The release of each new Soul Calibur game is usually something of an event in the worldwide gaming community, but there doesn’t seem to have been too much excitement surrounding the release of Soul Calibur V – unless I just wasn’t paying enough attention, which is possible. But whether the whole world was looking forward to it or not, the one thing I can see is that fighting fans are going to butt heads over this one, a lot.

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The main reason for that is that Soul Calibur V is quite a departure from what the series had become in a lot of ways. Actually, that’s not entirely the best way to describe it – it’s more of a return to basics than anything else. The core idea is still the same: you select your favourite character and fight one-on-one against opponents in a variety of modes, but it seems that the developers have taken away of lot the superfluous moves many characters had. Some might call it “dumbing down,” I prefer to call it “streamlining.” In general, it seems to have been done to get rid of the finnicky, gimmicky, useless moves, stances and other weird stuff some of the characters had acquired over the years and shift the focus to their characteristic techniques.

Ivy is a good example. I was huge fan of her when she first showed up, but she got progressively more complicated and fiddly with each game, culminating in Soul Calibur IV where she was such a mess I couldn’t imagine how or why anyone would enjoy using her. Now, in Soul Calibur V, she’s gone back to basics – SC1 basics. All of her fiddly, clunky stances have been taken away, making her a complete joy to use. The same goes for Mitsurugi, Raphael, Yoshimitsu, Tira and Maxi – all characters with their excess, useless moves trimmed down.

What this does is force players to pay more attention to the moves they do have – to find out where and when each one is useful, what advantages/disadvantages each has, the best ways to land them and the best follow-ups and combos to use. You could say that this makes the game less accessible to the casual fighting fan, and it would be hard to argue – since pressing random button combinations and wiggling the D-pad doens’t produce nearly as many spectacular, random results as it used to. You have to know what you’re doing now.

To compensate for the reduced move lists, Project Soul have added in an interesting new feature: a super power meter similar to the ones in 2D fighting games like Street Fighter and The King of Fighters. This meter is divided into four segments and fills up as you dish out and receive damage. The meter can be completely stocked twice over, and allows you to do three things. First, you can blow an entire meter at once to perform a massively damaging, visually impressive attack similar to the Ultra Combos in SF4 or the X-Ray attacks in the new Mortal Kombat. Secondly, you can expend two segments at a time to enhace or change certain moves, just like EX moves in SF4, which makes for all kinds of nasty surprises and extended combos. And lastly, it allows you to expend two segments at a time to perform a Guard Impact. What? I hear some of you ask in horror.

That’s right, Guard Impacting can no longer be done at will, since it now costs you super meter stocks. This must be horrific news for you Guard Impact kings who deflect everything – now you have to choose your moment to Guard Impact and make sure you don’t waste the opportunity it gives you. But it’s not all bad, because another new feature called the Just Impact (I think) can be done at no cost. What it requires you to do is tap the guard button the very second an opponent’s move makes contact. If you get it right, your character will flash blue and all of the block stun or block stagger they would have taken is negated, leaving you free to attack immediately while your opponent is still finishing their attack. It’s tricky, but useful, and the applications must be obvious to any advanced players. It’s like parrying in Street Fighter or Just Defence in Mark of the Wolves – Hmmm. A lot of 2D fighting influence here.

Speaking about the package as a whole, I can see some players being disappointed at the character lineup. Many old favourites are gone, including Kilik, Sophitia, Rock, Cassandra, Talim, Zasalamel, Taki and Xianghua; and for some reason, Project Soul felt the need to give us three “random” characters – you know, characters who change move lists between each match. Why three? Who knows. The mandatory Story mode is also much, much shorter this time round. Personally, I don’t mind – I hated having to go through these tacked-on campaign modes anyway, but some players might think it’s “less value for money” or something. And the story mode this time only seems to focus on a handful of the characters, mostly Sophitia’s children, Patroklos and Pyrrah, and damn, the things that happen to these poor kids – it’s actually a pretty nasty story. The custom character creation mode is still in there, if anyone still does that.

The online mode looks quite interesting this time round – but my connection wouldn’t let me play it for some reason. It seems like you can watch the best replays of other players, and if you particularly enjoyed fighting someone, you can mark them as a rival, making it easier to find and fight them again and compare win/loss ratios.

I’m not sure if this whole streamlining and dispensing-with-the-fluff approach is going to go down well with the more casual Soul Calibur fans, since it seems more suited to hardcore players now, but it’s still slick, fast-paced and tons of fun to play.