Virtua Fighter 5 Final Showdown preview – Technical brawling that does more with less

SEGA and AM2’s legendary Virtua Fighter franchise has always been regarded with respect, given its wealth of content for players that take the time to delve into its complex mechanics and movelists. Despite using a mere three buttons (punch, kick, and guard) and a joystick, the sheer number of possible combo strings and maneuvers for each character is staggering.

Because of its perceived difficulty, VF’s always had some trouble getting a foothold in the mainstream US market, despite great popularity with Japanese gamers. But with any luck, that’s all about to change – VF5’s ultimate version, Final Showdown, is coming to PSN on June 5th and XBLA on the 6th – and it’ll only cost you $15.

What budget-minded brawlers will be getting from FS is an upgraded version of 2007’s VF5, with two additional characters (making 20 in all, including Dural), 20 stages, improved online functionality, and an overhaul of multiple mechanics – including every single animation in the game. If you’ve ever spent some quality time with VF, you know that’s quite the undertaking, given the massive amount of moves each fighters’ got.

It’s all in the name of readability – the upgraded animations will better convey the strength and hitbox (high, medium, or low) of any given attack, so veterans can read closer into subtle movements, while newcomers will have an easier time following the flow of a fight. In addition to the animations, the Online modes are getting a major overhaul – the barebones online experience offered in VF5’s been benched, replaced by the ever-popular “quarter up” lobbies of other modern fighters in FS.

There are also new throw mechanics in place to simplify inputs while retaining the mind-games: instead of mashing directions and buttons to escape throws, you’ll simply have to counter using towards, away, or neutral movements. This converts throw escapes from “WTF is going on” randomness to a satisfying rock-paper-scissors guessing game, and goes a long way towards making VF more accessible.

Along with the return of VF5’s monkey-mimicking Eileen and gaudy luchador El Blaze, FS includes new face Jean Kujo and the return of Virtua Fighter 3’s resident sumo wrestler Taka-Arashi. Kujo’s a full-contact fighter, while Arashi throws his weight around like you’d imagine a sumo would.

In Japan, VF5’s well known for its bevy of character customization options, and FS will be no different. To ensure that you’ll never see two fighters that look alike, there’ll be $5 customization DLC packs, each of which unlocks a staggering 600-1000 items instantly for the given character. We already foresee losing hours to this fighting version of dress-up.

We applaud SEGA for making FS so aggressively costed. Instead of spending $60 to throw down with a devoted-but-diminutive community, this should open up the floodgates to fighting fans who’ve been curious about VF’s three-dimensional, three-button intricacies, but weren’t willing to pony up the cash. We’re no doubt be recruiting our buddies to try the game with us once it’s released – once you’ve established a group of sparring partners, Virtua Fighter can be one of the most rewarding fighting games of all time.

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