It's almost hard to believe that Soul Calibur V is only the second game in the Soul series to grace the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. This three-plus year break hasn’t exactly translated to any kind of design overhaul or major retooling but from what we’ve played so far, developer Project Soul is sticking to what it does best: easy-to-learn weapon-based combat, a satisfying roster of interesting characters, and a story mode for the single-player goal-driven players.
It's hard to argue that there's another fighting game series that has attempted to consistently deliver some kind of campaign-style narrative at the level of this series. SCV’s story puts on a bit of a twist by making the premise a sibling affair. Patroklos and Pyrrha Alexandra play the respective son and daughter of longtime series fighter Sophitia.
You could not have come up with a more left-field pairing of guest characters than the previous Soul Calibur's Yoda and Darth Vader; even Link's appearance in Soul Calibur II made more sense by comparison. Thankfully the guest character of SCV is much, much more sensible and is a timely appearance at that: Assassin's Creed's Ezio Auditore de Firenze. As a Renaissance era figure who knows his way around a blade, Namco was only off by about a century in fitting his appearance with the rest of the SCV timeline, which isn't bad at all.
From the dozen or so matches I had with and against him, it would not be unreasonable to think that those who are unfamiliar with the Assassin’s Creed series might easily confuse Ezio as an original Soul Calibur character. His hooded visage is as unique as any fighter in the game and his presence makes up for the shortage of Italian characters in the series. Moreover, his modestly-sized, yet effective blades add variety to a game where most of the characters are wielding weapons that are practically larger than themselves.
There's never been a character creation mode in a fighting game that has ever truly drawn me in. Maybe it was because that abysmal Fighter Maker game on the original PlayStation left a bad taste in my mouth. It's more likely that a part of me feels that character creation in a fighting game can potentially dilute the significance of the game's existing roster of fighters.
With Soul Calibur V, I was still willing to give this mode a chance to impress me. It almost does so right from the get-go. You start off by deciding between working off the existing cast or create a brand new character from scratch. The former lets you modify something as simple as a fighter's color scheme or go deeper by completely overhauling the character’s look. If you want Ivy sporting an afro and a tubetop, Soul Calibur V can make that dream come true. When creating something original, Project Soul provides more than enough tools to encourage imagination. Having had character creation in past Soul games, the devs have done a fine job in adding to the selection of appearance options while letting you assign familiar move sets.
A game set 17 years after the events of the last game makes it all the more easier to introduce some new characters, even if some of them might be tweaked reskins of familiar face. This is amusingly justified as some of these folks are the offspring or disciples of past fighters so it would be natural that there would be some noticeable similarities with the moves.
Aside from Patroklos, Pyrrha, and Ezio, there are at least five new additions. Yan Leixia follows a move set similar to her mother Xianghua. The strawberry blonde Natsu comes from the same clan as Taki and also sports a variation of the familiar red ninja body suit (just more exposed in the leg area). Xiba is the successor to the popular Kilik and, along with his rod weapon, sports a tail, giving Soul Calibur V a bit of a Dragon Ball feel.
And what’s a Soul Calibur game without a couple wild card characters to throw in some new moves in the mix? In SCV’s case, there’s a werewolf and a gothic lolita. Z.W.E.I. wields a three-handled blade and can summor a werewolf named E.I.N.. The gal is named Viola and she’s a fighter serving Z.W.E.I.; she also suffers from amnesia but hasn’t forgotten her skills in duelling with a floating orb as a weapon.
The series has yet see the kind of design overhaul that say, the Street Fighter series experienced with Street Fighter IV. A similar makeover might not be something the fans necessarily want to begin with. From what we have played, Soul Calibur V might have just enough new features and characters to also grab the attention of fighting game fans who may not have played Soul games in a while.