Flashback to May 2011; after much fan demand, Soulcalibur V was announced to be in development, with a release date later confirmed to be set for the first quarter of 2012 (February 2, 2012). With less than a year to a year to work on the game, Project Soul was reformed and made promises that there would be major improvements and overhauls to the series' gameplay to make it more "tournament worthy." While some of those promises may have come to fruition, one can't help but wonder if Project Soul wasn't as rushed as they were, they could have fulfilled everything they intended to accomplish. Make no mistake, Soulcalibur V has a LOT of good things going for it and it's the best Soulcalibur game since Soulcalibur II, but at the end of the day, it does still suffer from the same "wow, this could have been so much more than it is" feeling people get with a lot of today's fighting games.
One of the main draws for Soulcalibur V was the improved story mode. Taking a cue from last year's Mortal Kombat, Soulcalibur V tries to give players a chance to delve into the series' plot with a cinematic experience. Unfortunately, while Mortal Kombat's story mode had smooth transitions between cinematic cutscenes and gameplay, Soulcalibur V tells much of its story through the game's storyboard art, with a few cutscenes here and there to break up the monotony. The story mode in itself is 20 chapters long and primarily focuses on 3 of the new characters: Patrolokos, Pyrrha, and Z.W.E.I. While the story is not as drawn out as Mortal Kombat's story mode would get towards the end, SCV's story mode is almost too short for its own good. There's a lot to wonder in the story as well; with the events taking place 17 years after the fourth game, there's a lot that isn't explained to the player, such as the reasoning for certain characters being paired together and the backstory for newcomers to the series like Z.W.E.I. and Viola. In addition to that, many characters on the game's roster don't appear in the story at all. While story isn't (and shouldn't) be a fighting game's strongest point, some character depth and development should have been invested into the story if it was to be included. The main protagonist and newcomer Patrolokos, goes from an unknowing pawn to a redemptive hero far too quickly for players to empathize with him as a character. From a gameplay/difficulty standpoint, players will find themselves breezing through the chapters until the last 3 missions, where they'll find themselves confronted with some high difficulty spikes. New players to the series will undoubtedly have trouble on these parts, but there is an option to lower the difficulty for a stage, which will definitely come in handy if one is having too much trouble against the unrelenting A.I. As you play through the story mode, you'll unlock some characters, stages, and the game's Legendary Souls mode.
Legendary Souls mode is an extremely difficult version of a standard arcade mode. Instead of fighting random characters as you typically would in an arcade mode, you face off against a specific order of boss-level characters. This mode was made to be very frustrating on purpose for players, with the A.I. reading players' inputs more vigorously than on other difficulties. New players will definitely want to stay away from this mode until they become more adept at dealing with the A.I. (although you may find yourself having to resort to spamming to win anyways, no matter how good you get). Besides story mode and Legendary story mode, there's not much else you'll find going on for the single-player. Again, there's the standard training mode, the standard arcade mode (with 3 routes to choose from and 3 different boss versions of certain characters to fight at the final stage), and the Quick Battle mode. Quick Battle essentially tries to replicate an online experience in an offline setting; players will fight many created characters and tougher versions of the roster in preset regions. This mode has some moderate replayability and is another option to unlocking characters if you so chose.
Most players will find that the bulk of their time will be spent in the offline and online versus modes, playing against friends (locally or online) and strangers alike. There's a chat box set up in the lobby of the game that's a good way to converse with your fellow competitors, and online itself is surprisingly....smooth compared to a lot of fighting games out currently, and at least from the matches I've had so far, lag hasn't been as much of a factor as it usually is. Lastly, another mode that players will find themselves drawn to is the Create-A-Soul mode, which allows them to create their very own custom characters using any one of the styles of the fighters in the game, and using any accessories that are provided or unlocked via playing the game itself. There's a lot of time to be spent in this mode, especially since the statistics from Soulcalibur IV are no longer an annoying factor that will prevent you from having a certain accessory equipped, and since you won't have to worry about your character's attire being awkwardly broken apart in battle. Creating your own character is pretty fun, and it's amazing to see how well the character creation system can be used to create some cool characters. It's very reminiscent of the character creation systems you'll find in pro wrestling games, which many people find to be very entertaining. It would have been nice if Project Soul had found the time to implement a few other modes from the critically acclaimed Soulcalibur II, such as Team Battle and Weapon Master mode, as these modes would have given some extra replayability towards both singleplayer and multiplayer, but all in all, while some of the single-player modes are very bare-bones, you'll find yourself enjoying the game for its multiplayer and character creation more than anything else.
As far as the gameplay itself goes, you'll find that the core mechanics of all Soulcalibur games are still intact; you still finish off your opponent via ring out or a traditional beatdown, and you still have the ability to do guard impacts, unblockable attacks, etc. The terrible and useless critical finish gameplay mechanic from Soulcalibur IV has now been removed and replaced with new mechanics, such as Brave Edge and Critical Edge techniques, both of which rely on a meter/gauge next to your health bar; guard impacts have also been adjusted to rely on this meter. Brave Edge techniques are stronger versions of certain moves, and these attacks are very similarly styled to EX/meter moves from 2D fighters like Street Fighter 4 or Mortal Kombat. Critical Edge techniques are also similarly styled to super/ultra moves from Street Fighter 4, and they do major damage to your opponent. Some players will find them to be a cheap comeback mechanic, but these Brave/Critical Edge moves add a lot of extra strategy to the game. Character-wise, the roster brings back many old favorites, like Maxi, Siegfried, Nightmare, Raphael, Ivy, Cervantes, and so on, but oddly enough, some fan-favorite characters are completely thrown out and not even replaced with any successors, like Yun-Seong, Talim, and Zasalamel.
Many other fan-favorite characters like Taki, Kilik, Seong-Mina, Sophitia, and Xianghua live on through their spiritual successors and newcomers to the franchise: Natsu, Xiba, Patrokolos, Pyrrha, and Leixia. Two extremely unique characters include the aforementioned Viola and Z.W.E.I.; Viola fights using a magic orb and a Freddy Krueger-esque claw, while Z.W.E.I. uses a three handled sword and summons a wolf-spirit/familiar to assist him in battle. All of these newcomers are cool and all, but unless you look up their character bios online or do your research, you won't get why they're involved in the game at all. A traditional staple of fighting game arcade modes involves in-game character/arcade biographies and endings so people can get somewhat invested in these characters; unfortunately, due to some of the rushing Project Soul had to do to meet the deadline, these have been excluded from the game. As far as guest characters go, Soulcalibur V brings in Ezio from the Assassin's Creed games. While I personally enjoyed the Star Wars characters in Soulcalibur IV, Ezio is a perfect fit for this game given the time and setting; Ezio uses many of his trademark abilities and weapons from the Assassin's Creed games, and doesn't feel too overpowered or weak at all. As far as the game's stage design goes, the graphics are extremely beautiful, and the stages are all very vibrant and colorful; some stages even have transitions to other areas in the 3rd or final rounds of a match, with some radically changing a stage's design. Finally, one thing that I must say about Soulcalibur V is that it arguably has what I think is the best music of the series yet, and the soundtrack is 100% top notch like you'd expect from any Namco fighter. Every character is assigned a specific character theme for his or her stage, and these themes can be shuffled around in the options or randomly selected prior to a match, which adds a nice bit of customizing if you prefer to listen to a certain song over another one. It's nice to see that even while rushed, Project Soul delivered plenty of good stages and music for players.
To sum this review up, if you're looking for a lot of single-player content in Soulcalibur V, you'll probably feel a little underwhelmed by what it has to offer in that field. However, if you like to create characters, have a friend to play with offline, and like to venture out into online versus, you'll feel right at home with the game. Although I think like many fighting games with reduced content, it isn't worth the complete $60 (get it at a reduced price like I did), Soulcalibur V still offers a unique experience despite borrowing from 2D fighters that both casuals and pro players can get much value out of.