Those of you who know me may already know that I'm a pretty big fan of Street Fighter. I'm not all that good, it shames me to say, but I love to throw down. And when it comes to throwing down some fighting game action, one of the biggest names in the industry has to be Hori. They've been making arcade sticks for home consoles for a number of years, well before it was the popular thing to do. Naturally, the product line has made several enhancements during that time and now one of their best offerings is the Hori Real Arcade Pro VX SA Kai, graciously provided to us by the fine folks at Innex. You might remember Innex for our CES video; they sell all sorts of video game accessories from a wide range of companies.
Getting back to the Hori, there's a lot of letters in there (HRAP VX SA Kai), but this FightStick is effectively an upgraded version of the HRAP VX SA arcade stick that came before it. One of the biggest differences with the Kai, for instance, is that they've increased the spacing between the joystick and the buttons. Does this make my game better? Let's dig in and find out.
The particular version that I am reviewing is for the Xbox 360, but this FightStick is also available for the PlayStation 3. The two versions are otherwise identical in terms of functionality. Not surprisingly, the Real Arcade Pro VX SA Kai comes with the usual set of features that you've come to expect from a modern premium arcade stick. It uses the Japanese style ball top joystick and the Japanese style convex buttons. You get the eight main face buttons in the standard Viewlix layout that you may have seen on several arcade machines (assuming that you still have arcades in your area).
There are three turbo settings available (5, 12 or 20 times/second) and the joystick can be switched between left stick or right stick, which can come in handy if you need to navigate through some of the Xbox's menus. There are some other arcade sticks out there that don't have that function, which can be a pain at times. You can also swap the start (located to the right of the main buttons) and the back (located at the top next to the Xbox button) to avoid those "accidental" in-game pauses. The 9.8-foot cable fits neatly in the storage compartment in the back when not in use.
In keeping with the genuine arcade experience, the Hori VX SA Kai utilizes genuine Sanwa Denshi parts from Japan. The joystick is the JLF-TP-8YT-SK inside of a square gate and the eight main face buttons are Sanwa OBSF-30 buttons; the start button is a Sanwa OBSF-24. In play, I found that the buttons had a decent recoil to them, but they did feel a little "soft" or "wobbly" at times. It was occasionally unclear where the activation point for the buttons were. They were perfectly responsive, to be sure, but I want to be more confident about when the button is actually being pressed and registered. They just didn't feel quite as "solid" as I had hoped.
The Widened Overhang
There are two thin pieces of felt on the underside of the arcade stick to prevent slippage on your lap, as well as four small rubber feet for gripping a tabletop surface. One of the main reasons why I wanted something like this was that the wireless Hori arcade stick that came with Tekken 6 doesn't have the grippy felt and it's also far too light. The VX SA Kai is a little heavier at 4.8 pounds (2.2kg), but I did still get a slight sense of it moving around on my lap from time to time.
Wherever you choose to use this stick, since we all have our personal preferences, I do appreciate that Hori designed an "overhang" on either side. This is quite unlike most of the other designs that we see from competitors like Mad Catz, as Hori says this is "designed for better grip." It certainly makes it easier to pick up when you have it sitting on a table. In this way, though, the actual body and base of the FightStick are smaller than you may expect. The overall dimensions of the arcade stick are 17.0 inches by 9.4 inches by 5.0 inches (430 x 240 x 125mm), and this accounts for the overhang.
Taking it to Xbox Live
I definitely liked this better than the wireless Tekken 6 stick, mostly because it is larger and wider. It is a relatively small change (about an inch) from the original VX SA, but having that extra space between the joystick and buttons does allow for a more natural hand position and a greater level of comfort. One thing that I did notice over time, though, was that because the face of the stick is parallel to the bottom, my wrists could get a little tired over time. It would help if, like keyboards and notebook cooling stands, the Hori was made at a slightly more ergonomic angle. This is a matter of personal preference, to be sure, but it's one that I did notice. An alternative (or additional) solution may be to have a bigger top panel such that there is more space below the bottom row of buttons to rest your wrists. The Hori has an angled front, which some players may or may not like.
The JLF joystick did provide a certain level of confidence, but the buttons didn't have the same kind of assured movement that I had hoped. These are genuine high quality Sanwa parts, though, so I'm not really sure why this would be the case. Perhaps replacing the buttons would make all the difference and then you'd be left with quite the formidable weapon for your online battles.
But Can I Mod It?
Speaking of switching out the buttons, it's actually very easy to get at the guts of the VX SA Kai. On the underside of the stick are six clearly visible, standard Philips-head screws. One of these is hidden behind a sticker that says the warranty will be voided if you remove it, but you can easily peel away just enough of it to expose the screw head. I'm not saying you should or shouldn't void your warranty, but just know that it's there if you want to do some modification.
After you remove those six screws, the entire bottom (metal) plate comes off to expose all the innards. I'm not personally one for stick-modding myself, but the inside of the VX SA Kai should give you plenty of room to work. Each of the buttons can be easily removed and you have clear access to the joystick too. It's not as immediately obvious how to remove the front plate, though, if you want to put in some custom art.
MEGATechie Buffed or MEGATechie Nerfed?
It's amazing that only a few short years ago, something like the Hori Fighting Stick EX2 was held as the standard for home fighting game action. Thankfully, the Real Arcade Pro VX SA Kai is a vast improvement over its predecessors. The genuine Sanwa Denshi parts make a world of difference and I appreciate the larger playing surface, along with the added space between the joystick and the buttons.
While this arcade stick certainly isn't feather-light at 4.8 pounds, it may stand to actually gain a little bit of weight. This would help to improve stability when on a table or on a lap. I would also like to see thicker felt on the bottom that completely covers the base, as this would help to further reduce slippage and unexpected movement, particularly during 720s or the double-motions required for certain ultra/super combos. I'd also like to see the buttons be a bit snappier to provide the same kind of confidence that I get from the JLF joystick.
Perhaps one of the best things about this stick is its relative value. It typically sells for $139.99 or less, making it a solid $20 cheaper than the MSRP of the main sticks you'd find from primary competitor Mad Catz. The RAP VX SA Kai is a noticeably lighter, but not overly so, and the plastic can feel a little on the cheaper side of things. I think I would have liked more space to rest my wrists too. As it stands, if you want to get a quality arcade stick for your Tekken, Marvel, Street Fighter or whatever other fighting game exploits, the Real Arcade Pro VX SA Kai deserves your consideration, especially if you can find a deal on it.