Virtua Fighter 5

Review

posted 12/7/2007 by Cyril Lachel
other articles by Cyril Lachel
It's about time the somebody makes another fighting game for the Xbox 360! Outside of Xbox Live Arcade games like Street Fighter II Turbo and Ultimate Mortal Kombat 3, Dead or Alive 4 is the only Xbox 360 fighting game of note. While I can't argue against the busty babes that adorn every inch of Dead or Alive, Tecmo's fighter lacks the depth that I want from my one-on-one experience. Thanks to Sega, Xbox 360 owners will finally have a second option for their 3D fighting. That option is Virtua Fighter 5, one of the greatest fighting games of all time.

For what it's worth, this is not the first time Virtua Fighter 5 has been released on a home console. Earlier this year Sega released what was supposed to be a PlayStation 3 exclusive, however, for whatever reason, Sega decided to share the love and release the game on the Xbox 360 six months later. While the half-year wait has been excruciating for fans, the good news is that Sega has actually gone through the already solid game and made it better than ever. And even though this is the only version of the game on the Xbox 360, Sega even went ahead and added the word "Online" to the title just so nobody would confuse this for some other version of Virtua Fighter 5.

To be fair to Sega, the name tells you everything you need to know about this game. This is the fifth iteration of the Virtua Fighter series, the franchise that first introduced arcade gamers to the concept of a 3D fighting game. While it's nowhere near as popular in the U.S. as other fighting games, Virtua Fighter has a name for being one of the deepest and most balanced fighters on the planet. And like the title suggests, this version of Virtua Fighter 5 is "Online." Surprising almost everybody, Sega decided to make this Xbox 360 version the first Virtua Fighter game to offer online multiplayer support. It may not be the prettiest name around, but Virtua Fighter 5 Online gets the job done.

For many Xbox 360 owners this will be the first time ever experiencing a Virtua Fighter game, up until now this 3D fighter has only been on Sega and Sony consoles (unless you count the port of the 2D Virtua Fighter 2 on the Nintendo Wii's Virtual Console). Thankfully this Xbox 360 debut is a perfect port that in some ways is actually better than its PlayStation 3 and arcade releases.

Virtua Fighter 5 Online has a lot going for it. On one hand the game is easily the best looking fighting game on the Xbox 360, not that it takes much to unseat 2005's first-generation Dead or Alive 4. But most importantly this is one of the best playing fighting games of all time, it offers deceptively deep controls and more moves than you will ever know what to do with. It also features a huge line-up (18 in all) of interesting fighters that all look and play differently. What's more, the game features one of the most compelling single-player modes ever featured in a fighting game.

But let's not get ahead of ourselves, at its core Virtua Fighter 5 Online is a standard 3D one-on-one fighting game. You control the game using only three buttons, one for punch, kick and block. Don't be fooled by the uncharacteristic amount of buttons, each character in Virtua Fighter 5 features dozens of powerful attacks and counters. Each battle takes place in a square ring; some of these levels allow you to hit your opponent over the side for an instant win. If you've played the first four Virtua Fighter games then you'll feel right at home with this fifth installment, and even new fans should get the hang of things without much effort.

What sets Virtua Fighter apart from all of the other 3D fighting games on the market is how different each of the characters feels when playing. This is not one of those games where if you're good at one fighter then you will be good with all of them. This is the kind of game where you spend months of your life perfecting your skills with one character. That's not to say that you can't dabble with a few other characters from time to time, but the fun in the game is learning everything there is to know about a singular character (and then taking him into the ring and showing no mercy to your opponent).

On top of a solid fighting engine, Virtua Fighter 5 Online has at least one truly amazing single-player mode. Even the most hardcore fighting game fanatic would agree that the single-player mode is where most fighters fall down. But Virtua Fighter 5 is different; it offers a "Quest" mode that gives you a compelling reason to fight hundreds (if not thousands) of battles without complaining.

In Quest mode you get to choose one character and then play as a guy going from arcade to arcade playing virtual Virtua Fighter 5 fans, entering tournaments, customizing your character and going from the bottom ranked player to the top. It's not as deep as a full-fledged adventure game or the campaign in a first-person shooter game, but Virtua Fighter's quest mode is oddly addicting.

Each of the city's arcades is represented by a little icon on a large map; in each arcade are a series of Virtua Fighter regulars who are looking for a new challenger. Each of the arcades has three different Virtua Fighter cabinets, so pick the one closest to your rank and see how many opponents you can beat in a row. From time to time you'll win prizes for playing certain fans and, if your experience is high enough, you may even rank up to another level. Part of what makes this game so addictive is leveling up your character, it's always exciting to know that you're making progress and are ready to fight the arcade's more experienced players.

Of course, none of this would work if you were just playing the same 18 characters over and over. The reason that this quest mode can exist at all is because of how customizable each of the characters is. Between the different clothes, accessories and hairstyles, every character can look as goofy or deadly serious as you want them to look. While none of this changes the way they fight, it is awfully fun to dress your character up in a lot of different weird ways. In the quest mode you will be running into a lot of other people's Virtua Fighter characters, that is, the dressed-up fighter that each real person has come up with. The reason this works so well is because each fighter is given a name and you start to recognize certain virtual fighters based on the way their Virtua Fighter looked.

The quest mode is about more than just fighting strangers at one of the city's many arcades; you can also enter major tournaments and see if you can hit the top spot. What's more, the game also tracks your wins and losses, as well as let you add your own icons next to your name/handle. While there isn't a story in the quest mode, this does offer a compelling reason to fight when you're by yourself.

But as great as the quest mode is (and trust me, I've lost plenty of hours just sitting there ranking up my character), Virtua Fighter 5 is meant to be played against other people. If this was any other version of Virtua Fighter that would involve you finding another real person who was into video games (and good at Virtua Fighter), but thankfully that's not the case with this Xbox 360 game. As I mentioned before, this is the first time Virtua Fighter has been online, and Sega has done a remarkably good job of giving us a smooth running 3D fighter that works with the Xbox Live service.

Of course, no online game is perfect and Virtua Fighter 5 does have a few problems. The obvious concern for a game like this is internet lag; fighting games just don't work right if there's lag while playing the game. Unfortunately Virtua Fighter 5 runs into this lag concern, but it's not nearly as bad as other attempts at online 3D fighting (see: Dead or Alive 4). I have played rounds of Virtua Fighter 5 online that have been lag-free, while other rounds have devolved into a framey mess. The good definitely outweighs the bad here, but I can only hope that somebody will be able to perfect online fighting.

Another problem with this service is how boring and basic the set-up is. It would have been nice to have a better matchmaking set-up where people of similar skills could play each other. As it is no matter what your skill level is at you'll probably be paired up with an expert player, which can be a bit daunting for those who are new to the Virtua Fighter franchise. It also would have been nice of Sega to allow more than two people to play in a room; I rather like the idea of watching other people play before I'm ready to take on the winner. I can't be too harsh on Sega for these relatively minor gripes, at the end of the day I'm just happy that they decided to take the leap and allow online play with this Virtua Fighter. Here's hoping that all future installments will have a similar online mode that only builds on an already good foundation.

When you're not playing online, customizing your character or fighting through the quest mode, you can also check out some of the other modes in Virtua Fighter 5. Even though the quest mode is the most exciting single-player component, Sega did include the Arcade mode, which plays like a standard arcade game where you go from one fighter to the next and then face a final boss. You can also learn new moves and combos in the Virtua Fighter Dojo. Rounding out the list is the VF.TV, which is a place for you to watch saved fights. The VF.TV is a good idea, but it doesn't feel fully realized in this Xbox 360 game. These different modes are interesting, but at the end of the day the best reason to play this fighter is for the multiplayer and quest mode.

Virtua Fighter 5's amazing graphics don't hurt its appeal any. This is easily the best looking fighting game currently available on the Xbox 360, and arguably the best looking fighter on any platform (including arcade). The backgrounds (which include all the basics, like a river, mountains, city, etc.) are full of small details that make them stand out. And you can't forget about the characters, each of the 18 characters is large and full of polish. It's hard to imagine a Virtua Fighter game looking better than this, but I'm sure I'll be saying that about Virtua Fighter 6 whenever it comes out.

While you can play Virtua Fighter 5 with the standard Xbox 360 control, the best way to play an arcade fighter like this is with an arcade-style joystick control. Unfortunately this means you will probably have to invest another $60 dollars into the game, $120 if you want a second joystick for a friend. Getting everything set up can easily cost you $200, which can be a lot of money for a fighting game. But Virtua Fighter 5 is worth it, there just isn't a better fighting game on the market. And the good news is that nobody is actually forcing you to buy the expensive joystick controls, they are completely optional.

Virtua Fighter 5 more than lives up to the high pedigree of the first four games, which should be enough of a reason right there for most people to buy the game. With its amazing cast of characters, detailed graphics and solid gameplay modes (for both online and offline play), Virtua Fighter 5 is the best fighting game currently available on the Xbox 360. We can argue all day about whether it's the best fighting game of all time, but I doubt too many people are going to disagree that this is a high water mark for Microsoft's next-generation console.





A-
Released six months after the PlayStation 3 version, Virtua Fighter 5 proves to be an even better game on the Xbox 360. Not only are the graphics as good as they can be, but the game sports some of the most compelling game modes found in a fighting game. If you even remotely enjoy beating the snot out of another person, then Virtua Fighter 5 is the perfect game for you!