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Thursday
Nov012007

Virtua Fighter 5: A Little Rough Around the Edges

Virtua Fighter 5 just came out for Xbox 360. The gameplay is great as always, but a lot of features of this game leave me scratching my head.

Button Configuration
I think I have witnessed more players configure their buttons than any other US game developer. (Feel free to correct me if you know of someone else who tops me here). I watch people config buttons for hours and hours and hours as I run tournaments at multiple events per year, every year. There is a 100% rate of agreement among players that the best implementation is where the game lists the functions, then the player presses the button he wants for that function. So you highlight "jab" or "punch" or whatever, then you press the button you want to be assigned to that. This process does NOT require you to know that the button you presses is really X or Square or A or whatever else.

Virtua Fighter and many other fighting games STILL use the bad method where you cannot press the button you want to assign. You must highlight the *button* (not the function), then go left/right to set the function. So the game lists "X" then you have to look down at your controller, find the X button, realize that it should be kick or whatever, then go left/right until you select kick.

Believe me, this requires an extra mental step from players and it takes significantly longer for them to configure buttons with this implementation and as I said earlier, exactly no one likes it.

Still on the subject of button config, Virtua Fighter 5 has a major problem that I can't believed passed Microsoft's technical requirement checklist. I configured my buttons for player 1, then I played some matches online where I was the one creating the match. Things worked fine. Then I decided to *join* someone else's created match. I was put on the 2p side (fine), and my buttons were all messed up! I was now using the 2p button config! I can already sense the VF apologists trying to defend this with some kind of warped logic, but it's absolutely terrible. No other fighting game has this problem.

Online Player Match
Very surprisingly, after you play a "player match" (aka unranked match), you and the opponent are both kicked out back to the matchmaking screen. Want a rematch? Tough, there's no rematch option. You can't create a "room", much less with spectators, where you go around in a rotation like Dead or Alive and SF2: Hyper Fighting. Now, you *can* make a private room with someone on your friends list where you get to play them over and over (just them, no spectators or others in the rotation). This will lead to a lot of good players feeling forced to only fight people on their friends list just to have a logistically reasonable set of matches. Bad for community, because you want those players playing out in the open where everyone can challenge them.

Online Ranked Match
You are allowed to set whether you want to play opponents near your skill level or of any skill level. You are allowed to set whether you want arenas with no walls, low walls, high walls, or any walls. These options should not be in ranked matches. The premise of a ranked match in any game is that the player has as little leeway to affect who he fights or what the rules will be. It's supposed to be the same rules all the time and no ability to avoid opponents you're afraid of losing to.

Not only can you filter by skill level and arena type, but you can also see the opponent's name, rank, and exact win/loss record before you even accept the match. (Yes I know that you can see their names before the match starts in Puzzle Fighter's ranked matches. That is a mistake and will be fixed if there's a patch.) Anyway, you get an awful lot of info about your opponent before you even try to join his ranked match. This alone ruins the integrity of the leaderboards. I heard a rumor that disconnects don't count as losses, but I have no idea personally.

Character Selection
Virtua Fighter 5 does another strange thing that no other fighting game does: it tries very hard to get you to only play one character. Usually, character selection is part of the main loop, meaning you go back to it after every game. In VF5, after you play a player match (and are kicked out to the matchmaking screen, ugh), you are *still* tied to your character. You have to exit the whole online mode to switch to another character. Another character is basically like another account.

I of course know why they did this. In Japan, players tend to play just one character in a fighting game. In tournaments, they don't allow switching characters like we do in the US. Now, as a tournament player, I strongly dislike the Japanese method. If I can beat 70% of people in a tournament with character A and the other 30% with character B, I deserve to win the tournament. But anyway, let's not argue that right now. The extreme emphasis on sticking to one character in VF5 comes from how the game is played in Japan. That's nice, but I want to play Jeffry sometimes, Pai sometimes, and Lei Fei some other times. It's a real hassle to do this relative to every other fighting game. The designers are saying to me, "We don't really approve of you having that sort of fun" and it makes me sad.

As I said at the start, the gameplay in VF is just a technical and well thought-out as you'd expect and the online play is surprisingly unlaggy. That's what counts the most, but all the other rough edges are a bit of a downer.

--Sirlin

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