Review by JPeeples

"The most cerebral fighting game you will ever play."

Virtua Fighter 4 was released in March of 2002 for the Sony PlayStation 2. VF 4 was developed and published by Sega, and this PS2 port of the arcade game marks the first time a Virtua Fighter game has a appeared on a non-Sega console. The closest this ever came to happening, prior to this game’s release, was the release of Fighter’s Megamix, a port of the Saturn game of the same name, which featured VF characters in it. VF 4 marks the debut of two new characters in the series: the female fighting phenom Vanessa Williams, and a fighting monk named Lei-Fei. Each character brings something unique to the table, and as such, makes for a perfect addition to the game’s roster. VF 4 sees the elimination of the sumo wrestler Taka Arashi from VF 3, as well as the Evade button from that game. Evading is now down with either an up or down motion on the d-pad. This new control scheme allows the game to keep the simplified scheme of the first two games, while at the same time keeping the increased character control that the evade function allowed, all without the need of an extra button.

This is, by far, the most feature-packed VF game in history. While other home conversions have added some nice modes to keep you entertained, this game has modes that not only keep you entertained, but keep you enamored with the game. This game adds a Kumite mode, the focal point of the home game. In this mode, you can create a character, based on an existing character, name him or her, and fight your way through the ranks to gain items so you can change your fighter’s appearance, while at the same time increasing your fighting prowess. This mode also tracks your win/loss record and your rank in each fighting level. If you wish to achieve success with this mode, and the game in general, you will want to learn the ropes of the game. If you are a Virtua Fighter veteran, you will feel right at home. If you are new to the series, take some time to explore the in-depth training mode, which will guide you through the gameplay, step-by-step. The gameplay in this series has always leaned towards a more strategic approach than in other fighting games. In this series, you must know how to use every trick at your disposal to achieve success. There are no easy victories in this series, only earned ones. If you win a fight, you will feel a sense of accomplishment, and if you lose, you have nothing to be ashamed of, as long as you gave it your best shot. The training mode does a good job of teaching you enough to get by, but it’s up to you to put what you have learned into action.

Play through the arcade mode in an effort to get used to the fighting styles of all of the characters, then, do it again so that you have even more knowledge about your competition. Then, when you feel you are ready, step into the realm known as the Kumite mode. This mode will test every skill you have learned. This mode has a three round fight setting, which gives you some leeway if you mess up. Do not get too cocky, because if you do, you will find yourself on the receiving end of punishment the likes of which Satan himself would cringe upon seeing. To avoid this fate, simply stay focused on the task at hand. Try to win as many fights as you can, then, when you begin to rise in rank, you will feel a sense of pride, a sense of accomplishment. If you want to consistently rise in rank, keep winning every fight that you can. No fight is too small, because each fight can deal you a loss. Losing is something that is to be expected, if you take your focus away from the game. If you want to improve your rank, you can’t lose sight of your goal. After you go through the first ranking level, the Kyu level, you will move onto the Dan level. Once you get to this level, things will really heat up. You will have to maintain a high win ratio if you hope to rise in this rank. Even rising one spot in this rank can take hours of time. You must stay focused, or, just like before, your hard work will be nullified because you couldn’t stay focused. The Kumite mode is the most rewarding mode I have ever seen in a fighting game. It makes the player improve their skills, while at the same time, giving them numerous rewards for doing so. On top of the aforementioned Arcade, Kumite, and Training modes, the game features an amazing A.I System mode that enables you to make an A.I. character, then train it. When you are done training it, test out your creation in the Arcade or Kumite modes to see how well you have done. This mode may seem just a wee bit odd, but it is quite addicting once you get the hang of it.

The controls in the game are among the finest I have ever used. The default button scheme makes great use of the PS 2’s controller, while at the same time, is very functional within the game. If you don’t like the default control scheme, you can change it to be whatever you would like. Each and every move in the game, from the simplest kick or punch, to the most complex combo, can be done with relative ease (provided you master the timing) thanks to the responsive controls. No matter what you do, the controls will always be razor sharp. The controls work with the player, as opposed to against him or her.

The graphics in the game are fantastic. This is, by far, the most accurate home-arcade conversion of a VF game ever. This conversion even bests the amazing VF 3tb conversion for the Dreamcast, and that is no small feat. The character models are all chock-full of detail. You can see each individual muscle on Wolf Hawkfield, and you can even see each strand of hair flow on a character’s head. The game’s backgrounds are just as detailed. Little touches, such as lighting effects on the rooftop level, or crumbling mountains in Sarah’s coliseum level, which looks just like her level from VF 2, add a nice atmosphere to the game, and help to give each individual level their own mood, and charm. Also, in the case of Sarah’s level, it can help bring back memories of past VF games. It’s good to see Sega pay homage to their past, albeit in a small way. The graphics are made even better by the smooth animations that are featured in every move in the game. Everything, from the smallest punch, to the most damaging throw, is given the royal treatment as far as animation is concerned. This kind of attention to detail is something that VF veterans have become accustomed to, it is good to see that this trend is showing no signs of slowing down.

The sound in the game is great, however, it is probably the weakest aspect of the game. This game features strong music for the backgrounds, which definitely adds to the game. It is probably the best background music since the catchy music featured in VF 2. The sounds effects in the game are also pristine. They all fit the action they are assigned to in some manner. Some fit the move perfectly, others are done to add emphasis to the move in some manner. Either way, they are well-done. The only real downside to the sound are the voices used for the characters. The phrases spouted by the characters are hit-or-miss, at best. With some characters, the phrases add a lot to the character, with others, it adds nothing to the character. While the series hasn’t been known for having the most meaningful phrases spouted by its characters, they hit a new low in this game due to the hit-or-miss nature of them. The sound, while the weakest aspect of the game, is still better than the sound in most other games on the market, it just doesn’t live up to the high standards set by previous games in the series.

The replay value of Virtua Fighter 4 is through the roof. The deep, enthralling gameplay will keep you glued to your seat for weeks, while the challenging Kumite mode will keep you on the tip of your toes as you claw your way through each ranking. If you are looking for a game that gives you a lot of bang for your buck, look no further than this game.

Overall, Virtua Fighter 4 is the finest fighting game on the PlayStation 2. VF 4 combines deep gameplay with smooth controls and great graphics. Every aspect of the game compliments the other perfectly. Whether you are a VF veteran, or if you are new to the series, you are sure to find something in this game that will keep you hooked.

Reviewer's Rating:   5.0 - Flawless

Originally Posted: 04/07/02, Updated 08/09/02

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