Way, WAY back in my early days here at Gaming Respawn, I took the time to look back at Virtua Fighter 2 for the Sega Saturn, a tremendous arcade fighter that translated well to home console gaming. Very popular amongst hard-core fighting fans and often seen as the most “realistic” and “worthy” fighter amongst a certain crowd, Virtua Fighter has never seen the explosion of popularity with the masses that much louder and, if we’re honest, a bit sillier games like Tekken, Street Fighter, and Mortal Kombat have.
Is this a fair shout, especially when you take into account that Virtua Fighter has a character, in Jeffrey, who wants to win a major fighting tournament so he can use the money to buy a real dank fishing boat in order to go catch a really massive and dangerous fish? Or the fact that the game has a masked ninja in the form of Kage, who can throw his opponents literally ten feet into the air before leaping up and bringing them back down with a sickening slam that doesn’t result in either combatants’ instant deaths? Or that Shun is, well, SHUN for crepe’s sake?!?!
I’d argue that, when it wants to be, Virtua Fighter can be just as silly as any fighting game out there. It hits all the classic archetypes with literally no shame whatsoever. It has pro-wrestlers, squabbling siblings, wizened old men who like to drink, an angry teen/early-twenty-something with severe daddy issues, and that’s even before we get to the stoic bloke in a headband who just wants to fight to prove how gosh darn good he is at this fighting lark and nothing else. They even go the whole-hog in Virtua Fighter 3 and add a chuffing Sumo guy to the roster, just to make sure all the boxes were ticked!
So, when you look at it, there’s very little reason why Virtua Fighter has the reputation for being the “dull” and “serious” fighting game, because it can regularly be both very exciting and ridiculous in equal measure. Sure, there are aspects to this game that those who have dined solely on a diet of Street Fighter and Tekken might find a bit disconcerting (getting caught in a powerful slam or throw from Wolf or Jeffrey will still see half your life gauge disappear within an instant, for example), but there is also a lot they will find familiar here as well, such as the Team Battle Mode.
Team Battle Mode, making a return from its first appearance in Virtua Fighter 2, works very well and is a lot of fun to play. Selecting a good mix of teammates is integral to any success, especially as the difficulty curve in this game is positively merciless even on the easiest of difficulty settings. By the time you reach the sixth or seventh fight in either Team Battle or standard single-player, the computer will be honed to a level of extreme competence and will punish your every mistake. It took me a good couple of evenings of play before I was able to get to the final bout with bonus boss Dural, and even then she comfortably walloped me in mere seconds.
The three button controls of classic Virtua Fighter games make their return, with a button for punch, kick, and block, respectively, but there’s also the edition of a fourth “dodge” button as well. This adds a whole new layer of strategy to fights, especially when doing battle with the aforementioned Sumo Taka-Arashi. His stage, rather than being a Japanese bathhouse, is actually a giant Sumo Ring somewhere in the wilderness, and he will do his utmost to push you off the stage to an immediate defeat, regardless of your remaining health. Needless to say, it was intensely satisfying to get some distance, time a dodge perfectly to avoid his charge before dumping his weighty posterior off the stage to the unforgiving ground below.
After getting battered from pillar to post for many a bout, it was thrilling to finally get some form together and actually start holding my own in fights. Once this happened bouts started to resemble movie fight scenes as both the computer and I dodged one another’s attacks with liquid fluidity whilst trying to find the decisive attack that would turn the bout definitively in a certain direction. For a while I was winning matches by little more than having the most health as the clock ticked away to nothingness, so close and pensive the battles were becoming. Virtua Fighter 3 punishes your every mistake with indefatigable glee, but it also rewards you for patience and quick reactions. It really is a game that can both frustrate and delight in equal measure.
It can be both accessible and fully impenetrable at the same time. The controls can be both immediately simple and alarmingly complex depending on how you approach the game. If you want to memorise every fighter’s move-set and become an all around master, you can do so and still find yourself on the end of a mean butt whipping from a snarling CPU controlled fighter. Alternatively, you can use just basic moves and still find your way to the game’s ending as long as you have a good grasp of both your own character’s capabilities and your opponent’s weaknesses.
Virtua Fighter 3 can seem imposing to someone not used to the series, but it really is an amazingly well designed fighting game that does what it does with a mountain of skill and a good dollop of charm. The graphics, though not to the same sharpness as one would expect today, are still colourful and pleasant on the eye. The stages are atmospheric, the fighters literally drip with character, and the soundtrack is the usual foot-stamping brilliance that you expect from a SEGA arcade release.
So, if you’re one of those who thinks that Virtua Fighter is a bit stuffy and prides realism over fun, I strongly suggest you put those thoughts to bed and give one of the games in the series a go. 2, 3, and 4 are all great to play, both on your lonesome or with friends, and you can get all of them for their respected consoles (Saturn, Dreamcast, PS2) at a very reasonable price.
This game is strongly recommended by yours truly!
As always, I’ll post some game footage below.
Thanks for reading
Until next time;
Come On You Blues!!!
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