This is the best Soulcalibur ever. The fifth (sixth, really) entry in the main franchise avoids the missteps of the previous two while retaining their good parts and adding a few new features of its own. Even so, “best Soulcalibur ever” doesn’t mean what it used to. We’ve been doing this for over a decade at this point. No matter how smooth and vibrant the new coat of paint is, we’ve all been here before.
The roster is as huge and varied as ever. The proper online play added in this edition is long overdue. Soulcalibur V hits all the right bullet points that a fighting game sequel has to have, but more importantly, it doesn’t screw anything up. Nothing has moved backwards, unless you count a few of my staple moves being changed or removed. That is all but inevitable when we’re talking about a series I’ve dumped several hundred hours into.
Most of the changes are ancillary to the actual fighting, but there are some notable tweaks. Many more moves that incorporate guard impact windows have been added, which integrate the guard impact concept more smoothly into intermediate-level play. A super bar similar to Street Fighter’s is now part of the game, though super moves aren’t as devastating. Even a perfect Brave Edge executed in a counter state usually does less than half a health bar of damage. Finally, the flow of any given round feels even more focused on initiative and the ground game than in previous Soulcaliburs.
The new fighters won’t convince me to move away from my traditional mains (Mitsurugi, Xianghua, and Siegfried, for the record), but they’re interesting additions. Fiona has powerful long-range attacks with her orb, and she strikes as fast as anyone in close, but her mid-range game seems weak. Z.W.E.I. is harder to get a handle on; his toolset focuses on summoning a spirit wolf and is unusual to the point that I had a heck of a time coming up with any decent tactics. Ezio seems less overpowered than previous guest characters, lacking an easy-to-execute close range get-away move to get back to his stronger mid-range distance. Patroklos is very reminiscent of Cassandra, with explosive mid-range moves and easy launchers that reward a poking playstyle. Nightmare and Kilik are, of course, still complete cheese.
Online play is much better supported in Soulcalibur V than in previous installments. Ranked matches work like StarCraft II, with the network handling matchmaking within a simple set of player-defined criteria. Setting up a room to play casual games according to your preferred ruleset is easy as can be. As with all pre-release review code, I was unable to test the final network infrastructure or get as much online play in as I’d like, but barring some unforeseen failure on Namco Bandai’s part it should be a destination mode.
The persistent stat tracking and progression is wonderful, and ties in beautifully to the enhanced character creator. As you level up and unlock new cosmetic items, you can outfit your own created character (who uses an existing fighter’s style) or any of the default characters with whatever you like. Want to put a big purple afro on Ivy? Go nuts. If you’re really dedicated, you may even unlock something for a lady fighter to wear on the TV when your mother walks into the room.
Soulcalibur V is the next-gen Soulcalibur that I’ve been wanting as a fan for years. At the same time, it’s nothing if not more Soulcalibur. Now if Namco Bandai would release a DLC pack with the full Soul Calibur II roster, I could finally retire that disc.