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Cutting Edge: Soul Calibur V guest unveiling and hands-on

A tale of souls and swords eternally retold, now seasoned the Italian way. Stace Harman goes hands-on with the latest guest addition to the Soul Calibur universe and speaks to Project Soul’s Hisaharu Tago.

Arguably, Link’s inclusion in the GameCube version of Soul Calibur 2 made sense. His shield was perhaps a little out of place, but with no supernatural powers in his native franchise to worry about and an entertaining enough fighting style, he was a welcome addition. Plus, he has faced down enough weird and wonderful adversaries in his time that going up against resident freak-show Voldo didn’t seem beyond the realms of believability.

At a push, the appearance of Tales of Symphonia’s Lloyd Irving in Soul Calibur Legends could also be justified - he did wield dual-blades, after all. But Yoda, Vader and The Apprentice (from The Force Unleashed, not the TV show with Donald Trump or Alan Sugar)?

By rights, Force powers should have rendered light sabres moot, but if they had been wielded they would have cut clean through the regular blades of many of the characters. And you just know that god-killer Kratos would not have deigned to follow best-of-three tournament rules.

This brings us to the latest addition to the Soul series: the previously rumoured and now confirmed Ezio Auditore da Firenze. Ezio will appear in both the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 versions of the game and the general consensus of the assembled UK and European press gathered for Namco Bandai and Project Soul’s official unveiling is that Ezio is very much a more natural fit for the series.

Putting him through his paces – and, looking around the room, he features in a great many of the bouts being played out on the half-dozen 360 and PS3 demo stations – it’s evident that his fighting style and move set works, for the most part.

“We felt very strongly when we first saw Ezio that he would be a perfect match for Soul Calibur,” game producer Hisaharu Tago explains to me, via his translator. “And the minute we put him in the game we knew he fit with the series.”

Armed with six discreet weapons, Ezio is a one-man arsenal: hidden blades, Roman sword, stiletto, mini-crossbow and hidden pistol all feature in open play, whilst his critical edge combo – the gauge consuming equivalent of Street Fighter IV’s Ultras – features a smoke bomb or two in combination with many of the above.

Ezio’s weapons provide options for ranged combat as well as a more fitting close-quarters melee style. While both the crossbow and pistol shots can be side-stepped at long distance – especially the latter, which must be charged prior to discharging – the quick-firing crossbow becomes harder to avoid at medium-distance, complicated further by its ability to shoot low or high. These are things that Project Soul is keeping an eye-on, however, and is determined to ensure that Ezio is not over-powered.

"We're continuing to look at what we need to do to balance the character. We're not just adding Ezio and saying 'we're done'."

“We’re continuing to take in feedback and look at what we need to do to balance the character,” insists Tago. “[We’re] not just adding Ezio and saying ‘we’re done’, we will continue to look at the feedback and what people are saying and implement patching if necessary.”

Details of the comprehensive character creation system are set to be released in a couple of weeks, but Tago reveals that, like previous guest characters, Ezio will not be available for use in this mode in any shape or form. Whilst this undoubtedly comes as part of Ubisoft’s acquiescence to use the character in the first place, Tago says it’s a fair condition.

“If we were to give our characters to another company we would also feel very strictly about them taking that character’s moves and putting it on some clown or whatever,” Tago jokes. “We’d have reservations about that happening and would want our character’s look and feel to be preserved, so we understand that.”

Something old, something new
For novice players, the biggest draw of the series is that button-mashing yields impressive-looking results, whilst offering a path into the game that can be refined with practice. The simple set-up of vertical, horizontal and kick attacks easily knit together, so whether you’re new to the franchise or just rusty as a result missing a series instalment or two, the variety of weapons - that range from twin daggers, nunchuks and staves through to a ring blade, giant hammer or ruddy great sword - offers a number of immediately satisfying combat styles and move sets.

Series stalwarts, such as Mitsarugi, Ivy, Voldo, Nightmare and Raphael retain many of their signature moves and offer returning players a good basis on which to build. Similarly, whilst some faces appear to be absent – though only 15 of 30 possible character slots were occupied in this version – a number of the new characters are connected to franchise favourites and offer familiar move sets.

Gameplay footage from gamescom.

Teenage ninja Natsu is a disciple of Taki and sports some of her mentor’s moves from as far back as the original Soul Blade on PS1. Leixa is Xianghua’s daughter and wields a Chinese sword known as a jian whilst it’s to Sophitia that brother and sister pairing Patroklos and Pyrrha send flowers and chocolates on Mother’s day.

“In Soul Calibur V the story will revolve around Patroklos and Pyrrha and their relationship,” says Tago. “Of course, the characters and various mysteries behind them will be explored as the series progresses.”

Veterans of series Soul will be interested to note the change to the guard impact system. The effectiveness of the counter-move has been tempered by its cost: tapping back and all three attack buttons as your opponent attacks executes guard impact, but at the cost of a wedge of the soul gauge.

This applies whether or not the counter is successful, thus avoiding the guard impact-spamming possible in previous iterations. Furthermore, position in the arena is as key as it ever was and the divisive ‘ring outs’ continue to offer players beaten within an inch of their energy bar a way of salvaging a round.

Wrapping up the presentation section of the evening saw the collector’s edition and pre-order bonuses detailed. The former consists of the obligatory ‘making of’ DVD and game soundtrack alongside an art book, signed art card, an appreciation letter from Project Soul and dark and white knight equipment sets for use in the character creation mode. A pre-order bonus of an additional playable character will be offered: the madcap Lord Geo Dampierre who Tago says has “proved popular with fans” in PSP iteration Soul Calibur: Broken Destiny.

With no discernable visual disparity between the 360 and PS3 builds on display and with neither version offering a platform-specific guest character, owners of multiple formats look to have the refreshing option of making a decision based on their personal preference, not soul-destroying DLC incentives.

Soul Calibur V launches next year for Xbox 360 and PlayStation on January 31 in the US and February 3 in Europe.

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