While I wait for him to make a Genesis Retrospective blog for it (Gaj ;)), I'm going to take this opportunity to talk to you about my absolute favorite fighting game. I'm going to expand upon something that was covered last time on PStoid but only very briefly.
So you slide the disk into the cd tray, or open a file from a list of games you own, the Sega logo plays among various others and you are greeted with a start screen. You jump right into a match as you are eager to start and then proceed to have a difficult time, getting your ass absolutely handed to you by the computer or competitive player. What happened, what went wrong? Well upon examining the button configuration screen you find out that Virtua Fighter only has three buttons!
Though it's actually more like six or seven unique inputs when you combine the different ones together, you essentially just have a button for Punch, Kick and Guarding. VF is one of those games that uses a button for guarding, much like Mortal Kombat or Smash Bros and unlike Street Fighter or Persona games, for example, that make you hold back to automatically guard. To me, the three button system makes Virtua Fighter the most accessible fighting game and I'll tell you why. Unlike Mahvel where you'd need to use likely the whole 8 available buttons on a fight stick, with Virtua Fighter my hand never leaves the buttons I need allowing me to focus entirely on what I'm doing and so forth. After a bit of sparring at my local arcade club with the VFers (Shoutouts to the crew!) it wasn't long before this was entirely intuitive. I mean I could hit punch, kick, punch + kick, kick + guard, punch and punch + kick + guard for a combo without missing a beat, because my hand never leaves every button for the game unlike other games where you need to be sliding your hand back and forth. For this alone, the developer has made something really outstanding for a fighting game as far as I'm concerned.
The other thing that really sets it apart is how the actual fighting in the game is. What I said on the podcast was something a friend (who doesn't VF bro) said about the game, that it's like the closest thing there is to an actual fighting game. He says so because the characters' movesets are based on real life fighting/martial arts styles. Ie. Jacky has Jeet Kune Do, Pai has Mízōngquán (Ensei-Ken) and so on. This, coupled with the fact that the game doesn't have any real added properties for the movies and no projectiles makes it feel real. It gives it that "realistic" to use the term feel and for a fighting game the application of that term is actually a good thing. Here is a fighting game where the fighting feels realistic (as opposed to here is this brown shooter where... because it's brown it feels more realistic?) Side note: Save for Kage who uses a ninja fighting style, Dural who isn't a real person and the Pro Wrestling characters for obvious reasons.
This sets Virtua Fighter apart because we don't get a lot of fighting games like that anymore, that try to be real. I've said it before but Mahvel and Street Fighter have a lot of flash (they're very flashy games) what with all sorts of particle effects added and an insufferable amount of fictional projectiles. The fighting isn't real but exaggerated and that's great for all those who enjoy and even prefer it that way but they can't say their fighting and move sets are grounded in reality. If you want 200 hit combos with missiles and lasers flying everywhere, Mahvel is over there. But if you want something REAL then the best game for someone in that market is simply Virtua Fighter.
Outside of that Virtua Fighter is unique to me for a few other reasons. It has a killer soundtrack, seriously there isn't a bad soundtrack in a vf game my favorite being either Virtua Fighter 2 or Virtua Fighter 5 (Vanilla). The former obviously gets the spot for being nostalgic but also they just knew how to compose a good track to go with the level/character. Shun Di's stage theme is very.. uhh, Chinese sounding, with a good atmospheric feel to it like you're standing with a foggy/mountainous backdrop, preferably floating on a river by way of bamboo raft. Wolf's stage theme is also very atmospheric but it takes you to a totally different setting, one that is the snow covered Alaskan/Canadian mountains. Cold, slow a slight bit melancholic but all action. And then there's Lion's theme which is supposed to be very youthful, let me go grab my skateboard and be all 90's and shit. Even though he is French and therefore his experience is of an inferior 90's to our awesome American 90's, he was promoted likely as the one kids will relate to most, being athletic, young and spry (with such amazing catchphrases as "I'd never hit the elderly" -cringe-) so they made him a fast paced, action packed theme song that honestly is good enough to be the main theme of VF 2.
Virtua Fighter 5 was able to accomplish similar, giving us really good theme songs for the locations and characters but using the marvels of modern audio technology it does away with that "all the songs kinda sound the same" that older Virtua Fighter games had going for them. Again we have Shun Di's theme with plenty of sounding-Chinese and whatnot. But they were able to get a lot more in there. More appropriately legitimate chinese instruments and musical techniques and from there they molded that into this quick song that gets you pumped for fast paced combat. Oh how perfect then is it that the drunken fighter beats down his opponents faster than you can say "take a shot"? Then we have the theme of Sarah Bryant, appropriately named Aurora. Like the character it is both alluring and fierce. I also appreciate the liberal usage of jazz piano in there, if you listen closely you can hear it every once in awhile. It's almost like a throwback to old VF and even Sega games music. Finally another example is El Blaze who was actually introduced along with Eileen for the first time in this iteration, much to my initial dismay. Well his theme is pretty alright as far as a metal/hard rock song goes but it does a lot more for him/the stage it's in simply for being a professional wrestler (specifically luchador)/wrestling arena. Metal just goes good with Wrestling, I don't know why, though I can make a pretty reasonable guess about it I've never questioned this. For the first ten seconds, what's probably the heaviest part, I am actually reminded of the old RAW IS WAR theme from the attitude era of the WWE. Not sure if that's intentional but I hear it and it works well for obvious reasons. The song also incorporates a lot of synth managing to miraculously not piss me off. I like my metal sans keyboards and the like, save for Rammstein, Ministry and a couple others it's rarely done well imo. But this song hits a good balance of guitar work and electronic effect. Kudos. Truly the composers for these games are musical geniuses.
There too is an interesting blend of voice acting. Even though Virtua Fighter is notorious for terrible english voices, especially VF5, I like what they did in the aforementioned poorly dubbed game. Some fighting games make all the character speak one language while others give you the choice for each or most of the characters individually, either they can speak Japanese or English. But that creates a weird break between the character itself. Don't get me wrong, I've watched a ton of anime in my day both subbed and dubbed and I love that people have that choice there but for fighting game characters it feels like one will definitely work better than the other and the other one is usually just dreadful to listen to. English Street Fighter Ryu, Mortal Kombat 9's Kung Lao/Liu Kang, etc. If you don't have the choice you're stuck with part of the cast sounding good and others sounding not so good. If you do, then you still will at some point have to listen to horrible dubs/not the ideal voice and know such an inferior piece of trash exists in this game. Well VF has the best option, one voice per character but it's not limited to one language. The english speaking characters speak english and the non-english speaking characters speak Japanese. Sadly that means that there are Chinese characters that speak Japanese but it's a start. This way the most appropriate voice is mandated for each character and you don't need to tinker or be disappointed. Also fun fact a member of one of my favorite Jpop groups voices Pai Chan, who happens to be my main or was my previous main.
There are many things that make this game unique that I won't cover, like how it inspired the 3D fighters of today that are more popular now like Tekken or Dead or Alive or it's "Rock, Paper, Scissors" mechanics which was stolen by Tecmo when they also stole the whole of Virtua ,if we're to be perfectly honest, to make their boob fighting game. It's probably also one of the few 3D fighting games that's around since the 90's but has a niche presence in America and Europe while its strongest following is over in Japan. But really it's just my opinion and this is my favorite fighting game. I will leave you though, since this whole thing came out of a desire to talk about Sega of all things, what could've been if Sega hadn't fucked around when came to support for this game. Notice how the one match that gets showcased on the main stage of Evo in Las Vegas got a ton of good crowd reaction and hype. For shame Sega.
I hope that you enjoyed this rambling on of fan of a game of a great community of a shitty publisher that ruined it all, however you feel about Virtua Fighter or the things I've said please let me know if the comments below and thank you for reading! As promised I couldn't link the podcast stuff at the beginning in good faith so, if you feel compelled to check it out, you can find all of that below.