Even five years after its console debut, playing Virtua Fighter 5 is like endeavoring to learn a new language. It’s simple enough to come to grips with the basic building blocks, but mastery only comes with hours upon hours of diligent practice. However, once you’ve conquered it, you’ll be privy to a new level of understanding. If you’re willing to put in the work, it’s still one of the most rewarding fighting games on the market – and with digital re-release Virtua Fighter 5: Final Showdown’s amazingly affordable price, there’s no better time to test your mettle against this demanding teacher.
You can take a mental trip back to 2007 to brush up on our original PS3 and Xbox 360 reviews. Fundamentally, FS builds upon the concepts in both of those games and polishes them to a mirror-like finish. For the cost of $15, you’re essentially buying an ocean of three-dimensional brawling depth – but before you can explore its complexities, you’ll need to learn how to swim. Though Sega and AM2’s Virtua Fighter series is easily the most technical 3D fighter, it can seem deceptively simply at first glance. You might be confused to find that there are only three inputs: punch, kick, and guard. Few moves require motions like the fireball quarter-circles of 2D games like Street Fighter; rather, most attacks boil down to a mere directional tap of the joystick and a button press. As pro players can tell you, chaining these movements together with the required split-second precision is easier said than done.
Each ripped and nimble fighter looks great, matching the crisp visuals of the previous on-disc releases. The animations have a sleek fluidity to them; half of the fun of watching a match comes from examining the agile movements of a skilled player. The sound design is less impressive: forceful elbows and uppercuts resound with a satisfying thwack, but some of the English dubbing is beyond god-awful – in a charming, “classic Sega” kind of way.
Two additional fighters have joined the roster from the original VF5: Jean Kujo and Taka-Arashi, whose fighting styles fill gaps in the existing selection nicely. Jean’s expertise in karate lets him strike out with chops and kicks from his shifting stance, and many of his follow-up attacks can be charged for extra damage and fake-out opportunities. Taka-Arashi, who was last seen in Virtua Fighter 3 on Dreamcast, returns from his 13 year hiatus to bring sumo back in style. His easily-comboed palm strikes will have you feeling like E. Honda, but playing him to his full potential means knowing which crouched or standing stance to use and when.
FS is best enjoyed with company, particularly if they’re learning at the same pace that you are. With a sparring partner by your side, you’ll have a blast discovering the intricacies of your chosen characters, and which moves will best shut down your buddy. But without a dedicated trainee to grow with, the game can feel a bit hollow until you step into the online arena, which PS3 players will have access to at long last. The online battles have been spruced up with a much-needed lobby system, so you can study your opponents while you wait for your match. It can be awfully humbling to get decimated by a fighter who far surpasses you – but when you finally defeat them after persistent rematches, the victory will feel supremely gratifying.
Also of note is the way character items work. Virtua Fighter is celebrated in Japan partially for its near-limitless customization options, which ensure that no two fighters look alike. FS even includes a mode to highlight the wildly varied costume choices, entitled Special Sparring – but to access it, or any item, you’ll need to fork over additional cash for DLC. That’s kind of the rub here. You can play the core game for $15, but to get extra content, you’ll have to come out of pocket. There are pluses and minuses – VF5 fans more interested in the intricacies of gameplay will be fine with the core experience, but completionists may bristle at the notion of coughing up extra to customize their favorite combatants. Buying item packs for every character (excluding the unlockable Dural) will cost you $30; if you want to look unique or try out the amusing Sparring mode, you’ll have to weigh the worth of turning this budget downloadable title into a near-full-price purchased.
But the bottom line remains the same: this is a crowning achievement in fighting games, accurately simulating the dedication it takes to truly know what you and your opponent are capable of, and what they’ll do next given their style and instincts. This is, without a doubt, Virtua Fighter’s finest iteration yet. It may take more work to get good at the game than you’re used to, but striving to be at one with your chosen warrior gives Virtua Fighter 5 Final Showdown a deepness that far exceeds most any downloadable.