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.
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
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.
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.
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
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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