The Virtua Fighter franchise started back in the early 90’s when anything with 3D was billed as “Virtual Reality”. The first Virtua Fighter allowed players to do astonishing things like sidestep; moving their character into the mysterious Third Dimension! At the time it was up against 2-D fighting classics like the Street Fighter games and Mortal Kombat so this gimmick was enough to draw attention from many arcade goers. However what has helped the franchise stick around is its emphasis on more realistic fighting moves from its characters.
There are no projectiles, let alone the giant walls of energy seen in some fighters. Characters can’t leap ten feet in the air, or uppercut enemies through the roof. The roster of fighters is composed of ordinary human (Not even a single grizzly bear), and none of them carry weapons. The combat system doesn’t use a Super Meter for charging up mega-attacks. Combos are short, and aerial combat is almost non-existent.
Performing well in a Virtua Fighter game takes a firm understanding of the characters lengthy lists of special moves and stances, plus a great deal of timing.
Virtua Fighter V came out in 2007, and has been upgraded several times since. Final Showdown is the new edition, and it is being released as an XBLA/PSN download, rather than on a disk (No, there’s no way to upgrade the old Virtua Fighter V disk to this edition, at this time).
This new version adds in a bunch of gameplay tweaks and balances that have been developed over the last five years, and has a fully-integrated online mode (Unlike the original version which had online as an add-on for Xbox only). The single-player mode has some Challenge modes to give new players a hand in learning the game, and these do a very good job of getting newbies up to speed on the idiosyncrasies of this franchise.
A noteworthy feature is that this version of the game is a grab bag of easy Achievements for gamers who want a quick way to raise their gamer score.
The online modes have both ranked and unranked matches, plus a handy feature that tracks how often players will rage quit in the middle of matches (Politely called a “Disconnect” counter by the developers).
New players should be warned before going online that the basic mechanics of the series haven’t changed much in the eleven years since VF4 came out, so long-time Virtua Fighter fans have had a decade to master their favorite characters, and five years to learn the specifics of VF5.
There are twenty characters on the roster in Final Showdown, including several new ones not in the original version. They include the ponderous Sumo wrestler Taka Arashi who hasn’t been part of the franchise for a while. There’s also the karate expert Jean, and a nimble Chinese girl who practices monkey Kung-fu, but the most interesting of the new characters is a tiny Luchadore named El Blaze who uses the sort of agile moves seen in professional wrestling.
Fans of the series will probably find the new fighters to be worth exploring, and between them all there is a good deal of variety.
To add a little more variety, each character has two costumes available (Sarah, the killer Barbie doll gets a sexy cocktail dress), but there are optional “Item Packs” that can be downloaded for a fee. These item packs are only cosmetic and won’t provide combat bonuses, but they will make characters distinct when playing online.
More arenas have been added to this version of the game, including a proper sumo arena to go with the new sumo character. Ring-outs are allowed, and each of the stages is designed differently, so that on some of them it’s very easy to knock an opponent out of the ring, while others make it quite difficult by requiring players to break through walls, or knock enemies over short barriers.
Although in many ways it’s rather dated, especially in terms of graphics and sound, Virtua Fighter V: Final Showdown is still an excellent fighter from a franchise that hasn’t been around much this console generation. It is available now for XBLA and PSN for the low price of $15 or 1200 Microsoft points.