When it comes down to fighting perfection, unprecedented depth and fantastic gameplay mechanics, nothing comes close to Virtua Fighter. Since the early 90s, Virtua Fighter has been the bastion of 3D fighting, with nearly every iteration. Yes, unfortunately every series has a blemish somewhere, and VF is no different. While Virtua Fighter 3tb wasn't up to par with the likes of Tekken 3, and later on, Tekken Tag, the release of Virtua Fighter 4 quickly made up for it. Virtua Fighter 4 was unlike any fighting game I've ever played before; it had the most amazing mechanics behind it, terrific balance, and an addictive quality. Lots of hours were invested into VF4, and I continued to play VF4: Evolution extensively, as well. Tekken and Soul Calibur have been able to tide me over during the past years, but I still wanted a new VF. And so that time has come. After over a year of anticipation (and five years since VF4), I've finally gotten my fifth Virtua Fighter; and I couldn't be happier.
For starters, when it comes down to tight mechanics, nothing is as balanced as Virtua Fighter 5. You can throw all of the Tekkens and Soul Caliburs you want at me, but they simply don't measure up to just how tight Virtua Fighter 5 plays – and this is coming a big Tekken fan, too. As soon as you start a match with any given character you have experience with, you quickly realize why VF5 is so special. It's the fluidity, the precision and superb balance. Likewise, if you plan on playing this game in harder difficulties, you'll be spending quite a bit of time honing your skills in the game's Dojo mode.
Dojo will teach you not only the moves of a specific character, but also train you to fight under certain difficulty levels. For instance, it's tiresome to play through the Arcade mode on Hard just so you can better yourself. Especially since you re-start every time you get beaten — so here's where the Dojo comes in. You can set the fighter you'll be practicing on to fight back by adjusting his A.I. from 1 to 5 — 1 being the easiest, 5 the hardest. It quickly becomes a tool to improve your skills, and it will also teach you that guarding is an essential asset to victories. There are a number of other adjustments you can make to your punching bag fighter, most of which I recall being present in VF4. If you want to practice a fighter's move-set, then go into the Dojo's Command Training and practice it in either Time Attack, or normally.
When you feel like you're ready, head over to either the Arcade mode or Quest mode. Arcade mode is what you'll want to play when you're in the mood for a quick pick-up session. If you've played VF4, then you know what to expect here: 10 stages, Akira is the last boss, and Dural is your bonus fight. Of course, this VF game is no different than the ones before it, in that it still doesn't have endings – so sometimes, the Arcade mode feels a little hapless. If you're looking to feel rewarded, then look no further than the addictive Quest mode.
Quest mode is basically one enormous virtual competition that takes you and your chosen fighter from arcade to arcade, fighting through dozens of other arcade players just like you. There's a map laid out in front of you, with a whole bunch of different arcades you can visit. Each arcade spot you go to has its own range of players: some arcades will have only novice players, some will have a mix, and some will be strictly for the hardcore. You'll want to start off at the novice/beginner and maybe intermediate arcades, that way you can build up a worthy winning streak, earn some easy rewards, and easily climb in rankings. Quest mode rewards you with items that you can use to customize your fighters with, or money so that you can buy more items with. What's superb about the customization is that you have the ability to completely change the look of one fighter; having the same two fighters look nothing alike. You can change their clothing, hair color, hair style, and all sorts of accessories to them. For that reason alone, Quest is addictive.
One thing that should be known about Quest mode is that once you start one match, new challenges will constantly keep appearing match after match. Eventually you'll fight long enough to enter a tournament, but there's a minor quirk to all of this. When you're playing regular matches, you're racking up wins, which puts you on a winning streak. Now, if you decide to quit or you have to stop fighting, you can't. Well, you can, but you'll lose your winning streak. Think of this as 'cashing-out' in a casino; once you've had enough, quit the match, and the game will deposit all of your earnings and items into your inventory. The other way your streak will end is if you lose, obviously. Lastly, you can't go up in ranks if you're only fighting against easy challenges; your opponents have to be formidable and within, or above, your achieved rank in order for you to advance. Likewise, fighting harder enemies will yield better rewards, too.
As far as other features go, there are 18 selectable fighters (you unlock Dural). The two new characters are El Blaze and Eileen. El Blaze is a tiny 5'5 wrestler who resembles the likes of WWE's Rey Mysterio and Japan's Ultimo Dragon. He's got a very free-flowing technique to him, and is an ideal fighter for beginner players. Eileen is another female character to add to the cast. She's also a fairly easy fighter to get the hang of, and possess quick motions that can easily be comboed. There's a TV mode that allows you to view the replays you saved, two promo videos, simulated CPU battles, and nothing else remotely superb. The VF.TV mode is pretty useless, honestly; it's only real purpose serves as a way to watch your saved replays. Last, but not least, VF5 controls superbly well with the SixAxis controller. You can remap the buttons anyway you'd like, and pulling off the moves has been fairly accurate in my experience.
You know what's every bit as impressive as the gameplay? The graphics. Virtua Fighter 5 has absurdly detailed visuals, cementing it as the absolute best looking fighting game out there right now. VF5 wows me more so than VF4 did years back, and you may recall how much I ranted about the visuals in VF4 and VF4: Evo. Screenshots really don't capture the finer details of VF5, because this game is a feat to behold. The character detail is meticulous, defined, and ridiculously well textured. The detail of each fighter's skin is unquestionably some of the most detailed among any next-generation offering right now. There is simply no question about it, Virtua Fighter 5 is stunning!
Not only do the fighters themselves boast a magnitude of definition, but some of them look eerily realistic under proper lighting conditions. And the real-time lighting is another visual facet that lends itself to creating such a realistic look; any sources of light in a given environment will realistically reflect or shine on the bodies of fighters – it's especially noticeable on exposed skin. On top of the beautiful character detail and lighting, the animations are silky smooth, better than what they were in VF4/VF4: Evo. The strands of animation are so fine and complicated, that it doesn't take long to realize why a game like VF5 wouldn't be very playable online; they'd have to simplify the entire engine, and half-ass the mechanics.
Here's what many will find to be their favorite part of the visuals: the stages. Virtua Fighter 4/VF4: Evo were both known to display some pretty spiffy looking environments, but VF5 takes it to a whole other level. Everything from the colors, to the textures, to the scenery will leave you in awe and amazement. Some of the stages are so gorgeous that they're distracting: take the Waterfalls, Island, River, or Temple stage, for example. All of the stages are every bit as detailed and splendid as the next, but the brightest and greenest do tend to stand out.
Lastly, while the Virtua Fighter 5 box mentions only 720p, the game can be actually ran in 1080i and 1080p, as well. To do this, make sure you have 1080i selected, unselect 720p from the PS3's display settings, and then boot up the game to run it in 1080i. Unselect 720p and 1080i to run the game in 1080p. But know this, while the upscaling to1080i looks perfectly fine (it will actually cure 90% of overscan problems you may have in 720p), 1080p tends to look jaggier and unnatural. If 720p displays without any overscan issues on your TV, then leave it at that. But if you're experiencing overscan problems, scale up to 1080i and check to see if 1080p will render fine on your TV: this seems to be a 'your results will vary' case.
When it comes down to the audio, I was fairly surprised at just how nice the soundtrack was. I was expecting some second-rate Yngwie Malmsteen guitar rock, but instead the soundtrack demonstrates properties of gothic orchestrated arrangements with organs, violas, marching drums, cymbals, and even a distorted guitar. The tune that accompanies the "Palace" stage is the one in particular I just described. Other tracks include Japanese influenced techno, heavy metal, Japanese influenced rock and more. The soundtrack is absolutely amazing, it does practically everything right, because it doesn't limit itself to cheesy guitar riffs and extraneously long solos: it mixes so many other instruments for a fantastic package.
But not all of the things are peachy: the vocal presentation is pretty bad in many ways. The game has an announcer that you can toggle on (it's off by default), but believe me…keep the announcer off. AM2 shouldn't have even wasted their time with an announcer; he's really painful to listen to. The voice-overs for the English speaking fighters are so, so bad (i.e. cheesy) it's hilarious. El Blaze and Lion, in particular, are almost embarrassing to listen to – thankfully you can always skip the fight intros and outros. Aside from that, you have, what seem to be pretty much the same sound effects present in VF5 that were present in VF4. They get the job done, and that's fine by me — but hopefully the next VF gives us some newer, harder hitting sounds.
Virtua Fighter 5 does not disappoint. While it may not offer the amount of extras that Tekken does, it does offer the most well thought out fighting mechanics a fighting game could have, and that's more important than having a bunch of mini-games. Ultimately, you're paying for the experience of Virtua Fighter 5, not tacked-on extras, and in that regard VF5 delivers in every way. Virtua Fighter 5 doesn't have game endings, or copious amounts of characters to play with. What it does have is 18 well balanced fighters, that don't share the same move sets, that can all be customized and the Quest mode. Visually, there is no equal, and based on what we've seen of Tekken 6, it doesn't look like there will be an equal for some time. The soundtrack is terrific, even though the voiceovers aren't. Likewise, as good as Tekken: Dark Resurrection is, VF5 is still the better fighting game every which way.
It's been a while since gamers have been treated to two amazing 3D fighters simultaneously. With Tekken: DR appearing on the PS3 and now Virtua Fighter 5, fighting game fans should find themselves extremely content.