I’ve always considered myself knowledgeable about 3D fighting games. Tekken, Dead or Alive, the Dragon Ball Budokai games, I love them all. Still, there was one series I had yet to give a chance to: Sega’s Virtua Fighter. Created by Sega in 1993, the original Virtua Fighter was the first 3D game in history. It set the standard for all those who followed in its 3D plain footsteps.
The last iteration, Virtua Fighter 5, was released for the PS4 in June 2021. Having fallen hard back into fighting games in the previous year and feeling the hype for Tekken 8, I decided to give the first 3D fighting IP a try.
Virtua Fighter 5: Ultimate Showdown is a complete remake of the 7th gen game. I know it looks like it’s been seventeen years since Sega released a main VF game, but that doesn’t mean this game is lazily made. In fact, I had no clue this was a remake until I did a little research before writing this article. The three-button combat is fun and satisfying, and it goes a lot more in-depth than that control style may lead you to believe. Before even getting into individual characters, the fighting feels more complex than it let’s on.
My first thought when opening up the game was “Oh, I can get this down fast. It’s like 3-button Tekken!” But man, was I wrong. Gone were the rage arts and super moves I had grown so accustomed to. This is fighting in its rawest form. No meters to worry about, no fireballs or spears. Just hand-to-hand combat and skill. Dodging attacks is more useful than blocking, albeit much more difficult, and that’s thanks to the movement. Jumping isn’t done as simply as in Tekken, so moving back and forth through the 3D space is buttery smooth. Usually, I can play a fighter with the directional pad on my controller, but with this movement style, the thumbstick method of movement is basically essential here.
Attacks can be unblockable or unavoidable altogether, and the difference between said moves can be an entire rotation of the thumbstick. Figuring out these small motions and how they connect with the buttons is a gratifying experience, and it definitely helps with getting the basics of fighting games down. The minute details matter in Virtua Fighter, which is part of what makes it so appealing. It rewards memorization and practice, something any competitive person can find an appreciation for.
From the perspective of someone who’s just short of trying to memorize frame data, this game feels nice. The focus is on finding an opening and building from that first impact, a skill that carries over to all games in the genre. It scratches an itch I didn’t know I had. The controls are almost a cross between Tekken and Street Fighter. My experience in both definitely benefited me in both enjoying and being decent at the game. Still, I wasn’t ready to have to consider whether I was in an open stance, or my opponent’s weight class. Though it lacks a story mode, its fighting mechanics hold it up and keep me coming back to this title well after 20 hours of playtime.
As I just mentioned, there isn’t a story mode offered here. It’s all about the arcade and competition, my friend. And that is really all you need at the core of a good fighter. Here’s a quick rundown on each of the modes available.
Whether you’re new to the game or you have some experience, I recommend hopping into training first. Here, you can get used to the controls and mechanics without the pressure of a match. It has all the necessary tools to learn and warm up before a fight, from AI settings to where you want each character positioned. Start here and branch out. It’s worth the time.
This is your standard fighting game affair. You choose a character, pick a difficulty, and fight through an arcade ladder. After you’ve gotten acquainted with the controls and a character or two, this is an excellent next stop. The AI gets more difficult with each level, and the final fight sees a massive spike in difficulty. It reminds you not to get to comfortable while letting you test your knowledge.
If you’re feeling confident in your newfound abilities, this is the next logical step. Go up against players close to your skill level and move up in the ranks. For competitive players, this may be your first stop. Sadly I had trouble finding matches quickly in ranked play, but the matches I was able to join played well. There were very few hiccups, if any. It’s more active on weekends if you want to have an easy time with this.
Got some friends that wanna play? Are you having trouble finding ranked matches? This is a good option if you’re trying to play online in 2024. Just like with ranked, the net code stayed pretty solid, and I found myself playing against the same room of people for over 45 minutes most times. The competitive spirit of this game is amazing, and it’s gotten me into watching tournaments again.
Being able to compare your skills against players across the globe is a huge part of the appeal of fighting games. There’s nothing like making your way through a bracket and making it to the top 5 or that coveted 1st place. This is ranked with high stakes, and the game schedules and facilitates these tourneys itself. I have yet to get to that skill level in Virtua Fighter, but the option is here! And judging by what I was able to see, tournaments are still held online!
Graphics and Sound
Virtua Fighter 5 Ultimate stays true to the graphical standard of 8th-generation fighting games. That’s even more astonishing when you consider the fact that the original version is 17 years old. Sega didn’t exactly have to put in the work they did, but they did, and it paid off. They rebuilt this game in Yakuza’s Dragon engine, and that shows beautifully. The soundtrack is just as well done, too. The high tempo, triumphant rock and electronic music that backs the game is perfect for its hardcore arcade feel. That’s the best way I can describe this game’s OST.
My Final Thoughts
Virtua Fighter set up the 3D fighting space, and it’s clear how much it’s influenced so many games in the genre since its creation. Virtua Fighter 5 doesn’t try to reinvent that wheel, but it hones in on what makes it enjoyable while looking great doing it. It is the purest of fighting games, and it benefits greatly from that. It has that awesome Sega feel in every aspect, and it’s a marvel to see on more modern hardware. You know, sometimes you just need a simple fighting game free from meters and excess flash, and VF 5 Ultimate Showdown is just the game to give you that experience.
- Great gameplay
- Excellent net-code
- In-depth mechanics
- Lack of much single player outside training and arcade