We were hearing one of Japan's very best Virtua Fighter players talking about how long he had been playing the series and how ace he was. He said that he was a long way from mastering the game, but was quite confident that over the course of a year, he had truly perfected one character. That's why Virtua Fighter 5 is the hardest game you'll ever, ever play.
The Virtua Fighter games have always been the most hardcore of all beat-'em-ups. The complexity of the fighting system is leagues beyond the likes of Tekken, Soul Calibur or Dead or Alive, but - a little ironically - that complexity has long been a weakness outside of Japan's arcades. Virtua Fighter 5 goes beyond 'depth'; where Soul Calibur is almost immediately accessible and fun even for button-mashers, Virtua Fighter is simply too complicated for the average gamer to ever sink in to. In catering to the hardcore, Sega exclude every other scrapper fan around.
Still, the 360 release is now mere months away, and identical to the PS3 version in every way. That means the same 17 characters, the same stacks of costumes to dress your fighters up in, the same fight system and the same range of play modes. Conspicuous by its absence is any hint of online play, a strange omission in light of some of the 360's other fighters - Dead or Alive 4, Street Fighter 2, Mortal Kombat 3 - all of which support Live play. It's not as bad as it sounds, though.
The hardest of hardcore games, Virtua Fighter 5 is so utterly timing-intensive that even the merest hint of latency or lag will strip the game of the pacing that makes it so great. Timing isn't so critical in, say, the Dead or Alive games, but in VF, where strikes can be as quick as a single frame of animation, online conditions can quickly render the game pretty much unplayable.
In Japan, where they take arcades seriously and no arcade game is taken as seriously as Virtua Fighter 5, regular updates rebalance the game based on player feedback and add new features. The latest update, Rev C, has made the usual miniscule combat tweaks as well as adding a handful of new costumes. Here's hoping they're standard on the 360 version and that Xbox Live is used to keep the game bang up to date, too.
There's very little that can go wrong with this one. Even as a simple, straight port, it immediately becomes the best fighting game on the Xbox 360, hands down, no arguments. And with regular updates to look forward to, it may just keep that crown for a long, long time.