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Nelson Schneider's Video Game Reviews (367)

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Asterix & Obelix XXL 2:... 3/5
Valkyria Chronicles 4 5/5
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Heroes of the Monkey Ta... 4/5
Lands of Lore III 2.5/5
Lands of Lore II: Guard... 1/5
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Rage 2 4/5
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Xenoblade Chronicles 2 2.5/5
Far Cry 5 4/5
Jotun 2/5
Armada 4/5
RiME 2.5/5
Song of the Deep 4.5/5
Shadowrun: Hong Kong 4/5

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SoulCalibur V   PlayStation 3 

The Legend Will Never Die… But Maybe it Should    3/5 stars

“SouCalibur 5” (“SC5”) is the second game in the series to appear on both the PlayStation 3 and the Xbox 360. Usually, when it comes to fighting game franchises, one per hardware generation is good enough, unless the developer is pulling a Capcom and releasing a ‘turbo’ or ‘super’ version of a game to squeeze a bit more blood out of the stone that is their target audience. Yet ‘SoulCalibur’ managed to defy this convention in the 6th Generation by releasing “SoulCalibur 2” as a multi-platform game with exclusive characters on each console and “SoulCalibur 3” as a PlayStation 2 exclusive with a great character creator and heaps of single-player content.

With “SoulCalibur 4” taking a nosedive in every department except graphics and online functionality, I was really hoping “SC5” would redeem my favorite (non-‘Smash Bros.’) fighting franchise. Yet “SC5” came and went with little fanfare. I couldn’t justify paying full-price for a game that might not be any better than its immediate predecessor, so I waited. When the Collector’s Edition went on sale for half-price, I finally took the plunge. Would “SC5” be the 7th Generation’s “SoulCalibur 3,” or would it be a harbinger of Namco striding down the same dark path as Capcom?

Presentation
“SC5” looks really good. The polygons are all bright, shiny, smooth, and clean. The textures are clear and beautiful. The animations (and jiggle physics) are well-done. The arenas are diverse and interesting. However, a lot of these graphical assets feel rehashed. Most of the arenas look incredibly familiar from previous games in the series, most of the female characters have similar facial features (I think they all look like Anne Hathaway), and the collectable pieces of custom character equipment are mostly repeats of things from “SoulCalibur 3” and “SoulCalibur 4.” The Collector’s Edition box is actually the most impressive part of the game’s presentation (Seriously, how bad is it when the box is more exciting than the game contained in it?!), as it looks like a giant leatherbound tome with the game, a soundtrack disc, and a “Making-Of” blu-ray inside.

Of course, the Collector’s Edition is deficient in one huge way, as the only bonus piece of game DLC included is suits of ‘Dark Knight’ and ‘White Knight’ armor. The pre-order bonus character (Dampierre) isn’t included, nor are any other interesting goodies. In fact, the amount of DLC add-ons for this game is outrageous, with some of the add-ons being equipment worn by the standard characters in the game that must be purchased separately for use with custom characters (WTF?). What’s worse is that none of the “SoulCalibur 4” equipment is compatible (like, say, the cross compatibility between goodies in “LittleBigPlanet” and “LittleBigPlanet 2”), and Namco apparently farmed-out the creation of customization equipment to a third-party called Cepheus. And while the customization equipment might look cool, it’s not nearly as well executed as it was in previous games, as there is a lot of noticeable clipping and numerous pieces of equipment that levitate a foot away from a character’s body in order to avoid clipping.

The sound in the game is decent. The music isn’t really noteworthy, but it isn’t terrible either (though there is also a lot of it available as, you guessed it, for-pay DLC). The voiceacting is about the same as it has been in previous games, though with the removal of Xianghua from the character roster (and thus Wendee Lee), I think it got a slight improvement.

Story
While most fighting games have ridiculous or non-existent stories, the initial ‘Soul’ games were pretty good in this regard. However, none of the games after the first “SoulCalibur” have made much sense, essentially because the premise of the previous games that whoever gained control of Soul Edge would become a new evil force in the world was thrown out the window in favor of keeping Nightmare as the big-bad for far too long and by throwing in a bunch of weird guest villains that never really made any sense.

“SC5” DOES at least get the story back on track. 17 years after “SoulCalibur 4,” Sophitia’s children, Patroklos and Pyrra, are all grown up and seeking to clean up the remnants of evil from the last time SoulCalibur and Soul Edge clashed. Naturally they get separated and end up on opposite sides of the conflict, with Patroklos grudgingly joining forces with Siegfried and Pyrra blithely being corrupted by Tira. The story moves along in a sensible way and ultimately comes to a satisfying conclusion.

HOWEVER, the story mode is not particularly fun to play or interesting simply because it involves so few of the characters. Most of the returning characters, like Cervantes, Mitsurugi, Hilde, and Lizardman, never make an appearance in the story mode at all. And of the characters that DO appear in story mode, the player is stuck controlling Patroklos (in two different styles), Pyrra, or Zwei for almost all of them. Out of the other characters that appear as opponents in the story mode, most of them appear briefly, then drop off the face of the Earth. It just seems odd that a conflict between two magical swords that typically attract all kinds of martial weirdos to squabble over them would attract so little interest this time. Maybe the characters are as tired of the rehashes as I am?

The roster of characters is still fairly large, at least. However, a lot of old mainstays have been replaced by annoying, personality-free younger protégés. I think the worst is the “New Taki,” who is apparently a blonde Japanese ninja who looks even more like Anne Hathaway than the other characters. There are also cheap replacements for Xianghua and Kilik, while Pyrra serves as a replacement for Sophitia.

Of course, the worst part of story mode is that it doesn’t even feature fully animated cutscenes. Instead it features sketchy, static storyboards. It’s like the story team at Namco couldn’t be bothered to finish their work, so they just left the prototype placeholders in the final product.

In the end, I can understand only following the story of one small subset of characters, as it makes solidifying the canon for the inevitable sequel easier. However, it is a lot more boring and makes the vast majority of the character roster feel pointless.

Outside of the short, dull, mono-character-centric story mode, it’s possible to play single player arcade mode, which has no story or narrative qualities at all. It just throws a string of progressively cheesier AIs at the player. There’s also a Quick Battle mode that allows players to compete against hundreds of create-a-characters made by Namco in one-on-one battles to unlock character titles… which are useless little things to put under the player’s username on their online ID card (my personal favorite is “Farting Baron”).

Gameplay
“SC5” is much more simplified and streamlined than most previous games (I hesitate to use the term "dumbed-down"). The single-path storyline, arcade mode, and Quick Battles provide the only single-player content, eliminating much of the reason I came to love this series. Also, instead of unlocking customization equipment by performing a variety of in-game tasks, getting more gear is simply a matter of grinding endless battles for points to increase offline player rank (online player rank must be increased by playing endless online matches). In this respect, “SC5” feels like the most incredibly dull RPG ever. Of course, any real similarities to an RPG are completely gone, as “SC5” has removed stat variations and special abilities from equipment and weapons, making a match between a naked warrior wielding giant shish-kebobs and a fully-armored warrior wielding Soul Edge completely even. These types of things have been staples of the series since the original “Soul Edge,” and contributed heavily to my love of the series. Now that they are gone, “SC5” just feels empty and lifeless.

Of course, the fighting gameplay is still pretty solid. Supposedly, Namco tweaked the balance of characters to make them more even, but as far as I can tell, Siegfried and Nightmare are still broken as Hell, as they can destroy a full lifebar with a single combo. Of course, I’m not a professional tournament whore, so I’m not the wisest person to ask about balance in fighting games. I AM annoyed, though, by the fact that Namco changed some of Cervantes’ (my main character) combos, and I have not yet figured out how to pull off some of my old favorites that had been unchanged since “SoulCalibur” introduced the no-jumping-and-8-way-run-based mechanics the series has been built upon ever since.

Overall
“SoulCalibur 5” is an unimpressive, uninspired, and unnecessary sequel in a once-great fighting franchise. By bringing nothing new to the single-player mode, eliminating a lot of mainstay series game mechanics, and focusing on selling a bunch of DLC costumes, Namco has sent their greatest fighting franchise the way of Capcom, down the path of the sell-out. With nothing to do besides grinding online or offline battles, I couldn’t bring myself to finish unlocking all of the customization equipment – The whole game just feels like a pointless retread of its predecessor. And with the tiny amount of new content (new characters, new story mode), this entire game could have been released as DLC for “SoulCalibur 4.” Rabid fans of the franchise who love to battle each other online might get their money’s worth out of this game (though I found the online portion to be pretty barren of players at the time of this writing), but those who loved the single-player experiences of “Soul Edge,” “SoulCalibur,” “SoulCalibur 2,” or “SoulCalibur 3” should skip this one.

Presentation: 3/5
Story: 3/5
Gameplay: 3/5
Overall (not an average): 3/5

 

 


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