The soul is once again burning brightly with this series. My DarkZero review.

User Rating: 8 | SoulCalibur V PS3
Since re-birthing with a burst of popularity due to Street Fighter IV, the gaming community has allowed developers to create new fighting games without feeling scared about them not selling. As such, it makes perfect sense for Namco to bring another SoulCalibur to the table. It's been well over three years (and before the fighting genre grew again) since SoulCalibur IV, so what's changed in that time?

A fair amount actually. SoulCalibur V continues the story by setting it 17 years after the events of the fourth game. Siegfried is no longer the cover bloke; instead, the torch is passed on to a young man called Patroklos, who is the son of the legendary Sophitia (you'll probably know her if you've played any of the other Soul games).

Patroklos and his lost sister Pyrrha are the main focus of the game's plot. It's told through one of the single player modes called Story 1607 A.D. Most of the tale is told through hand drawn artwork placed on an aged scroll. A shame really, as you are occasionally treated to some real-time cutscenes during the story that make you wish the whole game was done like that.

What's extremely disappointing is that the story mode replaces the brilliant Weapon Master Mode (also known as Mission Mode) that was featured in SoulCalibur and SoulCalibur II; even SoulCalibur III had a more complex story system. Gone are those modes that featured challenges and tasks of unlocking new weapons; instead, what the story mode now features is a linear progression through 20 fights, each one comprising a chapter in that character's story. Only a select few fighters feature in the story mode too, with mostly new characters taking the spotlight. Arcade mode doesn't even give you any endings whatsoever, so any characters you care about that aren't in the main plot means are secondary and nothing is learned about them. Overall, it just feels so minute compared to what is usually offered in a SoulCalibur story mode.

Thankfully, fighting games aren't completely about the story, but how well the fighting mechanics have been tuned. Interestingly, SoulCalibur V seems to have been heavily influenced by 2D fighting games such as Street Fighter IV. This is clearly evident with a new metre bar called the Critical Gauge that sits at the top left and right of the screen. Attacking makes the bar fill, allowing it to be potentially maxed to 200%. An assortment of moves rely on this new bar, such as the brand new Critical Edge. Critical Edge is SoulCalibur V's take on the Ultra Meter from Street Fighter IV, meaning that 100% of the bar must be filled for a move to properly work. Activation is easy; all characters require the same input to activate their critical edge. All you need to do is a quarter circle motion from down to forward twice and press all three attack buttons (horizontal, vertical and kick) simultaneously and poof – you get a cinematic attack if you successfully hit your opponent.

Brave Edge and Guard Impact are two other moves that drain the critical edge metre. Brave Edge uses 50% of the metre and enhances moves with extra damage. Think of the EX attacks in Street Fighter IV and you get the idea. Guard Impact drains 25% of the metre and allows characters to protect themselves against any attack, no matter the height of the attack or if it is unblockable. Finally, Just Guard is a new defending mechanic that reminds me of the parry system in Street Fighter III. It doesn't require any metre since it's down to strict timing of the guard button at the right time.

All of these mechanics make SoulCalibur V a deep fighting game to learn. It's a shame that the game can't back all these features up with an in-depth tutorial. All you get is tips in the story mode that don't explain much, and even the tutorial doesn't teach you the basics of the game. Tutorial mode feels like it was created to serve the people who already know the technology in SoulCalibur V, allowing them to practice combos, or watch the computer perform them to get an idea of the timing. It's true that the game's structure allows for new players to pick up the pad and button mash some flashy moves out, yet to become any good they need to learn how to properly execute advanced techniques in a fight, and SoulCalibur V just doesn't stress that enough.

Quick battle and Legendary Souls are the last two bits of single player content. The former has a list of 240 fights, each one unlocking a title for your profile. The latter is a difficult challenge where the game cranks up the A.I, as six people line up to give you a beat down. Arcade and Legendary Souls both record your best time for progressing through the six fights you need to beat. Times are merged into leaderboards so that you can see how well you rank throughout the world. It's great for people who have an itch for improving their performance.

Once you're done bashing around the computer in single player, you might want to have a stab at creating your own character, or modding an existing one in the returning Creation mode. You don't make any new combat stances as all the moves will be based on one of the characters already in the game, or the secret Devil Jin stance if you fancy playing a bit of a Tekken in your SoulCalibur.

Creating a character is easy to do, and the process allows for quite a varied amount of customization. It's all cosmetic since the stat based creation from SoulCalibur IV is no longer present. Not everything is available at the start, since some items are only unlocked by reaching a certain level on your profile. Every fight you take part in adds points to your profile that eventually increases your level. There's some bizarre stuff to unlock and dress your characters with. Things like pirate patches, monocles, horns and animal heads, and, yes, you can make a sexy female horse headed girl with nunchucks. Strange? Sure, but why the hell not.

As for multiplayer, SoulCalibur V's online play for the most part appears respectable, with no lag noticeable on 4 and 5 bar connections. Not everyone can play in tournaments or have friends that are interested in the same game, so having a good online helps keep players involved. Ranked match offers points for rankings, and Player match offers a room for up to six people to fight and text chat to each other. Project Soul has made sure that you can fight with your creation characters online. The lifespan of a fighting game seems to be based on how well it's online works, and Soul Caliber V does a decent job at making a claim for longevity. At the very least, I'm certainly interested to see who is going to emerge as the best horse headed warrior in the world.

A nifty feature for online is the Global Colosseum, an area where you can join certain capitals of the world in a "hanging out" environment. People can communicate with each other through text chat, create private fights or set up random battles with anyone who is willing to fight. Project Soul is trying to capture that "at the arcade" experience with this feature, and I love that idea.

Running at a silky smooth 60 frames per second, SoulCalibur V is a visual treat on the eyes. Characters animate gracefully while looking sharp and detailed. Backgrounds are vibrant and may change during the course of the fight making for some gorgeous battlegrounds. Sparks fly off when weapons collide creating some flashy flair, and the texture work is solid. Apart from the cheap feeling of the artwork cutscenes in the story mode, the rest of the game's presentation is top notch. Even the menus don't feel cheap with stylish designs bursting out regardless of what part you are looking at.

While I am disappointed with the removal of Weapon Master Mode and the terrible story, I simply can't deny that SoulCalibur V is a great fighting game. Adding in the critical metre makes for a deeper game, but it still feels like SoulCalibur. I regard SoulCalibur II as the best in the series, and while SoulCalibur V isn't quite up to that masterpiece, it's still has soul that's burning brightly.

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