Review by matt91486

"How cool is a fighting game that has you playing underwater!"

OPENING STATEMENT
Tournament fighting games seem to be making a resurgence. Tekken, Soul Calibur, Marvel vs. Capcom, King of Fighters, Mortal Kombat: All the big series seem to be adding to their lineage of late. Naturally, Sega had to get in on the action. Without their groundbreaking Virtua Fighter series, no fighting games such as Soul Calibur, Power Stone, and any other three-dimensional fighting game would be possible. So here we are. The day of reckoning has arrived. Will the immortal Yu Suzuki reclaim the crown of glory, or will he hang his head in shame? And then, of course, there is the question that really matters: Who would win in a fight, Pai Chan or Sophitia?

GAMEPLAY--9
If you have read anything about Virtua Fighter 4, I am sure you have already heard about how technically difficult the gameplay is to master. I concur one hundred percent with that statement. But with the difficulty of the move combinations comes an inordinate amount of depth, which is what really makes Virtua Fighter different from the other tournament fighting games on the market. Also setting it apart is the fact that it relies so heavily on real forms of martial arts, and variations of them, very much akin to Tekken in that regard. You will not find any over the top flames or spiraling projectile attacks here. Virtua Fighter is the ultimate hardcore fighting game package, and you need to get bruised and bloody to master it.

Punches and kicks, not weird hand signals summoning winds from the heavens, are what will make you win in Virtua Fighter 4. But these are only the most basic moves. Throws are vital to your success, but the best offense is a great defense. If you can get the hang of reversals and evade attacks, a daunting task indeed, then you should be able to beat anyone, anywhere. And if someone tries to reverse one of your attacks, then you can reverse their reverse. If they put you in a throw, you can break out of it, and do the same to them. Think of it as Tekken meets Virtual Chess, and then you have a very good idea of the mind games and strategy that go into any ordinary bout in Virtua Fighter 4.

Perhaps Sega thought “Well, the gameplay is so deep, I guess we probably do not have to bother with some interesting game modes.” Perhaps it was the ghost of Bernie Stolar (Yes, I know he is still alive.) coming back to haunt us once more. But whatever the case, you will not find any Namco-esque epic side quests around here. Virtua Fighter 4 is all about the battles, not what you in-between them, and it shows. What you have here is Arcade Mode, Versus Mode, and a Forever Mode, called Kumite, along with a mode that allows you to train a character to fight for you in those modes. No Ball Mode, no Mission Mode, no Tekken Force Mode here, that is for sure, folks. If you are a casual fighting game fan, I can advice you right away to get out while you still can, before wasting your money, because a casual fan will not enjoy a fighting game as horribly complex as this.

GRAPHICS--7
Also, if you have been paying attention to video games at all lately, you probably already knew about the horrible jaggies that supposedly plague Virtua Fighter 4. And I am here to tell you that they are every bit as bad, if not worse, than you have heard. This is sad really. Because the developers at AM2 put together some of the greatest looking environments ever seen in a video game, only to be shown up by the PlayStation 2’s horrible anti-aliasing problems.

But if you have ever read a review by me before, you probably know about my hatred over the PlayStation 2’s issues in that department, and I will not get into it again. Still, the jaggies make the characters look almost like they are on the original PlayStation. The round edges are that sharp. Think of it as little staircases walking down Jacky Bryant, so that little midgets can walk up and down upon him, and cause him to go insane from the pounding of tiny feet on him at all times. Um . . . yeah.

Anyway, even with the horrible jaggies, Virtua Fighter 4 still manages to look pretty damn good, especially if you play a long ways away from the television set. The further you are away, the less noticeable the jaggies seem. Yes, they are still there, but when you trick your mind things always work out. But helping out the graphics even more are the magnificent backgrounds put together by Yu Suzuki and AM2. For instance, in Pai Chan’s Aquarium stage, tropical fish and sharks inhabit a coral reef outside of the battle arena, which is encased by glass far beneath the surface of the aquamarine sea. There are little details like this all over. You can see individual rivets in some of the metal poles around some arenas. Lighting periodically changes in others, signifying changes from dawn to dusk to dawn again. These little touches make the backgrounds in Virtua Fighter 4 so great, and they almost make up for the horrible anti-aliasing problems that plague this game through and through, but they fall just short. Let’s just say the game looks rough but beautiful, and get on with the rest of the review already.

MUSIC--8
SOUND--9

Virtua Fighter 4 has one of the most diverse soundtracks that I have ever heard before. There are loud, fast guitar instrumentals playing in one arena, while soft, peaceful ballads play in another. This disparity between the rooms makes choosing your stage all the more important, especially if you are playing against someone who hates a type of music that you love. Then they will be distracted, and you can beat them into submission. Sure, it is cheap as hell, but get any advantage you can! If you can tolerate all types of music, however, you will get along fine. The music is not fuzzy at all, and the composer’s seemed to have at least a vague idea of what they were doing. The music may not be able to go together very well, but at least it is all done right.

The sound effects in Virtua Fighter 4 are done even better than the music. Plus, they sound like they belong together instead of downloading random songs and plopping them onto the soundtrack. There are a variety of noises for the multiple degrees of strength that an attack has, which adds to the realism. Keep in mind that Virtua Fighter 4 is already the most realistic fighting game on store shelves today. Add in some menu noises that are actually fairly interesting, and you have yourselves a great audio package.

Of course, that is a great audio package before voice acting is included in it. Not only is there a nice robotic voice that assists you in navigating the menus, but each character has a voice actor to. Here is the best part of all. If the character is from Japan, well, that character is going to be speaking Japanese. However, if the character is American, they will speak English. A character from Berlin will speak German. It is the little touches like these that make the sound in Virtua Fighter 4 so great.

CONTROL--10
Yu Suzuki has already mastered the Dual Shock 2 Controller, even after only developing for the PlayStation for a few months. Virtua Fighter 4 has one of the best control schemes of any fighting game ever. My only suggestion to you would be to change the configuration before you ever begin playing, to make ‘Triangle’ guard, and to make ‘Square’ punch. Once you have started, do not even bother switching it though, because it will be too hard to get used to all over again. You do eventually get used to the default scheme though, it just takes a little bit longer than I would like. Luckily everything about the scheme is completely responsive, and there is never any lag between the characters on-screen and your button presses. This helps make Virtua Fighter 4 a more fluid experience.

FUN--8
Virtua Fighter 4 is quite the fun game, even without any interesting modes. It may be classic in the sense that you have Arcade Mode, Versus Mode, and a Forever Mode (Kumite), and that is about it. No person on the face of the earth can tell me with a straight face that they would not have liked to have some more modes. It would have made Virtua Fighter 4 even more fun. But, standing on its own, with only what it has, Yu Suzuki’s masterpiece is still extremely enjoyable because of the sheer gameplay depth.

AI Mode is the one attempt to set Virtua Fighter 4 apart in the ‘mode sense.’ Sure, it is horribly frustrating to teach your mindless AI character every single move in their arsenal, but when you train them well enough, so that they can advance to the rank of First Dan, you are overcome with an enormous sense of accomplishment, more so than I have ever gotten in a fighting game before. When you create an AI character you are basically building them from the ground up. If you want them to use one move more than others, when sparring it you use that move repeatedly. If you do not wish for them to know a move, you simply neglect to teach them it. It takes a while, and it is boring after a long time, but this mode can take you over, and this is what makes Virtua Fighter 4 worth a purchase.

CHALLENGE--HIGH
Virtua Fighter 4 is one of those games that is not only difficult to master, but difficult to begin. Unless you spend extensive time in Training Mode before your first match, expect the computer to knock your socks off, even on an easy difficulty level. You need to master the moves before you can do anything. And Kumite is not only a test of game prowess, but of mental strength. You absolutely cannot get distracted by anything if you expect to get very far in it. The AI is top notch, to go along with the technical difficulty, and this all adds up to Virtua Fighter 4 being the hardest tournament fighting game around.

REPLAY VALUE--MEDIUM TO HIGH
Virtua Fighter 4 may be not as good of a multiplayer fighting game as a Street Fighter or Soul Calibur, but it is still one of the best multiplayer games on the PlayStation 2, so that alone will keep you playing it a lot. I have also started three or four AI files, which I train regularly on a rotational basis, so if you feel compelled to do that, Virtua Fighter 4 will always be at your PlayStation 2’s side. Besides, you have to keep up your training by practicing often if you want to master the game.

PROS
*The most complex, hardcore tournament fighting game on the market.
*Some of the most beautiful environments ever seen in a video game.
*The control scheme is executed to perfection.

CONS
*Oh, the jaggies! So many jaggies!
*The learning curve is about a ninety degree angle.
*With each battle, AI characters mysteriously trust you less. What is up with that?

CLOSING STATEMENT
Virtua Fighter may be technically sound and aesthetically superior, but it lacks that magic touch that makes a defining game. It does not have the quality that a Marvel vs. Capcom 2 or Soul Calibur has, the quality to captivate you for hours on end. There is not any extra mode, that makes you want to play for hours on end to unlock every single feature, character, and extra possible. There are not enough things to unlock. The gameplay is deep, but the game itself is too shallow to be considered the masterpiece that most thus far think it is.

OVERALL--8


Reviewer's Score: 8/10 | Originally Posted: 03/27/02, Updated 03/27/02


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