiding attacks and/or creating an opening against an opponent’s guard.
Furthermore, ground between one another can be closed suddenly, creating a wonderful cat-and-mouse sense of uncertainly between two evenly matched players – the one that can time their movement precisely will invariably gain the upper hand.
The sense of speed is exaggerated by the fluidity of the movements. Each pixel moves in a manner crisp enough to see every overzealously animated bounce and jiggle of the female characters’ elephantitis-ridden breasts. As a visual spectacle this is a game of outstanding quality, the frame rate never once stuttering in its provision of the special effects shrouded combat.
Less impressive is the cast of characters. Pyrrha and Patroklos are the children of series favourite Sophitia (who is not included here) and lack much in the way of personality or an engaging moveset. Irritatingly, the game’s story mode focuses almost exclusively on the two and, as a result, suffers to produce much in the way of intrigue.
ZWEI looks like a reject from a Marilyn Manson stage show and, despite packing some interesting attacks that incorporate a summoned wolf, is irritatingly ‘emo’ for our liking. Leixia is a slight Chinese girl with a newcomer-friendly moveset and the dress sense of Tekken’s Xiaoyu. Natsu is a clone of the series’ Taki, and Xiba is essentially a younger version of Kilik.
It’s not all bad, though. Assassin’s Creed’s Ezio Auditore brings a much needed dollop of charisma to the fresh faces and, as it turns out, is rather able in battle. All of his weaponry is here, from his hidden blades and sword to his crossbow. While Ezio may be a stretch too far for complete newbies to use effectively, Project Soul has wisely refrained from making him altogether inaccessible. 15 or 20 battles worth of time will see you pulling off a wide selection from his arsenal.
Perhaps it speaks volumes about the rest of the cast that a rental from another series is the one that steals the show…
If you’re not happy with a character’s appearance you can, like in Soul Calibur IV, customise them to your heart’s content. Turning English dominatrix Ivy into a Japanese schoolgirl with pigtails results in a bizarre juxtaposition between your design and the ‘real’ thing, or you can take a subtle approach and simply give Tira a more interesting haircut or Mitsurugi a less hoarse voice.
Of course, there’s also the option to craft a character’s design from scratch and thrust an existing fighter’s moveset onto them. A Tom Cruise sized fighter with Astaroth’s axe and an ‘alternative’ dress sense is always entertaining. Your creations can be taken online to do battle with the abominations thought up by others, a sure fire means of overcoming any creative blocks in your potential design visions.
Combine character creation/customisation with story, arcade, online and the usual survival, quick battle and time attack modes and you’ve got a fighter that is hardly struggling for content. As with all fighters, it’s the multiplayer (both local and online) that will keep you coming back for more and will encourage you to hone your skills with a select few combatants.
Soul Calibur V is a game worth your time and effort, mastering its systems and dispatching opponents in a blaze of high-tempo violence is immensely satisfying. Newcomers may find the going a little tough, but the well-balanced cast means you’ll not be left biting the dust for too long.