A beautiful sense of movement has always made the SoulCalibur games stand apart from other fighters. More than just Tekken with swords, SoulCalibur characters cut though each other with circular motions and interconnected arcs of force. Conceptually, that’s an obvious approach for a fighting game in which giant blades swing about. But the series, now revived with SoulCalibur V, makes the action flow. Rhythm is part of every fighting game, but linking these liquid attacks creates a unique spectacle.
SoulCalibur V is back to basics: The game focuses on one-on-one battles in fairly simple arenas. There are few bells and whistles—a character creator/editor and a handful of modes that put new and returning characters into the ring with player creations. Thanks to a short solo-story mode, those who want to play only against the CPU have few options. Playing a human is the best way to experience SoulCalibur’s unique feel; those who aren’t interested in online play or facing down friends on the couch should move on.
But those battles! SCV has a sublime response time and a game engine that keeps the action moving with startling smoothness. The character models aren’t wildly advanced, and the aesthetic appeal of each design is hit-and-miss. (One skin for the character Astaroth looks like a Bane/Killer Croc combo; another resembles a He-Man character.) No matter, however, as it all moves so well. The big, glowing arcs of each weapon-strike help players quickly learn how long different strikes take to implement, and making the game’s rhythm approachable.
A small power gauge returns from previous games, now renamed the “critical gauge.” This can be used to enhance certain moves, or to unleash one massive strike. Two new defensive moves and the option to quickly sidestep incoming vertical attacks add to the game’s bloody tango, and give even new players a chance to stop a rampaging combo-whirlwind dead in its tracks.
With the emphasis on player-to-player fighting, reliability over a network is essential, and SoulCalibur IV, the series’ first online entry, was notorious for early online lag. Tests suggest SCV is built on more robust network code, but as the full onslaught of eager players won’t hit until after press time, lag-free play isn’t yet guaranteed. Still, the building blocks for an enduring fighter are well-laid.