Soul Calibur V Preview

by on August 1, 2011

It was recently discussed on the GodCast whether the fighting game genre was going through a renaissance. No firm conclusion was reached, but what did become clear, was that for the last decade a number of titles have attempted to define the beat-em-up genre.

Street Fighter, Marvel Vs. Capcom, Tekken, Dead or Alive and Soul Calibur have all seen re-awakenings, re-imagining and regurgitations in the last ten years and all have sought to define themselves through their own unique mechanics, gimmicks and techniques. Street Fighter has its balancing, emphasis on execution, and ultra combos. Tekken is known for 3D arenas and an emphasis on juggling. MvC has its incredible pyrotechics and Marvel characters. Dead or Alive, well, hmm, how should I put this? Dead or Alive has a lot of big ol’ wobbly boobies.

Soul Calibur has stood out from the crowd by not only having lady characters with large…assets, but also by virtue of being a weapon-based fighting game with extensive customisation options, giving the combat (particularly in Soul Calibur 4) a pleasingly strategic edge. Soul Calibur players have always had to think around the strengths and weaknesses of their own characters and their opponents, rather than just execute combos learned by rote.

The Soul Calibur V trailers have been a bit of a concern. It is important that a game knows what it is, particularly fighting games (if you don’t believe me, pick up a copy of Street Fighter EX when you get some spare time). Seeing the new characters in Project Soul’s game firing magical projectiles and conjuring lupine fighting partners it seemed that, maybe, Soul Calibur was losing its identity, upping the pyrotechnics to compete with other games on the market, proud lineage be damned.

This initial impression was reinforced when the two Namco staff begin playing the game. One look at Ivy and it is clear that the totally inappropriate fight costumes are still all present and correct but the flashy, fireball type moves seen in the trailer are introduced as being “like ultras from Street Fighter IV”.

These new specials are called ‘Brave Edge’ and ‘Critical Edge’ moves and are accessed by building up meter, achieved by successful blocks, parries and attacks, and then unleashed when the requisite amount of power has been attained. So far, so Street Fighter 4. Brave Edge and Critical Edge are ridiculously powerful and, despite looking very impressive, seem very easy to access and were clearly a tactical focal point of the match, with both players using these ultra-type combos a number of times over the course of a best-of-three bout. This was possible because Brave Edge moves only use 60% of the super-meter, whilst Critical Edge uses 120%. Players can charge the meter up a number of times before using a special move and in this current build that means it is possible to use a number of super moves consecutively, though none were chained together whilst we were watching.

However, as the Namco staff got deeper into the gameplay, showing new fighters like Natsu and Z.W.E.I. brawling new locations, it was clear that the core of Soul Calibur remained untarnished by the game’s glitzy new accessories. Animation was wonderfully smooth and the fights flowed back and forth beautifully, momentum ebbing and flowing as the fighters bobbed and weaved in and out of the transforming environments. The Project Soul Team, reunited for Soul Calibur V, are targeting fights that are more nervous and dynamic and, on this early inspection, they seem to be achieving this goal. They also want this game to be “more accessible for beginners but also deeper for veteran players”. This is something that no fifteen minute presentation will could ever accurately illustrate, but it did appear that the Critical Edge and Brave Edge moves were great levellers, maybe giving newcomers the foot up that they need whilst also adding another layer of strategy for the pro players.

Other news was the confirmation of enhanced customisation options and a good look at the fighting styles of new entrants to the series Natsu, Patroklos, Z.W.E.I. and Pyrrha. Z.W.E.I. stood out from the rest of the new characters (except for Natsu, who did lot of “standing out” of her own, if you know what I mean) because of his unique fighting trick; the ability to summon a wolf to fight over his shoulder. Instantly reminiscent of Tekken Tag Tournament’s Unknown, the wolf can be be comboed into Z.W.E.I.’s strings, making him a very unique character. With no opportunity for hands-on it impossible to know what other unique properties the wolf brings to the combat of Soul Calibur V, but it did look very cool and not as out of place as one might expect.

So it seems that, rather than losing its identity in the face of strong competition, Soul Calibur V is borrowing the successful ideas from rivals in the genre and incorporating them into a game whose DNA remains steadfastly true to its smooth, flowing, weapon-based fighting roots. We will have to wait until the game is ready for hands-on play before it is clear whether the development team can balance not only these new moves and ideas, but the desire to make Soul Calibur V both a deeper, yet more accessible title. This is never an easy task, but fans of the series can rest assured that Project Soul’s game seems to have kept its identity as it searches for its place in the new beat-em-up landscape.

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Soul Calibur V is due out in 2012 for PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360.

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