February may be the month where gaming finally puts a boot to the ass of gamer wallets, but if there is one genre that is leading the pack this year, it has to be the category of fisticuffs and pugilism.

First out of the fighting genre stables this year is Soul Calibur V, bringing with it some familiar mechanics and characters, but can the latest iteration in the iconic weapon-based fighting franchise land a successful first strike on the stage of history, or is this a ring-out loss for the ageless brawlers?

Seventeen years after the events of Soul Calibur 4, the fifth version of the game puts players into the shoes of Patroklos, and occasionally, other characters as well, as he searches for his sister Pyrrha. With the sentient swords Soul Calibur and Soul Edge once again manipulating humanity for their never-ending battle, players will have to hack and slash their way through the 1607 AD story mode.

It’s not the most mesmerising story ever told, as it usually degenerates into a poor excuse to pick a fight, while hand-drawn still images move the tale forward in a disappointing fashion, despite the rare, well produced cut-scene making an appearance here and there.


The characters themselves aren’t the most likeable protagonists either, while the majority of them are under-utilised, resulting in an experience where players don’t really connect with their digital swordsman or lady.

But then again, Soul Calibur has never truly been about the story, but serves much better as a platform for with which to engage friends, both locally and online. Lacklustre story-mode aside, there’s a lot more content that redeems the title, from customisable characters that can be tailored to your specific need, to online modes that try and cater for every player style, skill and nationality under the sun.

Character creation is back, and the options this time for players to create a suave buccaneer or an abomination with a massive rack are astounding again. Height, size, style and various other features are available from the start, with loads more content being unlocked the more you play the game, making character creation a worthwhile and enjoyable investment.

Long time fans of Soul Calibur are going to feel right at home with the combat. Hacking and slashing still takes precedence, with kicking and blocking mapped to the other two face buttons on the controller.


This iteration of SC however, is a faster one. Combat, when handled correctly, flows beautifully and smoothly, with matches between experts playing out like a symphony of clashing weapons. With special moves also being a tad simpler to perform this time, SC V is more inviting to newcomers, presenting a gentler learning curve for the 3D fighter.

But that’s not to say that a player can button-mash his way through a match, because once again, SC V leans heavily on training players to know when and how to use an appropriate attack. Dodges, parries and counter-attacks will always be more effective than a mad dash of horizontal slashes, rewarding players who think ahead in their matches over reckless and impulsive gamers.

In addition, new super-meters finally make their way into the game, adding a tactical method of bouncing back that has been otherwise absent from SC titles, and wiping the memory of that horrid Critical Edge system away from the mind of SC 4 players.

The new meters are integrated like a Swiss army knife, allowing for a range of abilities such as regular attacks being amplified, counter-attacks becoming remarkably more effective and massive damage-dealing combos to be dealt out, once the meter has been charged enough of course. Even if you aren’t a fan of such gameplay mechanics, one can’t deny that the pay-off in terms of beautiful visuals and action-heavy sequences isn’t worth the effort of achieving them.


So far, while not exactly a major leap forward into a new frontier of gameplay and features, SC V feels more like an adjusted version of what has come before it, as the gameplay has been honed and polished, providing incremental improvements.

Fans will be pleased to see character favourites such as the buxom Ivy and noble Mitsurugi returning for the sequel, while a few new faces join the familiar line-up of fighters. Descendants of established characters and other new characters are available, while Assassin’s Creed star Ezio Auditore makes an appearance, working quite effectively as a guest fighter, unlike two certain Star Wars characters that were stiff and unwieldy to use in the previous game (I’m looking at you, Yoda).

Legendary souls is an unlockable mode that makes an appearance, testing players to see how well they can handle their broadsword against some truly challenging opponents. If there’s one thing that must be said about SC 5, it’s that the AI makes for a challenging perspective, actually learning and predicting moves in an accurate manner.


Online play has received a lot of love here, being stable and rather responsive, with the occasional lag appearing that no fighting game is immune to. Matches, while appearing complicated at first, are easy to set up, catering to a wide variety of requirements, from skill to location.

Global Colloseo mode is where Namco Bandai has obviously spent a lot of time and effort, as the arena serves as a more casual hub for gamers to pick a fight in their local region. It’s a well-executed idea, and hopefully one that will get some love from gamers in the time to come.

Visually, not much has really changed with Soul Calibur. While gameplay is now flashier and more fluid, it’s a compromise that has had to be reached by sacrificing any real advancements in graphical enhancements, as characters look practically ageless and smoother than Pierce Brosnans’ James Bond performance.


While the game looks far from terrible, and quite impressive at the right moment, its as if time has stood still since Soul Calibur 4 appeared on consoles, with the voice-acting retaining its gloriously cheesy charm while a familiar narrator sets the scene of battle.

At the end of the day, Soul Calibur V presents itself as fighting game that retains its original creative spark without deviating from a set formula too far, preferring to place its hopes in a strong online and versus combat system, with a story mode and visual appearance suffering as a result.

It’s not a game that’s going to set new benchmarks for the genre, but you’d be hard-pressed to not have a good time playing SC 5, as the solid mechanics, gameplay improvements and additional components for online play make this the finest Soul Calibur entry in the history of the series.


Gameplay: 9/10

Polished and tweaked from the gameplay in the previous instalment, SC 5 will feel right at home in players hands, as the improved and faster combat also makes for a more inviting experience for newcomers.

If you’ve never played a Soul Calibur game before, then this is a great time to leap on board, as the unique fighting style is still an enjoyable experience that no other competitor has even tried to imitate.

Design and Presentation: 7/10

While it’s easy to spend an afternoon ‘admiring’ character models such as Ivy and Pyrrah, they’re a little too plain, still full of uncanny valley and lacking any real improvement in visuals that have been reached in the last several years.

Whether this is a result of keeping online play and character customisation a fluid and extensive experience or not is unclear, it would be nice to play with characters that don’t resemble porcelain dolls for once, something that other games in the genre have already achieved in recent years.

 Value: 8/10

While story-mode is an event that can be breezed through and quickly completed, it’s not the driving reason to buy this title. Friends, both offline and online is where the real meat and potatoes of SC 5 lies,as the improved online experience will keep players entertained for hours, while character creation gives determined players a chance to craft a character suited to their ideas of the ultimate brawler.

Overall: 8/10

It’s not a game that’s going to set new benchmarks for the genre, but you’d be hard-pressed to not have a good time playing SC 5, as the solid mechanics, gameplay improvements and additional components for online play make this the finest Soul Calibur entry in the history of the series.

It’s fun in all the right places, more than making up for several shortcomings, that can hopefully be ironed out whenever Namco Bandai decides to make a Soul Calibur 6.

Reviewed on PS3

Last Updated: February 3, 2012

Soul Calibur V

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