Hate Speech: The Review

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Well kids, the wait is finally just about over. SOULCALIBUR V officially hits stores tomorrow, so it’s time to go out, grab a copy, and start practicing. Well, almost. For those of you not living near incompetent Wal-Marts or shady mom & pop establishments willing to break street date, you still have an absolutely grueling few hours remaining before SC5 is in your hot little hands.

Believe me, I sympathize. Whether you’re purely hyped or filled with questions and doubts, the last little bit before you can have the game and make your own judgments on it are absolute torture. Of course, there’s an upside here. What’s that, you ask? It’s simple: those of you out there who don’t have the game—the vast majority of you—are my captive audience. Given both that fact and the equally pertinent one that I’ve now had a chance to go through the game in semi-detail, this week I’ll be playing reporter.

SOULCALIBUR V—A Review by William Woo, Journalist (and Hates)

First, a disclaimer:

I remain wholly biased, so allow me to skip the disingenuous “objectivity” tap dance and just lay my cards on the table. First, I’m really liking SC5 so far—it seems good. Second, I want it to be not just a good game, but a successful and popular one. Third, you should all go buy it, play it, and achieve greatness.

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Still fair, still balanced--we'll do it live.
Prejudice duly mentioned, let’s hit this.

What We Already Know

Welcome back to the Stage of History, where there’s nothing new under the sun—or at least nothing that hasn’t been thoroughly spoiled already. It is, in a sense, difficult to offer meaningful impressions of a game about which so much is already known before its release, because I can’t surprise you. What I can do, however, is flesh out a thing or two.

Many people who don’t yet have the game, and some who do, say that it feels like a rushed job. There are few modes, no character endings, and a pared down roster, which could all point toward laziness or hurriedness on the part of the developers, but that isn’t necessarily the only answer that makes sense. There’s a real leanness to the game, but whether that leanness is a mark of laziness or of shifting and, frankly, better priorities is something we won’t necessarily be able to determine for a while. It’s entirely possible to complete story mode and dip one’s toe into almost everything else in the space of an afternoon, provided you don’t get just plain slaughtered by the Legendary Souls AI, and in fact that last caveat perfectly captures the game’s operative mode. While limited in some superficial aspects, SC5 becomes deep and engaging through its gameplay and the elements which bolster that gameplay. We’ll unpack that idea in a moment, but first, a word on the story, since it’s sure to be a locus of critique.

1607 Was a Silly Year

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We seek the Soul Calibur!
Judging a fighting game based on its plot is no different than judging a Hooters for its hot wings. That said, while SC games have always had the kind of psychotic, nonsensical plotlines that typify the genre, they’ve also always conveyed those plotlines in a relatively slick, engaging fashion. SC5’s Story Mode attempts to do just that once again, with intriguing results. As we’ve heard so many times already, SC5 picks up seventeen years after the conclusion of SC4, and focuses primarily on the vaguely inappropriate vibe between siblings Pyrrha and Patroklos Alexandra. The mode itself places players mostly in the roles of Pyrrha and Patroklos as they wander the battlefields of war-torn Eurasia, searching desperately for a Hot Topic that’s still open.

The presentation’s decent, with a mix of hand-drawn stills and some fully animated scenes for the more pivotal moments, and all with spoken dialogue, even if that dialogue makes no sense. We never really find out what the hell is going on with anybody, and while we can somewhat deduce what, say, “the malfested” are, it’s never explicitly stated. Confusion notwithstanding, the plot is taut and fast-paced with very few filler matches, and the baffling dialogue is mostly forgivable. All in all, it’s a decent mode for those players who are into that sort of thing.

So why isn’t there more of it? Why don’t we have endings?

We all live in a post-Mortal Kombat 9 world. For all of the complaints one might legitimately level at that particular game, its story mode is damned impressive. In fact, it’s probably better than the two MK feature films, though the extent to which that’s a notable achievement is debatable. In any case, MK9 raised the bar for the role of fighting game narrative in the sense that it presented a cohesive, self-contained story rather than a truckload of mutually exclusive narratives, one for each character. That said, much of the battling in MK9’s story mode was preposterous and contrived, which it needed to be in order to ensure that every cast member got his or her due of screen time.

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In fairness, however, this actor's name is Brian Thompson, which is kind of awesome in its way.
For better or worse, SC5 bucks that particular part of the trend, refusing to shoehorn every single character into its overall narrative arc. Actually, the supposed laziness undergirding the absence of characters/endings in Story Mode may in fact speak to a prioritizing of the story itself. Strange as it may sound, it really seems as though the developers are acutely concerned with telling a particular story this time around, particularly since this game marks something of a franchise reboot. Prioritization of telling that particular, peculiar story means that other elements are left unexplained. Why is Cervantes back in a clearly not-dead body? What’s up with Viola and Z.W.E.I.? Project Soul seems far less interested in answering these questions than they are in setting up a new dynamic between the magic swords which will likely drive plot arcs for at least another game or two. Yes, that’s probably going to disappoint a lot of casual fans out there, but it’s entirely possible to read that as a deliberate design choice—one with which we may or may not agree—as opposed to a mere oversight.

So Where’s the Beef?

Apart from the beefs held by Zasalamel and Talim players, the meat of SC5 is in its gameplay. There are a handful of glaring, painful omissions, such as no ability to adjust button layouts on the character select screen (which is, frankly, unforgivable), but by and large it’s the gameplay and those elements which enhance it that have been fleshed out most thoroughly. For example, as I’ve touched on elsewhere, most characters really feel as though they can compete. Balance is by no means perfect, but it was clearly a priority.

Equally impressive, if not more so, is the AI. Generally speaking, fighting game AI is either insultingly easy or jaw-droppingly unfair. SC5 has some brutally tough AI, but it seldom feels as though it’s outright cheating. What’s more, the high level AI employs actual clever setups and real combos, making it a valid way to begin learning about the strengths and weaknesses of various characters.

My limited experience with online play has also been quite positive. First and foremost, the netcode is a massive improvement over SC4. Geographically close opponents have a real match-feel, and even long-distance isn’t unplayably bad. This good netcode is supplemented by a surprisingly robust series of features. The Global Collosseo isn’t really open for business yet, but it’s an intriguing idea, and the ranked/player matches with which we’re contending in the meantime have a great deal of extra functionality from stat tracking to replay saving.

Overall, the focus on versus play through the online mode, gestures toward offline balance, and even an AI-battling Quick Fight mode that attempts to model playing versus actual human opponents, all tells me that SC5 is designed primarily as a social experience rather than a single-player narrative experience. Luckily, it appears to come with plenty of tools to adequately facilitate that.

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Picture this, but with swords. Actually, don't.
But Am I Wrong?

While I think that I make a somewhat compelling case for saying that SC5 isn’t rushed, but instead socially-driven, we can’t know for certain just yet. The actual proof will be in whether and how Namco continues to support this social/competitive vehicle they’ve given us. If they cut and run, as it were, we’ll all know we’ve been had, but if they continue to engage, improve, and so on, I’d say we owe them the benefit of the doubt on things like story mode. Time, as they say, will tell.

Until then, I give SOULCALIBUR V my highest rating: 1 star.

Homework:

What’s your take on narrative in fighting games? How important is it? Do you really want to see endings for every character, or do you care more about a tight storyline?

If you’ve got SC5, what are your impressions thus far? Share.

Finally, if you don’t have SC5, mentally prepare yourself for day one. Do some research on the forums now and figure out what you’d like to test once you’ve handled the unlocking business. Double check the matchfinders, etcetera, and find out the nearest, soonest gathering where you can get hype and test your skills in person. Get out there and get involved.

@Original_Hater
 
I would almost applaud the game for having you play through only one story to unlock everyone... then I realized that you don't unlock everyone in story mode. FML!
 
Not having button configs on the character selection screen in SC5 is as bad as not having team versus mode in SC4. It's like a step backwards. They had such a good feature, and they don't bring it back? Rushed job seems correct to me.

I'm one of the poor souls who still hasn't gotten his copy. I am committed to leaving work early to plow through this game ASAP.
 
Wow! This game's already gettin' dinged for its "lack of a good single player experience", even though FGs have always and forever will be catered for the best social experience possible. IGN scored this game EVEN LOWER THAN SCIV [I know, post MK9 single player era, but still]!!!! I still can't believe it...

Personally, I luv this game because it does a great job on what a FG's suppose to do: be a great game for social experiences.
 
I guess all that work balancing the game wasn't worth it. I would rather have an unbalanced game and have a lot of content than the other way around. More like SCII and SCIII.
 
Consider this: game "journalism" is reprehensible, and reviews themselves are anything but deterministic. You've got people evaluating a product based on the short-term story elements which, as I said, is akin to rating Hooters for the wings--it misses the point entirely.

The real content in SC5 comes from the well-crafted mechanics, extreme customization, excellent online play, and of course the competitive tournament scene. Thing is, those things pay entertainment dividends months and years down the line, so it's prohibitively difficult to factor those into a review blurb, especially considering that most reviewers approach a fighting game with the same expectations for single-player immersion that they'd have for an RPG.
 
Consider this: game "journalism" is reprehensible, and reviews themselves are anything but deterministic. You've got people evaluating a product based on the short-term story elements which, as I said, is akin to rating Hooters for the wings--it misses the point entirely.

The real content in SC5 comes from the well-crafted mechanics, extreme customization, excellent online play, and of course the competitive tournament scene. Thing is, those things pay entertainment dividends months and years down the line, so it's prohibitively difficult to factor those into a review blurb, especially considering that most reviewers approach a fighting game with the same expectations for single-player immersion that they'd have for an RPG.

Excellent point. Time will tell if SC5 will be another classic like the initially underrated Third Strike or a fondly remembered but abandoned Killer Instinct.
 
i got sc5 beat story in around an hour its easy enough and i didn't feel like it was much of a tutorial but i only just started the game i got a lot of stuff left 2 do
 
I'm loving the game so far. Cracked to open and played it for a few hours with my brothers. It feels a lot different, and overall a lot more engaging than SCIV, in my opinion. The story's cool, but most of all I love the new mechanics.

I feel Project Soul has done a phenomenal job of breathing new life into the SC series. I had my reservations, but SCV did not disappoint.
 
I guess all that work balancing the game wasn't worth it. I would rather have an unbalanced game and have a lot of content than the other way around. More like SCII and SCIII.

I for one agree. And before I get nailed to a cross for having an opinion, my justification is:

They could use all the time in the world to give us balance patches. Content should come first. Then if the game is a little bit imbalanced, use patches to fix this. Granted, I wanted both things to be present in the game on day one, but the former was not. Jury is still out on whether or not the game is balanced.

I loved Soulcalibur III. Competitively, it was crap. The Arcade Mode fixed this though. But back to what I was saying, I loved SC III because, save for its lack of Team Battle, it had a lot of great game modes to play. I spent countless hours playing through everything, trying all the styles out, and unlocking every item. SCV is just not like this. Not to III's degree.
 

I have to agree. 3 was by far my favorite of the series and I've been utterly disappointed with IV and V's complete lack of a proper single-player campaign, something the series had ever since Soul Edge on the PS1. I understand trying to focus on multiplayer which I've heard time and time again is the focus of fighting games, but here's the problem: why not just get rid Arcade, Legendary Souls, or Quickplay? They're far less interesting and important than a Chronicles of the Sword would be, so why even bother with them? This strikes of skewed priorities. I don't expect a Final Fantasy out of a fighting game's single-player (well, except Blazblue, which actually has a narrative and characters worth investing in), but I at least expect significant content. Because of the lack of it in V I couldn't give it any higher than an 8 despite its core gameplay being great.
 
At this point in time i kind of like SC4 better but its just like anything, it takes time to get used to the new system and mechanics. My only real issue is guard impacting. Why does it have to use meter ?
 
This strikes of skewed priorities. .

The priorities are skewed, yes, but I'd suggest that they're skewed in a frankly better direction by focusing on social play. Fighters, as a genre, are subjected to a number of expectations and demands that make very little sense to me within the context of what they actually are, and I just wished reviewers and consumers alike would evaluate these games on their own terms.

Long before I got into any fighting games, I was an avid player of RPGs. I pretty much consumed games exclusively for their narrative content, rich single-player experiences, and so on, which allowed me to look past the crippling gameplay problems which pervade the genre. Beyond mere balance issues, of which there are many, even the venerable and beloved Final Fantasy games are rife with outright glitches, most of which would be game-breaking to some degree or another.

We forgive these games, however, because we realize that they are primarily narrative experiences rather than gameplay experiences, much like we forgive Super Mario Bros for failing to captivate us with a hackneyed rescue the princess plot that was already stale in 1981. We like that game and its descendants because they give us taut gameplay and not because we especially care about the Mushroom Kingdom's high society.

Excepting Blizzard, which has the budget, the clout, and the consumer goodwill to say "it'll come out whenever the hell we please," it stands to reason that development time and resources are rare and precious. This is likely why narrative-based games tend to have buggy, poorly balanced gameplay, and why play-driven games aren't especially inspirational, plot-wise.

Well, what about fighting games? They actually occupy a very odd generic space. In one sense, they gesture strongly toward narrative in that they're populated by large numbers of unique, fully-realized characters, most of whom we can control. That ability to identify with a character compels us to learn more about him or her.

Conversely, the deep mechanics and controls of these games would indicate that they're primarily play experiences rather than narrative ones, which is quite true. Unfortunately, however, that's an incomplete assessment. Consider that fighting games take place on closed arenas. There's no open world to explore. Hell, there's not really anything sufficiently large or complex to be called a level--fights in these games are confined to what may as well be pocket dimensions. As such, the single-player gameplay experience of any fighting game is never fulfilling. We want more back story, more control, more space, more challenges, but these things frankly exist beyond the scope of what a fighting game truly is.

Today's fighters have attempted to address this issue by essentially making their titles into variety packs. Whether it's undermining gameplay with wacky challenges and restrictions or outright including alternative "modes" which are actually different games from different genres, thrown together with little care or oversight, these extras actually have precious little to do with the actual experience of a fighting game qua fighting game.

In fact, that experience really only comes out through head to head play, usually against an opponent, or now (thanks to SCV's much-improved AI) the computer. Project Soul presented a game that is, at its core, a celebration of the actual fighting game experience. Their goal was to do one thing very well as opposed to spreading themselves too thin. It doesn't have mini-games--it's not Mario Party--but it shouldn't necessarily be judged for that. I seldom see complaints that Chessmaster's story was underwhelming.

In the end, fighting games are in an uncomfortable position: the characters, aesthetics, and so on prime us to want them for narrative content, while the generic limitations of 1 on 1 fighting leave us wanting ever more. Still, if I can love a broken game like half the Final Fantasy series, or if I can love the narratively empty experience of Mario or even checkers, for that matter, without demanding each in turn provide me with something for which they're not built, then I think it's only fair to approach fighting games in the same manner.
 
I go to Hooters for the wings, strip clubs for engaging conversation, and watch Fox News for its fair and balanced reporting.

But seriously, I don't get what was so great about the modes in the previous games because at the core, you are just moving around on a map beating up dumb AI opponents. I guess SCV needs more maps because that's the only difference I'm seeing.

I also don't get when in the age where people are heavily using social media and want an awesome online experience, that people just want to play by themselves in some sort of single player mode in a fighting game designed for 1 on 1 conflict. What?

I'm just glad that Namco prioritized the things that actually matter to a modern fighting game which is gameplay and online play. A godlike story mode or single player campaign does me no good if everything else is terrible.
 
I definitely agree with a lot of things that you mentioned regarding Soul Calibur V, Hates. While it is impressive and visually appealing as far as gameplay and graphics go, it also feels like it is missing a lot. It has it's good moments as well as its bad such as arcade mode and there are no endings for the characters. Sure, we all are still griping about why the fan favorite characters (i.e. Talim and Zasalamel) have been removed from the roster or why the story now takes place 17 years after Soul Calibur 4. There's still a lot of questions to be asked and a lot of understanding to be had also. I do feel as though this was rushed as far as production is concerned but if Project Soul wanted any inspiration for how the next game was going to be planned, they needed to see how successful SC2 and even SC3 were. I am still trying to wrap my mind around the whole 17 years story arc and how the characters play into this but whether or not this change is for the better will be tested down the road and how fans will respond 3 months after the game's release. Overall, it's enjoyable and I do believe that the game feels somewhat shallow in some departments but again, this change in structure will be put to the test.
 
This point has not exactly been made yet.
SC as most fighting games these days serves 3 classes of players.

1) Single Player
2) Vs Players
3) Online Players

I know it seems like the Vs players are the same as the Online players, but its not always the case. There are many players that gather together at some location and only chose to play friends, relatives, mates live and who do not like or go online at all to play.

There are players who like single player and enjoy fighting the AI and simply are not interested in Vs or online play.

There are some players that could care less about story mode, character profiles, they just want to get online and just play, they don't have enough or know enough people to play offline Vs. So online is the only valid mode for those players.

This game has to be evaulated from all three perspectives, because all three are a valid market. Namco could lose sales if it ignores anyone of these areas too much.

From a single player perspective, SC5 succeeds in some areas and fails in others. If you're a Zalsameel, Talim player, or if you really relied on Mitsurugi's Relic stance, your bumbed out, and pissed off. If you enjoyed the endings and a simple story mode for each character , Namco left you hanging. On the other hand, there is a lot more replay value in single player because, the routes in arcade mode, are a improvement or SCIV's arcade, the single battle, is an improvement over the towers mode, and the new hard arcade mode will challenge even the best players. Also Namco gave you the ability to watch CPU-vs-CPU with is kind-a like the old battle theatre mode . This was missing in SCIV. And the customization, the tattooes, the ability to customize the special effects for each weapon, the patterns that they've added for every item, the body types, the voices, the malfested effects, those are all significant improvements over SCIV. So while single player took a big hit on some things, overall single player is a massive improvement over SCIV interms of replay value, customization, and modes. The new title feature alone can keep you going in single player. All of the nice statistics that SC5 keeps for you e.g how many wins and losses you have are a big advantage over what SCIV gives you.

From a Vs player perspective Namco dropped the ball on allowing you to set controller options everywhere you need to. They dropped the ball by not having replays in Vs mode. Its still not practical for a friend to bring a profile or his/her own customizations over and play the game in Vs mode with 2 separate active profiles. Also the statistics don't track for VS mode like they do for online and single player. So if you have a local tourney where everyone is actually in the same room, you have a crude online counter for wins and losses, but no permanent profile for VS play. The obvious missing team mode in VS. play and all of the other bungles in VS play makes it clear that Namco is favoring "The Online Social Experience" over the " In Person Social Experience". Namco could have easily added a Tournament mode for VS. play, the UFC games show how easy this is to do for Vs, or for singplayer for that matter. No portable profiles, or replays, inconvienient button setting locations, lack of screen names for Player 2,
IMHO demonstrates a lack of committment to the Vs player offline mode. For those players who primary reason to play SC is the Versus mode, these players were given a stripped down game with just the barest of bones.

From a Online player perspective SC5 wins in every category, The addition of replays, the new statistics that are kept, the ability to track rivals, the soul link, the new collesium (LOL) mode, the improved net code, the new photographs that can be made in creation mode to introduce your character, the crazy customizations that wil added to the (you're never go to know what to expect next) in character-look, the adding of chat rooms to online, six people in a room, the ability to customize the rank match searches right down to what side of the screen you prefer, the ability to upload your replays, make them movies, or download replays of a rival, the new titles that can be won and displayed all make SC5 online offering superior to SCIV online. So without a question if you're primary focus is online play then Namco has definitely made a major improvement in SC.

Keeping the three types of players in mind, Namco dropped the ball on the main Intro to the game, even SCIV introduced multiple characters in the Intro, and the best intros in the series had showcased even more characters that SCIV. SC5 has the worst main intro that I can remember in the SC series. Also the lack of a Gallery mode, where you could really take time appreciate the artwork in the game and the pre-artwork for the game is an omission for SC brand.

Of course Namco had only so much time, but why take out what works! The breath taking Intros and the endings are part of the signature of the series. The gallerys also just added value. Why drop characters whose styles are not redundant in any way? Perhaps there is an issue on the Xbox, don't know I'm a PS3 user. But I do know there is plenty of room on the Blu-ray disks, and our hardrives have plenty of room for whatever Namco wanted to deliver with SC5. And if they couldn't fit it on the disk then there is always DLC.

The Brave Edge and Critical Edge moves are a blessing and a curse AFAIC. On the one hand they require new strategies to be added to game play, which keeps things from getting dull, on the other hand, they add too much of a StreetFighter, or Mortal Kombat feel to SC. Some of us our turned on to SC specifically because its not Street Fighter, and its not Mortal Kombat! So were not particularlly thrilled when SF and MK look and feel are grafted into SC.

So if we had to be fair about the rat ings of SC5 we should divide it into more realistic catagories

Singple Player Exererience 7 out 10
Vs. Player Experience 3 out 10
Online Player Experience 9 out 10
Loyalty to SC Brand 6 out 10
Strategy Guide 10 out 10
Roster 5 out 10
Stages 9 out 10
MoveList Changes 6 out 10
Graphics 10 out 10
Voice 9 out 10
Sound Effects 10 out 10
Music 9 out 10
Customization 10 out 10
Weapons 6 out 10
Replay value 8 out 10 ( hurt by poor Vs. mode features)
Fun Factor 8 out 10

Maybe the game wasn't rushed, maybe its just new people, with different philosophies and different sense of focus and priortiy working on the game. I just wish Namco would treat all three types of players equally in adding features to the game. The team of Project Soul should remember where it comes from. Soul Calibur was a hit when there was no Online! Online is a big deal for a large segment of the market, but Single Player mode and Vs. mode is what made Soul Calibur what it is. And a large segment of the market is still Single Player and Vs. mode and will never switch to Online play. Namco should realize that.
 
i'm greatly disappointed with SCV. i'm not against progressive changes and improvements but the changes decisions made here are going to punch away veteran players like myself. the Combo system is a complete disaster for some series veterans, the slower paced gameplay used to provide space for strategic and well-thought attacks and the freedom to link your own set of moves.

now as if the game wants to play itself instead! borrwing from other fighting games is ok but not to the level that kills the game's own unique fighting style and identity.

on smaller scale, why did they change the announcer?! his voice was with us since the beginning back in 1996 and he became one of the game's staples. and why did they have to severly mess with some of the signature moves of some classic characters? moves that many players rely on and developed their skills with.

Namco, without a doubt, could've made a middle-ground game where the veteran and the new would've enjoyed their game.

i'll stop here and i wish you guys enjoy SCV. i may change my opnion with time but unfortunately the signs are not encouraging. i may stick to SCIV which in my opinion has a better more focused gameply then the mess that SCV is.

kind regards,
 
Awesome gameplay, crappy story > Crappy gameplay, awesome story. At least for FG's.

That being said, it is indeed a shame that this game doesn't have more single player content. (no real incentive to make CAS's unless its to play online -- SC3 COTS did do a great job with this) It's a great hook for casuals to slowly get into FG's more.

This game was designed for the players who wanted to see competitive SC return to form, but unfortunately didn't serve to get casuals hooked into the game.
 

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