Virtua Fighter 5
Virtua Fighter is one of the longest-running series of fighting games around. The first one was amazing in the arcades, as it took the previously 2D-only action of other fighting games and put it into a fully 3D world. Of course, the first game was ugly as hell by today's standards, but even back then the fighting, if a little sluggish, still held plenty of depth for serious players. After three more sequels that improved on the fighting mechanics and graphics, here we are today, looking at Virtua Fighter 5. This is the first fighting game to hit the PlayStation 3, so let's see if Sega's transitioning of one of their older franchises into HD really adds something to the game.
If you've played past Virtua Fighter titles and loved them all, you'll certainly find plenty to like here. The interface has been redone and all your favorite characters are here with a couple of new additions: the monkey-fighting Eileen and the Mexican luchador El Blaze. And of course the originals are all here, including Pai, Jacky, Sarah, Aoi, Jeffry, Wolf, Kage, and the rest. Many of the move lists from VF4 have been expanded and reworked.
And the depth to the many fighting moves in VF5 is really what sets this game apart from so many others in the genre. Many characters have multiple styles with unique move sets, and all kinds of triggers, counters, move cancels, and more. If those terms mean nothing to you, well, you still might get into it if you work through the game's Dojo system. It'll teach you every move in the game, although it unfortunately doesn't really show you how fast or slow you'll need to work the controller to get larger combos out, nor does the game really demonstrate them to you. You'll get an onscreen display of the directions and buttons you need to push, and that's it.
And at first, VF5 seems pretty simple. It's only got three buttons (Guard, Punch, Kick) and at first it seems like there aren't that many moves. But quickly after that you'll find that certain attacks can lead into multiple choices for new ones and many customized combos open up. This is one of the better parts of the game, as the learning curve is pretty steep but it's also pretty constant: once you get some time in the Dojo to learn, you'll start figuring out how to best string together attacks or mix up coming in high, middle, and low to throw off your opponent. You will be doing less memorizing of what the developers set up, and more memorizing strings of attacks that you figured out yourself. So it starts off basic enough, but gets very complex at the high-end game. Still, the fighting is not nearly as accessible early on as Dead or Alive 4, Soul Calibur 3 or Tekken 5 is.
I recommend that beginners pick one character and start learning just that one character's moves. After some time in the Dojo, you can go to Arcade mode to do a pretty simplistic series of fights that ends fighting the same final boss we've seen every time: Dural. But the meat of VF5 lies instead in the Quest mode, where you become a VF5 "player" and visit virtual arcades to play against AI opponents that represent other arcade players. This will feel pretty strange at first, seeing that it's a home console game simulating an arcade experience of a fighting game you're actually playing, but it is good overall because the different AI opponents do play their favorite characters differently. As you beat them you rank up and can unlock stuff to equip on your character. It's not just full costumes, but separate pieces and hairstyles to choose from as well.
The problem comes when you eventually realize that you're good enough to beat the AI at pretty much all levels. There are no online features at all in VF5, and the game's highly technical nature mean that it's difficult to just bring a buddy over to pick up and play. To get any real, long-lasting value out of this game you're going to need other real people in your area to play against. The game's definitely solid enough for a few people to dig in and play against each other for months and still learn new things - that's for sure. But I've got to ask if that's really enough for a fighting game nowadays. Full online play would be a tough thing to get right for a technical fighting game like this one, but I think Sega really should have tried.
Even Tekken: Dark Resurrection on the PSP had better online functionality. In that game, you could "train" an AI character to play with your style, then upload it online for others to download and fight against. There's nothing like that here, nor is there any kind of mode where you train an AI character to play like you do. These features seemed a little strange in past games, but they really added a lot of replay value for those gamers who didn't have someone of similar skill to play against.
As far as the graphics go, I feel that Sega could have done better with Virtua Fighter 5. The characters don't look much better than they did in #4, and while everything's in 720p HD now (and not 1080p, despite being on the PS3), the arenas and characters need another level of detail to really wow me. Many of the levels are very similar to ones seen in other Japanese-made fighting games like Dead or Alive 4 and Tekken, although they're just different enough that you won't be confused as to which game you're playing.
Virtua Fighter 5's greatest strength is the depth of its incredible fighting. Unfortunately, the lack of online features and not-that-impressive graphics make this one only really worth it if you've already got a PS3 and love fighting games. If you're looking for months worth of fun out of this one, better find a friend who you can play against pretty often, too. I expected more out of Sega's first HD fighting game, but they at least got the fighting just right - but it's going to be up to you to make the game really worth your hard-earned money.