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.
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