I didn't follow the development of Soul Calibur 5 at all. I got the game and played it one evening so far, so I'm coming at this fresh. I thought I'd give my first impressions.
Overall, I like the game. It's fun, and it's simplified in a good way. So when I give you this long list of complaints, keep in mind I would generally recommend the game.
Yeah, button config. Yes it matters. And it's the "wrong way." It's the bad way where you have to scroll through a list to change anything, and know the names of which buttons are which on your controller, instead of the good way where you press the button you want. This is a very real concern for running events, as it slows down events for no good reason. It's absolutely *embarrassing* that any company would release a fighting game in 2012 with the bad kind of button config. Seriously Namco, never ever do this again.
By the way, even though there are several default configs, none of them match what you'd want on the MadCatz TE stick, which is the standard. Have fun setting your kick button before every match (as you scroll through a list to do it). Letter grade on this feature: F.
For some reason, it seems to default to searching for users with a good ping who in the "other" region, meaning they are NOT in North or South America, or Europe, Asia, or Japan? Wtf? I don't know, every time I start up the online I set this to North America. Another case of weirdo defaults, I guess.
After playing someone online, I think it's like only 2 clicks to get another opponent. This is great! I got an endless stream of a opponents who couldn't beat my Mitsurugi, without any clicking around in between matches.
As for the netcode, you know the thing you care tons about, it seemed great? I forgot that I wasn't playing locally, really, it all just worked. There was no flickering or rewinding or slowdown or anything. Now, I surely only played nearby people with great pings becuase the game is new and people near me happened to be online probably, so this isn't a great test. But for what test it was, I'd say letter grade: A.
What the fuck? Why are you making a competitive multiplayer game with initially locked characters? Again, this is 2012, we've been around the block on this. Casual players like unlocks. To competitive players, it's highly offensive to lock basic functionality. It's a hassle for events (yeah I know you can copy the save, it's still a hassle), and even if there were no events, it's just fundamentally offensive. Offer tons of unlocks of stages, extra junk for customization modes, and so on. Don't fuck with locking out basic functionality. I don't care if it's only "a few hours" to unlock, it should be 0 seconds. Letter grade: F.
Surprisingly, the art on the character select screen is not really as good as other versions of Soul Calibur. More surprisingly, the art in the story mode is unshippably bad. As in, obviously a placeholder thing that real customers can never be allowed to see, except somehow it's real final art? Whatever, no one cares about story mode anyway in this game.
The in-game art is great. I've always loved the tone of the world, and the fancy dress and fancy environments. Over time, the series has strayed further and further into the world of overwrought visual mess, rather than the initially simple and iconic characters. Soul Calibur 4 was the most extreme, with Lizardman being a incomprehensible jumble and Nightmare covered in carrots for some reason. They seemed to have dialed it down a bit here. I think Cervantes's alt costume sucks, looks too much like Nightmare (yeah story, whatever), and doesn't have a promiment enough bird beak. His old bird beak mask thing was great, and that's what I look for in a Cervantes.
Could I talk to someone at Namco about this for like 5 minutes? Soul Calibur 1's parries are notable for their extremely good design. I'll probably put them in a card game somehow, it's so good. After you parry someone, you can easily hit back (you have enough time and you are close enough) and they can't even block for X time. They can parry though. The window of time is long enough that you can attack early or attack late and still be in the window, so they don't know whether to parry early or late, basically. If you make them whiff a parry, you can easily hit them with anything you want. For some reason, Soul Calibur 2, 3, and 4, each screwed this up for different reasons each time.
In Soul Calibur 5, apparently they scrapped the whole thing? Now parry is back + A+B+K, costs meter, and parries all levels (don't have to guess mid/low). First of all, I don't think a three button command is an improvement. Second, spending meter is problematic. Third, the resulting dynamics seem to be worse than SC1's system, though it's not like I even used the parry in my first day, so I don't know.
Spending meter for a parry is kind of troubling for someone like Astaroth. Before, even a slow character was viable because he could parry even if he had no real move fast enough to do anything. The post-parry game gives everyone a mixup to use their regular moveset with a favorable payoff matrix. If you have to spend meter to parry though, a slow guy like Astaroth seems out of luck in this system. I mean who knows, maybe he's super great for other reasons, but it's a systematic worry.
As for the three buttons...let's come back to that in a moment.
Supers and Roman Cancels
So there's super meter in this game. I really liked that other Soul Caliburs didn't have meter. Then in SC4 there was that confusing and terrible armor meter thing. SC has an elegant simplicity to it that I thought never really needed meter. So I have to give a general thumbs up that they manged to add a meter in a way that actually works and possibly enhances the game. There were a lot of ways to go wrong here.
There are moves called "Brave Edges" or something, that you get by inputting the Roman Cancel command from Guilty Gear (press the three top row buttons: A+B+K). So for example, Mitsurugi can do df+B then immediately press A+B+K to power it up into a more damaging version that allows different followups. This is kind of like an EX move, but it's actually a better idea from a design perspective than EX moves. The problem with EX moves in other games (stuff where you spend meter to powerup your special move) is that it tends to create the problem where the non-EX version has to suck to make the EX version worth it. There's also the problem that some particular move might work really well at X power level, and it shouldn't ever be more or less than X, but now you need two versions of it in an EX system.
In Soul Calibur's system, the designer can intelligently pick and choose exactly where it makes sense to make a powered up version of a move. It's case by case, not like "every single special has an EX version." This allowed them to better balance some of the more abusable moves by making the cost meter, rather than taking those moves out entirely, or toning them down with nothing in return.
Each character has one super move, too. Some are throws, some can OTG, some can't, some have fast startup, some don't. Overall, this seems like an ok addition, and gets some more visual spectacle into the game when people land supers. I'm fine with it. Except for the command. The command is qcf x 2 + A+B+K. This is really excessive on two counts. First, it's wonky to have a qcfx2 motion in a game with 8way run. Second, it's kind of annoying that it's three buttons. Seems like it should just be qcf+B+K for all characters. This would be easier and less wonky, and I don't think the extra difficulty of the motion really does anything at all. It's just kind of this annoying thing, and people like me can do it every time either way, so might as well have gone simpler.
For both the super and the parry, they went with the concept that moves that use super meter are done with A+B+K. So that means your super uses those three buttons, your parry uses the three buttons, and your brave edge (roman cancel, heh) moves also use those three buttons. Bonus points for consistency, because consistency of concept is generally good. It's just that consistency is not the ONLY factor. Here, it conflicts with the more natural choices of a one button parry (like the one we've had for 15 years now) and a two button super (works fine in MvC3, and would seem better here). So when I weight consistency vs less annoying inputs, I think less annoying inputs would have been a better choice. But whatever, oh well.
Viola, Z.W.E.I, Algol
So there's guys that can actually control space on the playfield now? Well I didn't unlock Algol so I guess I wouldn't know (blaaah). It's kind of interesting that these exist at all, and I think there's potential for the various projectile mechanics they have. Oh and Ezio too, to a lesser degree. He seems to have an amazingly good high tiger shot and low tiger shot, but they can be sidestepped easily and he's not great up close I think. Viola is for smart people who have 100 years to spare, then they can do a bunch of tricks with this magic ball she sets and retrieves and bounces around and stuff. I hope this doesn't end up too frustrating to play against or broken or something, but at least it's interesting.
I always liked Cervantes. I see his db+A move was removed, which is a big fucking deal. That let him knock down or cancel into a mid that also knocked down (mixup). Also it could be delayed (better mixup). Also if delayed and if they sidestep, the mid would *track* them (super mixup). Also it could be delayed to be unblockable (wowow mixup). Anyway it was golden, but now it's replaced with some shitty move. Oh well.
What's worse is the existence of his instant psycho crusher, which is abbreviate iGDR (that stands for "instant psycho crusher). It's some pointlessly hard thing that should just be a regular move you can do when you want. Anyway, instead of it being just one annoying thing, it's kind of like...a central annoying thing to his character. You can combo it a zillion different ways, so it's unfortunate that high level Cervantes is all about this one dumb input. Or too much about it, at least. Please remove this or something.
He's a bit different than before, but mostly the same. I miss his A+B whomp, whomp move. Even more, I miss the "whomp, whomp" sound effect on his kB flippy move (replaced with a slicey sound effect). I'll live though, most of his worthwhile stuff is still there, and fine. d+K+B was always kind of too good, and now it requires super meter to get the too good version, so that sort of makes sense. Notably, one of his stances was removed. I always referred to them as Garbage Stance and Other Garbage Stance because that's how I viewed them in SC1. They got better over the versions, and eventually Other Garbage Stance (the sheathed sword one that is dodgey) was removed entirely in Soul Calibur 5. He still has his regular Garbage Stance though (the pokey one) and it seems pretty good. They changed the A attack from that, which is cool I guess.
Stances and Simplifications
Speaking of Stances, Ivy used to have like 4 or something? She kept getting new ones but no one knew how to use them, really. (Look serious faces, I'm joking here, but there's some truth in the joke.) Anyway now she has no extra stances at all! Also pretty much all A+K moves were removed. There seems to be a general simplification of all characters in Soul Calibur 5, and that might sound bad at first, but actually I think it's a good idea.
Soul Calibur has always been the easiest fighting game for me to teach anyone. Over the versions though, more and more stuff got added and they were kind of pushing it with all these millions of moves. The "simplified" Mitsurugi still has 106 moves listed in his move list (this isn't counting the first panel of "main moves" that I think are repeated in the move list). Anyway it's a lot of damn moves. So the overall simplification seems to have taken us down from "fuckton of moves" to "a lot of damn moves." Cool.
My overall experience was as follows. I tried some characters in training mode. I wasted hours of my time unlocking stuff. I tried more in training mode. I played online and had fun. I super'd people. I combo'd into super. I got a voice message from some guy saying "I know you've only played 8 games so far, but what you just did is called being a bitch with throws, you bitch." I had several people rage quit on me. I was yelled at with "that's not how you teabag! That's fucking not how you do it!!" (Note: he is referring to what you do with your character after you win the the round. Against him I did a) nothing or b) pressed guard a few times reflexively because that's the A button, as in the button that often advances things in menus.)
So yeah, pretty good experience.