The modern renaissance of fighting games that began with the release of has had many positive effects on the genre. It has brought new players into the fighting game fold, and the increased audience allows for classic series that may have fallen by the wayside to be revived and put in the hands of new players eager to see the diverse breadth of experiences the genre has to offer. The original iterations of Virtua Fighter 5 released in 2007 struggled to make an impact: the original PlayStation 3 release lacked any sort of online play, while the Xbox 360 version debuted amid numerous other high-profile releases. Despite positive reviews, the original VF5 didn't make many waves.
Virtua Fighter 5 Final Showdown plays host to some of the most satisfying smackdowns in the genre.
Virtua Fighter 5 Final Showdown takes a different approach. Rather than being a full-priced disc release, it's a 1,200 MSP downloadable game available through Xbox Live Arcade. Instead of emphasizing the single-player quest modes of the original release, the game is geared toward competitive play, with a robust online matchmaking engine and in-depth training and tutorial modes. You don't earn items to customize your characters in-game; you buy downloadable customization packs that contain hundreds upon hundreds of items, costumes, and colors for each fighter. To top it all off, the game engine has received a significant overhaul, making the game more accessible to new players while adding depth and gameplay tweaks that longtime VF fans will find refreshing. The result is a package that, while somewhat lacking in certain respects, represents a tremendous value.
At first glance, Virtua Fighter is deceptively simple: there are only three buttons (guard, punch, and kick), no super meters or other gauges, and rings of varied size and shape to fight on. Once you begin playing, however, the game's depth gradually opens up. The three buttons, used in tandem with certain joystick movements, open up hundreds of different commands for each character, with each individual skill having numerous unique properties and potential uses. Every character has a wealth of different strikes, holds, throws, and counters of varying heights, speeds, and damage properties. The skills are based (sometimes rather loosely) on true-to-life martial arts, so don't expect the flashiness of massive fireballs, energy swords, or divekicks from across the length of the screen.
The more-grounded basis of Virtua Fighter doesn't make the game any less exciting, however: matches are fast-paced, tense, and involve more up-close-and-personal beatdowns. The smoothness and detail of the individual character animations accentuate the thrill of combat; the sheer satisfaction of landing a particularly complex and damaging combo or a rarely seen, off-the-wall throw is immense. Characters also come with unique properties that affect the way they play: tiny luchador El Blaze can dash speedily around the ring, drunken master Shun Di gains improved moves when he's plastered (yes, really), and gargantuan sumo Taka-Arashi's massive size renders him harder to knock down and hit with combo strings, to give a few examples.
Shun Di and Lei Fei compete in the most epic Chinese martial arts bald-off of all time.
There's a lot to each character in Virtua Fighter, and thus the learning curve is a bit steep. Thankfully, Virtua Fighter 5 Final Showdown offers robust training and tutorial modes to help both new players who are learning VF for the first time and longtime fans who might need to adjust to the gameplay changes from the original VF5. The tutorials start from the very basics of attacking, dodging, and guarding, and continue all the way to the new throw-escape system and advanced movement techniques.
Training mode, meanwhile, offers numerous ways to analyze and practice your newly learned skills, including numerous detailed input displays (complete with frame data for advanced players) and notations on how and where moves strike you or your opponent. The training dummy can also be set to react in a plethora of ways, including switching up command strings at random so you can practice anticipating and countering troublesome mix-ups. Replays of offline and online matches can also be saved, shared online, and carefully analyzed with similar tools to the training mode.
You certainly want to learn as much as you can, since Virtua Fighter 5 Final Showdown offers a considerable challenge both online and offline. The game lacks a single-player story or quest mode, instead offering more-personal improvement-driven content. Arcade mode is just that: a simple trip through a gauntlet of computer-controlled opponents with a credits roll at the end (as is typical for VF, there are no story scenes or character endings). Score Attack rewards you with points for clearing the stages as quickly, efficiently, and flashily as possible and includes online leaderboard rankings. License Challenge is similar to the random quest objectives that were given out during fights in Virtua Fighter 4: Evolution; you need to not only beat an opponent but fulfill certain other objectives in the meantime (such as landing a certain number of hits or using defensive techniques).