The best and ultimate version of Sega’s long-running fighting series, and one of the most technical and refined fighters available.
From the moment I began playing Virtua Fighter 5: Final Showdown, it became apparent that this revised “ultimate” version of VF5 is meant for a very specific audience. Make no mistake; Final Showdown is a fun, complex and rewarding brawler in its own right, but the people who will truly get the most out of this XBLA/PSN “ultimate” version will be the loyal long-time fans and fighting-game enthusiasts who appreciate technique over flair.
Solid and refined fighting gameplay – VF5: Final Showdown and the existing Virtua Fighter series has always separated itself significantly from Mortal Kombat’s ultra-violent combos, Tekken’s eccentric and extensive character roster, or Street Fighter’s flashy movesets. Final Showdown is more grounded and focused on technique, substance and balance, which gives the game its own flair. There are no special meters, magical or bullet projectile attacks, or comical or violent effects when you land a punch. There are also only four main buttons which correspond to Punch, Kick, Block and Grab. But what you will discover, with a bit of persistence, is a detailed and extremely rewarding fighting system, one which pays off patience and practice rather than button-mashing and spamming of projectiles. VF5: FS is simply focused on the art of fighting.
Its lack of stylised violence or flashy effects can wrongly reflect simplicity, and players can soon find the amount of moves and complex combos on offer intimidating and overwhelming in the first few matches. But with a bit of persistence and help from the Training Mode, you’ll discover how to string together successful juggles, punishing combos and unique moves; this combined with some spacing, fake-outs and use of the dynamic environments (some levels have large walls, others cages and the ability to knock an opponent out of the arena) form the core of the game’s well executed and addictive fighting system.
It will admittedly take a bit of experimentation to discover all possible attack combinations, as well as the best ones, but discovering them and ways to further complicate a chain of a basic combo is addictive. Button-mashing or reliance on one attack will only get you so far; every mis-timed, spammed or hesitant attack can usually be punished or countered brutally. There is nothing more exciting than serving a cheap one-move only player with a counter-grab, which leads to them getting thrown off the stage’s cage area, flat on their face.
Each match is fast-paced, fun and genuinely thrilling. The fact that it’s so well balanced and that the tide can honestly turn at any moment with some well-timed or fast-paced moves makes each win truly earned and immensely satisfying.
Extensive Training, License and Online Modes – Along with the standard fighting game modes – Arcade, Versus and Score Attack – there is also a very accommodating Training Mode which helps players practice and refine their knowledge of a character’s moves, and the informative License Mode which takes a player through several stages, step-by-step with a fighter of their choice in practicing every gameplay element, from counters to grabs to stringing together basic combos. Both, along with offline Versus, realistically serve mostly to prepare players for the increasingly difficult Arcade mode and the extremely competitive online realm.
A dedicated ranking system is in place for the Ranked Matches and each subsequent battle shows the amount of Wins and Battle Points which have been accumulated; the more Battle Points, the more times it is evident a player has won rather than lost. Players can also search for a casual match or organise a private one with friends- nationally or internationally- with relative ease, a myraid of options to tweak a match to your liking, and virtually no lag, in my experience. It is also much more satisfying to beat a real human player than a bot, though the A.I. do prove a challenge offline if you play on the more advanced difficulties and modes. The competitive online battles will prove to be Final Showdown’s lasting appeal.
Character fighting styles and movesets – Final Showdown features all characters from every existing VF game to date, all with more moves and improved animations. VF5: FS’s character roster may only offer 20 fighters in comparison to Tekken’s 50 or so, but each fighter brings their own unique fighting style to life with a vast depth of attacks, ranging from standard blows, counters, defensive moves and throws. From Jujitsu to lucha libre wrestling to Ensei-Ken, each fighter is specifically tailored to a player’s fighting preference. The multiple tactical and strategic possibilities available will give new players a diverse range of combat choices, and it will offer a dedicated player a very long but rewarding time to master them. Every character has proven to be immaculately balanced, and all moves have weight, fluidity and flaws in their execution.
The game’s archetypical ninja character, Kage Maru, for example, is best suited for players who rely on fast-paced close quarters combat, as his swift but weak jabs combined with powerful sweeps, trips and kicks aim to immobilize the opponent quickly. Maru’s weakness lies in the delay in some of his more athletic jumps and kick moves which slow him down considerably when successfully blocked or dodged. As such, any player can take advantage of his stutters with a well-placed block and follow-up grab.
Every character has proven to be immaculately balanced, and all moves have weight, fluidity and flaws in their execution.
The Luchador El Blaze, on the other hand, is tailored to players who are more proficient in dodging and staying on the move, as many of his more devastating grabs and attacks rely on trickery and fake-outs. El Blaze also focuses on aerial attacks; one particular move has El Blaze using a stage’s wall or fence to propel himself off and perform a powerful body slam. However, so long as a player keeps pummelling him or times their dodges against his body slams, they can easily wear him down or keep him on the floor.
There is no clear overpowered character, and all are governed under a finely tuned “Paper, Rock, Scissors” system with the myriad of tactical options a player has to approach and overcome each opponent. The level of balance and the lack of “cheapness” feels good and gives the game a one-up on many other fighters who don’t perfect the technique and balance of the fighting arts and their characters as fantastically as VF has done.
Locked DLC and deprivation of character customisation – Character costumes or some form of alternate appearances are a standard in most fighting games. VF5: FS didn’t necessarily need it, but the original Arcade and retail versions featured all manner of aesthetic enhancements. Considering Final Showdown is an “ultimate” version, it would have made sense to include them in the game we just purchased, especially considering they were available in the original release way back in 2007.
It’s disappointing, but the game distributes its extras through another dreaded DLC lock system. If you want extra costumes, you’re going to have to purchase the packs for each individual character to unlock the content rather than using play as an incentive to earn them. Considering the original retail version of VF5 had the extra “Quest Mode” which allowed players to earn points and buy such items, it makes no sense that the developers had to take away the mode. It’s all extremely disappointing.
Aged game engine – Throw in the retail version of Virtua Fighter 5 released in 2007 and you’ll see the character textures and overall graphical presentation to be too similar for an updated final version. The character animations are extremely well-done and fluid, mostly because the developers had a lot of time to tweak the news moves and thus add in and modify the animations as well, but its age shows when the stages and characters themselves are noticeably poorer in presentation in comparison to some of the latest polished fighters.
Virtua Fighter 5: Final Showdown seems bland and complex in comparison at first to the mainstream and friendly Tekken or ultra-flashy Street Fighter, but if you persevere and learn the game’s refined attack system and each character’s fantastic movesets, you’ll be rewarded in one of the most satisfying fighting-experiences available on the Xbox Live and Playstation Network services.