When someone talks about fighting games, what are the first titles you think of? Street Fighter? Mortal Kombat? Growing up in a time where fighting games began to get popular, I was around some really well known 2D fighters. Street Fighter 2, Mortal Kombat, Final Fight, Art of Fighting, and Killer Instinct. So, in 1995, when I acquired a Sega Saturn, I was exposed to a new kind of fighting game known as Virtua Fighter 2. This was my first exposure to any type of 3D fighter, and I really liked it, not just for the new style of fighting, but for the characters in it. A pro wrestler, a drunken kung fu master, a crazy buff fisherman, and some dude who looked like Ryu. With moves that had commands similar to a Mortal Kombat game, but with a fighting style based more in reality, lacking fireballs, spears, and hurricane kicks, I was blown away. In the following years, I would keep very loose track of the Virtua Fighter franchise, until the Virtua Fighter 4 arcade game was released. VF4 was awesome, and was then followed by an upgraded home port, Virtua Fighter 4: Evolution, a game I consider to be one of the best fighting games of the previous console generation. When Virtua Fighter 5 came out for XBox 360 I was curious about the addition of the lucha libre character, but had no way to play the game. When I finally got a 360, I still failed to get the game. This brings us to now, and my experience with Virtua Fighter 5: Final Showdown. Nostalgia aside, could it stack up to my previous experiences?
The first thing you notice, when booting up the game, is a very short introduction screen, and no kind of “attract mode,” which was present in VF4, and VF4: Evolution. From here you’re taken to the main menu. The main menu is your typical fighting game menu. Single player, which has the options of Arcade, Score Attack, which is similar to arcade but is all about getting a high score. License Challenge, which is an interesting mode in which you’re given special objectives during matches that you need to pass to go up in rank on your license. And Special Sparring, which is a locked mode due to the requirement of DLC, which I’ll get into later. Next in the main menu is Offline Versus, which is just the 1 player vs 2 player local fighting mode. Then there’s XBox Live Battle, which is there you take your skills online in one of 3 options, Ranked Match, Player Match, or Room Match. Ranked match is where you fight other players from around the country, or world, and battle to raise your rank among the online community. Player match is just 1 player vs 2 player online fighting. And room match is where you can create a room, or join a room, where a lot of players are in, and you can watch them fight while waiting for your own fight, very similar to Super Street Fighter IV’s endless battle. Dojo comes after XBox Live Battle, and it’s basically your station for training. Your training will come from the Dojo’s 3 options. The first option, Tutorial, will help you understand how to play VF5: Final Showdown, such as evading, and defensive moves. Next is Command Training, which is where you can go to learn all the moves of a specific character you want to learn to play, or you can practice a single move over and over that you just can’t pull off properly. The final option is Free Training. Here, you pick your character, and a dummy character, and then you can either just practice moves on the unmoving character, or set the character to a certain difficulty of AI to fight against, or have a friend use a second controller to just give a little fight to help you with your moves.
The final options of the main menu are Terminal, Leaderboards, Achievements, Help & Options, Download Content and Exit Game. All pretty self explanitory options, but let me talk about Terminal and its relation to download content. In Terminal you have the option to see replays of previous matches or customize your characters looks. You can’t customize your characters looks until you have an item pack for that specific character, and you can only get item packs through Download Content. And as I mentioned earlier with Special Sparring needing DLC, special sparring uses customized characters, which can’t be customized without item packs.
Now, even though a lot of fun things aren’t available due to having to buy them, the main thing about this game is still the fighting. And if there’s one thing I love about Virtua Fighter, it’s the fighting. Unlike games like Mortal Kombat, and Street Fighter, where there’s a lot of range battling due to projectiles and teleporting, Virtua Fighter has always been a game whose fighting is done in close quarters. Also, the fighting styles in Virtua Fighter are very much based on real life martial arts. Many of the characters have movesets dealing in grappling, like Wolf Hawkfield, and Goh Hinogami. And others, like Akira Yuki and Brad Burns, have movesets that are heavy on striking and less reliant on any type of grabs. And that’s one of the things I love about Virtua Fighter. The fighting is so different from games like Street Fighter, where you need to be more cautious about variables like fireballs and teleporting and things of that nature. You just go in, punch and get punched, and hope you’re better with what you’re doing, to beat the crap out of the opponent. Another feature in this game that’s pretty cool is setting your buttons at the character select screen. While this isn’t a major thing to casual players, this is something that would interest a lot of tournament players. It eliminates the time consuming problem of having to start a match, button test, and then restart to have the real match. I think that’s an option that will please a lot of tournament players, if they do tournaments for this game.
One of the nice things about this game, is the online play. I want to compare the online experience to Super Street Fighter IV, but I have to admit, I think VF5′s online play might be a little better. I played about 4 or 5 online matches, and not one hint of lag was found. Which means the matches I did lose, were due to skill, not to my moves not coming out at the right time, and I like that. So many times in other games I was hampered by lag and moves not going off at the right time. In VF5, everything I did looked just as good and as crisp as if I were playing offline. I think this may be the best online experience I’ve had with a fighting game ever.
Sound wise, Sega AM2 did a really awesome thing with this game. In the sound options menu, they give the option of which background music soundtrack you want. All previous Virtua Fighter games, including 5, and the arcade only 5 R, have their background music soundtracks represented in here. Personally, I use Virtua Fighter 2 as my BGM. The only downside to this is that there’s no sound test like in previous Virtua Fighter games that I’ve played.
Now you may be asking yourself, what about character selection? How many fighters are there? If you’re familiar at all with Virtua Fighter, you know Dural is usually an unlockable fighter. If you don’t know who Dural is, I suggest you wiki her, because trying to explain who she is would double the size of this review. Once Dural’s unlocked, the number of selectable characters becomes 20. While to some, this may seem like a small number, I think it’s a good workable number. Not too many characters that you get dizzy in trying to figure out who you want to play, but not such a small number that you’re playing against the same characters constantly in single player modes.
Overall, Virtua Fighter 5: Final Showdown is a good fighting game. The fighting is crisp, responsive, and has very little, if any, snags. The online experience is amazing, and virtually lag free. The backgrounds look amazing, and the music, from older Virtua Fighters to current, is really cool. At the base price tag of 1200 MS points ($15), not including DLC prices, this isn’t a bargain, it’s a steal.