Release Date: October 30, 2007
Most of the time, when a game is ported over to a different system, sounds of despair and feelings of chagrin set upon most gamers. Ports usually don't have any extra features and are a disgrace to the original. Lately, there have been few games to break this stereotype, such as Resident Evil 4: Wii Edition and Ninja Gaiden Sigma for the PS3. You can now add Virtua Fighter 5 Online to that list, as the Xbox 360 version of the PS3 port not only keeps the basic elements that make it great, but also includes an online mode that is sure to keep VF fans happy for a long time.
In addition to the obvious online mode, there are also the arcade, dojo, quest, standard and versus modes. There is a veritable ton of goodness in VF5 to talk about, but let's just get the few bad things out of the way first, starting with something that is not even included in the game, the Xbox 360 controller. Most of us know that the d-pad needs a little work, and the thumbsticks aren't the best for fighting games, but this becomes very apparent as you practice your moves in the dojo mode. As commands come up across the screen and you try to execute the moves, you realize that you'll need to invest in an arcade stick to enjoy the game and avoid the frustration caused by the default controller.
The moves list for each character is again quite vast, ranging from normal attacks and reversals to situational throws and power moves. This helps to separate those who want to play the game from those who want to master it; the latter will dig as deep as the circumstances merit, while the former group will be able to figure out a basic move set that works for them and widen their repertoire along the way. This is one of the beautiful balancing aspects of VF5. Initially, it seems very intimidating when you see the command list and the huge array of moves that you can execute, but that list can be conquered with time.
Depth and balance are also promoted by the variety of characters and their fighting styles. Classic characters, such as Wolf Hawkfield and Kage-Maru, are featured and utilize their fighting styles (wrestling and ju-jutsu, respectively), while new characters such as El Blaze, a luchador, and Eileen, who uses Monkey Kung-Fu, expand the VF universe.
Each character has his or her own strengths and weaknesses, so they can be equalized in so many ways that no matter how different each character is, anyone can win. While Kage is superior because of his speed and Wolf is superior because of his power, any skilled gamer could play as either character and win because of the strategy that goes into each fight. If you neutralize Kage's speed with blocks and power throws or dodge Wolf's powerful punches and kick combos, you can emerge as the victor. Achieving such game balance is no easy feat and requires lots of depth, as evidenced by some of the playable characters averaging about 100 different moves in their move sets.
With so many moves for characters to pull off, it always helps when there are beautiful settings and an impressive musical score to help create the all-around package of VF5. Each stage features incredible intros showcasing the environments surrounding the fighting ring, and the rings themselves are spectacular, especially the ones that feature water, dirt or snow. Water ripples with realistic effects and reflects the movements of the players, while each fighter's step leaves an imprint in the snow.
All of the fighters are depicted in great detail as well. Hair and clothing sway freely as the characters move, and the shadows on the ground follow the characters with ease. After playing Virtua Fighter 4: Evolution, one hoped that Sega wouldn't slack off in their first next-gen outing. There are a few moments of collision or clipping, so the action is almost always seamless and smooth, which is critical in a fighting game.
VF5's soundtrack is inspiring; the background music features all types of instrumentals, most of which have an Asian origin, but the mixture of rock and upbeat bass lines really gives the game a heightened sense of intensity. On the downside, there are a few miscues with the audio during some matches, especially when characters are falling from the air into parts of the environment. Occasionally, a player could hit the beam or rod, which triggers a sound effect, but once they hit the ground, there is silence. It's not an issue to worry about by any means, but it is present in the game.
Another thing that has not left is the hideous one-liners that fighters deliver before and after the rounds. Is it some type of prerequisite that fighting games have to have terrible voice-overs with cheesy lines? We may not have understood much if the game featured Japanese dialogue instead, but at least it would have sounded better. VF5 pays homage to its predecessors with the same impact sound effects that we've come to love since the first offering on the Sega Saturn.
The standout feature of VF5's is the online mode, which pits you in ranked and unranked matches. Of course, most of your matches will depend on your Internet connection and that of your competitor. Some games will run smoothly while others will either lag or abruptly stop. The menus leading up to the matches are a bit unorganized; you'll select ranked or unranked matches and a character, but after that, trying to either join or create a match becomes a chore. The game doesn't save your settings so you're back at square one after every match, which makes playing online harder than it really should be.
Before you decide to go online, though, you're going to need to get in a ton of practice, which is why the single-player quest mode is solid. It's basically a virtual world where you can travel to various arcades and work your way up the ranks to becoming the top fighter at that arcade. The mode is very effective, especially since the arcades feature different difficulties so you can gauge your skill level. Each arcade also features various tournaments, and most of the matches will reward you with treasures and currency that you can use to purchase items to really deck out your fighter.
Virtua Fighter 5 continues the success of the VF franchise by adding an online mode and providing enough single-player modes to keep even the most avid fighting fan enthralled for quite a while. While the online mode needs a better touch-up in the next iteration, this latest installment makes it pretty clear that Virtua Fighter has solidified its spot as a top-tier fighting series.
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