Review: 'Soul Calibur V'
It's time to chop chop, slash slash, grind grind.
I think I’ve made it pretty clear up to this point that I don’t trot around in public in an “I heart First-Person Shooters” T-shirt. That’s not to say that I hate them, though. They’re fine, it’s just that there are way too many of them out there and not even close to enough variety between them to excuse the monstrous tidal wave of them clogging up the market.
In light of my disappointment in recent shooters, I’ve been keeping away from shooters for the past few weeks. I think I’ll keep that up this week; instead of shooty-explody, I’m going with hacky-slashy with Soul Calibur V, a game about a bunch of anime characters whacking each other with what appear to be swords but must not be considering they can’t cut anything and only knock people unconscious.
Plot and Characters
Alright, I’m throwing my hands up here; the plot is completely impenetrable. I know some suburban caveman holed up in a basement somewhere has actually bothered to read the countless pages of lore, so maybe he gets what’s going on, but I could care less about it. I understand the plot of Assassin’s Creed pretty well and it didn’t require that I take a two-week online class.
The fact is Soul Calibur as a series has never been very plot-focused. Each character has enough back story to write a novel with, but there are never any cutscenes to explain anything, just a 25-page essay plonked on at the beginning of the games, one that I was certainly not about to waste the little time I had for this game reading it.
Before I continue, allow me to clarify my statements for that one hopeless fanboy who after a month still couldn’t get over my trashing of his favorite land of make-believe: I don’t play games to read. That’s what we have books for, and that’s where I like to do my reading. If you want to read, turn off your console and grab a book. Perhaps some Tolstoy.
Anyway, this installment of the Soul Calibur series decided to take the road less traveled by its predecessors and include a campaign with an actual plot and characters with actual depth. Sadly, it falls flat almost immediately when it becomes abundantly clear that the plot is not interested in captivating you in the slightest and the characters are as relatable as a dead possum.
The “story” (I hesitate to call it that because you could slap your face against a keyboard and get a better one, or at least a less clichéd one) centers around one Patrokolos Alexandra, a blonde boy who looks to be about thirteen years old but is apparently some great warrior. Whatever.
Here’s another tick for the old clipboard: the “cutscenes” are literally slideshows of sketches with dialogue over them. Not exaggerating in the slightest, that’s all they are. I’ll give the developers some credit, though; there are a couple of actual cutscenes. Still, ninety percent of the plot is told through the aforementioned slide shows.
Patrokolos is an agent for some evil bastard who loves a nice murder with his morning coffee and who is leading a ruthless campaign against the Malfested, who apparently aren’t human even though they look exactly like humans and beg for mercy when Patrokolos runs around chopping them in half. Oh and there’s also some kind of rebellion going on, but this was not explained to any detail.
You soon learn that Patrokolos bears a grudge against the Malfested because they kidnapped his sister when they were both very young. He has now dedicated his life to finding her and Baron Von Bad Guy has promised to help him with that.
Now here’s the plot twist of the century: the evil guy has been lying to Patrokolos, and betrays him. This isn’t a spoiler, it happens within ten minutes of gameplay. Patrokolos then goes to join the rebels and continue his quest for his sister. Along the way, he encounters Soul Edge and Soul Calibur, two all-powerful swords roughly the size of a car that bind all good and evil in the world or some malarkey like that.
Look, I know that Soul Calibur is not about plot in the slightest, but this plotline reeks of cliché and epically bad dialogue. Between this and Dark Souls, I’m beginning to wonder if Namco even bothers to hire writers or if they just make someone in graphics design pound something out at the last minute.
Quick side note: Soul Calibur is still very much into the idea of having women dress like strippers to do battle with swords. I was quite shocked at first because they had backed off on some of the iconic female characters’ outfits, but then a clone of Sophitia came waltzing out with nothing left of her ever more revealing outfit but a tiny white bikini and a shower curtain on. So much for that, then.
Speaking of clothes (or a lack thereof), character customization is back with an even bigger wardrobe for you to customize some schmuck with. I had some fun with that, though my options were limited. The only way to unlock a lot of the clothing is to play through the various game modes, which I just didn't have a whole lot of time for.
After I tortured myself with the campaign’s awful plot, I went to arcade mode. I chose my favorite character from the series, Raphael, and proceeded to steamroll over every opponent from beginning to end. It took about 10 minutes.
How was I able to do this, you ask? Because I’m a vet of the series, and nothing has changed since Soul Calibur IV. I was instantly familiar with all of Raphael’s special attacks because they’re all the same as they were in IV. Oh sure, they added a couple of new ones and some of the animations for the old ones have been altered, but for the most part I was completely familiar with what to do.
Truth be told, I got bored within about thirty minutes of gameplay. I tried switching it up a bit, but everyone is the same as they’ve always been.
As far as challenge, well, the game can’t seem to decide between stupidly easy and insanely hard. Some duels I crashed through in literally ten seconds because the clueless idiot facing me just stood there drooling on his shirt while I whacked him with my sword over and over again. But then there would be other bouts where an enemy would knock me on the ground within the first two seconds and keep smacking me back down every time I tried to stand until I died.
This didn’t seem to have any particular order to it, so that’s why I was confused. The difficulty curve would just ramp up automatically at random times. I guess the game adjusts the difficulty based on how well you do in the first matches, but a little more consistency would have been nice. As it stands it wavers up and down between brain-damaged chimpanzee and Zorro.
There’s also Legendary Souls mode in which you battle AI opponents set on Hard. What this means is that they’ll knock you off your feet right off and beat you to death without ever letting you get a swing it. It’s frustrating, but should present a good challenge to those who have the time to develop the skill needed for it.
I didn’t bother. It would have been exactly the same as all the other game modes, just against people instead of computers. And when I say people, I mean fourteen-year-olds who are perfectly okay with sucking all the fun out of the games by repeating the same inescapable move over and over and over until you die.
The only thing that’s ever been appealing about Soul Calibur’s multiplayer is seeing how other people chose to dress their respective custom characters. Let me tell you, when a game’s multiplayer mode appeals to me not for the combat, but rather for the fashion, something has definitely gone wrong.
I don't know…it’s okay, I guess. It’s certainly not much different than SC IV. In fact, between the staggering similarity to its predecessor and the slideshow cutscenes, I would say that Soul Calibur V is the product of a team that has gotten extremely lazy.
This game could not have taken all that long to crank out. Same engine, same characters, same fighting mechanics, same complete lack of coherent plot or sense of purpose; honestly, I think the developers just slapped it together over a couple of weekends and clocked out for the rest of the year.
Investment suggestion: Rent it. I was bored with it within an hour and had to force myself to keep playing for this article. If you feel like you want to buy it then just wait a while. It’ll be in the discount bin in less than six months.
The above is only my opinion. It just happens to be right.
Where to Purchase