First Impressions: The one that started it all returns to its roots, on PS2.
2002 promises to be a monster year for fighters and fighting game fans who own PS2's; with the impending release of Tekken 4, Soul Calibur 2, and Virtua Fighter 4, the long, long awaited sequel to the lukewarm Virtua Fighter 3. However unlike Virtua 3, VF4 does the original, trend setting first pair of games justice and brings the series into the 21st century. And in just 2 months, it will be unleashed on all PlayStation 2 owners, giving them a chance to see this complex fighter in action on a non-Sega console.
A slight history lesson for those who don't know ? the first Virtua Fighter game was released in 1994, during the peak of the 16-bit era, as well as the peak of the 2D fighter craze spawned by Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat. However this was slightly different ? Yu Suzuki and his AM2 development studio made a 3D fighter instead. And instead of fireballs, Sonic Booms, and Fatalities (Babealities, Friendships, on and on and on?whatever happened to the Nudealities?), the game was ALL about fighting. Punches, kicks, and throws ? it was kinda the sophisticated fighting game for those tired of M. Bison and company.
Since that time, 3D fighters have popped up all over, each trying to steal the throne from VF. In some ways games like Tekken, Dead or Alive (which is the closest to resemble VF, in button format) and Soul Calibur ? VF has always been a difficult game with a very steep learning curve due to all the refinements. However Virtua Fighter has always had its hardcore fans.
The series has gone on to spawn the great sequel Virtua Fighter 2 ? which had an equally great port on the Sega Saturn, and even the Sega Genesis (!!). A 3rd game didn't fare as well due to a few changes stuck in that somewhat ruined the VF feeling (namely the evade button). Virtua Fighter 3TB was released on the Sega Dreamcast shortly after launch to pretty good reviews, but nothing like the praise for Soul Calibur.
Enough history lessons ? the time is now, and Suzuki and crew are diligently working on the port to PS2 of the sequel to the only million selling Sega game in Japan (VF2, for your information). And from the looks of things, this will be an outstanding fighter. The arcade version has received nothing but rave reviews and is hugely popular in Japan (supposedly Tekken 4 machines hardly get any play compared to VF4), so it is not a stretch to imagine that the PS2 conversion won't be anything less than true to the arcade, at the very least gameplay wise.
As I mentioned, VF games are extremely complicated and actually require mucho skills to master each character ? and most likely you'll never really ?master? each one due to the sheer depth of them all. It takes a lot of strategy and smart fighting to win a round ? it's one of the rare 3D fighters that punishes button mashers.
VF4 employs a very simple scheme for buttons - a punch, a kick, and a block; which is pretty much all you need. If you've played a DOA game, VF is pretty much where Tecmo and Team Ninja ?borrowed? it from. This scheme does a great job of limiting confusion, because once you know what buttons do what, you can begin to learn the more advanced techniques.
Added in is a special ?stagger? attack. This move has more power than most, and can go through a blocking opponent and either stun them so you can unleash more moves, or do some serious damage. However just as fast you can recover from being stunned afterwards if you're on the receiving end. This is a curious, but pretty cool sounding addition to the series ? we'll see how it goes.
There are 2 new characters in VF4 ? Lei Fei, a monk (yes, as usual a fighting game has to have a monk of some sort) and for the female quotient, Vanessa Lewis. Far as I know, all the characters from past VF games are included, except the sumo wrestler guy from VF3. So you'll be right at home if you have played past VF games. From the visuals, Virtua Fighter 4 looks to be an extremely nice looking game, rivaling even Dead or Alive 3 on Xbox. The first few VF games had the characters look like lumpy polygons, but now with the available power, the characters look almost true to life. And with all the fancy backgrounds and general busy-ness going on during the fighting, there's no doubt this is a showpiece for Yu Suzuki's taming of the PS2 beast, at least in getting past the difficulty in coding for the console.