Review by JerG415

"Confessions of a Tekken Enthusiast"

Like most people back in the infancy of our beloved Playstation, as Sega pioneered the three dimensional fighting genre with Virtua Fighter, many Sony loyalists and non-Saturn owners were left with clones that have spurred great followings. Over the years, games like Tekken and Dead or Alive have developed identities and followings all their own, gaining much popularity along the way. But behind the countless debates of DOA's flash without substance and Tekken's Eddy Gordo mash-fest, AM2 was quietly working on a little gem that would eventually silence us all. To hardcore Virtua Fighters and Iron Fisters alike, it only seems appropriate that the game that started it all would take us to a new level of fighting game bliss.

I'll be the first to admit that I began playing VF4 with the intent of ascertaining exactly how Tekken was the superior fighter. During the first few hours, I was convinced that Virtua Fighter was a good game, but nothing special. I invited my friends that day, all of us accustomed to a 4 button layout, ten hit combos, and everyone else falling to my indestructible tag team of Jin and Xiaoyu. Initially, all of us were impressed by the beautiful snow and water effects, the detailed characters, but the game seemed to lack that newbie welcoming feeling. It wasn't as easy to get into as other fighters. Over the years, we?d hear how much we were missing out on Virtua Fighter 2 and how much the series was deeper altogether. As controllers rotated around the room, the expressions on my friends' faces seemed to scream in unison, ''Pop Tekken Tag in!'' Was I disappointed? You bet. I couldn't comprehend how such a deeply acclaimed game could be won by constant mashing of punches and kicks combined with random taps of the directional pad.

Later that night, when our four hundredth something Tekken bout had been played and everyone went home, I popped VF4 back in hoping to find out what went wrong that night. Little did I know that a few hours later, the place in my heart reserved for Tekken would have to make room for a new love in my life. Days would pass going through Kumite mode, developing my A.I. character, training, Kumite, training, and oh, did I mention Kumite? I realized I have not had this much fun with a fighting game since Soul Calibur (another fetish of mine, but the Tekken series still steals my heart). Under the extremely thin meniscus of Virtua Fighter 4's button mashing facade rested a vast ocean of gameplay depth heaven. To say this game is a complicated game of paper-scissor-rock does little justice to the mechanics in which you are so obligatorily inspired to train for, master, and in turn, be well rewarded. To say it is an extremely complicated game of paper-scissor-rock-counter-reversal-stance-high-mid-low attack-etc. doesn't even begin to describe the sheer magnitude of depth you and your unique character will traverse through. I don't know exactly how to describe the fighting system, but don't be fooled by your first impressions. Scratch the surface and force yourself to stop comparing it to Tekken or DOA, and you'll grow to love how much different it really is.

Virtua Fighter 4's strongest points go far beyond the intricate gameplay. The graphics are the best in any PS2 fighter to date and are perhaps second only to DOA3. As expected, people moan and groan about the jaggies and lack of anti-aliasing but when you look at the snow flutter and shift about realistically for the hundredth time and are still impressed, it really is a graphical feat all its own. AM2 has obviously spent a tremendous amount of time on the detailed characters and seeing Lei Fe'?s garment flowing so naturally as Sarah gracefully kicks him halfway across the room landing on the aforementioned snow makes you wonder if AM2 weren't limited by graphics chips and processors how much closer they would be to depicting reality. Even more impressive than the graphics, perhaps, is the single player replay value provided by the Kumite mode. Aside from the obvious kicking a friend's butt, VF4 gives those with no friends over 800 artificial ones. Pick a player that suits you, give him a ring name, and pit him against computerized representations of Japan's best and not so formidable opponents. Apple Pai and Pounceking are just dying to get their hands on your VF-virginity and break you in with bone crunching moves so painful, they leave you lying on the tile-broken floor with your useless Tekken skills and at the same time, direly yearning for more. As you progress, you are promoted with a higher rank and items to cosmetically alter your virtua buddy. There are over 400 of these items ranging from masks, necklaces, alternate hairstyles, giving you the ability to suit your character to best represent your own tastes. You can then pit your customized character against your friends' own concoctions and since the game tracks your win/loss record and also lets you gain more items in Versus mode, you try that much harder to send your foe crying back to Tekken Tag. Namco needs to give us more than a rehashed Force Mode if they intend to impress us with Tekken 4 later this year. Virtua Fighter 4 has set a new standard.
There are a few minor flaws I noticed that don't really detract from the game's best points but I feel they should be addressed to make this review as fair as possible. First of all, with such an amazing Kumite mode, the Arcade mode is pretty much rendered useless. You can still use your customized character but for no apparent reason, your record is unaffected in Arcade mode, not to mention the lack of any endings whatsoever. I mean, I can understand the easier A.I. compared to Kumite mode even on the highest difficulty but you can just as easily play a Versus match alone and rack up wins. Secondly, the system in which you gain items appears to be a mixed bag of chance and meeting certain conditions. However, when you go over 100 matches without getting a single thing, the motivation level goes down a bit. Maybe it's just me, but I thing defeating 5 level 6 dans to move up to level 7 is a greater feat than beating a level 8 kyu by ring outs. Thirdly, be prepared to have a memory card for each person intent on seriously raising a full fledged fighter; you can still get by with one but the game only reads the second player's character from the second card port so you'll have to switch back and forth and it gets annoying after a while. I guess this is designed to mimic the system in which every player has his own card but for home purposes, it becomes a pain in the butt. Even if you have two memory cards, if there are three or more players, two characters would eventually have to be put on one card so you'll end up switching back and forth anyway. These minor flaws can be overlooked, however, as you probably won't give a dan (Sorry. I had to put that in there.)whether or not you get another necklace just as long as you keep that win percentage above 80% and reach the Emperor rank.

What's so great about Virtua Fighter 4 is that it offers so much for you to do on top of beating your best friends with lighting fast gameplay running at 60 fps. It's a fresh, unique experience that you don't really see too often in these graphically driven days of gaming. It's hard to find games these days with the total package but VF4 has the graphics to compliment the extremely intricate gameplay. Speaking as a diehard Tekken gamer, let me assure you that Virtua Fighter 4 isn't out to replace that special place in your heart occupied by the lovely Nina and seemingly ageless Heihachi. Don't go into VF4 with a pro-Tekken anti-VF mindset because like I initially was, you will be disappointed. Give it a chance and don't let its inability to instantly grab you deter you from getting the most out of this game. It's more of an acquired taste but definitely something worth tasting. The beauty of this game is that its so much on a different plane that, truth be told, it's really not fair to compare it to the likes of Tekken. I'll always be a Tekken gamer by heart, but Virtua Fighter 4 made me see that the grass is just as green on the other side. If that makes me unfaithful, then so be it, I guess I'm a player after all. So until my Tekken 4 sweetie comes back from her vacation in the land of the rising sun, I'll have my Virtua Fighter babe to keep my hands busy this summer.

Reviewer's Rating:   4.5 - Outstanding

Originally Posted: 03/25/02, Updated 03/25/02

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