Forget about missing blades, we suspect that the folks at Bandai Namco may have misplaced their minds while developing SoulCalibur: Lost Swords. This wretched free-to-play fighter serves up the gaming equivalent of seppuku, except the ancient Japanese suicidal rite isn’t riddled with obnoxious loading times, and thus is preferable to this miserable excuse for a PlayStation 3 game.

The premise is at least encouraging: a solo focused affair inspired by the epic single player campaigns that turned Project Soul's weapons-based brawler into a household name. You’ll find the usual guff regarding eyeball equipped razors is present and correct, although this time the story is told through incoherent text snippets that look like they’ve been copied from Google Translate.

The nonsensical narrative would be a mere blemish if the game was up to snuff, but this is duller than a retired woodcutter’s axe. You select from a limited roster of recognisable warriors – Mitsurugi, Sophitia, and Siegfried – and begin your quest in your underpants. Win battles and you’ll gradually unlock clothes, allowing you to hide your buxom beauty’s modesty from prying eyes.

Every quest that you undertake consumes AP, which gradually replenishes overtime. Run out and you’ll need to use a Recovery Potion, which you’ll accrue from completing missions – or via a pricey purchase from the PlayStation Store. Microtransactions like this are the lifeblood of freemium experiences, and they actually don’t feel too intrusive here.

Exactly why you’d want to pour cash into the foray in the first place is another question altogether, though. Where the property’s predecessor’s succeeded in providing a variety of rules and play conditions to keep the solitary brawling feeling fresh, this entry utterly fails, plotting you against a string of cut-and-paste adversaries with little regard for gameplay diversity.

Granted, there are some tweaks to the core SoulCalibur V fighting format, though these are mainly designed to simplify the experience. You can’t, for example, perform Critical Edge moves, while ring outs – a hallmark for the series – have been removed entirely. Weapon Arts – simple meter-based specials – take their place, while a Tekken type partner system is introduced but underutilised.

The latter addition is probably one of the game’s better ideas, as it allows you to ally with other players, and take control of their character once you’ve filled a special meter in battle. Teaming up with others allows you to both earn FP, which can then be spent in the game’s shop to earn gear and items for your character. It’s a clever concept, but it’s never really expanded upon.

This ally mechanic ties into the new elemental systems, too, as switching to your accomplice at the right moment may easily enable you to achieve a Soul Crush – a devastating armour detaching opportunity – that will reward you with better gear at the end of the battle. Much of the time, the leaning of your blade matters very little, but it does help during these pseudo striptease sequences.

Elsewhere, all of the attacks and combos that you’re likely already familiar with will be present and correct, and that means that the fighting here is fine. Rounds seem faster due to an increase in damage, which lends itself well to the pick-up-and-play format of other more accessible free-to-play games. So far so disgustingly average, then – but we’ve yet to really twist our blade.

For a game that seems to understand the importance of immediacy elsewhere, this is probably one of the most poorly optimised releases that we’ve ever played. The fact that you’re reading this review so late is testament to the despicable server issues that have plagued the product since launch, and even now we’re struggling to navigate its menus and access some quests.

Even when the title’s working, you’re forced to sit through an offensively omniscient egg timer, which appears to mock you each time that you click on, well, anything. This will deter you from ever even wanting to venture into the game’s character customisation screen, as changing the colour of your protagonist’s trunks will leave you mentally measuring up while your life ticks away.

There’s some girth to be found in this area, too, including a complete crafting system that’s never really explained, but exploring the intricacies on display here would require the patience of a pope, and we’re not convinced that Benedict XVI has a penchant for broadswords, steel toe cap boots, and silicon breasts the size of standard circus balloons.

And that makes this awful outing a most forgettable husk; a shell of a game that probably shouldn’t have ever seen the glimmer of our sword. The medieval environments are undoubtedly pretty for a title that doesn’t cost a penny, while the pomp and ceremony of the brass band powered soundtrack is entertaining in an ear drum debilitating kind of way, but that’s not enough to right this release’s wrongs.

Conclusion

SoulCalibur: Lost Swords is less a case of Vol-do and more a case of Vol-don’t. This disastrous free-to-play experiment should have never been pulled from its scabbard, and will leave a bigger scar on this once brilliant series than the awkward inclusion of Star Wars characters back in SoulCalibur IV. A drab campaign and awful loading times underline this colossal misstep in the stage of history.