Virtua Fighter 5 Final Showdown: Complete Edition is the definitive version of one of this generation's best 3D fighters and is a must, with a caveat or two, for anyone who played the original version. It's especially true if you own the PS3 version since you can now play the game online. It's something 360 owners were treated to, but the original PS3 version lacked, and it's a shame too since it added a ton of replay value to the game. Outside of online play, Final Showdown features some added moves, improved animations, a redone version of the Quest mode, the return of Taka-Arashi from VF 3, and a new character in Jean Kudo.
The redone Quest mode was the first thing that really stood out to me outside of the roster changes. Instead of going from one virtual arcade to the next, you now beat a ladder of opponents under a set theme name - which basically amounts to the same thing only without the arcade theme to it. The wacky outfits you'll encounter during it are something else, and can include things like El Blaze adorned with Samba De Amigo stuff, Sarah Bryant doing her best Ulala impression, or Jeffry looking like the main character from Clockwork Knight. So while the mode is a bit less visually interesting due to it now being all basic menu-driven, it still has quite a bit of humor to it that varies depending on which set of opponents you fight.
Playing this online reminded me of my days playing the original arcade version VF at Disney World's Innoventions area, beating anyone who wanted to play until finally losing. Only now, the competition is a lot tougher. Like VF 5, you can only participate in unranked and ranked singles matches - there's no tournament support. There's more incentive to compete in ranked matches exclusively given the achievement/trophy listing only rewarding you for them, and disconnects are discouraged via a big funny frownie face. Latency isn't a huge issue, but does crop up occasionally. It'll usually just cause a little hitch for half a second, but doesn't hurt things much. It nearly cost me a round one time, but didn't bug me. 99% of the time, online play was comparable with offline as far as responsiveness goes. The ability to save replays is also here, and incredibly easy to use.
One new addition that I wasn't expecting to enjoy as much as I did came in the form of license challenges that like the ones in Gran Turismo, testing your ability to do certain things outside of practice. Skills like striking, evading, and more advanced gameplay mechanics will be tested as you not only need to do things like evade a handful of attacks during a round, but also still win the round - forcing you to become a more well-rounded player.
The core game in Final Showdown is mostly the same as it was in VF 5, but with a lot of little tweaks to it. Everyone has some new moves, and my favorite character Wolf is an absolute beast thanks to some of the new ones added. Animations between things like a throw and connecting with a fence now look much better, and the whole experience just flows a bit better than before. Like a lot of tweaks, they aren't things that will wow you in a press release, but do make for a smoother game to play.
I do love the additions of Taka-Arashi and Jean Kudo, more so the former than the latter. Jean's a fine character, but I just fell in love with using Taka again. His style is great for combo-centric players and while he isn't a fast-moving character, he's got some incredibly quick attacks thanks to all the palm strikes in his arsenal. Jean's offense is a bit more deliberate, but he also has some outstanding punch and kick combos, and one of the most impressive-looking kicking animations in the game. I also love his super-fast kick/punch combo throw that does a lot of damage and can leave folks trapped against a wall quite easily.
Visually, not much has really changed outside of the additional kooky items, like glowing wristbands. Those things all look fine, and the smoother transitional animations look great too. Given how relatively old VF 5 is, I'm amazed at how well the graphics have held up, and some of the stages are still gorgeous. Sadly, the music is still just there. It's perfectly fine, but not very memorable like some of the series' earlier tracks. The sound effects are still great and the character voice clips are as funny as ever.
One thing worth noting about the game that is neither altogether positive nor negative, but still needs to be mentioned is how much DLC is available for it. 19 pieces were included in the Complete Edition Sega provided us, which can be purchased either on their own or as packages that save you some money. The total cost for everything including the DLC is $45, however it's completely cosmetic DLC. None of it has any bearing on the actual gameplay, but it will take up quite a bit of HDD space - around 100 MB for each character's DLC, and the game itself is about 1.5 GB bringing the final game to nearly 4 GB so keep your hard drive space in mind before you decide to buy the DLC.
I do have to say that I did find myself doing more with the customization options than I ever have before since it was such a chore to unlock things piece by piece, and now you have a relatively wide array of options to choose from...they just cost money instead of time to get. As far as which system to buy it for, the PS3 wins out due to the free download for a limited time if you're a PS+ member, and a significant discount for the Complete Edition that takes it down to $30. Hopefully a similar drop is announced for 360 owners soon, but for now, the PS3 is the better system to get it for given the price drop. Control-wise, either system's base controller or Saturn-style pad works well with it and Final Showdown retains the ability to completely customize the button mapping to suit your style.
Final Showdown's base game is an easy recommendation at $15, but the full-priced DLC may just be for hardcore players of the series, or those who love tinkering with their characters. However, at $30, I can easily recommend the Complete Edition - I'd say all of the comedy that comes from the wackier outfits is worth the $15, but your mileage may vary on that one. Given its present either free or discounted state on PSN, I'd say that it's an absolute must-play for PS3 owners, but 360 owners may want to wait for a discount - definitely do so if you've already got VF 5. As a whole, VF 5: Final Showdown is one of those games that I think of as top-shelf, but all the secondary factors like DLC and available options for it put an asterisk next to that when it comes to recommending it to others. If you love the series, you'll get whatever amount of money you spend on it back in sheer enjoyment. If you don't, then at least try the free PSN version or XBLA demo and see if it changes your mind.
This review is based on the PlayStation Network version of Virtua Fighter 5 Final Showdown provided by Sega.