The story mode also serves as an example of the overall lack of polish in Soul Calibur V's presentation. Its storybook page sketches lack character, and come across as barely storyboards waiting to be made into cinematics. There are a few of those as well, but the in-game characters arguably look better. Mercifully, the narration and voice acting can be switched over to Japanese, avoiding the painful English voice work. It's the same for other details throughout the game. Menus and navigation feel like an anachronism, and nothing is more startling than the bare bones system text that pops on the screen. I might be inclined to think of it as charm, were it not for the sense that these remnants of the past continue to hold Soul Calibur V back. I come to Soul Calibur for dramatic, dynamic, heart-racing one-on-one combat. To that end, the work put into improving online play appears to pay off in Soul Calibur V. In matches the first night the game was widely available, I had no trouble getting smooth fights against players with three or four (out of four) bars showing for their connection strength. With its virtual arcade mode of winner holding serve while challengers rotate in, I can easily see myself hopping in on a semi-regular basis. After Soul Calibur 3 and 4, I wanted to just go play 2. After 5, I remember what made 2 great. That's a helluva step forward, finally. For multiplayer, online or off, friendly or competitive, Soul Calibur V hits the combination of tactical options and fluid pace of play that requires nearly instinctual decision making. Learning the ropes in single-player, though, requires dedication to deal with an inferior training system, and the story mode is best left forgotten. Soul Calibur V makes a strong return in the ring, just don't look around too much between the fights.
Siegfried as strong as ever
[This Soul Calibur V review is based on the Xbox 360 version of the game, provided by publisher Namco Bandai.]