[2 August 2012]
Despite the death of the arcade and some genuine lean years for the genre, the past few years have represented a renewed interest in fighting games. As with many well explored genres, there are different styles of fighting games that exist on a spectrum ranging from arcade to sim. While franchises like Mortal Kombat and Street Fighter have always contained fantastical fight mechanics with their inexhaustible supplies of magical projectiles and teleportation, others like Tekken have largely constrained themselves to a more subdued approach. But while the fighting game genre has never really included a simulation game in the sense that titles like Forza Motorsport aim to represent driving in as realistic a manner as possible, it’s almost certain that the Virtua Fighter series is the closest thing to it.
Virtua Fighter, long more popular in Japan than the USA, is a unique fighting game for a number of reasons. As compared to other prominent fighters, Virtua Fighter is much more nuanced and
deliberate. It’s more difficult for the casual observer to detect the styles of play (zoning, rushdown… etc.) that generally define the tactics in the genre. Really, the only observable widespread fighting game convention that it adheres to is the notion of juggling your opponent with strings of hits that they cannot avoid. As such, it’s a series that is much harder to get into than its competitors. But its simple control scheme belies an almost inconceivable depth.
Further, in the time since Virtua Fighter 5 came out, the resurgence of the fighting game genre has largely favored chaotic arcade-style mechanics. Most popular fighting game these days tend to incorporate esoteric meters to augment typical offensive and defensive styles of play and allow for late round comebacks. Tag-team mechanics are also very common, tasking those seeking to dig into the evolving meta-game of any given title with attempting to uncover the relative strengths and weaknesses of particular combinations of characters. As a franchise, Virtua Fighter has always eschewed these kinds of mechanics, and as such, it comes across as a relatively Spartan experience. But its pure focus on one-on-one, hand-to-hand combat is thoroughly satisfying for those that can dial into its particular approach to the genre.
The series’ most recent full effort, Virtua Fighter 5 was released to acclaim in 2007. As is often true with fighting games (particularly ones that still see arcade versions released in advance of home ports, as is the case with Virtua Fighter), updated versions were released as well, culminating in Virtua Fighter 5: Final Showdown in early 2011. Now Final Showdown is available as a downloadable title for XBLA and PSN.
In the translation to a downloadable version of the game, perhaps the most innovative single player feature was unfortunately cut. Quest Mode (first introduced in Virtua Fighter IV allowed players to square off against AI that was specifically modeled after prominent VF fighters from the Japanese arcade scene. While some new modes have popped up to take the place of Quest Mode, they’re undoubtedly less interesting and don’t spice up the single player experience nearly as much. Given how technical a game this is and how full featured the tutorials for more recent Virtua Fighter titles have been, the tutorial mode here seems scaled down as well, perhaps another casualty of the size limitations of downloadable titles.
Despite the fact that Showdown is a refinement of a six-year-old title and that the fighting game genre has seen a fair number of quality titles released in that time, it still manages to hold up, largely due to its incredible depth. The fighting game community’s esteem for the title is undeniable, given Final
Showdown’s appearance on the roster of the 2012 EVO Championships, the annual juggernaut of fighting game tournaments. There’s little question that Virtua Fighter fans will pick this up, if they haven’t already, particularly given the budget price and the fact that downloadable titles are easy to buy on impulse. But it remains to be seen whether or not Final Showdown will see appeal among
a more casual fanbase, even those that like fighting games in general. But perhaps at this point, given that the genre has been successfully resuscitated, casual acceptance is not of the same concern as it was a few years ago.
When the modern renaissance of the genre began with the release of Street Fighter IV, a new generation of fighting fans had to be bred. Now that they have been and the genre is seemingly quite popular again, it will be interesting to see how well Final Showdown performs financially. Although the tweaks that have been made to this version of the game are substantive, they are largely under the hood and are noticeable only at a considerably high level of play. Beyond that, as good as the title looks, the age of the core technology driving it does show against the backdrop of more modern fighters.
Nevertheless, Final Showdown presents an unapologetically pure and amazingly deep style beneath its relatively bare bones appearance. There is an enormous amount of gameplay available here for the price of entry.