I’ve always loved a good fighting game. In fact, I’ve even been known to like an awful fighting game should the mood take me. Maybe it’s because almost every fighting game is so reassuringly familiar? You have your archetype characters such as “bloke who knows some vague form of Kung Fu and wears a headband”, “cocky punk with something to prove”, “gruff professional wrestler” and “spunky young woman with daddy issues”
Virtua Fighter 2 happily ticks every single one of those boxes with Akira, Lion, Wolf and Pai respectively. It also happily indulges in “wacky old man” (Shun), “mysterious ninja feller” (Kage) and “squabbling siblings” (Sarah and Jacky)
It is these delightfully accessible characters, along with childhood memories of the arcade, which conspire to give me very warm nostalgic feelings towards the Virtua Fighter Series. I was smitten from almost the first minute I saw the first Virtua Fighter. Simple and sparse though the graphics may seem to a modern eye, in the mid 90’s seeing an actual 3D fighter was a rarity and I thought it was simply sensational. Unfortunately, the version of Virtua Fighter that was released to the SEGA Saturn in 1994 was a rushed mess done to coincide with SEGA pulling a surprise early launch of the console. Yes, it was such a surprise it even caught the actual developers of SEGA’s games unaware! As a result, SEGA were forced to release a second version of the game called “Virtua Fighter Remix” in mid to late 1995.
Thankfully, Virtua Fighter 2 did not have the same problem and was released complete in time for Christmas 1995 in Japan and America (Europeans had to wait till January 1996 to get their hands on a copy). Virtua Fighter 2, and for that matter the entire Virtua Fighter Series, is a game that is defined by its fighting experience. It’s not a game with the flashy projectiles of Street Fighter, the obscenely violent fatalities of Mortal Kombat, the outrageous characters of Tekken or the boobs of DOA. Yes, it takes its own unique and pleasurable take on the traditional fighting game character archetypes, but the focus of the game isn’t so much the characters themselves but more on the way those characters choose to fight.
Pic courtesy of gamefaqs
FIGHTING STYLES MAKE FIGHTS
Each character in Virtua Fighter 2 feels different and the key to success is learning how to maximise the positives of a characters fighting style to achieve victory. Grapplers like Jeffrey and Wolf can literally end a fight in 2 or 3 moves. You can pepper away at them with the dainty Lion and his Praying Mantisesque Tourou-ken, but get too close and its BAM Powerbomb, SPLAT Leg Drop and pretty much your entire health bar is gone. It works the other way just as well. Jeffrey is a cumbersome Pankration fighter who isn’t built for speed, so using Lion’s superior pace is the key to victory. Virtua Fighter 1 and 2 were the first time in my youth where I actually had to think about strategy when it came to a fighting game. I know in Street Fighter II it’s possible to address things tactically if you so desire, but to me it was never as essential to success in the game as it was in Virtua Fighter.
Having such diverse fighting styles also adds replay ability to the game, as it tempts you to try out all the characters to see which one suits you the best. By far the most intriguing character to me in this game would be the 82 year old booze hound Shun Di. Shun is a master of “Drunken Kung Fu” and playing as him is an experience to behold. However, despite the fact he has possibly one of the silliest fighting styles known to man, Shun is a very difficult character to master. He can also be an absolute pain to fight against, due to him pulling wacky fighting maneuvers seemingly out of nowhere that you simply have no chance to defend against. That being said, I’m delighted that he’s in the game if only because it gives me an excuse to post This
Pic courtesy of www.sakatore.com
PLENTY OF MOVES ON OFFER
Despite the more tactically focused combat, Virtua Fighter 2 is still an easy game to get into. I hadn’t played it in years before returning to it for this feature, and I was eventually able to complete the arcade mode. I had to suffer a few embarrassing defeats at the hand of the computer first, but eventually I was able to get into the flow of things and enjoy some success. Virtua Fighter 2 uses a mere three buttons, which is notably sparse for a fighting game. There is a button for punch, kick and block respectively and that’s your lot. As a general rule, I tend to prefer it when a fighting game allows you to block while simply walking backwards as opposed to requiring a specific button for it. This is mainly because I find this to be a more instinctive way of blocking. Street Fighter II was the first fighting game I ever played; thusly I have it ingrained in my psyche that that’s how you block. This did lead to a number of humorous moments (For would be spectators that is, I was not a happy bunny) where I would walk backwards in a desperate attempt to block, only to get a flying kick in the mush and tumble to the ground like a felled great oak.
Thankfully, the manual comes complete with a list of all the characters big moves so it’s not too difficult to develop a basic level of competency. I found I had the most success playing as the grumpy middle aged Lau. Why not share the identity of your favourite character in the comments below?
Pic courtesy of virtuafighter.wikia
HOW DO THE GRAPHICS HOLD UP?
The graphics, though blocky to modern eyes, still impressed me, especially the backgrounds for the fights. They are bright, colourful and pleasing on the eye. The animation isn’t as smooth as modern games, but for the time it was excellent and it doesn’t look too bad to modern eyes either. The game itself still plays exceedingly well. The jumping mechanics aren’t exactly great, with fighters floating in the air after a jump like the fight is taking place in outer space, but this is really the only glaring fault in the game play and it doesn’t really have too much of a negative effect on the game itself.
The music is pleasantly punchy and there are some good stage themes. Regards to longevity, there are a number of game modes to take part in. There is basic Arcade Mode, where you fight all of the characters in a set order before doing battle with boss character Dural. Beware though, you only get one shot to defeat Dural and should you lose it’s an immediate game over. Dural is a Silver Surfer looking female boss who borrows fighting techniques from the other characters in the game. The battle itself takes place underwater for some reason, with the pantheon in the background. Whether this means Greece has sunk into the Mediterranean Sea in the game universe has yet to be clarified to me. It’s essentially a wacky bonus stage and you still get a congratulatory still picture of your joyful fighter at the end whether you win or lose the bout.
Pic courtesy of www.captainwilliams.co.uk
GAMES MODES ON OFFER
Aside from Arcade Mode, there is the compulsory Versus Mode for smacking your friends into pieces. There is also a Team Battle Mode, Ranking Mode (Essentially survival mode), Watch mode and Expert mode. Watch mode is where you pick two computer controlled characters and watch them have at it. Expert Mode is an interesting one in theory but one which I think falls down in execution. In theory, Expert Mode is simply the Arcade Mode except that the Computer players will remember the moves you’ve used and will adapt to you accordingly. In practice though, after 2-3 rounds the computer will basically block every single one of your attacks. What this meant was that the only way I could win was to continually punch the computer while it blocked so that I could nudge it off the stage to win by ring out. It’s a shame because this could have been a very intriguing game mode, but sadly the game isn’t able to nail the landing on it.
Despite a few flaws, Virtua Fighter 2 is one of the best games you can play on the SEGA Saturn. It’s a strong gaming experience that still holds up despite it being nearly two decades since its original home release. If you have a Saturn or are thinking about getting one, having this game in your collection is an absolute must.
I’ll post some game footage below
Thanks for reading
Looking for something else to read on the site? Then why not check out Kane’s review of Hotline Miami 2?
Also thanks to Adam Turek for the Rings of Saturn logo!