Sunday, February 5, 2012

Review - Soul Calibur 5 (PS3)

There are very few franchises that have endeared itself to me as much as the Soul Calibur franchise. My first experience with the franchise was when it was released alongside the Dreamcast on September 9, 1999. With an incredible soundtrack, amazing graphics for its time, a wonderful cast of characters, fast-paced swordplay and a rich single player mode that kept the player coming back for more it won me over. Ever since then I have been following the franchise with each successive release. As the current generation of consoles head off into the sunset, a new tales of swords is written in the Soul Calibur universe. This tale is the first major advancement of the storyline, taking place 17 years after the events of Soul Calibur IV. Does the new iteration live up to the lofty legacy of its predecessors? Find out in my review of Soul Calibur V.

When playing the game for the first time, one of the major impressions that the fifth iteration leaves to the player is that it is fast. It is like jumping from Street Fighter II to Street Fighter II turbo for the first game. The speed makes the difference and it completely changes the feel and the dynamics of the game experience. Fast characters like Natsu and Leixia a much steeper learning curve than their predecessors because the speed of their attacks require quicker reflexes and deeper strategizing. Even traditionally slower characters like Seigfried and Nightmare move much faster than previous iterations. Soul Calibur V's incredible game engine renders everything at 60 frames a second with very little frame-rate dropping, it is buttery smooth with little to no hiccups. The speed also extends to the online play, which has been lag-free and showcases some of the best netcode in a fighting game since BlazBlue. The game also has some of the best music in the franchise since the original Soul Calibur. The musical notes hit the stages perfectly and it is one of the most memorable soundtracks in a long time.

The Soul Calibur franchise is known for its amazing graphics, and Soul Calibur V raises the bar yet again for fighting games. The game looks gorgeous on the the PS3 and it features a huge increase in detail from Soul Calibur IV. Camerawork is wonderful and it follows the flow of action really well. Soul Calibur V has great use of bokeh and depth of field for character isolation so that it can create a sense of isolation with incredibly dynamic and energetic backgrounds. The character models are great, and it really shows in the clothing design and the armor found on the characters. Not only does the game look gorgeous, it also runs incredibly well with little frame-rate hiccups. Soul Calibur V runs at a rock-solid 60 frames a second and it rarely slows down. Without a doubt, this is one of the best looking fighting games ever made.

One of the best aspects of Soul Calibur has been the memorable and incredibly likable cast. With a time jump of over 17 years, many characters have changed in the world of Soul Calibur and it is their children who succeed them. The two lead characters are Patroklos and Pyrrha, the children of Sophitia and Rothion. The successor to the buxom Soul Calibur ninja is an energetic girl with pineapple hair, Natsu. The daughter of Xianghua is Lexia, who is traversing the world of Soul Calibur to find out about her mother's past. Many years older, Viola is a certain drill haired lolita girl from Soul Calibur IV who doesn't remember her past and her original name, but has adopted fighting with a crystal ball and claws. Returning in Soul Calibur is Ivy, Seigfried, Nightmare, Kilik, Tira, Hilde, Cervantes, Raphael, Yoshimitsu, and Maxi.

In the past, one of the strongest aspects of Soul Calibur was its single player mode. By playing the single player mode gamers unlock artwork, stages, character, katas, parts for custom characters, and learn more about the rich world of Soul Calibur. In this game, the single player mode is quite possibly one of the weakest in franchise history. The story mode is a retelling of the events in Soul Calibur V through the eyes of  Patroklos and his older sister Pyrrha. It could be beaten within 2 hours and the award for beating it doesn't feel that rewarding. Unlocking stages, characters, and parts for customer characters are done by leveling up your character through single player modes. There is a custom version of arcade that is a complete exercise in frustration with cheap SNK-like bosses. A majority of the players will experience Soul Calibur through quick battle, where they fight custom characters at various difficulty levels. The single player experience is one of the weakest experiences and those looking for rich single player modes found in Soul Calibur I, II, and III will be in for quite a disappointment.

To make up for the weak single player mode is the custom character creation mode, which is the strongest in the franchise history. The amount of customization is incredible compared to past games. Even the default tool-set that is found in the opening has a wealth of customization to create any character you can possibly think of. The customization increases much more as you unlock more custom parts by leveling up through the single player or through online play. The characters you can create is only limited by your imagination and your tolerance for playing through the weak single player mode.

In contrast to the weak single player mode, Soul Calibur V's online is probably some of the best that has been seen in the fighting game world. The net code is some of the best ever put in a fighting game. Fighting online is a great experience with no input lag. The player can create custom rooms and have private matches with friends. They can also go to a social area where they can interact with people and participate in massive nationwide tournaments. The online fighting is a flash of brilliance that will not be equaled in the fighting game world for a very long time.

Soul Calibur V is a great swan song for the franchise in the current generation of consoles. It does represent some of the best and the worst of this console generation. The online play is robust and incredibly deep, but it comes at the cost of the single player experience that has been the heart of the Soul Calibur franchise for so long. It features gorgeous graphics and a great cast of replacement characters. If you are playing the franchise for its single player mode, stay away from this game. If you are playing for the online experience, you will be playing this game for a very long time. The game is a great package and one of the best fighting games this generation.

Kris Zoleta started working in Anime Expo as a staffer in Manga Library. He worked in Staff Service in Anime Expo 2006 and became the manager of Manga Lounge from Anime Expo 2007-2010. He is currently serving on the Board of Directors for the Society for the Promotion of Japanese Animation, the 501(c)(6) non-profit behind Anime Expo and is one of the most recognized cosplay photographers in the West Coast.

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