By now most of you probably know the routine: A group of fighters without a common thread amongst them, come together to do battle for apparently no reason other than to walk away with the almighty, albeit intangible, pride trophy. Again, Judgment 6 pulls the reigns of this, the fourth World Fighting Tournament, using it as a vehicle to test its newest version of Dural. Why would all these fighters from around the world heedlessly summon to the call of a dark organization composed of six mega-industries that have its hands in everything but fighting tournaments (i.e. weapons development, world politics, the Subway diet)? Okay, so Yu Suzuki and his Virtua Fighter series have never really been about a focus on story. It’s never been about talking lackluster gameplay and masking it over with impressive looking cinema sequences. The Virtua Fighter series has always been about taking great gameplay and punching you in the throat with it. So grab a neck brace and maybe a gauze wrap or two and get ready to have trouble breathing.
Virtua Fighter 4 is much like that nerdy kid that always gets picked last in gym class because nobody expects him to be able to hold his own with the big boys and their lightening blasts and immortal characters. But when put to the test, you see that he has mad game skills and, ironically, an uncanny ability to impress the ladies*. With an experience like Virtua Fighter 4, you get so much more than what you expected.
Those of veteran status to the Virtua Fighter series will most likely be faithful because of its accurate portrayal of human movements. Sometimes games have to rely on a party of flashing lights and shiny things every time Mr. Magic Karate Fighter makes contact with one of his mentally projected fireballs. Not here. Here you get the real deal. Actual martial arts being done the way they are actually done. So don’t expect any unnecessary frills. Virtua Fighter 4 leaves at home the gimmicky doings of triple aerial back flip kicks and plasma soul projectiles, but brings with it a true experience that has, and will continue to, bring the devout faithful to the couch.
Despite what may seem dull and plain, lacking the unearthly twist introduced by Street Fighter II and perfected by Mortal Kombat all those years ago, the level of depth in Virtua Fighter 4 is unprecedented. This isn’t just one of those pick-up-and-play for a weekend games. This thing requires massive amounts of time to master, especially if you are new to the fighting genre, and still a lot if you are a veteran. Sure, Virtua Fighter 4 relies on a very novice friendly ’punch, kick, guard’ button system, but don’t let it fool you. With moves that require controller-throwing precision timing, one is sure to get extremely frustrated with this game. I’ve spent nearly an hour trying certain moves on a dummy opponent in training mode and still couldn’t get the timing down. Forget trying these particular moves in the heat of actual battle.
As sort of a catch 22, though, it’s this exact button-pressing dilemma that adds to the greatness of the game. Coupled with an A.I to rival most human beings, the control stops dead in its tracks the often-used ’button mashing’ technique. Virtua Fighter 4 makes you learn when to guard, when to evade, when to use throw escapes, and when to strike. If you try randomly pressing buttons you’ll get lost like your car keys. Because of this, when you win a battle on this game you feel as though you have truly accomplished something.
I’ve just begun to scratch the surface of the coffee table. Included as a type of trophy to your wins are over 400 items that can be taken off of defeated opponents. Thing such as sunglasses, hats, necklaces, armbands, and shin plates can be won and then worn by your character. Be careful though, these items can be taken away just as quickly as they are acquired.
Also, a ranking system acts as visual proof of your fighting skills, but like the items, your ranking will drop when you start to suck.
All things considered, by far one of the coolest features is the inclusion of disgrace items. When your character reaches the ranking of third Dan or above, certain actions will give him/her items that may not be of particular desire. For example, if you play as Pai Chan and lose 10 matches in a row, you will be forced to wear a big green frog mask, or as Jacky Bryant you will wear a set of big nose and mustache glasses if you loose 10 in a row.
Of course there are ways to get rid of these things, but would you really want to. They are pretty cool.
To say that the graphics here are stunning would be beyond an understatement. I haven’t seen polygons do what’s being done here since ’93, when the Polygon brothers took their flying trapeze routine on the road. But even those highflying theatrics couldn’t gather up the sheer number of polygons we have at work here. Each fighter has over 10,000 which by itself is quite impressive, but considering the gameplay never drops below 60+ frames per second, its double impressive.
The battle arenas are what we have all come to love and respect in a Virtua Fighter game. They are simply gorgeous, but just unobtrusive enough to allow you to concentrate fully on the game and not what is going on in the background. Don’t mistake unobtrusive for boring, though, because each arena separates itself from the pack with tiny intricacies allowing you to always feel that special bond with wherever you might be breaking bones.
Tile floors will crack and shatter under the weight of a tossed aside foe, snow flings itself from your feet with every kick, water ripples the way only 200 pounds of angry warrior can make it ripple, lightening flashes down destroying buildings and statues, and some boundaries can even be broken through in order to achieve the ego inducing "Ring Out" victory. Seriously, if I was the opposite sex of whatever sex these graphics were, I would ask them out on a date in hopes of establishing a ’more meaningful’ relationship.
The character models also offer a nice venue to display the talents of AM2. Each fighter is smoothed and textured in a way that tickles me. New character, Vanessa Lewis, has abs that would make you want to cry, shirtless fighters Jeffry McWild and Wolf Hawkfield have bodies chiseled out of flawless polygon perfection, and characters like Pai Chan and Lei Fei (another new character to the series) dawn flowing garments that wave and dance along with the movements of the character. It’s a game like this that makes you want to take your PlayStation 2 on a walk in the park and not clean up any excrement it may leave behind. Yes, it makes you feel that good.
I’ll give you a little advice that I wish I was given before I started playing this game: the key to having fun with it is to find a character that you can bond with and build sort of a virtual relationship with it.
Not the kind that can get you arrested and shunned by your neighbors, but one that allows you to feel you truly know your character. I made the mistake of choosing a character and forcing myself to become good with him, without trying out any of the other characters. Not a good idea. The great thing about this game is that it encourages that character-human bond through options such as customizing with items and color, the training mode (which could be a separate game in and of itself, considering its size), and the A.I training mode witch allows you to train your character from scratch and then let it compete against other A.I characters, and even against the computer. It makes you feel so good to see a character that you created, rise among the ranks and beat Dural in the final battle.
I will admit that upon initial exposure to this game, I felt a bit overwhelmed and didn’t know exactly where to start. I feared that even if it was a great game and deserving of all high-ranking it might receive; I would just not personally be able to enjoy the game. All it took, however, was a bit of time alone with it and I became an addict.
This is the game that will decide once and for all whether you are truly a fighting master, or confirm your fighting status as a peon that couldn’t fight their way out of a paper bag…unless, I guess it was a really cheap paper bag, like those ones you can buy wholesale at 5000 for less than the cost of a candy bar. Or maybe if it had been soaking in water for a few hours, then maybe you could fight your way out of it. But under normal circumstances, with bag quality and water absorption factor predetermined, fighting your way out of it would…never mind.
If you’ve never been much of a fan to the fighting genre before, this one probably won’t win you over due to its frustrating controls and difficult playability. However, if you happen to be the type that feels a special little tingle every time the words "Round 1" appear across your TV screen, then Virtua Fighter 4 is a definite must.
* To say "impress the ladies" in no way implies that by playing Virtua Fighter 4, one will chance upon the company of women. DarkStation.com cannot be held responsible for attempts made and slaps received. However, in the unlikely situation that telephone numbers are exchanged, DarkStation.com calls dibs.