Japanese Import Review: This is the one we've been waiting for. The Big Daddy. Never mind Gran Turismo HD - that's just a pretty demo.
This is a true technical marvel of a PS3 title, a game that defines what 'next-gen' should stand for. And it's all thanks to the arcade work of Sega's AM-2 division that we have this picture-perfect PS3 conversion to talk about. But enough gushing (for now); on with the fighting talk!
To begin with, in single-player you'll spend most of your time/credits in Quest Mode. There was a Quest Mode in VF4: Evo, of course, but this time around the format is completely different. From a city map (which sort of looks like, and may actually represent, Tokyo), you can access virtual Sega arcades such as Club Sega and Sega World, wherein AI-controlled players can be challenged just as you would suggest a (virtual) fight to a real-life Tokyo youth. Each player you meet has a tag comment, such as AndySwat's excellent "Not in the face!" quip. (Most of the comments were submitted to Sega from hardcore Japanese VF players, which explains some of the bizarreness.)
Players are generally grouped in arcades according to their skill levels and you can enter arcades in any order, so there are always plenty of fighters in waiting. There are even tournaments that begin from time to time while you're in Quest Mode, and you can choose to enter these competitions (in which case you'll lose your current winning streak) or continue with your own arcade play.
Unfortunately, this seems to be Sega's roundabout way of saying, "Why do you need online play?" Although the AI here is excellent and the format caters particularly well to Sega fans, Quest Mode is no substitute for proper human competition and we can't help but wish there was at least some sort of PlayStation Network feature in VF5. There isn't, though but we're still going to gush.
Happily for any VF virgins out there (yes, both of you), Virtua Fighter 5 is slightly more forgiving than its immediate predecessors. You quickly work through Arcade Mode, for example, to reach mighty 10th Dan opponents (Kyu and Dan rankings are VF's way of telling you how tough a fighter is, and what skill level he/she is at) and still be in with at least a chance of earning a victory. It depends largely on knowing your own character's strengths and playing to them, but imaginative use of standard and combo moves - because opponents at higher levels will see your attacks coming and quickly move to block them - can defeat a rival, no matter what level you're each playing at.
In Arcade Mode, Versus Mode and Quest Mode, you can take your fighter into an arena and find that there's an incentive of some sort (other than personal pride) to ensure that you give 100 percent - whether it's an orb for your orb ring, a new costume or accessory, money to spend in VF5's item shop, or a rank up (you begin at 10 Kyu and go through to 1 Kyu, before attempting to progress from 1st Dan to 10th Dan). So in that sense, there are no meaningless fights in Virtua Fighter 5. And because it is your character, complete with personal fight data and an individually assembled wardrobe, there's a great sense of personal involvement.
The AI of opponents in Virtua Fighter 5 is, as we've established, commensurate with their skill level. But there are no stupids on this disc. Pai Chan instinctively knows that her kicks are more effective than her punches, for instance, and her AI-controlled self will rely on them just as much as you will.