Soul Calibur V Preview

The first time I ever played a Soul Calibur game was back in 1997, and it wasn’t even a proper Soul Calibur game. It was Soul Edge, the precursor to Soul Calibur for the Dreamcast, and to my ten year-old self, this game was amazing.

Over the years, I’ve played the franchise off and on, with hours spent in Soul Calibur 2, a long afternoon with Soul Calibur 3, days deconstructing Soul Calibur 4, and now hotly anticipating Soul Calibur V.

It’s a franchise well-known for weapon-based battling, 8-way running, pseudo-historical mid-millennium characters, special guest stars as varied as Link from Legend of Zelda to Darth Vader and Yoda from Star Wars, and a technical guard-based play-style that favored mind games over flash.

There have been some highs and lows with the franchise, and after a nearly four-year break, Soul Calibur V is set to please fans new and old. Last week I was fortunate enough to play around with the new game, check out new characters, fiddle around with some of the new mechanics, and dive in with Soul Calibur V’s new guest character: Ezio de Auditore from Ubisoft’s Assassin’s Creed.

For returning players, Soul Calibur V should be immediately familiar. The traditional arena battles are back, as are the ring outs and classic one on one battles. Hardcore fans may find the game to be a little faster in certain areas, a little slower in others, while returning characters like Ivy and Mitsurugi play slightly different. From my time with this game, it’s an entirely new Soul Calibur, so it will be interesting to see how it stands up when the game launches early next year.

Much news has been made about the lack of critical finishes, those fatality-esque moves that were rarely used and weren't fun. Instead, each character has a Critical Edge move. Always performed with two quarter turns, then pressing the vertical, horizontal, and kick moves at the same time will result in this attack. For some characters, this is a direct attack. Others, like Ezio, are better suited to use this attack as a counter to an opponent’s attack. Viola, the magical ball-wielder, actually transforms her ball into a sort of black hole that sucks opposing players into an easily attacked state. Since these attacks are one-frame moves, they are extremely versatile in ending opponent’s combos.

Three new characters were announced at the event. Nightmare and Raphael were officially confirmed as playable, although they have seen slight changes like the rest of the returning characters. Leixia is Xiangua’s daughter, and this young girl plays very much like her mother. The Namco team said she’s even faster than her mother, but some player comments indicate that she feels a little slower, but this may be indicative of the whole game speed, not Leixia herself.

Of course, the biggest surprise of the event was the announcement of Ezio’s inclusion in Soul Calibur V. Unlike the odd time-travel of Darth Vader or Yoda, and the somewhat weird inclusion of Link or Spawn, Ezio actually makes sense as a playable fighter. Not only does Assassin’s Creed 2 take place during a period of time that is appropriate for Soul Calibur V, but Ezio’s weapon usage strongly fits the game. Most of his attacks are mid-to short range, although he can easily pull out his crossbow and fire off a shot. His famous hidden blade is better suited toward counters and quick attacks, while his long sword seems to be his most common weapon. Personally, I find him quite enjoyable to play as, for he instantly fits within the Soul Calibur universe, and he stands up as a capable fighter. The developers worked with Ubisoft to make sure he fights in a manner that stays true to his style, and I think both teams have done well. Ezio is the perfect addition to the game.

Every other character so far has shown themselves to be very enjoyable to play. I love Hilde and Viola, and I could tell that Raphael is less of a noob spam attacker. Natsu feels like a much more explosive version of Taki, and the new ZWEI is really compelling fighter, as he can summon a werewolf demon. There is plenty of room for new characters to be announced, so I’m looking forward to these new additions.

Visually, the game looks beautiful, although I wouldn’t say it’s much more than previous games. I still remember playing Soul Calibur III and being blown away about how striking the stages looked. Soul Calibur V is a beautiful looking game.  The way clothing on characters will fall off over the course of a fight, and the dynamic destruction of stages as battles take place is appreciated; everything just doesn’t feel like a huge step forward in the visuals. Well, except for the facial animations, because these are particularly good for a fighting game, and they seem to have been synched up with the English voice work.

If you are looking forward to getting your Soul on, you don’t have to wait that long. Announced at the event is the North American and European release date, set for January 31, 2012, and February 3, 2012 respectively. Additionally, a special edition will be offered, specifically designed for Western consumers. In addition to the game disc, they will receive a behind-the scenes DVD, and art book, two exclusive costumes, and a soundtrack, all bound together in a rather attractive box. Additionally, should players pre-order the game, they will receive Dampierre, a goofy assassin character that uses wacky high jinks for his attacks–including hidden blades, much like Ezio. Last seen in the PSP version of Soul Calibur: Broken Destiny, this is Dampierre’s first console inclusion. It’s not known if he will be available for purchase later on.