Wednesday, February 21

Virtua Fighter 5 Review

Beating people up has never been this beautiful.

Virtua Fighter 5 is finally on the PS3, and fighting game enthusiasts can now enjoy the elite of beat ‘em ups outside of Japan arcades. But to enjoy VF5 at it’s fullest, you’ll need not only a PS3 but a good, big-screen HDTV as well. But even if the price of admission may be a bit steep, fighting game fans won’t regret a thing once this beauty is running in 720p hi-def loveliness before their eyes. This game truly LOOKS like a big budget brawler. Thankfully though, it also plays like one.
VF5 will be embraced by those who already love the series as perhaps the pinnacle of home brawlers. For those coming in fresh to VF, this is a deep, technical fighter that rewards practice and dedication. A few glaring flaws keep VF5 from being the end-all, be-all of fighters, but this is still one impressive title that is a genuine reason to get a PS3.

The small but slam-tastic newcomer El Blaze is sure to be a favorite.

No game looks as ‘Next-Gen’ (well, now-gen) as Virtua Fighter 5. It positively leaves every other fighting game in the dust in terms of looks, particularly with the character models. The fighters are the best yet in terms of lifelike detail, texture and complexity, and this is fitting since the game truly focuses on the fighters themselves. Characters like Shun and Lau are wrinkled and leathery, while babes like Aoi and Pai look like they can star in soap commercials. While not as expansive or interactive as in other games, the stages are awash with detail and bright color. More than one stage shows off cool effects, like individual cherry blossom petals in the Shrine Stage, reflective floors in the Mansion or impressive water ripples in the Ruins Stage.
The fighters also animate pretty much perfectly at a rock-solid frame rate, with fluid martial arts moves and satisfyingly painful reactions to various hits. Fabric and clothing also animate convincingly, even looking damp when a character gets splashed in water.

In terms of fighting action, VF5 is the best of a series that has made realistic fighting it’s main strength. No fireballs or super moves- just painful blows, bone-breaking grapples and dangerous-looking throws that are more or less grounded in real world martial arts. With just three buttons and the joystick, you have access to literally hundreds of moves and combos.
While you can play a shallow game of just blocking and striking hard and fast, the game truly rewards players who take the effort to learn more advanced techniques like evades, throw-escapes, counters, juggles, guaranteed moves and so forth. It will definitely require a lot of practice, but you will see the fruits of your labors with amazing matches and satisfying victories.
What’s great overall about the VF fighting system (and which fans will stand by against) is the game’s balance and fluidity- there isn’t an overwhelming emphasis on counters or dialed-in combos. There are 17 unique fighters and martial arts styles to choose, each with strengths and weaknesses you have to master and compensate for respectively. For the most part though, the best thing about VF5 is that it is far more accessible and playable particularly for newcomers to the game than previous installments. But as always, skill and practice is rewarded- the more you put into this game, the more you get out of it.

Whether you're using slippery ninja Kage or graceful dancing girl Aoi, the balanced gameplay gives every player an even playing field.

That said, in terms of modes, VF5 is, unfortunately, pretty basic. There’s no Story Mode (everything plot-wise about VF is handled off-game) at all, with just a basic Arcade Mode and VS Mode for starters. The Dojo or Training Mode is adequate, but not as helpful or deep as it could have been- more options or a bit more user-friendly options (like the ability to have the CPU demo any of the many moves) would have improved the Dojo a lot. Finally, the VF TV mode is just a glorified Watch Mode which has very limited use or appeal.

The Quest Mode will surely be the single player’s activity for the most part, letting you travel through a virtual Tokyo and challenge various A.I. opponents of varying levels. Success is rewarded with gold and various emblems and items. Still, it’s pretty basic as well- all you pretty much need to do is just beat everyone you find, with no variation of parameters or goals.
VF5’s Customize Mode is much improved from the previous games, and easily impresses as the best implementation so far of this feature. You can give your character a personal touch, radically changing their appearance with dozens and dozens of clothing variants, hairstyles, items and options. But while the fan service in VF has certainly been ramped up (all the girls have been ‘sexed up’), every option and customization is still in line with each character’s style and the game’s relatively conservative stance… if you want bikini fighters, there’s always DOA.

Shiny, sexy Dural is unlockable as a playable character by beating the game with every other character.

The sounds in VF5 are a mixed bag- each stage comes with an accompanying tune that sets the atmosphere well but is may not appeal to some. You’ll either like it or not, but none of it is bad at least.
The sound effects are the same sounds from previous VF games. Hits like major kicks or big pounce attacks slam hard, while stuff like Akira’s deadly moves boom out like thunder. It’s all impressive and cool, and gives powerful attacks a lot more emphasis.

The voices are mostly well-done, though English lines are often funny if not totally hilarious. The most painful voice samples though belong not to the fighters but to the optional English Commentary, which I prefer turned off due to the seemingly bored, flat and off-kilter delivery.

Replayability and Fun Factor
There are 17 unique fighters to choose from, and it will take hours to even begin to get good with any single one. The single player game is long if you dedicate yourself to unlocking every item and beating every A.I. opponent in the Quest Mode. However, this game shines in VS, one-on-one play with two human players. It’s a big glaring fault though that VF5 has no online capability- no online play is fine, but it would have made VF5 that much more enjoyable and rewarding if you could update the game with new moves and items like the arcade version, or if you could post replay data online to show off your best matches. More modes as well and more detailed options wouldn’t have hurt at all.
That said, there’s more than enough deep, satisfying fighting action here for any beat ‘em up fan, and that at least is where VF5’s strengths count the most.

Final Word
Virtua Fighter 5 is without a doubt the most beautiful-looking and playing fighter out right now for a home console. With the best graphics and animation around, challenging and deep fighting action that only gets better as you do, VF5 is truly a champion among fighters and finally, a great reason to get a PS3 and enter the world of HD next-gen gaming.

No comments: