In our Final Round series, we take a look an in-depth look at as many fighting games as we possibly can. In part 19, Shaun Eddleston takes a look at 1993’s Virtua Fighter…
Year of Release – 1993
Developer – Sega AM2
Publisher – Sega
Platforms – Arcade, Sega Mega Drive, Sega Saturn, Sega CD, Sega 32X
By this point, it is common knowledge that Mortal Kombat and Street Fighter II‘s popularity in the early 90s caused a massive wave of games trying to cash in on their respective popularity. While the vast majority of these games were focused on 2D sprite-based titles, Sega were hard at work on a title that would trigger a whole new wave of fighting games, while ushering in a truly “next-gen” experience that would completely revolutionise the entire games industry altogether.
With technology developed alongside the aerospace/defense company Lockheed Martin, Sega developed Virtua Fighter by creating characters out of wireframes and flatshaded quads, giving each character a uniquely blocky look. Coupled with some incredibly fluid (if not a bit slow) movement, Virtua Fighter was unlike any fighting game that came before it, and was rightfully considered to be one of the greatest technical achievements of that era. This was so influential, in fact, that if the game hadn’t been released, then we may not have ever seen the release of the Sega Saturn (an underrated classic, I hasten to add) or even the Sony PlayStation!.
Besides the obvious difference in graphics from its peers, Virtua Fighter also employed a more basic control system. Instead of the default six button controls that most 2D games used, Virtua Fighter opted for a simple three button system. A single punch button, a single kick button and a block button, accompanied by a joystick for movement. While, by today’s standards at least, this sounds like it would be lacking, the controls are deceptively clever, as many moves depend on how a character is moving and where they are situated in relation to their opponent instead of memorising a given sequence. The realistic physics and movement made the game stick out from the quickly saturating fighting game market, and still feels somewhat unique to this day.
Promotional Material & Box Art
Introducing groundbreaking technology and a new fighting franchise offers so much in terms of opportunities to show off on arcade flyers, and Virtua Fighter certainly makes good use of this. The OTT shot of Wolf Hawkfield being kicked through the screen by Jacky Bryant is absolutely wonderful, especially with the excited pitch concerning the game’s sheer graphical power.
The last arcade flyer is also one of the more interesting examples of promo material I have seen in a while, as it refers to the game as “Virtua Fighters“. It also has the most 90’s attitude vibe emanating from it, as it promises to kick butts!.
Coinciding with the game’s US release on Sega 32X, Sega offered a “training pack” for Virtua Fighter, which included a $20 off coupon for a copy of the game (or $40 off a Sega 32X system), an entry into a sweepstakes to win a Virtua Fighter arcade cabinet, a one of a kind t-shirt (which I, personally, would gladly wear today!) and a Virtua Fighter training VHS cassette. The concept of a VHS tape that teaches you secrets and tips about your games reminds me of the one I had where Craig Charles gets hyped about Super Mario All-Stars and the Super Nintendo. Good times!
Across the board, the box art for each release of Virtua Fighter focuses on the eight playable characters in the game’s roster. Simple? Maybe. Iconic? Definitely!
The game centers around Akira Yuki, a young martial artist, as he enters into a world fighting tournament. All is not as it seems though, as an evil syndicate known as Judgment 6 seems to have a vested interest in the fighters as the competition progresses…
As you may be able to tell, Virtua Fighter‘s main storyline is pretty much standard fare for a fighting game as its “major fighting tournament with a sinister organization behind everything” trope has been a steadfast element in fighting games ever since Street Fighter II ignited the boom period of the 90s,(and still pops up in games to this day!).
With that being said, let’s take a look at the roster in a bit more detail…
The grandson of the man who created a modified version of Bājíquán (which is one of China’s foremost martial arts), Akira teaches as an assistant at the Yuki dojo. After completing his fighting training under his grandfather’s wing, the impulsive 23-year old heads on a quest in order to test his skills. Just two years later, Akira learns of the first world fighting tournament and enters with a goal of becoming a master of his craft.
The face of Virtua Fighter, Akira is essentially the “shoto” fighter in the game, working well as an ideal all-round choice for newcomers and fighting game veterans alike.
Pai is a famous action movie star from Hong Kong. Aged just 18 years old, her mood can shift from calm to fiery rage within seconds. Trained by her father Lau from an early age, Pai saw her mother die from overworking (as a result of Lau’s neglect). Pai blames her mother’s death on her father, and upon seeing that he has entered the world fighting tournament, she enters with vengeance on her mind.
If you’re a fan of lightning fast kicks and jabs, then Pai’s an ideal choice for you. Seemingly taking visual cues from Street Fighter II‘s Chun-Li, Pai is one of the most effective characters to use if you just want to overwhelm your opponent with attacks.
A chef by trade, Lau is a devotee to the martial art known as “Tiger Swallow Fist” style. Ever the perfectionist, Lau enters the tournament to prove his mastery of his fighting abilities.
Like his daughter Pai, Lau is a quick and deadly fighter who utilises some slick movement and interesting techniques to take down his opponents. His Tiger Swallow Fist fighting style, as the name implies, turns him into a graceful, yet powerful, offensive force.
Discovered by a promoter on a scouting trip, Canada native Wolf is a former woodsman and hunter that joins thewild, wacky world of professional wrasslin’. A quiet, gentle soul with a fondness for nature, he has a tough exterior and fighting spirit that is no joke when it comes to facing him in the squared circle. He quickly makes his way through the rankings of the wrestling world, becoming the champion almost everywhere he goes. Despite his successes, he becomes dissatisfied with his competition, so he retires his title belts and enters the world fighting tournament to try and find a real challenge.
As a fan of professional wrestling, I fully appreciate Wolf Hawkfield as a character and what his moveset brings to the table in Virtua Fighter. In fact, if a character in ANY fighting game has some sort of Lariat-based move in their command list, I am all about it.
An imposing Aussie fisherman, Jeffry has only ever been beaten by a single opponent; a huge, 8-metre long shark known as “Satan Shark”, which destroys his boat and nearly costs Jeffry his life during their final battle. After recovering from this hairy situation, Jeffry enters the world fighting tournament to gather enough funds to rebuild his boat and do battle with his arch nemesis “Satan Shark” once again.
Don’t let what is by far the most bizarrely entertaining backstory in the game fool you, Jeffry McWild is no joke when fighting with him. He’s a bruiser, with some incredibly powerful punches and throws at his disposal.
A tenth-generation Hagakure ninja who fights with a modified form of Ju-Jitsu. After his mother was kidnapped from his village by a mysterious group, and his village was burnt to the ground (killing everyone there, including his father), Kage-Maru dons the ninja garments that belonged to his late father and seeks revenge by entering the tournament.
Having not played any of the Virtua Fighter games as a kid, I always though that Kage-Maru was the coolest looking character from the games when reading about them in games magazines, and he’s actually pretty awesome to play as as it turns out. Flips and spins aplenty, with a great deal of speed.
The younger sister of Jacky, Sarah is kidnapped by the mystery-shrouded group known as Judgment 6 after she starts to become suspicious of the events surrounding her brother’s terrible accident in the 1990 Indianapolis 500 race. She is then brainwashed and ordered to take out her brother in the world fighting tournament.
The second of Virtua Fighter‘s female fighters (which, compared to its competition at the time, was a big deal), Sarah is one of the fastest strikers in the game. I felt as though she was the best character to overcome the game’s slightly awkward movement speeds and can whittle down an opponent’s health gauge in seconds.
A famous Indy Car driver known as the “Blue Flash” thanks to his obsession with going as fast as he can, Jacky gets seriously injured in a suspicious crash during one of his biggest races, resulting in a punishing two-year long rehabilitation course. Once he is fully healed, he learns of the group who were responsible for his accident, as well as the disappearance of his younger sister. Jacky enters the world fighting tournament to find answers.
Jacky’s fighting style is still in the same ballpark as his younger sister’s, but he brings some unique moves that pack more of a punch. His flying forearm takedown is endlessly entertaining to pull off.
The main antagonist of the Virtua Fighter franchise, and final boss of the first game, Dural is a cyborg created by the Judgment 6 corporation, and absorbs the fighting abilities of every foe she defeats.
As Dural is an amalgamation of every fighter she faces, none of her moves are actually her own (much like the Mokujin character would be in Tekken 3 a few years later, stay tuned for that one!), so coming up with a strategy for both playing as her and against her is pretty tricky. One for the Virtua Fighter masters.
The original game was ported to several Sega consoles after its 1993 release, and even saw an updated version appear on the Sega Saturn in the form of Virtua Fighter Remix (in which the graphics and controls handle so much better than the original version, I recommend it!).
It also saw a release on the Sega Mega Drive/Genesis… well, kind of. Instead of the innovative 3D fighting game that people expected, the console simply couldn’t handle the sheer power of Virtua Fighter in that form, so a 2D sprite version was developed instead. While this is not one of the best fighting game ports out there (trust me, it really isn’t!), it’s certainly the most interesting version of Virtua Fighter available, simply because it offers players a glimpse at what the series could have been had the technology for the arcade version not been created.
Despite each character having their own backstories, there are no character-specific endings upon completion of the game’s arcade mode, but instead plays a staff roll with fight footage playing in the background. Had this game been a single entry title, this would be mildy annoying, but the game’s sequels do a decent enough job of continuing the lore.
Not only is Virtua Fighter one of the most important fighting games ever released, but one of the most important video games full stop. The game’s innovative new graphics forced other developers and companies into the new generation of 3D-based games, ensuring that the landscape of gaming would forever be changed.
While its place in gaming cannot be understated, its gameplay has not aged as well as its peers. Yes, the basic three-button setup and mechanics that incorporate player stance into the mix are quietly some of the most interestingly simple approaches to the genre, but aren’t anywhere near as fun to play with as the more sophisticated controls found in games such as Tekken and Battle Arena Toshinden just a couple of years later. Virtua Fighter‘s sequels (and even the soft remaster) would quickly polish things both in terms of graphics and how the game handles, but the first entry in the franchise is slightly too basic and feels too dated to be considered a truly “great” game in the modern era.
By all means, check out this milestone in gaming history, just don’t expect to be blown away by it.
Have you played Virtua Fighter? What do you think of this early 3D brawler?
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