Virtua Fighter 4 Review
Before I began writing this, I powered up my Saturn (as I do so very often, 'to this day) and played an hour and a half of Virtua Fighter 2 and Fighters Megamix. Marveling at their complexity, I was nearly brought to tears when I played Virtua Fighter 4 on my PS2 for the very first time. My gripe, be it more of a pet peeve, with the fighting genre is that it has become a bag of stale potato chips. Sure, there are a couple of fresh ones in the bag, but the lackluster, uninspired and insipid overwhelmingly reign over the truly exuberant fighters. Its come to a point where we are greeted with only one refreshing fighting game every year. Yours truly, of course, rants and rants about The Bouncer as if it was gold. Sure it was shallow, but it had replay value (read: come back to play again for extras). The Bouncer aside, Capcom once again treated us to their everyday 2D Vs. fare, and even though the effort was well appreciated, Capcom vs. SNK 2 brought home very little innovation. Strictly on the 2D plane though, perhaps no arcade fighter was as fearsome as Guilty Gear X. The art was absolutely top-notch, and the gameplay had me coming back for more. At a glance, it looks like your everyday fighter, but GGX was not. Maybe that's exactly what this genre needs. No, scratch the "maybe". The fighting genre needs more games with atmosphere, a general sense of polish where it's obvious that attention to detail was well paid. Virtua Fighter 4 is exactly what I just described; a polished fighter, with a bag load of attention to detail.
Virtua Fighter 4 has went on to sell nearly 500,000 units over its weekend release timeframe. Making this, arguably, Sega's fastest selling game to date, and it is exactly what Sega needs right now. As soon as my copy of the game arrived, I tore of the shrink wrap and began playing it. I started at 2:35PM and ended at around 11:00PM! The time had melted away! I spent nine and a half hours playing a game, much less a fighting game. I don't believe I've even played Street Fighter 2: Turbo for anywhere near that time frame! In fact, if memory serves, I've never really played a game for more than seven hours straight, which I believe was Metal Gear Solid. There was something gripping, inspiring and overall exciting in VF4 that I just could not put down the Dual Shock 2. Let's get the review kicking with an in-depth explanation of Virtua Fighter 4's visual prowess, and how it's arguably the best looking fighter on the market.
The graphics in the game...wow, where do I begin? For starters, I'd like to inform Team Ninja of one thing; what they said about DOA3 for PS2 (how it can't be made) just doesn't seem plausible to me. The graphics match and, in a few instances, excel over DOA3's. Specifically speaking, the character detail. As was the clothing in DOA3, in VF4 you can see the strands of cotton, string, and mesh, which proves the clothing and the body they rest on, are individual textures that are formed of their own unique polygons. Polygonal clipping with the hair, clothing, and overall collision detection is quite minimal for the most part. The fighters themselves, are composed of 10,000 polygons each, which makes this one of the most detailed fighters on the market, as rough estimates indicated that DOA3's most detailed character featured only 8000-8500 polygons. The detail is impressive. You've got facial features such as wrinkles, which actually move according to the facial animation. Detailed eyes, lips, and noses are demonstrated here, and you can even see the nostrils! Looking at this pic, you can see the teeth! There are fighters who even gradually sweat.
The detail doesn't end there. The stages, despite being squared and limited, are classic Virtua Fighter with a dash of Fighting Vipers. For starters, many of the stages are interactive, as their fencing, railing, or whatever outlining there to prevent an easy ring-out, can be broken. It doesn't take much, just shove your opponent into them, and watch them break off, as the enemy recoils and lands on the floor. You'll be able to use that opening to score a ring-out victory. In stages that don't have destructible backgrounds, you can use the surrounding to corner your opponent and juggle him off the fencing (or what have you) once or twice. Stages that have no outling, fencing, walls or railing generally feature an interactive platform. Take a look at this screenshot and notice how the snow, which once blanketed the whole stage, has been kicked up (when you kick, you will see the snow particles shoot off of your foot) and removed according to where the two fighters moved along. This shows how wisely AM-2 used the PS2's RAM. This effect is also used in sand and water. Characters with long and swaying hair have exactly that. The hair isn't made up of pixels or some simple and lame polygons. Instead the hair is pretty complex and thoroughly detailed. Taking a look at these picture of Vanessa (click here) and (click here) you see how her hair splits, and notice the individual strands -- it looks even prettier in motion. Lion's hair is similar, and is every bit as detailed, as shown in this picture.
I'm sure there a few wondering, why some of the pics look so jaggy. Well, chances are the jaggies will not be as apparent on your TV screen you'll see jags only on the backgrounds, and not the characters. Everything looks so jaggie due to a minor problem I had with my video-card's settings, it wasn't reading the S-Video feed from my PS2 properly and some of the screens, in particular those involved with a lot of on screen motion, came out somewhat jaggy. I should also mention another little environmental detail. On the fighting platform in one of the stages, the ground gradually chips and breaks off as it takes impact from a fighter's fall. Not only is this a cool effect, but it is masterfully pulled off with a pretty visual effect that shows the chips of wood hailing toward the screen. Take a look at this screenshot and this screenshot notice the before and after effect and notice the individual separating of each tile! Perhaps the coolest of all background spectacles is in the ruins stage, shown here. Notice the sky and the background. This stage is filled with lighting cracks that hit the background of this arena. Specifically, the large monuments and buildings. Look at that screen again, and notice the large structure in the background, among other enormous structures (like a gigantic statue), a lighting bolt will completely explode that building. The special effect is completely awe-inspiring. It'll really make you shout "whoah!" The sight of one huge structure, turn into a pile of rubble is fantastic. The statue in that very same stage, when it is hit by lighting, it cracks near its surface, tips over and destroys a chunk of a large wall. Notice the structure to the very left, that's the statue. Now if you would look at the next few screens, you'll notice the destruction of the wall and the ruble it leaves behind.
Beautiful sight, isn't it? In all actuality, if you fight in the stage long enough, you will eventually see every structure crumble, thanks to the wonderful powers of lightning. But there's even more beauty in VF4, the clothing and the way it flaps is absolutely stunning. The clothing moves almost flawlessly according to the fighter's motions, which is a very impressive task if I do say so myself.
The frame is absolutely perfect, it slides at a streaming 60 frames per second, and the game boasts dynamic lighting effects as well! That about covers everything as far as visuals go. Let it be said once more, this is hands-down one of the best looking fighting games out there. This is some unbelievable stuff, I never thought I'd see a fighting game look as good as DOA3. Yu Suzuki and his AM2 staff have seriously come close to proving me wrong.
Virtua Fighter's primary focus has always been its fantastic gameplay, and the different measures of depth that each sequel has. Virtua Fighter 3 emphasized on VF2 by featuring deeper throw and reverse system. You can dodge attacks by taking side-steps and using the plane as an actual three-dimensional environment. VF3 also allowed you to G-cancel, and stance switch by tapping or double tapping the guard button. What's most impressive, and what fans will get a hoot out of the most, is that Virtua Fighter 4 is almost like a re-made version of Virtua Fighter 2, with elements carried over from VF3. Some of the move sets for some of the characters have seen some noticeable changes, but it's the settings that make this game seem so reminiscent of VF2. A lot of the stages are re-worked from VF2, and given a visual overhaul, in addition to featuring tactical inclusions like walls, and etc. Walls allow for opponents to be juggled against multiple times, I've juggled Sarah in her coliseum stage 5 times off of a wall, eventually ending in her defeat. Since the stages allow to be side-stepped in, you can use them to your advantage by dodging the attacks of your opponents, or positioning yourself to have the advantage over your opponent. When it comes down to it all, VF4 is a very strategic fighter with an obvious emphasis of depth in it's gameplay.
For starters, Virtua Fighter 4 features some really keen modes, Kumite mode being the most addictive of the bunch, as it hurls you into a gauntlet of 100 sequential matches. The 100th fight is with Dural, the metallic unknown mystery that VF zealots should be well aware of by now. Defeating her, obviously unlocks her as a playable character. The A.I. mode is perhaps the most talked about in the game, as it allows gamers to fight against dim-witted fighters that can learn techniques and moves that are used on them and use them against you as they progress. You can enter replay mode and let the selected fighter learn by you watching an automated fight and pressing O, at a timed response, so that a certain technique or move is learned by the chosen fighter. It all works very well, and in some cases the trained fighter could fight as well as you, but that hasn't happened to me yet. The game is classic Virtua Fighter, so don't expect game-endings for individual characters. But remember, this game's strength is its unparalleled gameplay. Unlike Dead or Alive 2 and 3, button mashing in VF4 will surely get you nowhere, as the AI poses a very fierce challenge on the medium and hard levels. It is recommended that you enter the Training-command mode and learn not only the basics, but some more complex techniques so you learn how to play VF4 properly and masterfully. If you insist on button mashing, then you won't be living out even a quarter of VF4.
VF4's characters have aged and reinvented themselves since their last outing on the Dreamcast, and this time around AM-2 has added two new fighters to the roster, Vanessa and Lei Fei. Both characters are smooth fighters and deliver some very powerful attacks. Their alternative stances set them in a still position and allow the user to hammer away, but they will be further exposed to a vulnerable position where they will not be able to guard attacks or counter attacks, so the gamer must use the stance with that in mind. The game, while not overwhelming as Tekken, features a total of 13 fighters -- 14 if you include Dural. Taka-Arashi has mysteriously seen the axe from the action, but take it as you wish. Completing the single-player mode of VF4 will unlock new goodies for fighters like secret moves, costumes, accessories and among other nifty extras, which adds to the game's replay factor. The fighters themselves range from a learning curve of easy (read: Eddy Gordo, Tekken 3} to skilled (Shun Di, Virtua Fighter 2) to professional (Akira, Virtua Fighter 1-4). In other words, you've got fighters that take either no time to adjust to, some-time, or a lot of training and time. That is a big contributor to the game's depth, as it is unlike almost every other fighter out there that lets the gamer pick up and play with absolutely no element of depth of any kind. Virtua Fighter 4 has substance, which makes it an overall addictive game. There's just so much to do, the Kumite mode alone can make up for more than half of your dedication to Virtua Fighter 4, as does the core Arcade mode. Simply put, Virtua Fighter 4 is arguably the greatest fighting of all time. I'm only left to imagine what Namco can do as far as Tekken and Soul Calibur go. In the meantime, this is it. Virtua Fighter 4 is nearly perfect, whether it's for 10 minutes, or in my case 10 hours, VF4 is your game.
As has the rest of the game, the controls have been brought back to their Virtua Fighter 2 roots. Dropping the 6 button configuration from VF3tb, VF4 now has 3 primary buttons; punch, kick, and guard. You can set your control pad so that the throws are executed by pressing one button, or two. In other words, you can press L1 to execute a throw, or you can do it the manually by hitting punch and guard simultaneously. There are many of these "one-hit' executions in VF4, including the alternate stance, which some characters have and some don't. As I have stated earlier, there are fighters that control very smoothly and are ideal for beginners, and there are fighters that are a bit more advanced and take time along with patience and devotion. Sadly, I would've loved to see some analog support, but VF4 doesn't support any. Thankfully, the game has its very own arcade stick, which chances are we won't see in the US. The controls are very good, I really don't have a thing to complain about, it's as smooth as butter.
The game's soundtrack has a very concurring feel with the game. To put it in clearer terms, the music fits the fighting arena rather well. You've got an oriental tune playing in the Great Wall of China level, and you've got a techno-ish tune playing on Jacky's rooftop. It works with all of the stages, and presents itself very nicely, as it adds a little more atmosphere to the game, it shows just how determined AM2 was to detailing every intricate thing about the game as a whole. The audio tunes are pretty good, I can't say I have any gripes with them, and there's something about the menu tune that's really soothing. Lastly, the sound includes a bunch of entrance and exit taunts, some in Japanese some (Akira), some in Chinese (Pai) and some in American (Jacky), to suit the nationality of each fighter. Everything sounds perfectly fine and the dialogue is even in co-ordination with the fighters mouths.
To conclude, I will re-instate what I said earlier. Virtua Fighter 4 is arguably the best fighting game of all time. It's been since Soul Calibur that I've praised a fighting game this much, and not since Street Fighter 2 Turbo have I been addicted to a fighting game this much. Virtua Fighter 4 has conquered my expectations and has shaped up to be one of my all time favorite fighters. I admit to being a fan of the series, but I've never really herald it as much as I am now. It's not only the best looking fighter on the market, but it's the most intuitive, well-crafted and deepest. I can only imagine how Soul Calibur 2 and Tekken 4 will turn out. Virtua Fighter 4 will be ready to hit shelves in the middle of March. Get your pre-orders ready, because this is a game you do NOT want to miss out on.
2/5/2002 Arnold Katayev