SoulCalibur V is trying to be all things to all people, so intricate changes are felt across most facets of the game. Guard Impacts have been modified, with no need to discern between high and low attacks. The ability to parry your opponent and throw them to the ground is no longer an option, but this been replaced by the Just Guard system, where slapping the block button as an attack connects lets you absorb the attack in a manner similar to Street Fighter III.
But these mechanics don't work in harmony, with the Just Guard superseding the Guard Impact in almost every possible instance, as both require finicky timings but the former doesn't consume your meter and has less recovery time.
Then there's the Brave Edge, which uses a large chunk of your meter but allows you to use certain moves to extend combos. These attacks promote variety in an series that's been blighted by repetition and can even be finished off with a Critical Edge attack if you wish, although strict damage scaling means you'd only want to do this for the purposes of showing off.
SoulCalibur has always placed a greater degree of importance on 3D space than most fighters, and quicker side-stepping means evading telegraphed attacks is easy and vital. The combat, which can initially seem closed and restricted, blossoms once you get to grips with its 8-way movement. The key is in managing space and creating openings with cautious and considered use of quicker horizontal attacks as opposed to the meaty weight of powerful vertical strikes.
A robust training mode helps your fingers limber up with each character, offering up detailed advice on how to use their various intricacies to both press the offensive and counter common attacks. This is an excellent inclusion, only marred slightly by a cumbersome and messy UI, and this kind of hand-holding is exactly what most fighting games sorely need if they're looking to attract genre newcomers.
Other single-player modes include a threadbare arcade campaign, composed of a brief six fights with no ending cinematics, and a Quick Battle mode designed to emulate traditional Versus play. Namco Bandai adds a nice little flourish to the mode by having all of the opponents designed by the game's community using its character creation tools, but it's hard to imagine many players actually choosing to slog through the masses of AI drones.
All of this is designed to shift players towards the skill and comprehension required to tackle competitive play against humans, and SoulCalibur V supports the usual local versus modes as well as a now-mandatory online component. The implementation here is a step in the right direction compared to the shockingly dire netcode of Soul Calibur IV and Tekken 6, but lag is still too frequent (even on five-bar connections) and pulling off precision moves subsequently too fussy for any semi-competent play over the Internet.
Other online options are handled better. There's a suite of a few hundred titles to adorn your player card, similar to that of Street Fighter IV, though most selections feel prescribed and charmless. There is also the option to establish three rivals over Xbox LIVE and PlayStation Network, whose records will be displayed alongside yours throughout the game's menus - a particularly nice touch for those with a competitive streak.
SoulCalibur V is definitely a step in the right direction for the maligned series. Despite plenty of changes and improvements, however, the game is still too complex to be casual and too flawed to be taken seriously. SoulCalibur V might have forged its own soul, but it's not burning brightly just yet.
Version Tested: Xbox 360