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Soulcalibur 5 is the latest instalment from the long running fighting game series. The franchise started its life in the mid-nineties as an arcade release dubbed Soul Edge. Since then the weapon duelling saga has been rechristened Soulcalibur and made its way onto the home consoles. I first became acquainted with the series when Soulcalibur 2 caused some buzz by supplementing its roster with an exclusive character that was unique to the version it was being played on. As a PS2 owner I had to settle for the Tekken fighter Heihachi whilst Xbox and Gamecube users had the far cooler comic book hero Spawn and Legend of Zelda star Link to pick from. Despite that I loved Soulcalibur 2 and the follow-up Soulcalibur 3 which introduced the option of creating custom fighters, much like you can in modern day wrestling games.
THE RETURN OF SOULCALIBUR
In my opinion the series went downhill with the release of Soulcalibur 4. Initially I was excited by the prospect of playing as Star Wars characters, in addition to the usual Soulcalibur combatants, but after the sci-fi novelty wore off I found myself getting bored of the game. Perhaps I was miffed at being expected to cough up extra cash to unlock Yoda, as downloadable content, even though hackers revealed that the character was already on the disc. It was my first experience of a game company cutting out existing content so they can resell it later as an "extra." That sort of mentality is what has put me off supporting DLC offers as I loathe the idea of encouraging companies to swindle consumers via such practices.
Looks like I wasn't the only one displeased with how Soulcalibur 4 turned out because after lacklustre sales Namco decided to give up on the franchise. The death of the series was however averted when fans petitioned Tekken producer Katsuhiro Harada to revive the project. Their pleas did not fall on deaf ears because four years after the last game, Soulcalibur is back. The question is, has the work put into resurrecting the series been worth it or should the series have been left to die an honourable death? Let's take a closer look and see.
The game is set almost twenty years after the last adventure which turns out to be a double edged sword (no pun intended.) On the one hand the passage of time allows the creators to freshen things up by adding new characters, but on the flip side it also means that some series favourites will not be making an appearance this time round. I was, for example, saddened to learn that the wind priestess Talim was not playable as I found her easy to pull off combos a big help in besting the challenges of the older games. It's not all bad news though as a lot of the missing fighters are replaced by new characters with a similar fighting style. The absence of the big boobed ninja Taki for example isn't as terrible as you would expect given that her apprentice Natsu takes her place. She's not quite as blessed as her master in the bosom department, but makes up for it by having a booty that most males cannot resist staring at.
Let's not get distracted by irresistible hineys though and return to discussing the game's plot. The story centres around Patroklos, holy warrior and son of series favourite Sophitia. Our hero, who is on a quest to find his missing sister, starts the game serving a lord who sends him out on missions to eradicate corrupted humans known as Malfested. After realising that his master has been manipulating him all this time he decides to leave his service and join a band of warriors who are battling Nightmare, a swordsman who has been cursed to devour souls by the demonic blade Soul Edge. In a cruel twist of fate it is later revealed that Patroklos' sister is a Malfested who is being groomed to become the new wielder of the Soul Edge. Can Patroklos save his sibling from her deranged destiny or will he ultimately be forced to destroy her? Only time will tell.
I've heard a lot of reviewers criticize Soulcalibur 5 for having an uninteresting story, but to be honest I rather enjoyed it. Fighting games aren't renowned for being literary masterpieces, but at least this game gives you some motivation for fighting the opponents you come across. The storyboard style artwork and accompanying text do a fine job of detailing Patroklos' journey through Europe and Asia which spans a total of twenty chapters. Sure the story mode isn't as long lasting or well put together as Mortal Kombat, but it's far more satisfying than what we get from the Capcom 2D fighters. My only quibble with the story mode is that you'll spend most of the time controlling Patroklos. From time to time you switch over to his sister and the werewolf summoner ZWEI, but the rest of the cast are relegated to being AI opponents.
At its core Soulcalibur 5 plays much like its predecessors. The aim of the game is to beat your opponents in one on one duels by earning three wins. To achieve victory you must incapacitate your enemy, by depleting their health bar, or by knocking them out of the arena to score a ring out. As a 3D fighter not only can you advance and retreat from foes, but also sidestep attacks. The x button is used to block, circle unleashes a kick with the other buttons being responsible for vertical and horizontal swipes of your weapon. The gameplay although not drastically different to the older games is more refined. I have to give props to the new engine for feeling smoother which makes the exchanges between combatants more fluid.
Introduced to the series for the first time is a power meter which seems to be a staple of most modern day fighters. As you take and dish out damage the meter fills up and once it reaches certain levels you have the option of draining it to pull off some devastating attacks (as I soon learned when the A.I would knock off half of my life bar in one foul swoop.) To discourage defensive play the meter also powers the guard impacts which limits their use. This is a good thing as in the past the guard mechanic could be abused by masterful players to counter anything thrown at them. As a button basher I didn't make the most of these new features, but I am sure fighting game veterans will appreciate the additions as it adds an extra layer of strategy to the combat.
I'm giving Soulcalibur 5 four stars as the combat is fun and overall I enjoyed it much more than the last game. If you are a fan of the series you'll like this edition, especially if you take advantage of the multiplayer features which allow you to take on other Soulcalibur enthusiasts online. If you are purchasing this solely for the single player experience I must however warn that their isn't much content to keep you occupied. You may want to wait for a price drop as the story mode can be completed fairly quickly. On the default difficulty the story isn't too challenging, although Nightmare lives up to his name and will give you sleepless nights as you recover from the horror of his cheap ass attack. After you finish the story there isn't much else to do other than the repetitive task of replaying the game to unlock characters and gear for any custom fighters you may want to create.
What a shame that the single player portion of the game is lacking in content. Had Namco gone the route of Mortal Kombat, which gives solo players a plethora of things to do, this easily would have been a five star game. Even the arcade mode feels lacking as completing it only rewards you with a screen displaying your completion time. A short ending unique to the character you used would have added to the replay value and given some back story to the new characters, who otherwise feel like lifeless copies of previous stars. This complaint can be addressed if downloadable content gets released in the future, but I won't be buying it. As I mentioned earlier I'm against companies that have sold their "soul" to the all mighty dollar - I'll keep my cash rather than allow them to make profit on expansions that complete partially finished titles sold at full retail price.