The original Virtua Fighter was released by Sega in 1993, and is the forerunner for polygon based fighting games. From its meager arcade eight character beginnings, and its 100 poly count original characters, Virtua Fighter 5 now boasts seventeen playable characters, gorgeous scenery and online play. Having tried and failed to nail the conversion from arcade to console many times throughout the series, the 360 may finally be a console that can handle what Virtua Fighter has now become.
Essentials wise, VF5 has all the typical elements of today's fighting games. The single player mode lets you compete in the arcade version, practice and learn your combos in the dojo, and an interesting Quest mode that sets you in a virtual neighborhood where you can visit different arcades and play computer opponents of different skill levels. This is where you can unlock items and costumes and dramatically alter the appearance of your character. I actually quite like this new addition to the game. Set up just like an arcade, you fight a steady stream of challengers, each with their own custom appearances and screen names, winning gold and items for your troubles. You can also enter random tournaments and compete in a series of matches for larger prizes. What makes this mode really fun to play is the different AI of the other fighters. Sometimes you can blow through them; other times, you can't get a hit in edge wise.
After you've put in some solid hours in Quest mode, to really test your skill you need to play with a friend or play online because that's what VF5 is really meant for. Through Xbox Live, players can fight in ranked or unranked matches. Do this either randomly through quick match or set up your own match where you determine number of rounds, location and time. Although the idea behind the online play is great there are some glaring problems with the interface. Menu after menu is bad enough but when you play a match and it ends, you are shunted back to the initial menu with no option of a rematch. While this is fine for a quick match, it's just stupid when you go to the trouble to set up a match (or would be series of matches) with a buddy. Even then, you have to go through the whole set up over again if you want to play again.
Graphically, VF5 looks how it ought to on the 360: stunning places to fight, some with semi-destructible walls, and all with nice realistic lighting. The characters also look good but some look way too shiny, although they do look a lot better on an HDTV. The animations for the combos and special moves are pretty slick too, and since timing is everything in this game it's nice that the animations look realistic enough to predict your opponents' moves.
The controls are another area for improvement in this game; while the triggers are great for first person shooters, they kind of suck in the pace of a fighting game. Also the thumbstick is no substitute for a round ball arcade stick making those serious about this game in need of an arcade style game pad.
Any other short comings aside, Virtua Fighter 5 Online is just that: it's online. If you have fond memories playing its predecessors in your local arcade, you will love this game and will likely spend many hours destroying newcomers online. If you are a fan of fighting games but are inexperienced with the Virtua Fighter series, be prepared to get creamed online until you've put in some serious hours on your own. Even then there certainly are enough evil players out there that you'll still rack up some major losses.
Still, it is about time fighting games were given the opportunity to shine in the online world. Fans of the Virtua Fighter arcade series take for granted that playing a real person is necessary to truly take in the experience. Although the online menu system needs some surgery, the fact is lots of people love this game and thus an online match is always available. Again though, be warned: if you are new to this game you will likely be beaten down so badly online that you're definitely going to throw in the controller a few times.