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Virtua Fighter 4 (PlayStation 2) artwork

Virtua Fighter 4 (PlayStation 2) review

"An odd thing happened to me today. As I was sitting at my computer, working on this and working on that and wishing I had something better to do on a Friday night, I saw a funny thing lying in my game rack. Sitting right at the bottom, neatly wedged between my copy of Grandia that doesnít work because I got Vaseline on it and the copy of Wuthering Heights which will never be returned to my 12th grade English teacher because I donít give enough of a damn, sat Virtua Fighter 4. "

An odd thing happened to me today. As I was sitting at my computer, working on this and working on that and wishing I had something better to do on a Friday night, I saw a funny thing lying in my game rack. Sitting right at the bottom, neatly wedged between my copy of Grandia that doesnít work because I got Vaseline on it and the copy of Wuthering Heights which will never be returned to my 12th grade English teacher because I donít give enough of a damn, sat Virtua Fighter 4.

The moment I saw it, two memories came rushing back to me.

I remembered when it first came out in 2002 and was met with huge acclaim. Tournaments popped up everywhere. Many perfect scores were given, both in magazines and on sites. Heralded as the fighting game that all other fighting games after it would be measured against, the creamiest of the crop. Wherever I looked, whoever I talked to, all voices sang the praise.

I also remembered wondering what the hell everyone else was blabbering on about. For the life of me, I cannot understand what people see in this game. Never could, never will. Hated it in the arcade, hated it even more on the PS2, and hated it even more still because everyone else seemed to love the damn thing.

And with those two memories came a rather tasking question: If I hated it so much, why did I buy it in the first place?

Well, Iím not entirely sure on that. I seem to remember it had something to do with a woman, but other than that itís pretty foggy. I might have been under the influence of something. Whatever the case, I have one of the Ďgreatest fighting games of all timeí on my shelf, and it really shouldnít be there.

Yes, it is pretty game; it was gorgeous back then and itís just as gorgeous now. The fighters move in intricate fashion. Dodges, feints, parries, counters, attacks, all carried out with stunning realism. Each fighter has their own unique movements and playing style, and while that may sound like the kind of thing youíd expect from any fighting game, Virtua Fighter 4 pronounces it.

Just put two controllers in, start a game of VS, and watch; just observe any two characters standing together. Youíll see the subtle movements, the tempos and rhythms of their style, even showing up when no punches are being thrown. And when the blows do start to get thrown, the result is a sort of poetry; watching two experienced players go at it is like viewing a real life match. Clothing billows like clothing, hair flows like hair, the humans move like humans and it all combines to add to the gameís authenticity, something it strives for in all things.

Even more impressive than the characters are the environments they fight in; detailed and lush and so beautiful, pushing the Playstation 2ís limits in ways only a handful of other games can even attempt. Puddles strew the field, giving hints to a heavy rain the night before. Snow falls down in wayward flakes, covering the arena and forcing the fighters to trudge through, leaving a trench of ice in the ground as they battle on. The sun sets in the distance, hiding in the mountains and casting thin shadows all over the grounds, heralds of the nearing night. In Virtua Fighter 4, the arena takes on more personality than even the characters themselves (which isnít saying much, but Iíll get to that later); constantly changing, always vibrant, itís the kind of thing you take for granted during play; passive enough not to affect your fight but dazzling enough to leave you in awe when it finally does come to notice.

Yes, the fights themselves are truly intricate affairs; to call each characterís move list daunting would be putting it in a mild way. Each characterís fighting style is loaded with depth; hundreds of different ways for you to manipulate and dominate the opponent. Each character has a style based wholly off real-life martial arts, and you can tell that the developers studied each and every art with intimate care before they even started mixing pixels. Alternating stances, set-up attacks, combos that stream in realistic ways and tempt you to get up and try them out for yourself.

And as any martial artist with a little experience behind him will tell you, there is no such thing as a Ďperfect artí; all styles have their strengths and weaknesses. The same holds true with Virtua Fighter 4, to a degree unrivaled by any of its peers. Every character is a potential threat to any other character; with the right amount of training you can beat anyone with anybody. You master the timing, await the moment of execution, dodge attacks before theyíre even made. Always analyzing, always thinking, always moving.

Becoming skilled at Virtua Fighter 4 takes patience and dedication. You have to build on it, stay vigilant, memorize until you have the art down to a science. Thatís Virtua Fighter 4ís core; honing you skill until you reach that lofty plateau where fighting becomes pure instinct, gaming nirvana.

But you know what? Despite the fact that Virtua Fighter 4 has some of the best graphics Iíve ever laid my spectacled eyes on, despite the fact that it has a fighting system deeper than the sea and just as hard to overcome, I still hate it, pixel for pixel. It doesnít matter how pretty crap is, or how refined and complex you make it out to be. Crap is still crap.

Virtua Fighter 4 is boring.

Calling Virtua Fighter 4 boring is considered by many to be the eighth deadly sin, but Iím sticking to the opinion. Over the years Iíve come to expect a few things out of a fighter, and Virtua Fighter 4 has none of them.

First off, the story.

Now, I know that even mentioning that here sounds insignificant, meaningless, pointless. Fighting games are known for having stories that suck; trite, clichť plots that the developers probably took about an hour to think up, all just to get some people who ordinarily wouldnít even be caught in the same hemisphere to beat the crap out of each other. I donít expect the plot of a fighting game to move me to tears or inspire me to better my lifestyle or even give me a few cheap laughs.

But I do expect it to be there. Virtua Fighter 4ís plot is virtually nonexistent; I think the instruction booklet (which I canít find anymore) mentioned something about a fighting tournament, but it was vague at best. Thereís also some mention of each characterís backstory, but itís easily forgettable and probably could have been written up in the same amount of time itís taking you to read this review. So, basically, we just have a bunch of people meeting at random places over the world and hitting each other for a tourney. Thatís not a story, thatís an event.

The little story it has never comes out in the actual game; that character info in the instruction booklet just stays there. All through the game, the characters just fight and fight, they never take a moment to say anything but the before and after taunts, never elaborate on their situation in the least. No cutscenes. No character-to-character dialogues. Not even an explanation as to why your character has to fight the final boss (who is, by the way, horribly lame, even as fighting game final bosses go) And when you beat the game, when you tear through every opponent and take your destined place as the worldís greatest fighter, does the game give you a cinema tell to you what your character went on to do? Does it give some generic, uninspired cutscene with your fighter walking off into the sunset? Does it at least have some text rolling down the screen to tell you what the hell happened?

No. You get to watch the credits roll. Thatís frickiní it.

In all seriousness, thatís just a slap in the face to me. Even Shaq-Fu had a story. Shaq-Fu. Yes, it was a crappy game, an embarrassment to both fighting fans and Shaq fans alike, but at least it tried. Virtua Fighter 4 doesnít even give a damn; they just left it out. And since thereís no story and no plot and absolutely nothing of interest to tie things together, every fight just feels pointless somehow. Thereís no payoff to it; all youíll ever unlock are the boss and some weird costume stuff for your character, both of which cease to be interesting after about five minutes.

And it wouldnít be so bad if the characters had some personality, if they were interesting in a way that made me enjoy playing them or annoying in a way that made me enjoy beating them. But theyíve got nothing to speak, a less interesting bunch of brawlers youíll be hard pressed to find.

Weíve got Ryuís long-lost twin brother, Akira. Stalwart, steadfast, with a body built like a rock and a personality to match it.

Weíve gotÖyou know what? Even though I just had a solid session of playing through this game, I can only remember two names: Akira and Vanessa. I remember Akira because he shares his name with a movie thatís ten times cooler than he could ever hope to be, and I remember Vanessa forÖother reasons. But other than thatÖnothing. Thatís just how utterly boring they all are. Generic ninja guy, generic monk-punk, generic blonde in hot pants, and the list goes on; twelve fighters and not a speck of personality between them. And while the graphics may make them look brilliant, it canít erase the fact that theyíre all dressed like idiots.

And if it wasnít enough for them all to look like a bunch of clichť idiots, they act like it to. I canít even go through arcade mode once and not get a sense of dťjà vu; they use lines and mannerisms that go from being stale and annoying to just plain laughable. Everyoneís either a walking stereotype or feels like a carbon copy of a more inspired character from a more inspired game.

Even though the characters have zero depth for traits, they have a wealth of depth in their fighting styles, and thatís supposed to redeem all the shortcomings. Youíre supposed to master the intricacies of each style and perfect your skill, honing your abilities and freeing them of all flaws.

Iíll give AM2 credit for coming up with a novel idea; a game about martial arts that takes just as much practice as the real thing, truly an inspired concept. Just one problem: Itís lame.

So you master all those techniques and stances and nail down every nuance of your chosen character, mastering the control so well that the attacks come off as if you were making them with your own body. So you finally beat out that one opponent that was really giving you a tough time and make it to the new level in your rank. Congratulations. But what do you get for it? Whatís the incentive?

I guess most people would say they get the satisfaction of hard work, that indescribable feeling you get when you put the finishing touches on something great, akin to an artist putting the final stroke on a painting or a writer putting the final word in his book. Intrinsic value.

That just doesnít do it for me. When I mow my neighborís yard, I donít want the satisfaction of a hard dayís work, I canít buy squat with that. I want money. Same thing with Virtua Fighter 4, only this game refuses to give out anything even remotely gratifying in return for your hard work. So youíre stuck on an endless loop, fighting enemy after tired enemy, with no end or reason in sight. Thereís just no motivation.

And even the moves themselves donít give off much flair; yes, theyíre all varied, but variation doesnít equal enjoyment. I get that itís all a part of Virtua Fighter 4 striving to be a more realistic game, but honestly, if I wanted reality I wouldnít be playing a videogame.

Iíll admit; Iím not a patient guy. And maybe Iím not a hardcore gamer, whatever thatís supposed to mean. Maybe Iím too picky; maybe Iím expecting things out of Virtua Fighter 4 that I shouldnít be expecting. Maybe Iím just not looking at Virtua Fighter 4 from the right angle; maybe if I gave it some serious time Iíd see what everyone else seems to see.

But I donít think I should have to labor and spend hours of my life that Iíll never get back just to get some lofty euphoria, especially if the entire trek to that point is a complete sludge. I play videogames for fun. Virtua Fighter 4 is not fun.

Oh, one more thing. I just now remembered why I bought Virtua Fighter 4 in the first place: I think Vanessa is cute. Yes, the big, bazooka-legged, white-haired black policewoman that says all the corny lines and looks exactly like a man from behind.


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Community review by lasthero (August 22, 2005)

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