A tale of souls and swords played preface to this year's Tokyo Game Show. With burning determination we transcended the stage of history into a tale eternally retold--meaning we took a train to the headquarters of developer Namco Bandai Games to try out SoulCalibur V.
Right away we noticed that the character select screen had slots for 30 fighters. Twelve of those were already accounted for by Siegfried, Mitsurugi, Hilde, Maxi, Ivy, Tira, Voldo, and Astaroth, along with newcomers Patroklos, Z.W.E.I., Natsu, and Pyrrha. When asked if 30 was the final roster count, the producers said they weren't ready to commit to that just yet.
A 13th character, Viola, was also announced, but she wasn't available to play. However, we did get to see her in action during a brief trailer. She was dressed in the brightly colored robes of a fortune-teller and used a floating crystal ball as a weapon. Unlike Z.W.E.I., who could summon an ethereal werewolf for a one- or two-hit complement to his normal attacks, nearly all of this character's quick-hitting attacks used the ball. She looked like a versatile, midrange character with a lot of unorthodox techniques.
Series veteran Astaroth was on display, in all his axe-wielding, worm-smashing glory. We got to see him cleave a few fools during our play session, and he seemed to retain a lot of his iconic moves from the previous games. His critical edge, like Ivy's, was a grapple. And while it didn't deal a ton of damage up front, it left the opponent spinning on the ground and open to a low-hitting follow-up attack.
Critical edge and brave edge attacks are two of the new mechanics in SoulCalibur V. They're powerful attacks that consume portions of a four-bar meter. Brave edge attacks use one-quarter of this meter and are improved versions of a character's special moves, similar in concept to Street Fighter's EX moves. Each character was listed as having two brave edge attacks, but after talking with the producers, they confirmed that some characters will have three.
Critical edge attacks cost half the meter but deal a substantial amount of damage. Each character has one, and they all share the same input command. In practice, they were a toned-down version of SoulCalibur IV's critical finish moves and varied from quick jabs to lines of explosions to unblockable grapples.
On the defensive side there are the "guard impact" and "just guard" mechanics. Guard impacts cost one-quarter of the meter and let you punish reckless enemy assaults by parrying a blow just before it strikes. The enemy will then be momentarily stunned, letting you follow up with an attack. Just guards are much more difficult to execute, but require no meter. Basically, you have to press the guard button the moment you are struck by an enemy attack. This makes the enemy stagger and gives you a much faster recovery time.
We also noticed that occasionally our health bar would flash from yellow to red. It was explained that this indicates when your guard is about to be broken. Defend too many blows, and your guard begins to deteriorate until the enemy can strike right through it. Having your guard broken puts your character into a crumple state, leaving him or her open for an attack. If you see you're in the red, you can recover your gauge by dodging attacks or going on the offensive.
Breaking your opponent's armor is also in the game and is performed by finishing a round with a special attack. And while it's a little embarrassing to have your shirt blown off, losing armor has no detrimental gameplay effects.
During the initial presentation, Namco Bandai announced that it would be working with CyberConnect2 (the Naruto: Ultimate Ninja series) on the animations for SoulCalibur V. In the previous games, all the character animation was motion-capture based. And while SCV will have some motion capture as well, it will also include some handcrafted animations--perhaps culminating in some very unorthodox attacks.
Looking ahead, Namco Bandai also reiterated that there will be a special guest character in SCV and that the reveal of who that is will come in the next month or two. Until then, you'll just have to content yourself with our previous interview with SoulCalibur V producer Hisaharu Tago. SoulCalibur V will be released on the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 early next year.