Review: Virtua Fighter 5: Final Showdown
For those of you out there that can’t remember the heady days when the PlayStation 3 was still in its infancy as a platform you probably are also too young to remember the original Virtua Fighter 5. The original VF5 was a retail game released in February 2007, and was available a mere four months after the release of the system. It’s also part of a long running, and much beloved, fighting game franchise that dates back to the days when arcades still existed in relative abundance and the Sega Saturn was in its prime. At the very least, you should know that as a franchise Virtua Fighter harkens back to the early days of 3D, highly polygonal, fighting games. Those days when games like Tekken and Battle Arena Toshinden were all the rage since a player could move both into and out-of the plane of the screen using side steps. The newly released Virtua Fighter 5: Final Showdown, is the second revision of Virtua Fighter 5. This time Sega’s in-house development team, Sega-AM2, have decided to release the game as a downloadable instead of a retail product. So is Virtua Fighter 5: Final Showdown the definitive version of Sega’s older game, and does it maintain the core tenets embodied within the original Virtua Fighter?
Before I delve into the various modes and offerings it seems like a good idea to talk mechanics first. Virtua Fighter 5: Final Showdown harkens back to a simpler time when there were no super meters, no combo breakers, and blocking negated all damage. The button layout for the game is a six button configuration where there is a guard, punch, and kick and then combinations of those buttons. What you have is a fighter that relies mainly on a player’s technical skill. At the center of this skill base is the ability to side step an opponent. Being able to side step an opponent’s combos makes it easier to attack from their side. In VF5:FS attacking from the side increases the damage done to the opponent as does connecting with a successful attack while the opponent is dashing or evading. Also each character has an in-depth move list (called a command list) in the game that features their special moves. But don’t construe the use of the phrase ‘special moves’ with outlandish projectiles or masked ninjas yelling “GET OVER HERE!” Special moves in VF5:FS are actual realistic martial arts moves. Some fighters are also capable of changing their fighting style mid-fight to have access to another set of special attacks.
The arenas within VF5:FS are also smaller than the standard fighting game, but most won’t notice this as being able to side step can make the spaces feel adequate. The real issue arises when a player does get pushed to the edge. The edges of the areas are boxed in by fences which can shift and change from round-to-round depending on the arena. As a result some arena’s have half-fences that an opponent can be juggled over to get a win by ringout. Other arenas have full unbreakable fences making wall combos and corner juggles much more effective. In essence the real balance of VF5:FS lies within how pure a fighter it is. Winning isn’t about finding a character that’s OP, but truly understanding whatever character you choose along with the arenas you’re fighting within. And of course, you’re side stepping game.
Luckily, the game does feature a fairly well fleshed out tutorial explaining much of the basics within the game. There are times though where the on-screen instructions can be a bit nebulous and make some of the more advanced techniques harder to learn. But the basics are covered very well including jumping, evading, defensive moves, and exposing an opponent’s side for a combo. The tutorial doesn’t go to the level of depth that Skullgirls did but it provides enough of a primer for new players as well as veterans that haven’t played a 3D fighter in some time.
In some respects, VF5:FS feels like a stripped down version of VF5 made specifically for a downloadable marketplace with some added balance changes and tweaks to the gameplay that Sega wanted to put into the original retail release via a patch. While I’m not big on the idea that some content (specifically the Quest Mode from VF5) had to be removed from the game to make it feasible for a downloadable market, VF5:FS doesn’t really add anything new to VF5’s content to keep players engaged within the single player mode. The single player mode contains the standard Arcade mode where a player chooses a character and fights a random ladder of opponents ending with a boss battle against Dural. Normally, this mode would act as some kind of story mode for each character as well. It is often said that fighting games have weak stories by virtue of their lack of any kind of real narrative mechanics. Granted there have been some spectacular exceptions to this rule, but VF5:FS completely eschews any form of story whatsoever. So don’t waste your time wondering if Sarah Bryant is related to Jacky Bryant (they are by the way…), as the story is really not the focus at all.
There’s also a Score Attack mode where player’s choose a character and one of 3 preset ladders. As the fights progress the difficulty is steadily ramped up, and along the way players score points for landing combos, winning quickly, or winning with a lot health left. At the end of the ladder, the player’s total score is posted on the leaderboards. The last single player mode is Licensing Mode which acts as the game’s version of a challenge tower. The licenses themselves don’t seem to do anything within the single player game (at least as far as I could tell). Each license challenge will consist of 3-5 fights against different opponents with at least 3 of the fights testing something specific. So, as an example, the evade challenge will pit you against an opponent and instruct you to evade at least X number of times and win the fight. These challenges aren’t too tough, but what bothers me about them is that if you lose you have to restart the whole licensing challenge. You can’t just retry the last fight you lost which makes some of the more difficult challenges a frustrating.
Regardless of your feelings on the single player content, the real crux of any fighting game experience is playing against real people in versus mode. VF5:FS does have a local versus mode, but the online is broken up into the usual player match and ranked match branches. Regardless of the branch chosen the online is well made and virtually lag free with no real connectivity issues of which to speak. Player matches are friendly fights against random opponents or invited friends that are for the fun of it, but VF5:FS doesn’t keep a player’s win-loss record from player matches.
Ranked matching, however, does preserve a player’s record. In fact, winning or losing ranked matches earns a player points. Once a set number of points is accumulated a player can rank up to the next level. This level tells other players how skillful you are or, at the very least, how many matches you’ve played. Also unlike traditional ranked matching systems, VF5:FS allows the player to browse available ranked matches. So if you want to level up by beating up low level players, who may not have any real skill at the game, you can do so. The game also will inform you when it is a Ranking Match at the start of the fight. What this means is that you or your opponent is close to reaching their next promotion level and if they win they will move up a rank. It’s a cool system that can give you something to shoot for if aiming for the highest multiplayer rank is your thing. Normally, I also take some time to plug in my Hitbox joystick to check out how a game plays with more arcadey controls. But VF5:FS is one of those games where the controls are very responsive even with a standard Dualshock 3 gamepad. As such, I never really had any reason to bust out my Hitbox for it. However, if you do choose to use a stick, the game does have a good button setting mode for anyone interested in going down that route.
Finally, there is a plethora of customization packs available day one for the game and, consequently, a lot of different ways to pay for them. These packs contain items you can use to customize an alternate costume for your characters. Customization options are pretty robust for each character, but this is entirely optional. Players buying the Complete Edition of the game ($30) will get the game and all 19 character customization packs. Thrifty players that have a PlayStation Plus account can get the game for free and pay $24 dollars for the two multi-character packs. Otherwise, VF5:FS costs $15 and each character custmization pack costs $5 by itself. Of course, buying these piecemeal would set you back $95, but buying the multi-character packs will only cost you $30. In the end, these packs all seem a bit crazy and ridiculous, and unless you simply have to have the King Tut mask for your Jean Kujo alternate costume they’re completely unnecessary.
Sega’s newest revision of Virtua Fighter 5 may have lost the Quest Mode from the original single player experience, but its loss has done nothing to mar the experience of playing Virtua Fighter 5: Final Showdown. For me the best part about the game is the simple purity of playing a game which doesn’t rely on projectiles and teleports, and where the characters are so tightly balanced that any of them is fun to play. Given the abundance of 2D fighters recently it’s nice to see a classic 3D fighter poke its head out of the woodwork. If you’re a PS Plus subscriber you have absolutely no excuse not to play this game since it will be free to PS Plus members until July 4th. Otherwise, $15 is a fair price to pay for the game if you’re a fan of the franchise and didn’t buy VF5, especially because it boasts a well constructed online component with the usual single player accouterments. Unfortunately, players who aren’t huge Virtua Fighter fans may find it too standard and not flashy enough for their liking. Moreover, if you already purchased Virtua Fighter 5 there may not be enough new stuff here to justify a purchase. In the end, it’s nice that Sega didn’t feel the need to re-box this game and attempt to sell it for a full $60.
A copy of this game was [provided by the publisher]/[purchased] for review purposes. For more info on our review policy click here. This review is for the PlayStation 3 version of the game.
What I Like:
- No teleports, projectiles, or crazy supers. Its pure hand-to-hand fighting.
- Very responsive controls.
- Easy trophies.
- Virtually lag free online with no connectivity issues.
- Tightly balanced characters.
- Score attack mode is a cool way to integrate the leaderboards.
- Online ranking system seems pretty robust to keep players coming back.
What I Dislike:
- Failing in a Licensing Mode challenge means you have to repeat the entire challenge instead of the one fight you failed.
- People who bought Virtua Fighter 5 may not find enough here to justify a purchase.
- The lack of any flashy gimmicky stuff may cause some people to slake their desire for a 3D fighter elsewhere.
- If you want all the DLC it will cost more than the game itself!