Sunday, June 17, 2012

Chamberlain and Chance on Virtua Fighter 5: Final Showdown.

It's back, baby!  Remember to check out Chamberlain's blog, Infinite Backlog.

Chamberlain and I are pretty much in agreement that Virtua Fighter 5: Final Showdown is an exemplary fighting game.  One should note; this means a lot more coming from him - a veteran of fighting games - than it does me, who loved the genre back in the 16-bit days, but has all but abandoned it since. Still, there's no argument that the relatively lean roster of only nineteen fighters belies the seemingly limitless fathoms of depth the game offers, and this is Virtua Fighter 5 refined and re-iterated to its sharpest, most considered edge.

If the game - specifically, the grace and balance of its mechanics and their remarkable realization - is so exemplary, what is there to talk about?

The question that comes up is whether or not someone without Virtua Fighter experience should invest themselves - and their time.  After all, with the leanest of single-player offerings, VF5:FS pretty much only offers a phenomenal fighter and excellent online - with none of the bells and whistles genre fans have come to expect (and perhaps demand) of fighting games.

CHAMBERLAIN : It depends what you mean by bells and whistles. Does is have the expansive single player fluff that Mortal Kombat did? No. Does it have a better training mode and a more useful tutorial than any other game on the market? Yes. Capcom games are notoriously obtuse. There is very little in the game itself to explain what needs to be done. It does have a challenge mode, but after the first five or six most of the challenges are impractical for use in a fight. Plus the game never bothers to explain what a link is versus a chancel, you have to look to the community for an explanation. Virtua Fighter has a lengthy tutorial that starts off with just blocking and moves all the way up to crouch dashing to avoid a throw and a block an attack at the same time.

Something that I still cannot do, but at least the game took the time to explain to me that it exists. You could play Street Fighter for years and never figure out what an option select is.

Virtua Fighter games pretty much set the gold standard for teaching a new player everything from blocking a punch to frame-specific ultra-tactics, and Final Showdown takes it even further with options that allow you to view attack properties, where opponents can escape a combo and your precise frame advantage or disadvantage upon each strike.

CHANCE : I don't think I would've ever latched on to Virtua Fighter 4 the way I did were it not for how detailed and extensive the training is.  When BlazBlue dropped, journalists were hugely positive about how great its tutorials were, but - aside from a few mashy combos - I could never get off the ground with it.

For someone like me, who hadn't picked up a fighting game in the better part of a decade, Virtua Fighter 4's tutorials opened up the whole game for me.  Even now, years later, I'm still nowhere near able to pull off some of the more insane strings (see: Akira) or higher-level tactics (reliable punishers), but I've discovered I can pretty much hold my own with the PS3's online community.

This is a welcome surprise, 'cause you're right about single player...

CHAMBERLAIN : Playing single player in any fighting game is a great way to develop terrible habits. As much as I liked kumite mode in Virtua Fighter 4, I do not miss it now, because as you said in your reactions, the online mode is the new kumite, and the netcode is up to the task. Most of the ranked I played was right on par with Street Fighter without the roll back issues that plague Street Fighter X Tekken. It has to be, because the fighting is much more active that the former and much more precise than the latter. I play a very reactive, defensive Blanka (when I am playing not terribly, anyway) and that does work in Virtua Fighter. Mashing jab doesn’t work either. It feels like I am always doing something in Virtua Fighter. I am dashing, feinting, blocking, dodging, then dropping combos and choosing the wrong punish because I am still not very good.

CHANCE : I agree.  Even with a... well, ridiculous amount of depth, VF5:FS feels very balanced.  Yes, an elite player will wipe the floor with me - but here, I understand the how and the why of every maneuver they pull off, and every mistake I make that allows them to pummel me.

CHAMBERLAIN : While Virtua Fighter does a better job of teaching you how to play, actually playing it is not as obvious. I am currently drowning in moves.

CHANCE : Yeah, those move lists (50+ for every character) are incredibly intimidating.

CHAMBERLAIN : There are so many choices that I cannot remember all of them, much less keep track of which one is the right one to use at the right time. I have chosen a few that I like, forgotten the rest, and am fighting with half an arsenal.

CHANCE : In its own way, though, that's almost a strength.  Only the most elite players will take advantage of a character's entire move list.  Looking at most intermediate players online, many of them don't use 80% of it - the move lists are so gigantic, just burning the whole thing into your muscle memory can take weeks.

But that... I don't know... it says good things about the game, I think.  The fact that every character on the roster is built from the ground up - often playing entirely differently from each other - to accurately reflect a real-world fighting style is a huge feather in the game's cap. The incredibly extensive move lists allow Johnny's Jackie to fight completely different from Jenny's - using a different arsenal of moves - and both can be successful due to VF's heavy emphasis on mind games and building up expectations with your foe.

I love that moment where another player and I are beating the crap out of each other, we both back off for an instant, and I snap into crane stance.  There's this beautiful half-second where I'm waiting and they're weighing all the stuff I could throw out from that stance - and I'm praying I've "programmed" them with one expectation so I can punish them for thinking I'm about to go high instead of low.

CHAMBERLAIN : It is all very new to me now, so I don’t have the right answer yet. I can’t even tell what can be punished and what is safe, much less what the max damage punish combo is (or, in my case, the most damage my meager skills will allow).

For $15, the game is a steal, but if you don’t have a good internet connection I would skip it.

CHANCE : Yeah, the lack of Kumite mode - or rather, moving it online - means the game is really hobbled if it's just you, at home.  The fact that it is online, though, places it so far beyond VF's last outing on the PS3 that it's rather staggering.

This, finally, feels like the Virtua Fighter I've been wanting to play since 4 on the PS2 - where you would wander around a virtual map and play against CPU opponents programmed to behave like real-world players.

For me, actually fighting against real-world players - with such fidelity to the local Vs. experience - is an absolute revelation.

I haven't felt so involved with a multiplayer game since... World of Warcraft.

CHAMBERLAIN : The net code is exceptional, right on par with Street Fighter 4. Playing people in my region (which includes Canada, oddly enough) results in very playable matches 90% of the time. My only concern is with the size of the community, specifically how long interest will hold out. To this day I can host a ranked match in Street Fighter and have an opponent in less than 30 seconds. Finding people in Virtua Fighter 5 is quick now, but how long with it last?

Regarding balance, I spoke to one of the tournament level players from PA and while it is very well balanced there are still tiers. This is inevitable, but he did say that at higher levels Virtua Fighter is all mind games, and that any character can beat any other if the right person is playing. This makes up for a relatively small roster, because success can be had with all of them.

This game also highlights how much I need a new a new stick. I cannot fathom how you are playing this on a d-pad. My poor stick has a dead zone so large in the middle that every motion needs to be exaggerated, and that just doesn’t work for an game as active as this. Really, I’m not making excuses.

Yes I am.

* * *

There's no argument as to whether or not Final Showdown is an excellent fighter - it is exemplary - and for fifteen dollars, a steal.  The question, then, is whether or not a novice should dip their trembling toe in these heady waters - made infinitely more answerable by this game's accessible portfolio of ridiculously detailed tutorials.  

If you have a single bone in your body that loves fighting games and possess a capable internet connection, this is a fifteen dollar toy you could be playing for years to come.


  1. The next time I find $20 on the side walk it is ear marked for virtual fights with you.

  2. The training mode sounds enticing. It's what allowed me to play--and eventually love--BlazBlue.

    For me there's always an innate hesitance to give fighters a chance, because they're very intimidating to me. But I feel like this generation has made a large effort to change that.

  3. I'm the exact same way, Solo. I wanted to love the new Street Fighter and BlazBlue, but the training modes there just weren't enough for me.

  4. VF is totally free compared to Street Fighter. And why is everyone talking about training modes? Online is where it's at.

  5. It is difficult (almost impossible) to learn how to play the game by just jumping online on a wing and a prayer. Any success at all requires lab time, even if it to just learn your character and what he or she can do. Virtua Fighter provides a much better environment for this early stage of learning than any other fighting game.

    Comparing Virtua Fighter with Street Fighter beyond 'there are two people fighting with life bars' just doesn't work.

  6. I'm pissed about the change to Jackie's step-in sword, for the record.