|System: Xbox 360, PS3|
|Release: June 5, 2012|
|Screen Resolution: 480p-1080p||Suggestive Themes, Use of Alcohol, Violence|
by Angelo M. D'Argenio
Virtua Fighter 5 was one of the first fighting games to come out on this generation of consoles, and as such it has had the longest to stand up to the scrutiny of the fighting game community. It stands as a testament to Virtua Fighter 5's design that people are still running VF5 tournaments to this day (especially in Japan) even though many newer big name fighting titles have come out since its original release. Even so, the game wasn't perfect. Some argue that the gaps in the tier list have become rather huge. In addition, despite the game's much loved tutorial mode, certain move properties were so counter intuitive it made the game hard to learn for newbies. Sure, these are nit-picks, but they hold the game back from continuing to have a big presence at huge fighting game tournaments like EVO.
Enter Virtua Fighter 5 Final Showdown, the latest version of Virtua Fighter to be released on the PSN and XBLA. Less a new game and more a combination expansion pack and balance patch, Virtua Fighter 5 Final Showdown looks to push the Virtua Fighter formula closer to the perfection that both pro and casual level fighting gamers desire. Since the game is already considered one of the most balanced fighters in Japan, Final Showdown is going to have to do a lot to make this already great game even better. Well, guess what? It did! The developers took everything that was good about the original VF5 and expanded on it in ways that satisfy casual players and pros alike while intelligently leaving the things that worked well in the original release alone. That's all anyone can really hope for from a re-release like this, especially so late into this gaming generation.
Let's start with the casual players. Unfortunately, casual fighters probably won't completely notice the balance changes or extensive move property tweaks that are the biggest draw of Final Showdown, but they sure as heck will notice the new characters. Two new fighters have joined the Virtua Fighter roster: Jean, a red-clad karate master, and Taka-Arashi, a heavy hitting sumo last seen in Virtua Fighter 3.
Jean's gameplay is fast and technical. He has many quick strikes that hit both high and low in close range, however at the same time he has many powerful long range kicks that can out zone the opponent in the middle of a poking match. Even his basic kick can be charged up and delayed to catch the opponent in timing traps. Taka-Arashi on the other hand plays pretty similarly to his Virtua Fighter 3 incarnation. He's slow, but has tons of range and a lot of power behind his strikes. As of now, there's no real telling where these characters will fall on the community's tier lists, but Jean strikes me as the kind of character that will dominate certain tournaments. Taka-Arashi on the other hand… well, I don't want to say that he's a joke character, but I don't see many experts cutting through brackets with him any time soon.
Casual players will notice a host of new stages as well. The VF5 design team has given a lot of thought to each existing stage and has altered the parameters and layout to help make matches more fair and exciting. Certain stages transition between locations after each round, some totally altering the way the game is played in the process. You could be fighting in a wide open arena one round and then in a claustrophobic cage the next. All the stages from Virtua Fighter 5 are returning, so don't worry about your favorite getting taken out in the update.
However, as I said before, the real draw of the game is the many and varied balance tweaks that Sega has made to the engine, and while these were primarily made for the hardcore crowd they can be appreciated by the casual crowd in some ways. First of all, every move of every character has been examined, tweaked, and remade to not only be more fair, but also more intuitive. Virtua Fighter 5 used to have the Soul Calibur problem of attack properties not fitting the visual appearance of attacks. High swinging attacks sometimes hit low and vice versa, and new players would frequently find themselves getting caught in mix-ups that they had no hope of blocking or avoiding simply due to the obscure nature of each move's properties.
VF5 has gotten a complete overhaul to prevent this from happening. Moves that look high hit high and moves that look low hit low. For moves that couldn't be made into highs or lows due to fear of breaking game balance, animations have been tweaked subtly to make them appear high and low aesthetically. This was done to make the game a bit more transparent and to make learning the game a bit easier.
Outside of these changes that make the game more intuitive, Final Showdown is just fairer overall. Sega has worked to balance move ranges, speeds, vulnerable frames, and more. The gaps in the tier list have seriously shrunk at this point, making the game much more balanced no matter which character you decide to play. The game has become quicker overall, so you will have to think on your feet, but with the more intuitive move sets, transitioning from newbie to pro has become a whole lot easier.