Review by The Thin Man
"Sega gives you a reason to fight!"
The 3D fighting market has really evolved over the past 9 years. The Virtua Fighter series has always been at the forefront, leading the way with improved graphics, AI, characters, and fighting system. Virtua Fighter 4 takes all the good from the previous versions and ties them together for one of the most compelling gaming experiences I've undertaken in years.
It could be said that the fighting market has become a bit stagnant. This is mostly due to the games appealing to mostly hard core gamers. But Yu Suzuki and his team focused on a broader market and really tried to appeal to the casual gamers for this game. What you get is a game that will teach you its intricacies and give you the strategies to win. What ends up happening is instead of having an easy game that is challenging for a day or two, you have yourself a game that always stays challenging and yet is never really cheap. The game rewards you for skill and requires you to become strategic in your attacks. There is the real beauty of the gameplay: thought has to actually play a role in how well you do. Also, the freedom of expression as you get to create attack patterns, evades, counters, and reversals. Add a throw here and a stagger there and you wind up with a beautiful fight sequence reminiscent of what can be found in martial arts movies.
The graphics are top notch for this category for this system. Some compromises were obviously made in order to keep the stellar 60fps and crisp animation intact. But in a fighting game, that is the most important thing. The game responds well to the controller (although an arcade stick would help with certain moves) and the AI actually learns your patterns and won't let you really get away with doing the same thing over and over.
The characters are so varied and different in their style that you need to play them all differently to do well. Some are attackers, others are defensive, and yet others throw and pummel you while you're on the ground. Thirteen unique characters that will take a long time to master assure this game won't get old anytime soon.
The replay value continues to increase when you introduce the Kumite mode. In it you rank up as you do well and rank down if you go on a losing streak. With this comes unlocked costume colors, secret items your character can wear, old VF1 character models, disgrace items for losing streaks, and old winning poses. And some of the items collected are hilarious like giant pig faces and Groucho Marx looking glasses and moustache. Its rumored that you can gain new moves but this is yet unconfirmed (perhaps your old winning pose is a new move?). You get to give your character a ring name and customize him as you go. This gets you more involved and draws you into the matches. Each one has more weight because your rank and/or record are on the line. The game keeps track of almost every conceivable stat also. On the advice screen you'll see how you're doing with attacks, mobility, throws, defense, and finishing patterns. Each aspect such as throw escape rate, crouch dashing, or high attacks are graded with an A, B, C, or S (S being the best and C meaning needs work).
The game is a blast to play alone and this is very uncommon for fighting games. The AI is remarkable and a lot of the characters are patterned after real life players in Japan. But don't get me wrong, a good Vs match against a human can really become heated as both of you engage in a trashing talking good time.
The games sound effects are good and work well. The music is fine but after a while you may grow tired of certain tracks. I wish they would have let you randomize or turn off certain tracks instead of always having a certain song on its particular stage. All in all the sounds are effective but don't steal the spotlight. The fighting truly takes center stage. Everything else is just gravy.
One other play mode of interest is the AI training mode. This is the second version (2.0?) and it works pretty well. You first show it how to do each move and it acknowledges that it has learned the move. Next you tell it combos and after you're ready, you coach your AI during matches to tell it to continue its attack pattern or to change what its doing. Of course it takes time but eventually you have a AI character that plays very similar to the way you do. This character can go throw the Kumite mode and rank up or down just like a regular character. One thing I found was that my AI would play much more consistent than I could because he didn't have to worry about inputting the command perfectly on a controller!
For beginners, this would be a great game to pick up. But my disclaimer is that you'll need to really go through the in depth training in all areas. Command training for the moves list, Free training to hone your skills and set up the CPU to do whatever you like (you can even play in slow motion!) and Trial training to learn the finer points of the fighting system and strategy for success. I even learned things I didn't know before like the ability to actually input 3 different commands to cancel a throw no matter what type of throw it is.
If you have ever played a fighting game and enjoyed it than go out and buy Virtua Fighter 4. Given a little time, you'll come to fine that it is one of the most balanced and polished fighting games in years.
Reviewer's Rating: 5.0 - Flawless
Originally Posted: 03/28/02, Updated 03/28/02
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