Fighting games don't get more pure than Final Showdown.

User Rating: 9 | Virtua Fighter 5: Final Showdown PS3
Virtua Fighter 5: Final Showdown is a miracle in digital form. It's a game that never would've seen a North American release if it wasn't for the pleas of hardcore fans within the fighting game community: the group that Virtua Fighter strictly caters to. With its barebones package, VF5FS isn't likely to attract gamers who place large importance on single-player modes. A series like VF can only be appreciated by plumbing its depths, moreso than any other fighting games in existence.

If you happen to be one of those rare, non-hardcore fans who's actually interested in FS and is willing to dedicate a lot of time to it, but don't know anything about the series, read on. Final Showdown is the final revision to the VF5 series of games. FS adds some significant changes to the system; the throw system has been modified, and the animations have been upgraded. Of course, the characters have been changed, too. FS lets you choose from one of 19 characters, each with a distinct, real-life fighting style (but tweaked to be more video game-like). While there are only three main buttons-Punch, Kick, and Guard-each character's movelist spans several pages. While the movelists may be a bit daunting, rest assured that you don't need to memorize all of them to be good. Even the best players don't utilize every move; versus play is less about who can do more moves, and more about reading your opponent's attack, and reacting accordingly. It's much more important to know how to defend against attacks.

And learning how to defend against attacks is made really easy with FS's robust free training mode. Unlike most other fighting games, you are given tons of options to tweak; you can have the CPU react in many & specific ways, which will allow you to find counters to them. For the first time ever, you now have access to a frame counter display. To the not-so-hardcore fan, this might not sound important, but if you ever wanted to know why certain moves lose out to others, the frame counter will tell you. It would be in your best interest to use the frame display.

The original Virtua Fighter 5 included a cool single-player mode called Quest, where you visited various arcades and fought AI opponents for rank and costumes. FS removes this mode, and instead of earning the costumes in-game, they are sold separately as DLC, for better or worse. Instead of a Quest mode, there's a License Challenge where you fight AI opponents under special conditions. While some may lament the removal of Quest mode, License Challenge serves as a handy tool for improving your skill, outside of versus play and training. Other single-player modes include the usual arcade and score attack, and a special mode that requires the costume DLC. Any dedicated fan will spend the majority of their time (aside from training mode) in Versus mode.

There has been recent strides in the quality of netplay in fighting games. With the possible exception of Skullgirls, FS stands as having the best netcode of the bunch. Finding a game is fast and painless; it's very possible to blow through tens of matches in an hour. Maybe a hundred if you're really dedicated. Matches can be lag-free affairs, even if the game says the connection isn't perfect. As always, your mileage may vary. You can download and save replays to your hard drive, and also upload your own matches. There are some small issues with online play, at least in the PS3 version. The "players met" feature currently doesn't work, so your only chance to add someone to your friend's list is to do so right after a match, or by memorizing their handle. This isn't an issue with the game, but it's worth mentioning: the vast majority of the players are found in ranked matches. If you're the sort who prefers unranked matches, then you're better off doing that with online friends.

As of this writing, you can purchase the game and all costume packs for $30, which is admittedly a nice deal considering: 1) it's a limited-time offer; 2) it's a PlayStation 3-exclusive deal. The Xbox 360 version of the game does not have the same promotion, presumably due to limitations of the infrastructure. As an added bonus, the game is free if you have PlayStation Plus (the game only).

Because there's a lot of information to take in, it's important that these games have tutorials. Sadly, most developers of fighting games have not learned how to properly teach players how to play their own games. Sega designed a brilliant tutorial mode for VF4 Evolution, and to this day, it's the gold standard. While the included tutorial for FS is good, it isn't anywhere near as robust as the one found in Evolution. As such, you may want to check out virtuafighter.com or YouTube for additional info. As useful as these resources are, it's unacceptable that anyone should have to use external sources to learn how a game works when it's the game designers' job to document all of the rules. It's like playing Monopoly without knowing that you can buy properties because the rule wasn't in the manual.

For a six-year old game, VF5 still looks good, and it looks even better thanks to the upgraded visuals. The animations are well-done, especially the throws. VF games have never been flashy, but they always looked great, right down to small details. The music is quite good, and as an added bonus for the fans, Sega has included the soundtrack from every game in the series. Really nice touch, because the earlier games have some great tunes.

Final Showdown is the result of the efforts made by dedicated fans to bring more exposure to the VF games. Sega deserves much praise for responding positively to feedback, and releasing what is one of the best fighting games of 2012. So far, recent sales reports out of Japan suggests Sega made the right decision, but the true test is how the game performs outside of Japan. Final Showdown isn't the first VF game to be released on consoles, but it's definitely the most important one.