The lights are on
The original Soul Calibur was one of, if not the best game on the Dreamcast. The sequel managed to be even better, even with the odd trend of guest fighters starting in that entry. However, with Soul Calibur III, Namco went without an arcade release, making the balance in that entry awful. IV improved, but not by much. Algol and Hilde were heads and shoulders above their peers, and the competitive scene suffered because of it. With this entry, Namco has focused more on the competitive aspect of things, sacrificing Soul Calibur's typically strong single player component (with only a 3-4 hour story mode and no arcade endings) and focused on the balance and online aspect. The matchmaking works well, and the lobby system is great.
The inclusion of three mimic characters is disappointing, but the rest of the fighters all play well enough that it is not a big deal. Ezio is the best guest character the series has had in terms of aesthetics, and is fun to play as well. The roster selection may be disappointing to people who have grown attached to the older characters. Many return, but just as many do not, instead being replaced by younger versions who happen to play exactly the same. Fortunately, the character creator is robust enough that you can recreate your favorite fighters using the new character's fighting style (for Taki, Setsuka, and Xianghua, etc). Character creation has improved this time around, with numerous options to fiddle with, including height. This is something that casual gamers are more likely to enjoy, but Namco neglected to include a good single player to go with it for casuals to play. Again, this entry is more for the hardcore players.
The feel of the game is closer to SCII, despite looking a lot like SCIV. I have never understood the criticism of sequels being similar to their predecessors; if anything, consistency is a good thing, especially for fighting games. Change the balance, add new characters, and that's really all that needs to be done. My apologies to Talim, Yun-Seong, Seong Mi-Na, and Zasalamel fans, though. They are not in the game, and their styles have been neglected. But new characters such as ZWEI and Viola have unique fighting styles that really should be checked out. In closing, this is a game that recalls the glory days of Soul Calibur while at the same time moving in a direction more focused on the competitive scene, which is the lifeblood of a fighting game.
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