I Suck At Fighting Games: Virtua Fighter 5: Final Showdown

Part 5 of my ongoing efforts to try a lot of fighting games until I find one I can get good at.

I know I go overboard on the background when I'm talking about these games sometimes. That's because I'm trying to gain some sort of basic understanding of it. All of the fighting games I've played so far have some basic connections but are EXTREMELY different. So even if I don't know what I'm talking about, I want to have some knowledge before starting.

What did I know about Virtua Fighter 5: Final Showdown before playing it?

It's really hard. The voice acting is terrible. And you can do somersault kicks.

I'm being introduced to this franchise late and unprepared. I'm running to Virtua Fighter 101 to take my final exam and I haven't even purchased my books or met the teacher yet. I'm going to stop making this terrible metaphor.

To put it simply, I've never played a Virtua Fighter game before. I had no knowledge of the characters, what the tiers look like, or even the hilarious inside jokes that I seem to miss out in EVERY fighting game. Really, isn't that the best part?

So after downloading the game, I jump into the tutorial. There's a fair amount of characters, but I'm not totally overwhelmed by what I see. I picked Vanessa and began working down the list.

I feel like I'm picking up the basic concepts easily, and there are only three buttons in the game (Punch, Kick, Guard), which makes it seemingly less complex than the last 3D fighter I played. And the first thing I noticed is that this is an EXCELLENT tutorial. It teaches you every basic action in the game, AND advanced ones that I keep forgetting to use, AND they each include several pages of text so you'll know which situation to use these moves in.

At one point, the tutorial turns into Sparring Practice: a fight against an AI opponent. So I think “hey, they'll probably be just a punching bag. It's a tutorial after all!” NOPE. He whooped my ass! If I didn't have infinite life, I would've lost this TUTORIAL fight. That also stuck out to me: the AI is tough but fair. And if you don't take advantage of many tools you have, the game is not afraid to kick your teeth in. The tutorials get more complicated after this point, and I spent more time than I'd like to admit on the last two: they're hard.

After finishing the tutorial I headed into...Command Training? I love command training! I complained about Mortal Kombat not having it, and I was delighted to see it in Virtua Fighter.

It's something I think every fighting game should have, and after exploring how different each character is, I appreciated having the “flipbook” style training where you must complete a move before you go on to the next one. Really, my only issue with it is that only certain moves have video demonstrations. Some of the most difficult moves DON'T have an accompanying video, which just seems weird. It's like they chose the moves to record at random as opposed to demonstrating the most difficult ones.

The Free Training Mode is good enough for offering the ability to set your training dummy to be an AI controlled sparring partner and being able to tweak every single aspect of their behavior. What was interesting to me are the statistics you can put on the screen during training. I don't know what the hell most of them mean, but I'm trying to learn because they look really useful. “Detailed stats” appears as a pop-up on the screen that shows you execution, the amount of damage a hit does, and your advantage. I'm assuming having a positive advantage number (+20 for example) means you will recover to a resting state more quickly and be able to defend yourself, while a negative advantage is an “unsafe” move that leaves you open to counterattack from your opponent. Input display, I have no idea what the hell it is. It shows your inputted commands on the screen alongside numbers, and I just do not know what the numbers mean. If you can explain it to me in a way that I'd understand, that would be great.

The single player offerings in this game aren't too deep: Score Attack and Arcade are in pretty much every fighting game and are self-explanatory. Special Sparring is locked unless you buy all 2400 Microsoft Points worth of DLC, and since I'm not crazy, I didn't do that and don't know what it is.

Then there's the License Challenge mode, which is almost another form of training. Each Test is a set of five fights that have conditions for each match. If you lose a fight or fail to complete a condition, you're going all the way back to the beginning of the ladder. Tough, but fair.

Pictured: the source of at least 90% of my License Challenge failures.

I say it's another form of training because they force you to use basic concepts of the game in a real fight. You need to guard X amount of moves in one. You need to perform a 3 hit combo in another. You need to remember to do Defensive Moves (sidestepping) and Offensive Moves (dashing forward during a sidestep) in a test I kept failing because I don't naturally use Offensive Moves.

Unfortunately, I can't play any games online. It sucks because I know the best test of skills in fighting games is against an actual opponent: learning to read their moves and behaviors is arguably more important than being able to string together a 30 hit combo. But the AI in Virtua Fighter is more than competent, it's actually quite tough. The enemies in License Challenge become more difficult as you rank up, and Score Attack opponents rarely give you a break.

The reason I mentioned so much training material is that the game seems to know it NEEDS it. This game is hard. Each character has a HUGE amount of moves to memorize, and most seem to have some kind of alternate stance with even more moves! My character Vanessa has offensive and defensive styles that can be easily switched between, but determining when I need to switch between these styles and remembering the moves on the fly is a lot to take in. The damage output in the game is high, so a few mistakes could lead to a very quick loss. You will almost certainly get destroyed if you don't know how to block properly, but blocking too much will open you up to getting thrown, and you do NOT want to get thrown in this game. It hurts.

So, it's difficult. It also prepares you for the difficulty with its vast training options. The amount of damage each character is capable of putting out in a short time is intimidating, especially if you're knocked off of your feet and juggled. On the other hand, the gravity is realistic so you usually can't be juggled for long, and there are lots of options for a quick ground recovery. Vanessa has a move that allows her to grab her opponent's legs from the ground and do a VERY painful grapple. It's pretty neat.

Despite not being able to play online, I'm drawn to keep playing this game. I find myself loading it up at least a couple times a week to do some more License Challenges and mess around in training mode to put together some sloppy combos. I keep playing this game despite not having the option to play online for now.

The only thing I worry about is it not having a long-term audience. I know IPLAYWINNER and 8WAYRUN host weekly tournaments featuring Final Showdown, but the game is 2 years old. I think it's a fine game, but will it be around next year? All I know is as soon as I can get online, I'm going to be all over that. I'm just hoping other people will be there.

What I Liked:

-Robust training options. Command Training, a Tutorial that covers EVERYTHING, and the fun License Challenges that force you to use the game's mechanics in combat. Even those input displays in Training Mode that I cannot decipher look useful!

-Tough AI. They never feel unfair, but they put up enough of a challenge to make single player feel rewarding.

-Fair gameplay. You can recover from being juggled easily, and since the damage output is high, mounting a comeback is always possible if you're skilled enough. It's not the type of game where you just get juggled, eat supers, and die. The only comeback mechanic is skill.

What I Didn't Like:

-Locking out an entire mode as DLC. There's no way to unlock customization items in the game without paying $30? Kinda crappy.

My complaints about the game have nothing to do with the core gameplay. It's incredibly solid all around and I want to keep playing it. Like I already said, once I can play online I will be playing this online A LOT. The game hits the perfect sweet spot of being “easy to pick up, but hard to master” and it's one of the few fighting games that would be perfect for someone new the the genre to pick up. It just teaches you everything you need to know and rewards you for putting in more time and learning the game.

Next time I'm either going to talk about Street Fighter X Tekken or Dead or Alive 5. Vote in the comments for which one you'd want to see! And I'll pretend like I haven't already bought both and decided!