Review: Virtua Fighter 5 (XB360)

Virtua Fighter 5
Genre: 3D Fighting
Developer: AM2
Publisher: Sega
Release Date: 10/30/07

It’s hard to believe it in retrospect, but Virtua Fighter, the first real 3D fighting game (beating out Tekken by about a year), has managed to stay a strong, viable franchise for parent company Sega, despite having one of the sillier game names on the market. And with good reason: franchises like Panzer Dragoon and Virtua Racing may have been abandoned to the sands of time, and characters like Sonic and Shinobi may have been in more than a few questionable titles, but aside from the misfire that was Virtua Quest, the VF franchise has always produced strong, entertaining games. It doesn’t hurt that sequels are generally kept to a minimum, so that each time a VF title does come out, it’s fresh and different instead of feeling like a rehash or like too much too soon. Indeed, Virtua Fighter is one of Sega’s most consistent franchises, which bodes well for the 360 release of Virtua Fighter 5. Featuring two new characters, console exclusive online play and some new gameplay dynamics, VF5 looks to be a worthy next-gen release, but does it live up to the hype?

The storyline of VF5 is so negligible as to be non-existent, so let’s instead take a look at what Sega is offering up for players to do. You’re given your now standard Arcade and Versus modes, as well as a Training mode (here called Dojo) to engage in some free-form practice or to learn the various combinations for your favorite fighters, and to learn the new control designs. There’s also the Quest Mode, which popped up in VF4, which allows you to challenge various “players” with your customized fighter of choice, with the goal being to become the highest ranked player on Earth, or something similar. And there’s an odd mode called VF TV, which essentially allows you to stage fights between computer opponents, I’m guessing just to see what the characters can do when really turned loose.

The best part, though, is that the 360 version comes equipped exclusively with online play, so you too can feel the experience of being whipped up on by a guy who does ducking punches all the time first hand! Seriously, though, VF5 really is the sort of title that needed an online play option built into it, not just because it’s a fighting game, but also because it doesn’t offer very much variety in its game play options. Tekken 5 and Soul Calibur 3 offered silly single-player modes and storylines to keep fans interested, and DOA4 offers tag team battles, online rankings, and online play to keep people coming back. VF5 is really more straightforward as a game, and benefits immensely from online play, especially with the option to customize your characters (to an extent).

On the visual front, well, I don’t think I’m exaggerating any by saying this, but Virtua Fighter 5 is easily one of the best looking titles on the 360 at this point. The character models are absolutely awesome, animate well, clip very little, and put their contemporaries to shame (*coughDOA4hack*). Environments are identically solid and feature a large attention to detail, and the fact that the characters respond to environmental conditions (they get wet, for instance) as the environment does to them (moving snow, breaking fences, etc) is a wonderful thing. Granted, a fighting game isn’t as graphically intensive as, say, an FPS or something with large draw-in, but even so, you will be hard-pressed to find too many games that look better than VF5 on the 360.

The in-game music is, as expected, solid for fighting game tunes. It’s generally a mix of rock and electronic tunes that sound good in the context of the game, though one would most likely not feel the urge to run out and buy a copy of the soundtrack or anything. The voice acting, in comparison, is generally spot-on throughout the product, with a mix of both Japanese and English actors who all do a quality job. Rounding the aural experience out, the sound effects sound as good as ever, though in many cases they sound muted and off. This may have something to do with the fact that it seems as though most of said effects are the same effects the series has used since VF1, which is neat for those who remember the franchise from back then, but feels dated now. Overall, though, the sound experience is good, if not superb, and does its job perfectly fine.

If you’ve ever played a Virtua Fighter title in your life, especially the more recent incarnations, you’ll find yourself at home with VF5 without too much effort, but for those walking in blind, the easiest way one can describe VF5’s controls are to say they are “simplistically complex”. You only have three actual buttons to work with: punch, kick, and guard, no more and no less. Sorry, Dodge fans, it’s not coming back. Anyway, compared to its contemporaries, VF5 has a much more basic control setup, but the depth in the actual gameplay mechanics are what make the series as loved as it is. To put it in layman’s terms, those three simple buttons do a LOT.

As this is a 3D fighting game, the standards of the genre are in full effect in VF5; chain combos, throws, movement into the back and foregrounds and so on are here in full force. But the VF series has more to offer than simple ass-kicking, and VF5 is certainly no exception. Reversals (“Sabakis”), timing specific counters and throws, and the new to VF5 Offensive Move (a dodging dash of sorts that you can use for more strategy), among other things, add immense depth to the game and keep fights interesting beyond the seemingly simplistic controls. Indeed, VF5 is more of a “strategic” fighter than others, and while you can absolutely button-mash (if that’s your thing) to win battles, the game encourages you to really learn characters and figure out what they’re about. Yes, even if you’ve been playing as Akira since VF1; enough changes have been made to the game mechanics in VF5 that old veterans will still have to take a little time learning what’s new in their favorite franchise.

Part of this encouragement comes from the Dojo training option, obviously, but Quest Mode is where most of your learning and encouragement will come from. In Quest Mode, you pick your fighter of choice and go to “arcades”, which are essentially gathering grounds for CPU characters you can fight. Each CPU character is ranked at a certain skill level, and as you defeat these characters, your own skill level will increase. Obviously, the goal is to level up your character to the top tier (from 10th Kyu to 10th Dan and beyond), but to do so, you’ll have to really learn and understand what your chosen character is capable of. Since there are so many characters of differing skill levels, this actually isn’t too much of a problem; you’ll always have someone of your skill level to work with so that you can learn and adjust accordingly. But bragging rights aren’t the only motivation here (and really, who cares if you’re a 9th Dan with Jacky?). You can also unlock various modifications for your chosen character, including new costumes, accessories, hairstyles and such, so as to allow you to build your favorite characters to your own specs. There isn’t a Smackdown vs. Raw level of customization here or anything, but what is offered is largely pretty cool, and with some fiddling it’s unlikely your character will look like anyone else’s.

And once you’ve got your skills up to snuff from beating on the computer or your friends, you can bring you’re a game out into the world and try it against other players. There’s not a ton of variety to the online mode, mind you; you get ranked and unranked matches to play in, and you can either jump into a quick match against an opponent or build your own matches as you see fit. The interface isn’t the greatest, mind you; it’s a little clunky and you’re constantly having to go find another opponent after a battle instead of being able to simply straight-up challenge them to a rematch. But the actual online play is great, with little to no noticeable lag or loading times to muddle through, which more than makes up for the awkward interfaces.

If you’re a fan of the Virtua Fighter series, chances are high that you’ll have plenty of reasons to come back to VF5 often. The core gameplay is very solid, and with so many different ways to customize various characters, you’ll want to build custom characters for all of your favorites for when you have friends over, or for taking it to online opposition. Virtua Fighter 5 is also a very well-balanced fighting game in a sea of unbalanced fighters, which makes it all the more impressive. The majority of the characters, even block-of-meat characters like Wolf Hawkfield, are strong playable characters that have their uses in even inexperienced hands, and you really get the sense that any one character can beat any other if played properly. Quest Mode allows you to challenge “players” of your own skill level in most cases, which allows you to build your skills up as you see fit, and while Arcade Mode DOES feature an uber-cheap boss in Dural, but (and this is an important distinction) you don’t HAVE to defeat her unless you have personal investment in doing so, as you can still unlock her without doing so.

Unfortunately, Virtua Fighter 5 isn’t high on the originality; while it does introduce a few new concepts to the series, the core gameplay is fundamentally unchanged, and there aren’t any new modes or options in comparison to VF4 Evolution that make it dramatically fresh and different. The two new characters are fairly interesting, and there’s a sufficient amount of polish on the product to make it feel fresh and different, but it’s ultimately another Virtua Fighter, which is what it is; great for fans, nothing special for those who are not. That said, original or no, the game is a hell of a lot of fun to play if you’re down for it. Assuming that A.) you find much love in beating the hell out of the CPU, B.) you find much enjoyment in unlocking all of the various knick-knacks for your chosen favorite characters, C.) you have a lot of local friends who enjoy VF, or D.) you like humiliating/being humiliated by strangers, you’ll find yourself playing the hell out of VF5. For those of you out there who are beginning (or continuing, as the situation merits) to get worn out on fighters, VF most likely won’t keep you hooked to the controller every free second you have. It’s a great fighting game, but a fighting game it still is; even with online play, it’s unlikely you’re going to find any reason to stay hooked to VF5 more than anything else you might presently own.

The Virtua Fighter franchise, while not as popular as a DOA or a Tekken, has a strong, solid fanbase of its own that will instantly be attracted to VF5. It’s one of a small handful of fighting games on the 360, and you should be all over it if you have even a passing interest in fighters, especially considering the dearth of them on the next gen consoles. That said, if I’m honest, I have to admit that I’ve never been a big fan of the VF franchise. Personally, franchises like Tekken, Soul Calibur, and DOA felt more my speed, with gameplay that felt fast and loose as compared to VF’s more deliberate, stiffer elements. I’ve always been more of a “pick up and play” person, and while learning characters is an important part of any fighting game, to my mind, VF felt like a game one could not play BUT by spending hours learning characters.

So why the love for VF5?

Simple. VF5 feels right. It feels like a game one can pick up and play, have fun with, and enjoy without having to spend hours upon hours learning the minutest details of the characters. It feels balanced. It feels like a player can jump in and learn the game at their own pace, and can actually accomplish something simply by screwing around instead of having to spend hours in training memorizing button combos and tactics. It feels like a game designed to teach by accommodation, not by punishment. There are no soul crushing mandatory boss fights, there are no situations where one feels as if one is incapable of progressing, and the player is given a distinct sense that the game is designed to teach you how to succeed by rewarding you for success instead of punishing you for failure.

In short, Virtua Fighter 5 feels like it was designed by people who love you, and love what they do, instead of by people who hate you and want to see you suffer. Considering how many fighting game franchises seem to have forgotten that, it’s refreshing to see that someone finally remembered.

The Scores:
Game Modes: 8/10
Graphics: 10/10
Sound: 7/10
Control/Gameplay: 8/10
Replayability: 7/10
Balance: 9/10
Originality: 4/10
Addictiveness: 7/10
Appeal: 8/10
Miscellaneous: 8/10

Overall Score: 7.6/10
Final Score: 7.5 (GOOD).

Short Attention Span Summary
Hey, remember way back at the beginning of last year when I said you’d be better served waiting for VF5 than buying DOA4?

Well, not to toot my own horn or anything, but there’s a reason for that: Virtua Fighter 5 is probably the best next-gen fighting game made to date. It’s head and shoulders above the competition in all other respects, and is, hands down, the best fighting game released this year, even surpassing the offline-only PS3 version. Fans of VF and fighting games in general would do well to pick this up as soon as possible.



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