If there was any title that propelled me to purchase a Saturn as early as I did, it was the original Virtua Fighter. Upon seeing it, I was immediately enthralled by the smooth animated, yet blocky looking, action. Little did I realize that when I played it the combat system would be vast. However, there were certain individuals with no particular taste whatsoever, and ended up shunning it because of how it looked, or they complained about it being too hard. As far as they’re concerned, I can just tell them to get lost and go back to shallow titles such as Mortal Kombat.
But for those who frowned at the graphics, the release of Virtua Fighter 2 shut them up in an instant. And if anyone thought what could be done in the arcades (via Model 2) was anything, imagine their shock when the Sega Saturn, a system many idiots (i.e. Frank O’Connor, the entire Game Informer staff, Next Gen, etc.) criticized for not capable of 3D, released a near perfect conversion of VF2 which not only included all the characters and moves, but ran at a perfect 60 frames per second (the only fighter other than the then-ugly Tekken to do such a feat), not to mention at a resolution that rivaled SVGA on computer monitors.
Three years would pass until Virtua Fighter 3 came out, and with it came newer features: elevated levels, a new evade button, and two more characters. However, many people didn’t care for this release because they felt the newer elements made the game too complicated. What are they"stupid? I felt at home with VF3, and when it came out on the Dreamcast I once again played it on a regular basis.
I was so enthralled with VF3 in a matter of fact that I was looking forward to the inevitable release of VF4 on the Dreamcast. Go figure, Sega, being the greedy monsters they were, decided to pull the plug on the Dreamcast, and cancel almost all the titles they promised their once-loyal fans. As a result, VF4 was pushed to the PlayStation 2, and with arcades at death’s door, there would be no chance it would be released in US arcades.
Thus I had to direct my look at VF4 towards the PS2. With a feeling of guilt and disgust, I gave VF4 a shot, and needless to say, the glory I experienced with VF2 Saturn had returned.
I was a little disappointed to see that the elevated levels from VF3 were removed, but other factors that were added made up for it. While one of the VF3 characters (the sumo Taka-Arashi) was eliminated (which I can understand; no one used him), two more have been added. Vanessa Lewis is a scary, built female reminiscent of a white-haired Chyna, and specializes in a martial arts style called Vale Tudo (a discipline used by Marco Ruas and Pedro Rizzo in the UFC). The other character, Lei Fei, is reminiscent of Chow Yun Fat from Crouching Tiger, and his moves are very smooth and elaborate for a Shaolin Kung Fu Discipline. His fighting style reminds me a bit of Maxi from Soul Calibur because of how his moves tend to go out of control at times.
Fighting arenas are now much larger, thus making Ring Outs more difficult to execute, and some rings even have walls. These walls can be used to pin up your opponent to rack up higher combos, or they can even be destroyed, Fighting Vipers-style, to cause a Ring Out. Controls have returned to the original 3-button layout, but evades can now be executed with a double tap on the D-pad, similar to Soul Calibur. And yes, there are still an enormous number of moves to learn. I’ve been playing for at least 150 matches, and there are still moves that I am learning.
These matches can be played in the standard Arcade mode as before, or against another opponent, but it’s the new Kumite mode that keeps me hooked. Actually it should be called "Unlimited" mode because that’s what it is: an unlimited number of opponents to fight against. A ranking system is also implemented. Newly created players started with the ranking of "10th Kyu," similar to a White Belt. As they build up wins and experience, they will achieve the rank of "1st Dan," or 1st Degree Black Belt. There are reported to be over two dozen possible rankings, and so far I have achieved the rank of 5th Dan, beating computer opponents ranked as high as Champion. I’m sure there are more coming, and I’m looking forward to see what they are.
Unlocking 1st Dan mode also results in some weird additions to characters, such as extra items to wear, such as glasses, bandannas, earrings, necklaces, headdresses, etc, as well as different colored outfits in order to customize your character. Also unlocking this ranking awards special bonuses, such as new arenas to fight in, and by far the coolest, the ability to play these characters they way they looked in VF1! Add VF2 characters as well, and I’d be in heaven.
And speaking of heaven, that’s how this game looks. Admittedly this is on the PS2, so there is the usual problem with jaggies, but nonetheless, the game is a looker. Never before have I seen the VF characters look so detailed. Gone is the blockiness of VF1 and 2 (to a lesser extent) and the zombieness of VF3, everything looks more lifelike.
Take a close up of Lau and you can see how wrinkled his face is, and Shun now looks hilarious, as if he is permanently hung over (perfect for a Drunken Master). Each of the arenas also look amazing as well. My personal favorites are the rooftop, which features some of the most realistic lighting effects ever witnessed, the ancient ruins, which actually get destroyed by lighting during the action, and the "Fight Club" cage scene, which features a real-time crowd, which although not as good as Tekken 4’s FC stage, is still impressive.
I can consider the sound to be passable for a fighting game. It’s nothing to write about (some of the English dialogue for some fighters is just strange, especially for Wolf, but the other characters speak their native languages, as they should), but it works either way.
VF4 returns to the golden age of 3D fighters, when all that matters was intensely deep gameplay based on a simplistic control scheme. Now although I am giving this title the 5 Gem rating it surely deserves, this doesn’t mean that Sega is forgiven for what they have done. They still have a long way to go to earn my forgiveness.