The grandfather of 3D fighting games has returned. Fifteen years have passed since Virtua Fighter 5 first hit the arcade scene in 2006 and nine years have passed since the updated Virtua Fighter 5 Final Showdown released on the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, after which the series went quiet leaving fans wondering what the future of Virtua Fighter would be. The eighth console generation saw Sega focus mostly on Phantasy Star and Yakuza while relegating the formerly cherished Virtua Fighter to the hardcore arcade fighting game crowd or simply making it an optional mini-game within the highly successful Yakuza games. Now in 2021, a bolder Sega is digging into its backlog of IPs and bringing forward a newer version of Virtua Fighter 5 with Virtua Fighter 5 Ultimate Showdown.
Calling upon Sega’s own excellent developers at Ryu Ga Gotoku of Yakuza acclaim along with Virtua Fighter’s original AM2 team, VF5 is brought to modern standards while retaining everything that is great about the original release and with excellent results. Right off the bat VF5 greets you with an opening video featuring music that puts you right in the middle of an arcade and has a sound to it that can only be described as being uniquely and distinctly a Sega game soundtrack. Not only that, but upon diving into the character models, cinematics, and stages you can see that Sega has completely undersold the graphical upgrade given to Virtua Fighter 5.
For this release Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio has taken VF5 and ported it into their new Dragon Engine which has been in service since Yakuza 6, consequently giving VF5 that distinctive Yakuza style; a blinding and saturated sky, razor-sharp lens flare, and new hit-sparks on successful connections to make landing a punch that much more satisfying. Character models have had full retextures to bring them all up to date with current game industry standards, with some slight changes to a few fighters that give them a slightly more Yakuza character look but it is ever so subtle.
Stages pop and are much more vibrant and colorful in this rerelease coupled with diverse scenery across the game’s 21 stages. Character animations are all retained from the original games and it is a true testament to how good Virtua Fighter 5 was in its time when even in 2021 it still has some of the best looking animations in a fighting game. Lastly, the UI has been redone with a cleaner and simple design that still retains that classic arcade feel. On the whole, Virtua Fighter 5 Ultimate Showdown has a lot more going for it than a simple 1080p upscale. While it certainly is not breaking new ground in terms of graphical fidelity, VF5’s new coat of paint looks fantastic for being a 2012 game from 2006 being ported to consoles in 2021, and (hopefully) is a look into what a future Virtua Fighter title from Sega could look like.
Virtua Fighter 5 launches with six game modes: an online ranked mode, room match, training room, arcade mode, offline versus mode, and an online tournament mode which is unavailable at the time of review. For those of you new to Virtua Fighter, prepare to spend a lot of time hitting the training room.
Compared to current fighting games that are accommodating to the more casual fighting game audience, for example, Arc System’s single button combos or NeatherRealm’s simplified fatalities that all serve to simplify the user experience, Virtua Fighter 5 is far more mechanically complex and expects a lot from you as a fighting game enthusiast. The command list for each character is more of a command textbook featuring multiple pages with an input for multiple situations. To the new fighting game fans, this can all be very overwhelming as you might not know what half of these inputs are even going to do at first.
For the experienced fighting game fan, the amount of control you have over what your character can do is fantastic news. Every situation that you could find yourself in has a response to it. There is no shortage of mix-ups and punishments in Virtua Fighter which creates a depth, skill ceiling, and cerebral element to VF that the competitive crowd will love. Button-mashers beware, Virtua Fighter is much more deliberate in how it takes its inputs compared to some other fighters thanks to the wide range of moves at your disposal, simply spamming the punch button will get you punished quickly.
In-line with its arcade roots, Virtua Fighter 5 only displays arcade-style inputs, don’t expect to see PlayStation button prompts too often when attempting to learn combos because VF5 uses fight pad notation for all inputs. Luckily the game does account for those of us controller-centric gamers and maps certain moves that are far easier on a fight pad such as P+G or the dreaded P+G+K input to the shoulder or trigger buttons making the controller experience a lot less frustrating. VF5 does not feature the largest roster of any fighting game out right now but instead, it opts for a smaller, tightly balanced list of fighters, each with their own unique move set and fighting style. One of the most difficult aspects of balancing a fighting game is creating enough characters to create a game with depth and choice while also making every character a viable option within the meta and Virtua Fighter 5 strikes a good balance.
Virtua Fighter 5 Ultimate Showdown does a lot of good in bringing an old game to a modern audience but makes a huge mistake in being a fighting game in 2021 that lacks rollback netcode. Rollback netcode has been a game-changer for the online fighting scene as it is simply the superior way to account for player actions when internet connection quality is poor and frame delay increases. VF5’s delay based netcode is a thing of the past and with games such as Mortal Kombat 11, Street Fighter V, the upcoming Guilty Gear Strive and even Spelunky 2 of all games having rollback netcode implemented, to see that in 2021 Virtua Fighter 5 is still using delay-based netcode is a huge disappointment. Lastly, the original Virtua Fighter 5 featured a great deal of character customization items and costumes that, while still present in Ultimate Showdown, is largely scaled back and limited.
The inclusion of a DLC store page all but gives us a hint as to where that character customization is going and it is disappointing to scale back the customization in this new release when Virtua Fighter is one of the pioneers of fighting game costume customization.
Virtua Fighter 5 is still a great fighting game in 2021 and this remaster, almost remake, makes that profoundly obvious. The switch to the Dragon Engine has given VF5 a wonderful visual update and great care has been taken to preserve everything that is great about the original version’s stellar animations and tight balance. The biggest drawbacks here are the lack of rollback net code, which is a must-have for any fighting game with online functionality in this era, and stripped-back character customization which has already been surpassed by VF5’s contemporaries. Overall, veteran Virtua Fighter fans should be pleased and find themselves at home with this rerelease while new fans will find a very mechanically challenging but expansive fighting game to sink their teeth into.