Weapons at the ready!Soul Calibur V may have carved out its own love-it-or-hate-it niche with the Japan-centric storyline, iconic, spiky-haired characters and punishingly difficult-to-master combos, but you'll be hard-pressed to find another brawler that has such a range of flamboyant moves and ultra-competitive community.
While fans of the previous games in the series will once again, no doubt, revel in the strategic depth, this latest entry in Namco Bandai's long-running franchise does try to make things a little more accessible for the novice brawler so that they don't immediately become lambs to the slaughter when stepping into the online arena.
From Leixia's simple three-button Dawn Rhythm sword-slashing combo to Astaroth's intensely complicated bone-breaking Apocalypse Destroyer, a surprisingly in-depth tutorial gives players the opportunity to master every move on offer before they enter the online lobbies or offline campaign mode. It's a superb introduction to the game that allows players to analyse, replay and practice against opponents that simply won't fight back (if you don't want them to.)
Like previous Soul Calibur games, each character on the roster of busty sword-wielding maidens, fair-haired hunks and axe-grabbing giants brandishes a weapon and has a unique fighting style and mammoth selection of moves, from simple blocks and kicks to grabs and much more powerful strikes that can be executed through clever use of a charge meter.
The single player campaign set-up is a familiar one, consisting of a series of one-on-one, best-out-of-three battles across a variety of fantasy-themed stages. Though a series of short cinematic sequences (storyline fillers) crop up between most of the stages, serving to introduce each new character, it's a tried-and-trusted formula that is starting to wear a little thin.
The campaign boasts a variety of difficulty levels and the option to make opponents easier to beat should players lose the fight, which makes it very accessible to any potential newcomers. It's also a half-decent opportunity for veterans to ramp up the difficulty and assess the full roster of characters on offer as well as enjoy some of the fabulously extravagant fighting arenas that come complete with impressively-detailed backgrounds.
Disappointingly though, the short campaign only took us three hours to complete, and the lack of unlockable content along the way, plus the failure to make a connection with the player through the storyline, makes it all feel a little too formulaic; like you're just going through the motions rather than progressing towards a meaningful conclusion.
There's a lack of balance, too, and what should be a steady progression of fights that rise in difficulty ends up being a mish-mash of opponents with varying degrees of skills that are thrown at you randomly. With the campaign ending so prematurely, and with a fizzle rather than a bang, this series of random, meaningless fights feels rather unnecessary in the grand scheme of things - especially when there's an Arcade and VS mode that turns out to be more worthy of your time, due to the fact you can pick and choose your fighters.