Review: Virtua Fighter 5: Final Showdown

VF5_FinalShowdown

Ultra combos and tag-team attacks? Pfff, who needs ’em. Fatalities? Whatever. Scantily clad ladies augmented by absurd bouncy-boob physics? Not here, boys and girls.

Those identifying characteristics of other popular fighting games are great and give the Mortal Kombats, Street Fighters and Dead or Alives of the world the distinct play styles and personalities that have driven their rise to popularity. Virtua Fighter 5: Final Showdown doesn’t rely on the frills of its flashier rivals, though, and instead focuses on exactly what a fighting game should: the competitive purity of video game martial arts.

Punch, kick, and block. Not including basic 3D movement, these three commands make up the control scheme of VF5. Behind those three basic actions, however, lies a sophisticated, subtly complex, and exquisitely balanced fighting engine that is unrivaled in the genre. Over the past decade, I’ve spent countless hours playing the last few Virtua Fighter titles, and even now I continue to see things I’d never seen before and discover new ways to expand my hand-to-hand repertoire.

For novices, Final Showdown is easy enough to grasp. On Normal or either of the two lesser difficulties, AI fighters play nicely enough to avoid scaring the white belts away before they’ve had proper opportunity to learn the ropes. The shoulder buttons are also mapped out to hotkey the different multi-button commands for accessible performance of the more challenging moves. A remarkably robust training regimen eases the learning curve as well, the game’s virtual Dojo offering tutorials on all basic actions, command training for practicing individual fighter move sets, and free training.

At the highest levels of competition, however, VF5 reveals layers of complexity that take time and commitment to master and fully appreciate, something that has traditionally prevented the series from gaining the same level of mainstream notoriety as competing franchises. Before long you’ll realize that there aren’t any projectile spam attacks to lazily fall back on, and at higher CPU difficulties and in online competition, mere button mashing will leave you in a world of pain, fast. Patience and restraint are key virtues in studying the attack patterns of your foes and figuring out which of your favorite fighter’s moves counters those of his or her current opponent. Mastering the lost, fundamental arts of blocking, side stepping and countering is absolutely essential if you ever plan to do more than pound on equally un-skilled friends or gimped AI competition.

All 19 of the game’s virtual fighters are balanced to perfection, no one character capable of overpowering another with cheap maneuvers that seem impossible to escape. Rather than shout out in disgust that you were cheated by an unblockable attack or failed because of a poorly balanced game mechanic, you’ll beat yourself up for getting too aggressive when you should have maintained a block or for missing a wide open opportunity to attack an opponent’s weakness. Just missing the chance at a rabbit punch to an opponent’s shin can be the difference in winning and losing; every detail counts. When you lose a fight, you immediately know how and why you were defeated, and with that knowledge you feel empowered to learn from your mistakes and continue plugging away instead of rage quitting because the game seems unfair. Even high-level CPU opponents are challenging without ever crossing into cheap territory, and that’s a rare accomplishment in a genre often hampered by mind-reading AI tactics.

As an updated version to a retail game first released half a decade ago, Final Showdown isn’t the flashiest-looking or most intricately detailed 3D fighting game around, but it still looks quite lovely after all these years, exotic tropical beaches, moonlit rivers, ancient temple courtyards dusted with flower petals, and wrestling arenas packed to the rafters with rowdy spectators, neon lights and a massive JumboTron, providing a diverse and visually appealing range of locales to fight in. Some arenas even have destructible barriers or cages that raise or lower between rounds, adding and removing opportunities for ring-outs over the course of a full bout. More importantly, the framerate is like butter and the fighters animate with such graceful fluidity, further enhancing the smooth, natural gameplay feel.

Even more impressive is how smoothly the game operates online. It’s been a crazy week with E3 and all, but so far I have managed to sneak in over 20 online fights and watch a few others in spectator mode while waiting my turn in game room play (turn-based “winner keeps fighting” lobbies can host up to 8 players). In one match, I noticed a momentary stutter during the fighter introductions, but other than that I have experienced nothing but latency-free online sparring, which is crucial to the competitive balance of any fighting game.

Finding matches couldn’t be any easier either. Playing ranked matches, you either search for a quick match or browse open lobbies to challenge a specific player (good way to find opponents of equal ranking), at which point you’re immediately taken into the fight. Downtime is nonexistent. Between load times and matchmaking, the transition from one fight to the next rarely lasts longer than 30 seconds (assuming your opponent doesn’t make you wait through the countdown clock before a fight automatically begins). Matchmaking doesn’t get any more intuitive than this.

The one shady thing about this Virtua Fighter 5 update is its DLC model. Like previous titles, Final Showdown offers a fun customization system that allows players to dress up their favorite characters in wacky outfits. Unfortunately, rather than costume pieces being available as purchasable items from an in-game unlock shop, they are now locked away behind day-one DLC packs. Individual customization packs are available for all 19 fighters for just $5 each, two multi-character bundles are available for $15 each, and for two weeks only the PSN version is available in an exclusive “Complete Edition” pack containing the game and all DLC for a grand total of $30. (PlayStation Plus subscribers can download the full game for free and get a discount on the DLC).

This game is totally worth $30, but when itemized out it doesn’t seem right that simple costume packs cost as much as or more than the game itself. I guess the good news is that if you have one preferred character, you can always spend the $5 to buy just the one costume kit. The only caveat to that is not being able to see the customized outfits for the other characters when playing online…unless you’ve downloaded the appropriate DLC.

At its $15 base price, Virtua Fighter 5: Final Showdown is absolutely a must-buy for serious fighting game enthusiasts. Even without investing in the full customization suite, you’d be hard pressed to find a more complete and finely tuned fighting game, particularly when it comes to competing online. While the lack of a quest mode is somewhat disappointing from a single-player perspective, Arcade Mode, Score Attack, local versus play and a lengthy list of License Challenges pack plenty of offline punch.

BuyIt

Pros:
+ 3D fighting in its purist, most sophisticated form
+ Diverse and incredibly well balanced crew of fighters
+ Fast, lag-free online play complete with game rooms, spectator mode and quick matchmaking
+ Accessible yet challenging and deeply rewarding to master

Cons:
– Character customization locked behind DLC packs
– No quest mode

Game Info:
Platform: Reviewed on PS3 via PSN; also available for Xbox 360 via XBLA
Publisher: Sega
Developer: Sega AM2
Release Date: PSN – 6/5/2012, XBLA – 6/6/2012
Genre: Fighting
ESRB Rating: Teen
Players: 1-2 (offline and online)
Source: Review code provided by publisher

[nggallery id=2397]

About the Author

Matt Litten is the full-time editor and owner of VGBlogger.com. He is responsible for maintaining the day to day operation of the site, editing all staff content before it is published, and contributing regular news, reviews, previews and other articles. Matt landed his first gig in the video game review business writing for the now-defunct website BonusStage.com. After the sad and untimely close of BonusStage, the former staff went on to found VGBlogger.com. After a short stint as US Site Manager for AceGamez, Matt assumed full ownership over VGBlogger, and to this day he is dedicated to making it one of the top video game blogs in all the blogosphere. Matt is a fair-minded reviewer and lover of games of all platforms and types, big or small, hyped or niche, big-budget or indie. But that doesn't mean he will let poor games slide without a good thrashing when necessary!