SoulCalibur V is the most complex entry in the series to date. By incorporating some 2D fighting mechanics into its 3D weapon-based system, the game forces you to manage more variables than ever before. In short, this is not a return to the simple times of SoulCalibur II. What SoulCalibur V lacks in accessibility it more than makes up for with its unprecedented depth, fostering a well-crafted, offensive-focused experience that never wants for excitement.
At the center of SoulCalibur V's new design is the critical gauge. This meter can hold two bars of energy used to perform new types of offensive and defensive maneuvers. Critical edge and brave edge attacks are its offensive uses. The flashy, cinematic critical edge attacks cost a full bar of meter and deal substantial damage. Each character has one, and every critical edge has the same input command. Critical edge attacks come out quickly and are great for catching aggressive opponents off guard, especially when you're rising from a knockdown.
Brave edge attacks are improved versions of a character's normal attacks and use one-quarter of the critical gauge. Hilde, for example, has an attack that knocks her opponent into the air and over her head. The brave edge version starts the same way but automatically impales the opponent in midair for extra damage. This combo isn't possible otherwise, hence the meter cost. Both critical and brave edge attacks open up new combo possibilities for the entire cast and help make old characters feel new without altering their fundamental gameplay.
Defensively, the critical meter is used for guard impacting, otherwise known as parrying. That's right: unlike in previous SoulCalibur games, parrying is no longer free. Instead, it costs one-quarter of the gauge--the same as a brave edge attack--and still requires precise timing.
However, there are other ways to parry that don't use the critical gauge. The first is "just guard." This is done by tapping the guard button the instant before being struck. It requires even more precise timing than a standard parry, but if you're successful it will have a similar effect. Certain attacks also incorporate a parry into the attack itself. These attacks are generally slow-moving, highly telegraphed blows that will leave you wide open should you miss.
Guard breaking also discourages defensive-heavy play. Block too many attacks in a match, and your character will automatically drop his or her guard for a few seconds. You can tell you're at risk when the health gauge begins to flash. All of these changes create more intense matches by restricting defensive options and promoting aggressive play. However, the game also keeps itself in check through the limitations of the critical gauge. Since the gauge can hold only four quarters total, and refills slowly as you fight, you can't abuse the new techniques. It's a finely tuned balance that fits naturally atop the existing system.