Full Review: And they say that the third time is the charm.
Before there was Dead or Alive. Before there was Tekken. Before the craze of 3D fighters, there was Virtua Fighter. Developed by a little company named SEGA, and headed by Yu Suzuki, Virtua Fighter was the first real 3D fighting game. Yeah the characters looked like a bunch of polygons, and yes you fought on a cheesy square in the middle of no where, but the fact remains that this game began the trend and set the standard to which all other games are judged.
In the years that followed, we have seen 2 sequels to the original Virtua Fighter. Virtua Fighter 2 was a vast improvement in itself. Instead of just a block in the middle of nowhere, you now had a stage that resembled the surrounding area. Speaking of area, the backgrounds in general were redone. In place of just a city silhouette in the far distance, you now actually had fully 3D areas around your stage. Then along came Virtua Fighter 3. Like its predecessor, it had new characters, new areas, and even further redesigned stages. Now, the ring was part of the stage. For instance, one stage was on a rooftop, and instead of just a 2 foot drop, getting knocked out of the ring meant you fell a good 30 feet or so. Incredible. With this version also came the addition of a new ?dodge? or ?escape? button. This added a new dimension, as successful dodging left your opponent wide open.
Here comes Virtua Fighter 4. After what seemed like an eternity, Suzuki continues his legacy in the series. Only this time, due to Sega's newly adopted 3rd party status, you won't find this game on a SEGA console, but instead on the PS2. While many will agree that the third attempt is always the best, with the Virtua Fighter series, each sequel just seems to outshine its predecessor. Let the mayhem begin.
First thing we all notice, is the graphics. I must say this. Honestly, I didn't think that the PS2's display capabilities were all that bad. But after continuous playing games on the Xbox, the images in VF4 are just, bad. Everything looks washed out and faded. And why does bare skin look glossy? Like it's wrapped in cellophane or something. However, enough with the petty stuff. VF4 has some nice visual effects to it. The stages in VF4 are reminiscent of VF2, with a few exceptions. Some stages have walls or cages surrounding the arena, making you break the wall down to knock them out of the ring. Some stages though, the wall cannot be broken. You can however, bounce your opponents off of them to create some insane combos. Also nice to note, is that some stages aren't just a wood floor. There is one that has snow on the ground, sand, or even one that makes you fight shin-deep in a pool of water with some excellent rippling water effects.
While the stages themselves aren't as interactive as, say, DOA3 on Xbox, there is some interactiveness between the stages themselves. For example on a stage with stone statues, there is a lightning storm. At times, lightning will strike the statues and cause them to collapse. Also, on the snow and sand levels, the sand/snow gets worn down to the wood floor beneath as you fight. Some stages have stones on the floor that get broken. Lastly, one stage shows you on a roof with helicopters shining spotlights on you as you duke it out.
The gameplay has been tweaked yet again for the fourth installment. Gone is the ?dodge? button, and instead we have what I like to call a ?free? button. Why you ask? Well first of all it acts as a block button. But also, it pressed with the directions causes a dodge or roll on the ground. There are now also 2 or 3 different fighting stances per character, as well as 2 new characters. Lei Fei, a fighting monk is a nice addition to the roster with a barrage of nice combo attacks. And also we have Vanessa Lewis, a cop who uses kickboxing/muy thai fighting. This girl can flatten you in a second if you aren't careful. The animations in the game are extremely well done. Everything from blocking to reversing is shown with incredible detail. For instance, instead of just reversing a kicking throw by pushing the guy off of you, your character will actually block his leg and push him down off of you. Nice.
Sound in this game is awesome. Punches and kicks sound great. Don't worry VF fans; the trademark ?SWOOSH? associated with roundhouse kicks is still there (it just wouldn't be Virtua Fighter without them). The music is your standard VF affair. Each separate tune is specific to a certain arena/character and is a nice compliment to the surroundings.
The overall presentation is actually quite nice. On the selection menu, the entire interface is floating on top of a pool of water that ripples as it moves. On the bottom of the pool, is the words ?Virtua Fighter 4? that fade and become clear again in amazingly realistic fashion as the water becomes still. Also, new to VF4, is a short flyby of the stage before the fight, as well as a brief pre-fight taunting from each of the fighters before the match begins. Unlike before, where the winning fighter displays a little dance move or something, the ending celebration is done after the match is completely won. Just the whole game in general feels more impressive than before.
Lastly, we come to what I feel is the most important (if not THE, then one of the most important) part of a console game. Extras. Generally, fighting games don't have a lot in the way of extras. You play the story, or vs. a few times, but that is it. Namco has usually been ahead of the game here with TTT and Soul Calibur. Not to be outdone though, VF4 has a boatload of special stuff to keep you playing the game. First let me get the standard stuff out of the way. The arcade mode needs little explanation. Pick a fighter, and fight your way through the opponents to the end boss. Nothing fancy, and is probably the same in every fighter out there. Vs. is the same 2 player head to head we all know and love.
What we don't know though, are the 2 extra modes that are available. The A.I mode, allows you to train a character more or less. Then, after building up your character, you take them to the Kumite (you can also do this with a non-created profile, but more on that later). The Kumite pits you against a never-ending supply of challengers of different skill and rank. This mode keeps a running total on your losses and wins with each character, and is how you pump up your player's abilities. Between these two modes, you unlock certain items like glasses, headgear, clothes, etc. that can be used to modify your character in the game. Imagine Sarah coming out in nothing but a bra and panties set. Um, er, nevermind. I don't think that is an option, sorry guys. Overall though, this adds a new area of exploration that usually is absent from fighting games. Way to go AM2!
Virtua Fighter 4 is a very deep fighting game that is extremely well put together. I mentioned the jagged edges and faded colors before, but that is merely due to the PS2 hardware, and simply cannot be avoided. However, to be able to pull these kinds of visuals from the PS2 is proof that Sega are among the best programmers and game writers in the world. While this game may turn off the general public due to its incredibly tight and deep fighting engine, VF4 has a lot to offer. Easy to pick up and play, but at the same time difficult to master. I've been a VF player since VF1, and I still don't have all the moves worked out. This game isn't for everyone, of course nothing is. However, if you are a Virtua Fighter fan, this may be the reason you were waiting for to pick up a PS2 if you haven't already done so.