Those kind readers amongst you all who have been following my work for a while will know that I have covered Virtua Fighter, Virtua Fighter 2 and Virtua Fighter 3 in the past, so it only makes sense that I cover Virtua Fighter 4 this time. Funnily enough, Virtua Fighter 4 is almost certainly the game in the VF series that I have played the most and is also the one I am probably the best at as a consequence.
When coming back to the game for this article, I noticed that the last save file I had for it was dated all the way back to the summer of 2002. Despite this, however, I didn’t find it that difficult to get back into the swing of things, mainly because the fighting mechanics are the smoothest they have ever been in the series and are pretty intuitive as a result. A contributing factor to this as well is that the game rates all of the fighters between the level of “Beginner”, “Intermediate” and “Expert”, meaning the character select screen is a bit less daunting for the newbie as you can see what fighters would be best suited for you to select.
As with previous games in the series, you have a button for block, punch and kick, respectively, but the “evade” button from VF3 has now been removed, which makes that aspect of combat more tricky. Despite having just three buttons to work with, each fighter still has a gigantic list of moves and attacks to select from, which makes careful perusing on the game’s instruction manual, along with some decent time spent in the Training Mode, a must if you plan to conquer all who come before you.
In another change from VF3, the fighting stages are now back to being the more traditional square rings again, something that makes the game more sensible, if not quite as much fun at times. I do appreciate that the previous fight stages in VF3 could be a tad erratic, which sometimes made the levels more a game of chance than a straight up one of skill, and I understand why the developers made the switch to the more traditional fighting venues, but I won’t lie and say that occasionally I do miss the more far reaching and wacky stages of VF3 on occasion. One thing I must commend Virtua Fighter 4 on though is how good the stages look, with ones like the underwater aquarium being wonderfully atmospheric with shoals of fish and a ruddy big whale shark swimming by outside whilst you do battle within.
On the whole, the game looks really nice, even now 17 years on from when it was first released, with the animations of the fighters looking particularly great as bodies fly all over the place when you get a nice, clear attack, really giving everything a great sense of “oomph”. Obviously, the graphics aren’t entirely perfect, with some of the facial animations looking a bit “off” sometimes (especially Sarah Bryant’s cold, dead eyes), but overall, everything looks very good indeed, and it was certainly impressive for a sixth gen console.
As with previous Virtua Fighter games, there is a hearty challenge to the gameplay, but the game can still be tackled by anyone provided you fight smart and learn to get the best out of a particular character. What I love about the Virtua Fighter series in general is that the capacity to learn the game inside out and master it is almost always the best way to experience it, but it isn’t completely essential. You can still get by without learning every combo provided you dedicate some attention and care to learn how to fight, and in most cases, you will often find yourself wanting to get better and improve because it feels so rewarding to do so.
Outside of the standard Arcade Mode, Virtua Fighter 4 has a single-player mode known as “Kumite”, which sees you creating a profile and then travelling around arcades to take on A.I. fighters modeled on actual real Virtua Fighter 4 arcade players. Kumite Mode gives you the opportunity to customise your fighter, and the fact that the A.I. has been built around real arcade players means that fights genuinely feel different from one another. This is a good way of keeping you on your toes with each fight, and it’s a fun mode overall.
Sadly, Virtua Fighter 4 is similar to its previous games in that the fighters don’t have their own cinematic endings at the end of the game like you’d find in most other fighting games. This has always been something that Virtua Fighter has stuck with as the idea has always been that getting through the arcade ladder is reward enough in itself. Over the years, I have come to accept this about the game, but big fans of games like Tekken, for instance, (where the endings for each character are some of the highlights of the game) might be a tad disappointed.
As usual, arcade ladder mode ends with you doing battle with Dural, and she can be just as vicious as she’s been in previous games. Funnily enough, Virtua Fighter 4 remains the only game in the series where I’ve ever really had any semblance of luck in taking her down. Don’t get me wrong, I still only beat her something like 40% of the time, but that’s a better average than I’ve enjoyed in other games in the series (I still don’t think I’ve ever beaten her in VF2, for instance, and I’ve played that game quite a lot).
For those not au fait with the series, Dural is a female cyborg-like fighter who can use all of the other fighters’ moves, and she acts as a sort of secret boss at the end of the arcade ladder. You only get one shot at beating her each time out, and should you lose, you go straight to the ending credits and have to go through arcade mode all over again just to get another crack at defeating her. Ultimately, she exists more as a bonus fight than an actual part of the arcade mode itself, although eventually you can unlock her as a playable character if you make it all the way through Kumite.
Overall, Virtua Fighter 4 is one of the best games to play if you want an introduction to the VF series as a whole. It’s a tad more forgiving than other games in the series, and it was clearly made with new players in mind as it was the first time a game in the series hadn’t been released to SEGA console, so SEGA probably thought that a lot of first time players were going to give it a go. As a result, it’s a good game to start with if you’ve always wanted to dip a toe in the world of VF whilst also still having the challenge that long-time fans of the series will enjoy.
It’s a definite recommendation from me. Even after all these years, I still enjoyed going back to play it again, which is about the best thing you can say in a Retro article, I think!