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Platform

Playstation 2

 

Genre

Fighting

 

Publisher

Sega

 

Developer

AM2

 

ESRB

T (Teen)

 

Released

Q1 2002

 

 

- Deep fighting engine

- Addictive Kumite mode

- Replay value galore

 

 

- Some visible “jaggies”

- Limited Multi-player options

 

 

Review: Tekken Tag Tournament (Playstation 2)

Review: X-Men The Next Dimension (XBox)

Review: Dead or Alive 3 (XBox)

 

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Virtua Fighter 4

Score:  9.4 / 10

 

The Virtua Fighter series has always been a bit of an odd duck.  VF was the first series to take fighting games into the realm of 3D and, as such, has garnered quite a of bit of respect from critics and a group of loyal fans.  Still, other 3D fighting franchises came along and beat VF at its own game (sales-wise at least).  The Tekken games especially have proven much more popular in Europe and North America.  There are many reasons for this, but three of the reasons are most appropriate for this review: graphics, bonus modes, and accessibility.   The Tekken games have usually come home in a better looking, more feature-rich, and more pick-up-and-playable package.  Virtua Fighter 4 looks to change all of that, and, for the most part, it does.

 

virtua-fighter-4-1.jpg (71082 bytes)          virtua-fighter-4-2.jpg (57674 bytes)

 

As dated as it looks now, the original Virtua Fighter was a marvel when it was first released to arcades in 1993, but the Saturn port, released in 1995, was a pale imitation graphically (Let’s agree not to talk about the dismal 32x version).  The Saturn VF2 looked much better when it was released later the same year, but it still was no match for the arcade unit.  VF3 came to the DC in 1999 looking as good as the 1997 arcade game, but the arcade game itself was two years old at that time and had been well surpassed by Soul Caliber and Tekken Tag.  Finally, with VF4, Sega has a system at least close to the specs of the arcade unit.  In fact, only some aliasing and slightly lower texture resolution keeps the PS2 version of the game from being arcade perfect.  VF4 on the PS2 is good looking, especially the high polygon character models and the dynamic backgrounds that alter drastically during the fights.  The real-time deformation of snow on the ground in one level must be seen to be believed.  VF4 doesn’t reach the level of technical perfection that is DOA3 on the Xbox, but superior character and art design make up for a whole lot of the difference.

 

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Though DOA3 may have it beat graphically, no game can touch VF4’s fighting engine.  This is the deepest, most dynamic fighter ever created.  Each character has over one hundred different attacks and combos.  Many of these are unique to the individual character and, other than Dural, none of the characters seem to be simply clones of one another.  The sheer number of attacks allows players to create a nearly infinite number of combos.  Watching two experts play this game, I found myself stunned at just how much personal style an individual player is able to bring to the game.

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Despite the depth and sheer number of attacks, VF4 is the most accessible Virtua Fighter game yet.  VF4 returns to the simple, 3-button control scheme of VF1 and 2.  Gone is VF3’s unnecessary evade button and I, for one, won’t miss it at all.  Though far from being a dreaded “button masher”, a novice can pick up on the basics of VF4 within an hour of firing it up.  Timing attacks well and using a variety of attacks is more important in VF4 than being able to enter all of a characters attack commands.  Playing against the A.I. in Arcade or Kumite Mode, a player can do very well with mastery of 10 to 15 moves.  Learning the complete move set adds replay value and is of greater importance when playing against flesh and blood opponents, but in no way is that kind of mastery necessary for enjoying the game.

 

About that Kumite Mode.  Critics of the game could be forgiven for seeing Kumite as a glorified survival mode.  It shares the same basic premise as the survival modes present in the majority of fighting games that have appeared recently on consoles: continue fighting opponents until you are finally beaten.  A few things set Kumite Mode apart from the basic survival mode though.   When playing with a user-created character, each match in Kumite adds to the fighter’s experience level.  After a certain point, players will be offered a ranking match.  Winning a ranking match raises the fighters ranking one level.  Rankings count down initially from 10th Kyu to 1st Dan and then rise from 1st Dan through 10th Dan before moving on to other denotations.  This ranking system makes for a very addictive brew.  I often told myself, “I’ll just keep playing until the next ranking match,” and, before I’d even realize it, it would be 3 a.m.  Add to this the fact that players earn a variety of accessories and character models while playing that can then be equipped for use during Arcade and Kumite matches, and the result is tremendous replay value.

 

virtua-fighter-4-3.jpg (65576 bytes)         virtua-fighter-4-4.jpg (74081 bytes)

 

Though some people may see Kumite and think “been there, done that”, the A.I. Mode is definitely original, though it may not be for everyone.  In A.I. Mode, players can create and train their own A.I. fighter.  Training can be done through sparring with the A.I. creation using any of the game’s fighters or even through showing the A.I. fighter replays of fights that have been saved to a memory card.  When the A.I. fighter is in situations that it has “seen” before, it will behave as it has been taught.  Think of it as Virtua Pet Fighter Gaiden if you like.  The A.I. fighter can then be used in any of the games modes, including Kumite.  There is joy to be had watching your creation move through the rankings to reach one of the Dan levels.  Though it turns the fighter into more of a strategy game, A.I. Mode is strangely addictive and definitely unique.  Combined with Kumite, Arcade, and Vs. modes, the A.I. mode makes VF4 feel the best value of any of the home conversions of the series.

 

Having played more hours of VF4 than any fighter since Street Fighter Alpha 3, I can easily say that VF4 is a great buy.  It offers remarkable graphics, tons of customizing options, addictive game modes, a deep fighting engine, and the kind of pick-up-and-play accessibility that has been missing from the series to date.  If you have even a hint of desire for a new 3D fighter, don’t hesitate to pick up this one.

 

- Tolen Dante

(April 23, 2002)

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