Virtua Fighter 5 Final Showdown Review

by

Date Released: June 6, 2012
Date Reviewed: July 13, 2012
Genre: 3D Fighter
Players: 1-2 Players local and online, lobbies extend this
Length: Singular fights typically a few minutes each, several types of modes alter this
Replayability: Incredible

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Introduction

Virtua Fighter 5 Final Showdown is the 2010 3D fighting game for the arcade RingEdge hardware. Newly developed and ported by the prolific SEGA-AM2 for 2012, the latest release of the game is a downloadable Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 game. More than an upgrade to 2007’s retail version of the original Virtua Fighter 5 for the same platforms, Final Showdown is arguably the deepest, most accessible fighting game available in the genre this entire console generation at a cheaper price than all competing products.

Concept

In 1993 Virtua Fighter was the first 3D fighting game franchise and has been with the genre all along the way, typically far beyond the curve in terms of graphical fidelity, gameplay depth and overall improvements and innovations. The original arcade release of Virtua Fighter 5 in 2006 was unique in that although quite popular it did not alter the course of the genre in ways all previous releases had, which was argued to be partially because it was the first in the series without it’s creator Yu Suzuki helming it. As the years have passed fighting games have had a resurgence in popularity and AM2 has been upgrading and altering Virtua Fighter 5 to remain relevant to modern competitors. A stand-alone release, Virtua Fighter 5 Final Showdown goes beyond a typical ‘expansion pack’ by adding two new playable combatants, two dozen new levels with unique stage gimmicks, a fully customizable soundtrack with new and returning theme songs from throughout the series’ 19 years, several dozen new abilities, multiple new online lobby options and even several thousand character customization items.

The base game of Virtua Fighter 5 Final Showdown is still the fighting however. Although each iteration adds new concepts and complexities, the core value of the title is still for two characters to fight until one is knocked out from the loss of their health or if one falls off of the fighting platform, ending the round regardless of vitality. Slightly different from previous console releases, dozens of variations of levels exist beyond square formations, several of which also include walls with varying heights. All of these create complexities that the player must always be aware of, but with the inclusion of extensively detailed training features and guides available within the game there can never be a moment of confusion or a feeling of impossibility. Players will always be learning as ever since Virtua Fighter 2 the AI evolves itself based on how players fight, meaning if for some reason the player cannot compete against someone locally or online, the computer is always going to be a worthy adversary.

[The two additional characters: Newcomer Jean Kujo is joined by Taka Arashi, whom finally returns to the series after over a decade]

Customization options for each playable character (outside of Dural) are one of the more recent innovations the franchise has brought to the genre. Many other titles now offer more options in terms of what is possible (such as Soul Calibur V), but the sheer amount of potential creations is staggering. However, Final Showdown differs from past games in that now players must purchase packs of costumes with real world currency and although cheaper bundles exist, getting all of these is more expensive than the game itself at 15 USD for a group of nine or ten complete character packs or 5 USD for just one. Those who intend to play Final Showdown for extended periods will likely want to purchase the complete set of customization tools even if they prefer playing just a handful of characters as this unlocks the ability to view other player’s creations, but those uninterested will never need to see the potential wacky or over-the-top creations other players make.

It is hard to gauge in value as some may consider this part a massive portion of the game’s overall enjoyment, but the fact that just one pack of half of the characters costs just as much as the game itself is questionable. Another arguable offense is that only the first two out of six base costumes are selectable at all per character without the customization packs, although it is worth mentioning that two outfits is fairly standard for full-priced retail fighting games. If players choose to buy both costume packs they will also unlock an extra group of fights where the AI opponent wears several different outfits. It adds little to the experience, but is a solid addition regardless.

[Several hundred thousand character customizations are possible]

Controls

Virtua Fighter 5 Final Showdown only uses three buttons and several combinations of them for the unique 80+ abilities that all characters individually have. Potential players worried of the rumors that it is necessary to invest in a arcade stick to play the game properly should ignore them as in extended periods of play I and several others have found that the standardized controllers on both the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 are sufficient for standard or even complex play. The triggers on both these game pads are the biggest hindrance, but at any time in the game outside during an online battle players are able to personalize these however they want across all accessories either console supports.

The hardest thing for new players to grasp is the use of the dedicated guard button. Used for blocking oncoming attacks, players will have to examine how their opponent plays and when best to use either a high or low block. There is even potential for a character to receive more damage than usual if used improperly. It can easily be overwhelming once players realize the sheer amount of ways their opponent is able to combat this (such as a grapple), but the game flow presents everything logically to the player. In low-level play it is possible for newcomers to learn how to turn a fight around in just a few rounds and with the game’s extensive training modes, any player can figure out even the toughest of blocks and evasions – Although using them properly against a pro will require true skill and dedication with the game.

[Several arenas have unique shapes and sizes, some even change between rounds]

Sound originalreviews

Similar to most other Japanese fighting games, Virtua Fighter‘s sound direction has remained fairly unrealistic in how it presents the sounds emitted when a body part moves or collides with the opponent. Many are brash and add a lot of power behind each attack animation, creating a very visceral presentation. The iconic ‘woosh’ kick sweeps and earth-shaking elbow thrust sounds all return, but several new or borrowed effects from other SEGA franchises are used, such as Kage’s spinning attack making the same sound Sonic the Hedgehog uses when he rolls.

Each character in every Virtua Fighter game has only one voice actor per person (several of which have been with the series for over ten years) and they are all either speaking English or Japanese. The Japanese voice cast is usually serious enough, but as fans of the series can expect the English actors are all fairly poor, comically even. This gives the game a lot of personality, but can add annoyance to players that find someone like Lion Rafale frustrating to play against.

[Almost every level has it’s own unique sound effects, ie roars of the crowd, fire burning nearby]

The base soundtrack of Final Showdown is mostly guitar-driven hard rock with genres and pacing most general SEGA fans should recognize. Some songs are incredibly memorable and match perfectly with the rhythm of combat, but many can become over-bearing and borderline obnoxious. Thankfully however, the soundtracks of almost every game in the franchise are selectable right from the start of the game, giving players the option to have over 130 (!!!) songs across all playable arenas. If this is not enough, both console versions of the game support custom soundtrack options so that players can listen to their own music if they would prefer.

The option to use classic tunes from past games is an incredible addition, but players should be able to choose which individual song they want for each level based on their personal tastes. An annoying example is how if Virtua Fighter 2‘s song list is selected, each character featured in that game will have their theme, but characters created for 3, 4 and up will feature their song instead. This makes sense, but it gimps the option immediately. Worse even, Virtua Fighter 4: Evolution‘s soundtrack is not included, giving four stages their song from Virtua Fighter 5 if almost any soundtrack option is selected.

Gameplay

Virtua Fighter has always been the most focused mainstream fighting game franchise in terms of combat. The previously discussed three buttons are only part of this however, as players will only ever see both character’s health bars, a timer and their distance from a wall or edge of the stage. There are no supers, fatalities, gems or any type of diversions to the core element of two characters fighting. An exception to this is Shun Di, whom is unique in that he plays differently depending on how much alcohol he consumes throughout a fight. This sole difference does not alter the flow of battle in any way that would be considered jarring as it is not necessary in battle, nor is it something an opponent can forget about as Shun always poses and makes a noise when taking a drink. If for whatever reason consumption of alcoholic beverages disturbs someone, the customization options allow it to be changed to different types of drinks, like chocolate milk or a beaker of mysteriously glowing liquid.

The hit detection is where the game loses it’s realistic image. Most attacks will hit or be received in a plausible manner, but some effects are unrealistic for playability sake. Similar to Virtua Fighter 4 and up, Final Showdown has an emphasis on combining attacks into a ‘combo’ for extra damage. Unlike games like the Tekken series however, most of these are strung together by the player’s creativity and skill, becoming one of the hardest things for players to learn to properly manage. It is not a requirement however, as several characters are focused on singular striking attacks or have pre-set basic button maneuvers, although a player relying on one of these is sure to have their opponent figure out ways to combat these within a short amount of time if they are used too often.

[Several characters have multiple battle stances that they can switch to and from]

An impressive accomplishment of the later games in the series, in terms of gameplay is that each cast member has a correct sense of weight and muscle. Their abilities are not variations of similar-themed moves, but rather a whole range of powers that vary by a sense of speed, strength and range. Unlike what is expected of the genre, even the slowest characters have incredibly quick maneuvers, the opposite is also the case for the fast and weak. The bulk and scale of the sumo wrestler Taka Arashi was a major reason he did not return for Virtua Fighter 4. Virtua Fighter 5 had proven new issues with the addition of the young newcomer Eileen, but Final Showdown alters all of it’s moves in such a way that it plausible, such as Eileen’s grab that would typically spin her opponent on her legs, with Taka she struggles to just push him over with a new animation. The sole exception is where Kage Maru throws his opponent up in the air with physics comparable to that of a beach ball which has not been removed as it is considered iconic for him.

Although around 80 abilities per character can be a daunting amount, even the highest-ranked players in the world rarely resort to using each one of them. While characters from the Virtua Fighter franchise have several iconic moves and abilities, the games rely on the player’s personality to choose what will feel best to them, making a unique experience for the entire cast with each individual player. All of the characters have certain strengths and weaknesses, but the variety and diversity of each one of them solidifies that there is no true or proper way to play any one of them. This creates a dynamic that competing titles can rarely accomplish on a similar scale, if even at all.

[Several abilities that utilize full or partial walls exist]

Arcade mode has remained unchanged from the first Virtua Fighter in Final Showdown. Players will select their preferred character and fight a group of opponents, leading up to the bonus overpowered boss character Dural. If they lose against her the game concludes, but if she is eliminated players are treated with a special ending with an original song by legendary video game music composer Takenobu Mitsuyoshi. During this mode there are no cutscenes or any context given to the fights; The manual of all previous Virtua Fighter games would list each character’s story, but this being a digital release makes that impossible. The entire genre has always received complaints about weak plot presentation and progression, but giving no mention for any of the character’s plots at all comes off as fairly lazy. They could have been included in the menus somewhere, like SEGA’s own Eternal Champions.

License mode is similar to arcade, but gives the player specific goals he or she must accomplish outside of just winning each match. Most of these will require skill and can help the player become better accustomed to the techniques and design of the game, but several are designed to be light-hearted or have the player learn to fight in different ways, such as a mode that changes the gravity or where all characters can break their of attack animations. A fairly weak addition compared to the extensive Quest mode found in previous games, License mode still offers many hours of gameplay with fifty groups of fights with another special unlockable fifty. It would have been thrilling to see some of the previously mentioned license mode gameplay alterations be included in some form or another in one of these online modes.

[The extensive character customizer can add several hours of play value by itself]

Online play is massive focus of Final Showdown and has been given several improvements over the Xbox 360 release of Virtua Fighter 5 (the original version on PlayStation 3 did not include online play). Very similar to AM2’s Xbox 360 versions of Virtual-On: Oratorio Tangram and Virtual-On Force, the online play menus are basic, but give all the information necessary in terms of connection speeds and potential latency between players. It fails to mention which character the opponent has selected, although this is something that may have been intentional. The amount of lag between matches is typically very low; In extended play sessions with people across the world on both the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 I have found only a few seconds of the game slowing down, but did hear complaints from someone on the opposite end of the world. In all my test cases I found that these moments of latency have no occurrences of input delay, meaning even during lag the fights never felt unfair.

Players will be able to play ranked or unranked matches between others online in lobbies either locally or worldwide with the later featuring options to customize or search for a game with different types of gameplay rules. The last online mode is also unranked and allows eight friends or Internet acquaintances to join up in a room where two players fight and the rest watch. After each match the loser is put down to the bottom of this list and the other player closer to the top will have the next chance to fight the previous winner. Individual players are able to select which side they will be on or if they want others to go before them. This makes even the most divided groups of players will never have a reason to complain about fairness.

Visuals

Although several factors have aged Virtua Fighter 5 compared to it’s competitors, the animations are easily some of the best in the genre. In particular, the facial features of the characters are extremely expressive and their striking abilities look absolutely painful. The fabric is particularly impressive and even with several hundred different types of outfits all move in a realistic manner based on their weight, tightness or size. Some clipping takes place (where a 3D model falls inside another), but this is almost exclusively limited to overly detailed player-created outfits.

In Virtua Fighter 4, many fans complained about the art direction becoming somewhat darker and more focused in reality, losing some of it’s charm. Virtua Fighter 5 retained some of this and some of it’s more light-hearted roots, but lost much of it’s believability in terms of character weight. In particular the females are now ‘softer’ looking and are seemingly designed to be more sexually appealing to a teenage demographic, although not to crazy lengths like most other fighting games tend to do. Some choices are just unusual, like the kickboxer Brad Burns having much smaller calves than in Virtua Fighter 4: Evolution or Pai Chan presented as acting much less serious that she should be.

[Hair, flags and different types of clothing move realistically depending on where and how the wind is blowing]

In all matches with no computer AI for an opponent the option is given to save entire fights to one’s HDD is made available. This allows players to save and watch fights at a later time period. The best part of this is how players can go online at any time and stream or download any type of fight they would be interested in watching, such as one posted by a friend or one with a certain group of characters. The typical video control functions are available here, but several options are included to see exactly what each player was pressing at that direct moment in time. After or during the fight the player can bring a menu up to jump directly into another match-up with the load times being just as long as the game itself – An impressive feat. Because of how well the mode is set up and presented, it is possible for some players to get their entire enjoyment of the game just from this feature alone; The entire genre needs to adopt this mode.

The iconic metallic bonus fighter Dural returns. She represents the evolution of 3D graphics from her simplistic polygonal beginnings all the way to some of the most impressive reflective textures in the entire industry. She reflects or shines properly in every selectable setting, but due to her new ‘heavy’ stance, all of her unique other colors and textures are lost, such as the gold or rock looks from earlier releases. More overpowered than ever with almost every other character’s abilities, she is not included in ranked matches and has to be turned on in the secondary unranked fight menus.

[Display options are available for players to better recognize certain occurrences in the gameplay]

Special Notes

The fighting game genre is known for it’s dedicated fans whom create and hold their own real-life events in arcades, households and other settings all over the world; Virtua Fighter is no different. Biggest in Japan due to their stronger focus on the arcade scene, players all over the world consistently set up their own events with people they meet locally and online. For the digital release of Virtua Fighter 5 Final Showdown SEGA had set up a tournament where they flew in some of the best players from across the world to compete with one another. Some of this has been detailed in the video below.

Conclusion

Accessible to even the most novice of game players, yet brutal and rewarding for the most challenge intensive players. AM2 have pushed the barriers as to how comprehensible and approachable the Virtua Fighter series can be, along with how deep downloadable games on consoles can be. Easily outdoing several modern fighting games, Virtua Fighter 5 Final Showdown is the new gold standard for 3D fighters across all existing platforms. Highly recommendable to anyone regardless of their age or interest of the genre, every fan of SEGA, fighters or video games in general will find something to enjoy. Nearly perfect, it is likely SEGA’s best game of 2012.

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Formats: Arcade, Xbox Live Arcade for Xbox 360 and PlayStation Network for PlayStation 3

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One Response to “Virtua Fighter 5 Final Showdown Review”

  1. dandyandyfox Says:

    This is such a great game! We should play a bit later.

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