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PlayStation 3 Review: SoulCalibur V

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If you will forgive me, there are things in this world which I do not understand.  For instance (and I only bring this up due to today’s date), I don’t understand Valentine’s Day – don’t you always want to treat your significant other with love and respect and regularly acknowledge how important they are?  I also don’t understand durian – it smells like feet, why would you want to eat that?  I ate durian once, months ago, and every so often I can still taste it.  Happy to have tried it, can’t imagine why people go back.

More to the point though, I don’t understand why some fighting games try to create story modes.  Sure, I understand the impetus to have a story associated with the characters, but why not make it part and parcel of the main game mode itself – the inclusion of a separate story mode all too often highlights the fact that stories within fighting games tend to be silly and the real reason to play such a game is to, you know, fight, not listen to people get sent on foolish missions.

Today’s example of this is SoulCalibur V, a truly brilliant game when it comes to the fighting and truly dreadful when it comes to story mode.  SoulCalibur, what with it having gone through so many iterations and all, has a big mythology, and unquestionably there’s a desire to have new entries expand and deepen said mythology, but I have to imagine that there was some better way to do it than the half-baked, incredibly dull story mode that the developers have chosen to include. 

The story involves a gentleman named Patroklos who… well, he’s this naïve guy who grows and learns and wants to save his family and… it is both incredibly generic and yet terribly specific in terms of location and characters and goals.  It isn’t long and it really isn’t worth spending ones time on.  In fact, it’s so boring that many will tune out all the talking between battles.

While a pick-up-and-play fighting title, SoulCalibur V is going to take a whole long time for you to master.  Some games in other franchises have created overly-extensive, exhausting, and annoying training tools.  Not this one.  There is certainly some training, but not enough… or perhaps it’s just not graduated enough or explained enough.  In short, you’re going to have to work things out by trial and error and it’s going to take you some time and a whole lot of errors to get it right.  If you opt to go online instantly, you may find yourself on the short end of the stick over and over again.

Then, on the other hand, you have the problem that online is where most of the action is.  The offline modes aren’t very extensive.  In fact, they almost feel wholly like preparation for your online trials.  There are some new tricks in this game, and some differences in the fighting choices, but delving into specific combat differences only matters to those truly invested in the franchise’s previous iterations and consequently not something I’ll delve into here. 

I will say that there are a whole lot of characters who do work differently, fighting does have a great deal of depth, and character creation is back for another go-round.  And all that, is to the good.  Fights are fast-paced, brutal, and full of very pretty (and deadly) moves.

What I have always liked best about the franchise is its beauty.  Characters, foregrounds, and backgrounds, are rendered in truly fine fashion.  More than once upon getting to a new stage I was struck first because I stopped to smell the roses.  It was my mistake, but one which others may make as well.  Once again, the game has proven that just because you’re a brutal fighter, it doesn’t mean you can’t be awfully pretty, too.

Devotees of the SoulCalibur series will all have something different to say about where this one stands in the franchise, but if you’re just a button-masher (like me) and looking to bash something beautiful, SoulCalibur V is a pretty good choice… if you like to go online, and if you don’t care about playing a good story mode, and… well, you get the picture.  In the end, for every positive the game has, there’s a negative as well.  It isn’t a bad title by any stretch of the imagination, but for many it will fail to capture the magic of earlier iterations.

SoulCalibur V is rated T (Teen) by the ESRB for Mild Language, Suggestive Themes, Violence. This game can also be found on: Xbox 360.

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About Josh Lasser

Josh has deftly segued from a life of being pre-med to film school to television production to writing about the media in general. And by 'deftly' he means with agonizing second thoughts and the formation of an ulcer.