Virtua Fighter is sort of the dark horse of the fighting game circuit. Originating in 1993, we haven't seen a new entry since Virtua Fighter 5 in 2007. VF5 got the arcade treatment with Virtual Fighter 5R, although it never saw a console release — until now. Virtua Fighter 5: Final Showdown is a home console release of the arcade iteration, and there are a few other modifications. What sets it apart from the pack is that this is a surprisingly affordable PSN and XBLA exclusive.
On the surface, Virtua Fighter is pretty simple. You've got three buttons: Block, Kick and Punch. Various combinations of these buttons, plus the directions of the analog stock, perform every move you need. This means that the combat is more about learning the mechanics and movements instead of memorizing long combo strings. Combos are relatively short and sweet, and it's pretty easy to pull off moves. However, performing moves at the right time takes serious memorization and practice. If you don't learn the frame data of your attacks, how to best counter other attacks, and various other factors, you'll be dominated regardless of the ease of initiating attacks. Virtua Fighter 5 is the definition of easy to learn, difficult to master.
There's a good stable of characters in the game. Most of the characters are from the original VF5, but there are two new characters. Jean Kujo, a karate fighter, makes his debut, and the other is Virtua Fighter 3's Taka-Arashi, a sumo wrestler who focuses on powerful attacks over high-speed combos. In total, there are 20 characters, giving you a fairly sizeable roster. If there's one complaint, it's that the Virtua Fighter cast fits into the mold of kung-fu movie archetypes rather than being distinct characters. I usually remembered a character's fighting style before I could recall his or her name. Say what you will about Tekken or Street Fighter, but I can identify most of those characters at a glance.
Virtua Fighter 5: Final Showdown is a bare-bones fighting game. There's a decent character roster, but your options are limited to running through the arcade mode, challenging a friend in versus mode, doing some tutorials disguised as "licenses" to practice, and the new online mode. It is to the game's credit that this feels like enough. The arcade and versus modes are enough to make the game worthwhile. The licenses are interesting but won't hold value for long. One of the most valuable modes is the training mode, which gives you detailed and helpful step-by-step instructions on the game mechanics. It's a detailed tutorial that makes this the perfect title for series newcomers; they can learn the basics to stand a chance in a fight.
In a full-price release, this would feel terribly empty, but there's enough content here to feel worth the $15. There's some DLC available as well, although it consists mostly of overpriced costumes. Many of the costumes are available in other versions of the game, so only the most hardcore fans would be interested.
The online play — the title's selling point — is surprisingly good. The quality of the matches depends heavily on how close you are to your opponent. Matches against people in other countries were slightly laggy at best, and it was often significantly worse. However, any match I played against a U.S. opponent was wonderfully smooth. It may be frustrating if you're pitted against a laggy opponent, but the online play usually ensures that you'll be in some fair fights. Virtua Fighter 5: Final Showdown would probably be worth purchasing for the online play alone. Be warned that it isn't very welcoming to casual players. The game may be difficult to master, but since the series has been around so long, there are plenty of folks out there who have.
Visually, Virtua Fighter 5 is a mixed bag. The character models look dated and poorly textured. It isn't surprising that a downloadable version of a game from 2007 looks dated, but while the character models are bland, the animations are fantastic. The character movements are smooth, fluid and a delight to watch, even when compared to the recent Tekken games. The music and sound effects are reasonably good, but nothing stands out. It looks a touch worse than the earlier console release, but you'd only notice if you compared to the two side by side.
For the price, Virtua Fighter 5: Final Showdown is a solid purchase, even if it's not exceptional. It's a bare-bones fighter that has the most basic of extra modes and features, but the main game is good, and the price point is hard to beat. The game is easy to pick up but difficult to master, giving you a great value for only $15. In the end, it's another release of Virtua Fighter 5. If you enjoy the series, you'll love getting a cheap and improved version. The comprehensive tutorial also makes this a great starting point for series newcomers. If you've never liked the series, though, Virtua Fighter 5: Final Showdown won't change your mind.
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