Apparently I’m supposed to tell you that the last Soul Calibur game I put any significant time into was the Dreamcast version. It’s a requirement when reviewing fighting games. I vaguely remember playing Soul Calibur 4 as a rental just to see the Star Wars characters in it, but other than that it’s been a good while since I’ve played the fighting series. Now that we have that out of the way, let’s talk about Soul Calibur 5 - the latest game in the series.
Soul Calibur 5 comes at a time when another classic fighting game franchise has had a resurgence, namely, Mortal Kombat. While the MK series is more about brutal action and combos, the Soul Calibur series is a bit more elegant. It reminds me in a lot of ways of the Dead or Alive series of fighting games where timing and position is just as critical as combos and memorizing moves.
The core of the game is split into three sections. The first of these is a story mode, where you’ll guide a brother and sister (and a few side characters) on some inane quest that has to do with Soul Blade. Honestly, the story lost me only a few chapters in, despite doing an excellent job with indepth cut scenes after every battle. These are displayed in either a charcoal style drawing comic or in fully rendered cut scenes - all of which are voice acted. The second section is an arcade mode where you battle through six opponents in a time trial like setting. Finally there’s the online mode which appears to be the meat of the game. Overall it feels like a pretty sparse collection of game modes.
All of these modes contribute towards your overall character, earning you levels and unlocks which include backgrounds, stages, customizations and fighters. It’s a very good horse and carrot model, especially since everything you do in the game contributes to the same core unlocks. The biggest of these is the in depth character creator which allows you some incredible versatility in creating just about any kind of character you want.
Ok, but what about the core of the Soul Calibur game - the fighting itself.
Honestly it was a love hate relationship for me. It’s a very rigid fighting system with some incredibly complex moves. All of your actions contribute to a meter which allows you to pull off one of three distinct powerful attacks - Brave Edge, Critical Edge and Guard Impacts. All of these moves require the use of said meter along with timing and button combinations to correctly execute. Despite there being an in game moves list, I honestly can’t recall ever successfully pulling of any of these maneuvers intentionally.
Don’t get me wrong, the fighting can be very rewarding in Soul Calibur 5, but it can be extremely frustrating. There are times when I’d be knocked to the ground and never get up again because the enemy simply wouldn’t let me. Perhaps I just suck too much, either way, I was not having fun. Of course the same tactic can work against the CPU opponents too. Which is why, in the end, if you want a real challenge you need to take things online or play against human opponents.
As I said earlier, it’s hard not to compare Soul Calibur 5 against the recent Mortal Kombat, and for the most part, I think it comes up short. It’s not a bad game, but it’s not a particularly rewarding one. Fans of the series should be pretty happy with the fancier graphics and refined fighting systems, but if you are a casual fighting fan, it’s hard to justify a $60 purchase.
Score: 2.5 out of 5