Review: Virtua Fighter 5: Final Showdown
Virtua Fighter 5: Final Showdown is the consummate re-release of 2007’s Virtua Fighter 5. Featuring new costumes, features and balancing compared to the last console release, Final Showdown is the arcade update that console players have been waiting years for. This release marks the first time that VF can be played online on the PS3 system. Hardcore series fans will be buying this the day it comes out, but is it worth the investment for everyone else?
In terms of overall content, Virtua Fighter 5:FS doesn’t hold a candle to something like BlazBlue or Marvel vs. Capcom 3, but this seems fair considering the price point. The last new console update to this game was 2007’s Xbox 360 exclusive Virtua Fighter 5: Online, so console players have been waiting quite a while for this update. The game’s roster is perhaps the biggest yet for the series. Players can choose from twenty different characters, none of which play even remotely similarly to another.
Furthermore, impeccable balancing means that players can use the characters they like for serious competition (as opposed to the characters that are ‘good’). The game’s graphics are bright, colorful and polished. Virtua Fighter 5’s visuals are still lovely today and hardly needed much updating.
Game-play is slow and calculated, in comparison to other faster fighters. The focus on spacing and bypassing your opponent’s defense is greater than I’ve ever seen in a 3D fighter. Skilled players quickly move their characters from side to side and back and forth, creating a sort of dance with the aim of confusing the opponent. The stage that you fight in makes a huge difference as well, as ring outs are not possible in stages that are fenced off. Additionally, grabs and attacks gain new properties when opponents are knocked against walls, opening up a variety of new offensive options. The lack of a cheesy comeback mechanic means that wins are determined more by player skill and less by luck.
When knocked on the ground, you must recover quickly to avoid being continuously attacked by low blows and ground-bounce combos. While all characters can guard and evade, some characters have powerful parries, reversals and counter attacks. A poorly placed blow may be punished with a nightmarish combo that steals tons of damage while a well-placed blow will send the opponent airborne, allowing you to follow-up with a nasty combo. Because only three buttons are used to play the game (punch, kick and guard) the game-play is far more focused on setting up strategies and openings than execution and big, flashy combos.
The change to this from something like BlazBlue is quite refreshing.
Single player modes include Arcade, Score Attack and License Challenge. Arcade mode pits you against a number of enemies, including Dural, and it can be fairly difficult to complete even on the normal difficulty setting. Dural is really a challenge, and defeating her may take quite a while since you can’t retry if you lose. Unfortunately, completing arcade mode does not show you any CG character endings or art. Actually, you won’t find even the slightest shred of a story or narrative in VF5:FS. I understand that the previous installment included a rather lengthy single player mode called ‘Quest mode’. No such mode has returned in Final Showdown.
The lack of any kind of story further perpetuates the idea that Final Showdown is really just for the more competitive fans who’ve been clamoring for the arcade exclusive update for some time now. This is perfectly fine considering the game’s low price point. Score Attack, as its name implies, puts players in a string of battles in which the goal is to obtain the highest score. Points are gained from things like long combos, knockouts via ring out, and finishing matches quickly. When you finish Score Attack, you can upload your score to an online leaderboard. It will be very interesting to see who reaches the top of this leaderboard when the game is released.
Lastly, there’s License Challenge mode. In this mode, players have to complete various different challenges during a match. Completing these challenges earns new ‘licenses’, which are basically ranks. The challenges consist of numerous tasks such as performing five blocks or grabs before the match ends. It takes a little while before the challenges really become challenging, but new players should take advantage of the opportunity to practice the basics.
There is also a single player Special Sparring mode. In Special Sparring, players are pitted against customized foes of varying difficulty. When I say ‘customized’, I’m referring to their costumes, which can be changed and tinkered with when you purchase one of the DLC costume packs. I’ll get to those in just a bit. In order to play Special Sparring, you need to have downloaded DLC items for each character.
When it comes to teaching new players the ropes, Final Showdown makes a relevant effort. The Dojo houses three different training options: tutorial, command training and free training. The tutorials cover the very basic essentials of the game, from dashing and recovering from falls, to tricky offensive movements and evasion. I’d recommend going through it at least a couple of times, until all the information, particularly the more core stuff, has really permeated your brain.
Command training takes players through all of the commands of a single character. This mode is great for getting aquainted with your character and really taking a close look at their tools and technology. The difficult commands even have video demonstrations. Command training helps familiarize you with the many layers and nuances of each character. Then there’s Free training, in which you can simply spend time committing combos and commands to muscle memory.
Final Showdown definitely condones and rewards spending an adequate amount of time training and preparing for competition.
In the Terminal, players can customize their characters with DLC item packs and view and analyze both their own replays and the replays of other players downloaded from the internet. The DLC item packs only add items for a single character, making this some of the most expensive costume DLC released for a fighting game yet. That said, customizing the characters is a very fun and addictive pastime. The big variety of items you get with DLC allow you to make your characters look completely different and the online mode will no doubt be filled with diverse costumes and creations. I literally spent next to an hour making new costumes for Pai. I really couldn’t make good use of the replay viewer for reasons I’ll get to in a moment.
Lastly and no doubt most importantly is the online mode, which was yet to be inhabited by any more than ten players at the time of this writing. Players can battle in ranked matches, free matches and customized lobbies. Spectating within lobbies is possible and players can also choose to ban the playable boss character Dural. You can save your own replays and download the replays of other players for viewing in the Terminal.
Unfortunately, these are just features that I know exist and I couldn’t really test the online mode out because no one was playing the game. Even the main ranked leaderboard only had eight players on it at the time of this writing. We won’t really know how strong the netcode is until the game launches and hundreds of players hop on to test it out, but for now I think that it’s safe to assume that the netcoding is at least stronger than it was in Virtua Fighter 5: Online.
In summary, Virtua Fighter 5: Final Showdown is a superior technical fighting game experience. The game aims to bring the updated Japanese arcade sensation to North American console players and it definitely succeeds here. It doesn’t feature as many bells and whistles as some of the more expensive newer fighters, but it certainly brings plenty of what’s important: game-play. This update was designed for the competitive crowd, and there are no buts about that. It features all the training tools you’ll need to get your bearings and get online. Virtua Fighter has one of the most dedicated fanbases of all fighters, so you can feel confident that this game will still be played by many, even years after release. Fighting fans will definitely want to scrape their change together for this release.