The once over-populated genre of the fighting game is now a mere shadow of what it used to be. In fact there are really only five big names left in the category and among those Virtua Fighter has never been the top choice for casual gamers. With its extremely balanced character set and incredibly deep combat system the series remains a hardcore gamers dream and a casual one’s nightmare.
With the fifth entry into the series hopefully this can change. Releasing VF5 on the PS3 at this particular time in the system’s life could be a blessing in disguise as most owners of the console are chomping at the bit for new games. The question is can gamers look past its initial flaws and shortcomings and really learn to appreciate the beauty of a refined combat system as well as the gorgeous next-gen visuals.
The first thing you will notice when you power up the game is that Sega has done little to differentiate this entry from the last. The sound effects are the same, the menu system is still clunky, and a serious lack of modes really hurt the presentation and appeal of the game. Probably the biggest crime on Sega’s behalf though is a complete lack of an online component. Now while many will argue that playing this game online ruins the experience because of lag; completely stripping the game of any online functionality is unacceptable in this day and age.
The developers could have completely left out an online Vs. mode and simply included the option to upload replays, share custom characters, or just record stats and times on a leaderboard. Hell even the addition of some downloadable content would have made me happy, but as it stands the game has absolutely zero online components and that really detracts from the overall package.
With the online complaints aside the rest of the package is pretty solid. While you won’t find many new modes, the ones that are here should be more than enough to keep you occupied for a very long time. Anyone who plays VF will be quick to point out that the game isn’t like your Tekkens and DOAs where mastering each and every fighter is a possibility. In fact, mastering just one of the combatants in Virtua Fighter can take years because of the complex fighting mechanic.
Virtua Fighter 5 boasts a roster of 17 characters including fifteen returning favorites and two brand new ones. The first is Eileen who is a nice addition to the roster and really accommodates to beginning players with simple combos and fast reaction times. The second is a Luchador by the name of El Blaze. Think of him as a smaller, faster version of Wolf with some truly high-flying maneuvers that will test even the most veteran of VF player.
The rest of the returning cast should be pretty familiar to fans of the series and Sega has made sure that each one is perfectly tuned to the new engine. Once you choose your combatant you can jump into Arcade mode; which is the standard fight your way to the end endeavor we have been accustomed to in all brawlers, or you can choose to begin the Quest Mode which is really the bread and butter of VF5.
In Quest Mode you choose on fighter and play in a host of matches across virtual arcades to increase your rank and earn items to customize your combatant. The sheer amount of items you can obtain to differentiate your fighter is impressive and you can even name them and give them a specific quote that will appear before each match.
Each fighter in this mode is based on a particular AI player from the VF universe including even some wacky characters from the staff at specific online publications. Being able to mirror their fighting style and play against virtual versions of these players is nice, but it still really makes you pine for a true online mode to face them for real.
What is really lacking from this mode though is all the great customization options found in the arcade version. No longer can you create your own entrance with dazzling effects to coincide with your personal tastes. Add this to the complete lack of being able to upload scores to a leaderboard and the inability to even transfer your custom character to a memory card and take it to a buddy’s house make this game really limited in appeal to fans of great competition. Not being able to share your accomplishments or custom combatant is a true disappointment that we hope will be remedied with the upcoming Xbox 360 release of the game this August.
While some of the design options and lack of online is disappointing, the one area where Virtua Fighter 5 really shines is the visuals. The PS3 has recreated Lindbergh-powered visuals to amazing detail. Characters clothes move convincingly and sport some of the best animation I have ever seen. Close-ups of each protagonist sport an amazing attention to detail down to realistic facial movements and even full-flowing sweat. If you are lucky enough to own an HDTV and get to see all of this running in gorgeous 720p you will be really surprised, but even on a standard definition TV it gets the job done. Also worth noting is that the game will run in 1080i for those of you who don’t have TV’s that support 720p.
The sounds on the other hand are a bit inconsistent, especially on the voices. Keeping the default English voices on is known to cause traumatic stress and possibly hemorrhaging of the ears. Seriously the actors voicing these characters make old kung-fu dubs look like Disney voice overs. Another questionable addition is the play-by-play commentary used in the game. Created to mimic a sports atmosphere it comes across more as a cheap and tawdry gimmick that is better left silenced, although at times it can be absolutely hilarious and worth checking out for sheer entertainment value. The music ranges from classic to simply awful as Sega has once again decided to dig up the classic rock tunes of yore. While some of them will have you nodding your head to the beat, others will have you simply banging your head into a wall.
When all is said and done Virtua Fighter 5 is a bare bones package that will survive based on its merits as opposed to failing because of its shortcomings. The lack of any online component is a heartbreaker, but one that can be overlooked if you truly enjoy the deep combat to be found within. The Quest Mode will keep you enthralled for hours on end, but not being able to put your custom fighter up against your buddies via memory card will hurt this game’s longevity. If you enjoy the series or fighting games in general it doesn’t get much better than the VF series. While the PS3 has been a stale place for original content lately, this game finally brings something to the table to help you justify that $600 purchase.