Although a competent fighting game, Soulcalibur V misses more than it hits due to its poorly explained story and the removal of fan-favorite characters.
Soulcalibur used to be the king of weapon-based fighting games, but ever since the third entry in the series came out, the franchise declined in popularity. A lot of people were hoping that Soulcalibur V captured the essence of the series and brought it back to the roots in a way that made sense and felt refreshing. Although this is a competent fighting game, Soulcalibur V misses more than it hits due to its poorly explained story, the removal of fan-favorite characters, the inclusion of insipid-looking menus and other questionable design decisions.
Players who spent some time playing any of the previous Soulcalibur games feel right at home when it comes to the gameplay: you can move freely in eight directions, you can use horizontal and vertical attacks, kick and block. But those are the basics, since there’s also Brave Edge (which consumes ½ of the critical gauge, but makes attacks more powerful) and Critical Edge (this consumes a full bar and is the most powerful attack in the game.)
As a way to practice this mechanics, you can play a story mode, but this part of the game leaves a lot to be desired. Here you play as a brand new character called Patroklos Alexandra, a fighter who’s been traveling all over the world looking for his missing sister and trying to avenge his murdered mother in the hands of evil men who sold their souls to the devil (they are known as the malfested.)
Story mode might be a terrific way of familiarizing yourself with the mechanics, but sadly, this portion of the game is poorly presented. In between fights, there’s text and static images that try to convey what’s happening and who’s involved and this looks shoddy, especially when you compare it to the visuals of the actual game. There are some cutscenes here and there and they look so stunning that I can’t help but to wonder why the developer didn’t choose this format to tell all the story.
Although the story mode revolves around Patroklos, you also assume the role of other characters. Unfortunately, you never get to try certain characters as part of this mode, not to mention the fact that some of the most recognizable characters of the Soulcalibur franchise are nowhere to be found here. Anyone who’s been playing Soulcalibur games will immediately recognize that some iconic characters weren’t included in this iteration: Sophitia, Thalim, Cassandra, Taki and Seong Mi-na. To compensate for the lack of classic characters, there are some new ones, including mysterious Z.W.E.I., fortune-teller Viola, Taki’s disciple Natsu, Xianghua’s daughter Yan Leixia, a clone of Kilik called Xiba and two versions of Pyrrha and Patroklos.
In previous Soulcalibur games there was always at least one mode where you could learn how to play the characters without the artificial intelligence destroying you. That’s no longer the case in Soulcalibur V. There’s the story mode, but you mainly play as Patroklos and then there’s an obscenely difficult challenge mode where you can unlock some characters, but the AI performs combo after combo and knows what you’re going to do next. Then there’s the traditional arcade and practice modes that every fighting game has. Since most of the times I felt woefully unprepared to face online battles, Quick Battle is where I spent most of the time with the game. Not only because I felt like I was making progress unlocking new titles, but because this reminded me of some of the best games in the series.
In the end, I was disappointed with Soulcalibur V. The gameplay is deep and entertaining and the presentation is stunning. But the more I kept playing, the more problems I ran into: the story mode is underwhelming, fan favorite characters weren’t included, there are some poorly explained mechanics and the AI can be brutal at times. In a way, Soulcalibur V feels like a natural evolution of the series: it looks better and is deeper. But as a longtime fan, I can’t help but to feel betrayed by the removal of certain characters and the inclusion of poor story mode that feels rushed. Soulcalibur V is a competent fighting game and I’m sure that the competitive scene will love it, but I can’t help to feel that it could have been so much better.