|[ Writer ] = BAD
|[ 06/11/02 ] = Does Virtua Fighter 4 Live Up To The Legacy?
As its development progressed, Sega's Virtua Fighter 4 opened eyes and turned heads with each new set of images or media that was released. Sega slowly leaked out some details, images, and media, and then gradually brought Virtua Fighter 4 to test. The first screenshots and media of the game looked stunning, as the Naomi 2 hardware the game was designed on displayed some incredibly detailed characters and backgrounds. Sega said that the game would be an amazing game in its own right, and they were right. As the game was put on test, and later upon release, some said the game was just as Sega had said, while others said that although the game is beautiful it had simple gameplay. I've heard all of the comments, all of the impressions, and I've seen the 'wrestling-themed' American commercial upon the game's release. I've played the game plenty, did some ass-kicking, got my ass kicked, and I'd have to say the game is not only everything Sega said it would be, but also everything fans could have hoped for as a sequel.
The first thing many will notice before being immersed into the great gameplay of Virtua Fighter 4 is the beautiful visuals. Powered by Sega's powerful Naomi 2 hardware, Virtua Fighter 4 sports some of the finest visuals not only in the realm of fighters, but in the world videogames as a whole. I saw the first screenshots of VF4 when Sega first released info on the game, and I thought even then that the game looked nice, but I must honestly say that pictures water-down the effect. Through screenshots, some of the background beauty and their effects are slightly lost; the backgrounds are of a beauty unrivaled by any 3-D fighter to date. Before each match, the camera rotates around the ring, giving you a breathtaking view of the battleground you will be raising hell in. During the ring preview, beautiful light-sourcing and textures reveal some backgrounds of the utmost quality. One of the stages is an aquarium stage with fish swimming in glimmering water that gives off a sort of shimmering beauty thanks to the Naomi 2's beautiful light-sourcing abilities. In another stage, the fighters battle it out during snowfall, surrounded by beautifully detailed snow-covered castles, fences, and gates. It must be noted that because the battle ground is covered with snow in this stage, during the fighting the fighters leave footprints in the snow - absolutely stunning detail.
There are even a few backgrounds where you can shatter objects like railings by hitting or throwing your opponent into them. In fact, Sarah's stage is in an arena surrounded by statues that are sometimes struck by lightning from a brewing storm overhead. Aoi's Japanese shrine stage looks absolutely amazing with a - just look at the detail in the structures that Sega created! One other stage in the game that always deserves recognition is Lau's - The Great Wall of China. A replica of the real thing, the battling in Lau's stage takes place on the Great Wall of China, with banners flapping in the distance among the mountains of China. There are tons of intricate details that can be found in the backgrounds that sometimes can only be noticed upon the second, third, or fourth time seeing them. One example of this is how when you play the game, you're so involved in not getting your ass handed to you that you completely look right past the beauty statues, individual trees with vividly-colored leaves, shrubs, fallen leaves, and even flags flapping in the wind. Sega's AM2 team probably nearly killed themselves making this game's backgrounds.
Sega's AM2 team did an amazing job in creating some of the most realistic and beautiful stages ever in fighting games, but something leaves me wanting a bit from Virtua Fighter 3tb. When I played Virtua Fighter 3tb, it was a refreshing experience for me, because I loved how Sega made VF3tb different from other 3-D fighters by making the fighting arenas multi-tiered. With the stages in VF3tb, a match could be more intense because landing hits was different depending on your location in the stage. In Virtua Fighter 4, some stages have walls while others lack them, but to me the fighting could have been so much more intense if the stages would have been similar to those in VF3tb. See, the good thing about VF3tb was that there were some stages like the ones in VF4 that had no wall but were smaller, while others were bigger and had stairs or other types of environmental factors that made the fighting fast, inventive, and realistic. For example, I would have liked to see the Great Wall of China stage more like the Great Wall of China stage in VF3tb, which allows the players to fight on un-level surfaces, adding a much more calculating aspect to the battle. No, in no way do I think the stages in VF4 are terrible (like those in Tekken 4), but it would have been nice if stages similar to those in VF3tb were put in VF4 to add variation in all areas. In VF3tb, the Hong Kong stage was especially great because in no other 3-D fighting game before it did the player ever have the ability to knock the opponent actually off the building, jump down to the victim, and continue the fight. Never before had this been done; Sega had a level of creativeness that wasn't matched until Capcom's Power Stone showed up. Virtua Fighter 4's stages are beautiful, and works of art in their own ways, but I think it would have been perfect if Sega would have put the stages or some similar to that of VF3tb in VF4. I do give Suzuki and his crew credit for keeping the stages more traditional to the game's roots (like VFR, VF2) though, and I'm thankful that they did such a great job with VF4's stage environments.
The graphics and animation of the characters in VF4 is just as good as the amazing backgrounds they fight in. Every character is a highly-detailed 3-D model, and I can't help but to think that the sheer amount of work it took must have killed Sega's AM2 team. The characters look highly realistic in everything they do, as they perform real moves from real styles, take hits realistically, and even fall just as real fighters would. The most amazing graphical feat in this game, to me, is what Sega did with Kage. Kage was always one of my favorite VF characters, but when I saw what Sega did with his design in VF4, I was almost left breathless. I can't really put into words how completely amazing Kage's alternate costume is in VF4; completely different from his original blue outfit, Kage's new alternate one puts him in all black, with different boots and shin guards, a mean helmet and face-cover, and chest armor. Absolutely wonderful. Best character model in the game, hands-down; see it for yourself and try to convince yourself that it doesn't kick a horse's ass. My actual favorite character, Jackie, looks similar to the previous games, but with more facial detail and the same great animation at a smoother rate. Speaking of animation, the two new characters, Vanessa and Lei Fei feature some fluid movement and some painful moves to witness. Details on the character's clothes are especially intricate just as the stages are, with realistic wrinkles in the clothing of Akira, Aoi, and Lei Fei. While Dead Or Alive 2 Hardcore has some nice visuals, but since VF4 has a different goal in mind as far as graphical style goes, so I think comparing the two is very difficult to do; if I had to, I'd say VF4 has better visuals. Dead Or Alive 3, however, might have better graphics than those in VF4, but I haven't sat down and played DOA3 enough to compare extensively. But as far as a Tekken comparison goes, Tekken 4 can't hold a stick to VF4's amazing visuals. If you want to see VF4's beautiful backgrounds or characters, go to Sega's Virtua Fighter 4 official game site.
Virtua Fighter 4 has 13 characters total; 11 veteran fighters, and the 2 new fighters Vanessa and Lei Fei. The cast of returning fighters is good, with my favorites like Jackie, Kage, Aoi, and Sarah returning, but I think Shun Di should have been left out of the game. Sure, I don't really like Jeffry, Dural, or Wolf that much, but Shun Di is the worst. Of all the characters, Shun Di is the one I dislike the most - he's a fucking drunk, a lush, an alcoholic! Could someone please tell me who the fuck let this blue-hair into the arena?! I don't want some drunk staggering around in the ring! Goddamn it all to hell and back. So let me get this straight...they left out Taka-Arashi, and kept a staggering, drunk asshole with no discipline instead? So what if it's his 'fighting style', they should have kept a fighter with a lot more discipline, that at least deserves the title of 'fighter': Taka-Arashi. It's ok though, beating the shit out of Shun Di with the brutality of Jackie or the stealthness of Kage makes everything all better. Anyway, the roster is good, but I really wish they would have carried Taka-Arashi from Virtua Fighter 3tb onto Virtua Fighter 4. Taka is a cool fighter once you play him a bit, and in VF3tb it was fun to put him on a company of such good company like Jackie and Kage (all of you Akira players out there are probably hating me by now).
Vanessa, on of the newcomers, is a great character design and the moves of her Brazillian fighting style (I forgot the name) can quickly leave you without a lifebar. Vanessa seems like more of an intermediate to expert level character though, as beginners might have a hell of a time even hitting successfully with her moves, let alone putting them into effective combos. Lei Fei on the other hand, is the new character geared mostly toward entry-level players, or those who like simplicity. The strange thing is, I have the hardest time fighting Lei Fei because his fighting style makes his moves very hard to read; even after playing a few fights with him, I still have a hard time reading his distance. Lei Fei may be an entry-level character with not so many big combos (that I've seen), but whether in the hands of a masher or an expert, he can still rock your shit. Although the cast of characters is good (excluding Shun Di, that is), I was slightly disappointed to see that only Dural awaits you at the end of the game. Why Dural in every VF game? Dural is OK...but just that: OK. I would have liked to see a different end-boss in VF4, something or someone more surprising, more menacing. Maybe they could have put Dural as a mid-boss, or as a boss before a new boss? It's a small detail, but it would have been great if Sega made Dural a playable character and added a new mysterious 'threat' to fight at the end of the game. As I said though, the game ranks highly in my book, and this is a minor detail in the game that I kinda disagree with. The 2 new characters are pretty good when compared to the rest of the Virtua Fighter cast, so I'd say that even though the selection of characters isn't the largest, it's still a cast of quality nonetheless.
Now, the one aspect that so many players out there give credit to Virtua Fighter for: gameplay. Okay, first of all, a long time back, Sega took the industry by surprise and released Virtua Fighter. Virtua Fighter brought a new fighting engine to the table, and was later refined in Virtua Fighter Remix, Virtua Fighter 2, and then even more refined in Virtua Fighter 3 and Virtua Fighter 3tb. Virtua Fighter's key attribute was that it deviated from the standard fighters of those times and possessed a fighting engine with no projectiles, different move execution, discouragement of jumping, ground hits, and a realistic type of fighting environment (with some hints of anime early on). With these attributes, every new entry of Virtua Fighter has managed to consistently keep itsself different from the other fighters, and Virtua Fighter 4 is no exception. Virtua Fighter has a fast and conservative combo system; there are no bullshit infinite combos in this game, or any instant death combos that are inescapable. There are juggle combos, and you can hit your opponent into the air, but the good thing about VF4 and the series in general is that what comes up must come down...very quickly. Thus, keeping your opponent in the air after a launcher is as difficult as finding Mike Tyson someone or somewhere to fight.
With the fast and highly sensitive combo system of VF4 also comes counter moves, which most Akira players love; counter moves, although I don't use them much, are very effective when it comes to fighting those who utilize rush in beat-down tactics. What makes VF4's fighting system good is that it doesn't borrow from Capcom or SNK; it's a completely different fighting style, and with that said, the game needs to be played extensively just to be even a player of moderate skill. The game has far, far more depth than Tekken 4, and also takes quicker reflexes to play. VF4 keeps the VF tradition of button-direction moves instead or roll or charge commands, and therefore keeps the crucial timing of how to use these moves effectively in counter-attacking. VF4 does differ from the other VF games, however, in one important aspect: speed. VF4 runs faster than the other VF games. I don't know if it is because of the stage setup in the game, or if the character's moves are faster, but the game in general seems to run a lot faster than VF2, and a little faster than VF3tb. Jumps are also a bit faster, but you can still smell the faint odor of jump discouragement from the past VF games. The fighting action in VF4 is fast and rough; there will be matches that will make you cringe in pain as you look back on them. Rounds can go by really quick in VF4, especially if your opponent counters one of your combos with one of their own hard-hitting combos, or if they use a counter and then trap you with a complicated or tricky combo. Of course, VF4 still has the same brutal throws that the previous VF games had, as well as the ground attacks that knock chunks off your lifebar. The game is full of rotten moves like backhands, elbows, and flip kicks that look great in all of their painful bliss (even when you are getting hit by them).
Lastly, I think it's good to briefly mention the overall theme and presentation of VF4. Overall, VF4 has a newer, more polished look than the other VF games had at their time; I don't mean graphically, I mean overall game theme and presentation as far as design goes. The lifebars, the select screen, and the intro all look good, and the sounds are nice. VF4's sound effects aren't terrible, and they're not great, but they convey the many sounds of pain punches, kicks, elbows, and kicks create. The music in VF4 is also pretty good, and even though I haven't heard so much of it the times I have played it, what I did hear was what I would expect from Virtua Fighter; tunes that are somewhat similar (a bit evolved?) to that of VF2 and VF3tb. The cool thing about VF4 is that Sega put a sort of glowing effect on a lot of the text and other things in the game, which to me, looks cool. The camera of VF4 is another part of the game that Sega worked hard on; the camera follows a lot of the action nicely, and in each of the game's stages the (as mentioned earlier) camera scales smoothly around the arena that shows the fighters their environment. However, there is one thing I wonder about when I play VF4: where did the Team Battle system from VF3tb go? Did fans not like the Team Battle system of Virtua Fighter 3tb? Will Sega make a VF4tb? Did VF2 and VF3 do better than VF3tb? Does it really matter if the Team Battle was in VF4 at all? Well, maybe it doesn't matter so much, but maybe it would have been cool to see in VF4. I thought that with VF3tb, it was a bit cool to see the team system like the KOF games in a 3-D fighter. It was a nice addition, I thought, and I think it would have been very appropriate for VF4, considering it would go good with the polished look of the game, and that a lot of other 3-D fighters have team battling options as well. The lack of a Team Battle engine doesn't mean that VF4's fighting engine is shit, but it would have been fun to play VF4 in VF3tb's team fighitng engine. VF4's fighting is seamless, fast, and deep. The game is another high-quality title from the great designers of Sega's AM2 department.
Does Virtua Fighter 4 live up to the legacy of the AM2 team? Of course it does. Virtua Fighter 4 is a good game, and well worth the wait Sega gave us. The game's characters look nice, the backgrounds are nothing short of quality, the gameplay is deep and complex, the music is good, and the overall design of the game is polished. Sega has did a great job making Virtua Fighter 4, and their hard work and effort really shows in every aspect of the game. To those who haven't played this game yet, my advice is to find it somewhere, and play one of the best fighters to date. For those who want a different type of fighter, Virtua Fighter 4 can satisfies in variation, while also continuing a sort of tradition. Virtua Fighter 4 may be easy to get into, but also just as in its previous entries, the game is deep once you learn the more intricate secrets in the game. Just seeing VF4 in action is even fun, and there's so much to learn in the game that you won't be walking away from it for a good long time. Although I like (I know I'm gonna get shit for this) Street Fighter EX3 better, and Plasma Sword ranks in as my all-time second favorite (I know I'll get shit for saying this too), Virtua Fighter 4 is an amazing game in more ways than one. VF4 ranks in as one of my favorite 3-D fighters of all time, and with very good reason; the game is fun. The game strikes the perfect medium between variation and tradition, while distinguishing itsself from the other big fighters. Sega knows fighters just as Capcom and SNK do, and with gems like Virtua Fighter Remix, Virtua Fighter 2, Virtua Fighter 3tb, Fighting Vipers, and Fighters Megamix, Virtua Fighter 4 continues the legacy of Sega fighters proudly.