Wednesday, 1 April 2015

Soul Calibur V (Xbox 360)

You might be wondering what such a popular and mainstream game is doing on Lunatic Obscurity, the world's greatest obscure videogames review blog, but don't worry, it's just an April fools post (although Patreon subscribers will be reading it on the 30th of March). Rather than do a pointless prank that no-one would ever fall for, I've decided to write about a popular game, but hopefully from a slightly unusual perspective.

I actually like Soul Calibur V a lot, though it's not the mechanics that really excite me, nor do the game's characters and story do anything for me. You might be wondering what else there is in a fighting game to like, and in SCV, that thing is the character creation mode. Now, this game's character creation mode has a lot of problems, from the segregation of a lot of the clothing and hair items by gender, and the narrow choices of items available compared to other games with character creation modes. But there are other factors to take into account.

When we look at other games with character creation modes, the main three cases that come to mind (for me at least) are wrestling games, the Saints Row series and most modern Western RPGs. Now, the things all these cases have in common are restrictions on the stories that can be told with the characters the player puts into them. Wrestling games have a tradition of character creation and customisation going back to the SNES, and the big two series, the WWE games and the Fire Pro Wrestling games are famed for the ability they give players to create an amazing variety of characters. The downside is that they are just wrestling games: the characters will only be wrestling in arenas, playing out wrestling storylines. RPGs and Saints Row have a similar problem, only moreso, in that whatever character the player creates can only ever play the part of The Boss or the Lone Wanderer or whoever.

Soul Calibur V, however, is set in a heavily romanticised, fantasy version of the early seventeenth century, and has an excellent mode that has the unassuming title "Quick Battle". What quick battle mode does is allows the player to take their characters and fight against a couple of hundred pre-made characters, who range wildly in appearance, from monsters to might soldiers to beautiful women to members of royalty. So, in tandem with the character creation mode, SCV allows players to play for hours and hours and hours without interacting with any of the game's characters, or participating in its storyline.

Thanks to all this, I tend to think of Soul Calibur V not as a fighting game, but a little escapist fantasy story-telling game. Each character I've made in the editor has a simple one-line backstory, and when a fight begins, I look at the opponent and the stage (and all the stages are rendered with almost decadent detail and grandeur), and come up with a similarly simple description of what's going on. The mighty warrior who eternally seeks stronger opponents hears tell of a demon lurking in an old, disused temple. The young traveller is led astray by a mischievous fairy with a taste for human flesh, or she has to fight off an agressively xenophobic city guard. A soldier for hire is paid by a magic school to test one of their promising young students in battle, or hired to expel a malevolent spirit that has been haunting the wooded hunting grounds near a village.

This all probably sounds incredibly lame, but I just think it's a nice way to enjoy a game, and to enjoy storytelling through gameplay. And it wouldn't be possible if Soul Calibur V didn't have this exact blend of creation mode, setting, and a mode full of characters with just the right amount of genericity that they can act as puppets for the player to tell their own stories.

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