Soul Calibur 5 starts to prove it has the edge on its competition.
Published on Nov 21, 2011
It was hard not to smile with satisfaction the first time we smashed an opponent into the air with Patroklos, and then properly followed up with his spectacular Critical Edge.
Just as with all of the new special attacks in Soul Calibur 5, the camera zoomed in as our juggle connected, with Patroklos going into an impressive animation that had him blast his foe, Tira, even higher with his arm shield as her armour shattered and her death scream echoed across the stage.
It was the kind of moment that fighting fans relish, because playing the next iteration of a fighting game franchise is a bit like riding a brand new bike.
You’ll wobble a bit, moan about how high the seat is, and struggle to get to grips with a slightly modified set of gears, but before long you’re riding merrily and pulling off old tricks – and some new ones – with aplomb.
It certainly felt easy to get back in the saddle playing Soul Calibur 5, but what really impressed us is that the series, as promised, has very much taken on some of the modern nuances of the genre, and there was plenty to learn.
Our build was by no means complete, with only 17 characters, but they were a good enough sample for us to start to better get to grips with what Namco is trying to do with Soul Calibur 5, and why it’s potentially a better fighter for it.
The biggest changes to Soul Calibur 5 stem from its flashiest new feature – the Critical Edge. These special attacks, which are linked to your new power gauge and, when triggered by rapidly doing two quarter circles forward and hitting three buttons, send your character into a special animation as they pummel their opponent, and are very much the driving force behind the changes to the Soul Calibur formula.
The familiar faces returning to SCV play as you remember them, albeit with some serious tweaks.
Matches are no longer just about battering opponents with combos, but building your meter and setting them up for your Critical Edge. Quite a few core mechanics now reflect that tactical bent, like your ability to sidestep attacks faster, and, slightly disconcertingly, your defensive moves like Impact Guard are now tied to the new power gauge. It makes Soul Calibur 5 a fast-paced mix of combat and tactical meter management – and it largely works.
That became abundantly clear playing this build, which, as well as returning stalwarts like Siegfried and Ivy and the new characters like ZWEI and Patroklos we’d played in Japan, had several new fighters who we’d never seen before.
These additions included Leixia, Xianghua’s elegant and nimble daughter; the mysterious, orb-wielding Viola; and, of course, Soul Calibur 5’s special guest star, Ezio Auditore Da Firenze from Assassin’s Creed.
There were a couple of returning faces, too, that we hadn’t seen before like Raphael, Astaroth and Nightmare, and their fans will be happy with their new but familiar incarnations.
But whether we picked an old character or a new one, the principle was the same: try to do as much damage as you can, and work in your Critical Edge.
It’s entirely possible to win without using it, and Brave Edges – ramped-up versions of regular moves that burn meter – are an effective tool, but mastering Criticals gives you an advantage.
They all reflect the fighting personalities of the characters performing them – what could be more Ivy than whipping up and magically hanging an opponent in the air, bondage-style, before slamming them into the ground, screaming about punishment?
Or more reminiscent of Xianghua than Leixia’s crying out about justice for all as her devastatingly fast sword swipe sends opponents spinning into the air?
You'll still need to be aware of whether your opponent is using high or low attacks.
As for Ezio, the smoke bomb, flurry of attacks and finally crossbow bolt to the head just say it all. Some characters’ Critical Edges can not only be juggled into, but if you have skill, comboed one into the other.
ZWEI, for example, can combo into a Critical, juggle an opponent briefly, and then hit them with another. Damage scaling makes these attacks extremely painful, if not necessarily decisive, but their psychological effect can win matches, and they’re extremely satisfying to pull off.
Critical Edges’ character emphasis, however, means that not all of them are equal. Some characters, like the powerful but slow Astaroth, do massive damage if they hit, but their grab-based attacks are so telegraphed that they’re all but useless against experienced players. But this is still an early build of the game, and balancing may ease some of that before launch.
Just as the Soul Calibur games have always been, Soul Calibur 5 is partially about momentum and putting your opponent on the back foot. But now, with the more tactical elements that quicker sidesteps, Brave Edges and Critical Edges bring, Soul Calibur promises to be a far deeper game. We’ve only really scratched the surface of all the cool things you’ll be able master, but it’s left us looking forward to the finished game.