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The GoodThere is no genre that is devoid of clones and perpetual rip-offs, but one of the most popular genres for "idea borrowing" is the one-on-one fighting genre, to the point that pretty much every game out there can be called a newer version of Street Fighter 2. The continuous cloning of ideas and gameplay mechanics means however that when something innovative does come out you immediately take notice and that's just the case with Virtua Fighter 2.
Well, actually the revolution began in Virtua Fighter 1, a fully-polygonal fighting game that came out when 3d acceleration wasn't even an idea yet and that took a different stand on the whole one-on-one ass-kicking thing. Instead of taking cues from animation and comic books and introducing wacky characters like half-human monsters or limb-stretching yoga masters and giving each character super-human powers (like the ability to shoot fireballs, jump over 3 times their height and move at blinding "arcadey" speeds), the designers of VF went for the realistic route and crafted relatively realistic fighters that fought using real motion-captured martial arts, moved at realistic speeds and had no superpowers whatsoever. The control scheme that emphasized co-ordination and precision over fancy joystick moves (a typical move in VF is accomplished by hitting a button while moving the stick/pad to a specific orientation, while special moves in most SF clones involve making loads of semicircles and pressing a button at the end) made things even more technical and "brainy" and the limitation of some functions only added to the mix, such as the "floating" effect on jumps that renders aerial attacks completely useless and forces you to go mano-a-mano.
Essentially, VF added the right amount of technique, realism and gameplay mechanics to make it the "thinking man's fighting game", however.... uh, well ... I would be lying if I said I got all that when I first got my hands on Virtua Fighter. You see, VF1 well.... looked like ass. Sporting only shaded polygons and single colored backgrounds, VF1 had as much graphic appeal as a text-based game, and to top that off the game required an immense amount of dedication to get used to (specially if you came from the traditional school of fighting games) and made no attempt to introduce players to it's unique mechanics. Result? I, as well as pretty much every kid out there took a shot at that weird and ugly looking fighting game, saw that the characters floated instead of jumped, couldn't deploy a barrage of combos in 2 nanoseconds, got my ass handed to me by the second round and vowed never to touch that piece of crap ever again.
It wouldn't be until VF2 got released that the game would become more attractive to other newbies and that was when I got to taste what VF was really all about. Sporting a much more balanced difficulty curve that allowed a more progressive learning if you catched on quickly, new and perfectly balanced characters, and a remarkable facelift in the form of fully textured backgrounds and models as well as higher poly-counts for the former, VF2 became much more accessible for the average gamer and allowed everyone to notice everything that made the series so unique. Gloriously animated moves that made every fight look like a professionally coreographed martial arts demonstration complete with varied and truly original styles (the main character, Akira, fights using the visually striking but hardly known Hakkyoku-ken 8-point-star technique, and Lion uses the praying-mantis style) and intense action with an emphasis on speed and precision rather than on fireball wars or other arcadey tactics thanks to the easily depletable health bar and the ring-out penalization. Over 1000 unique moves, and a precise control scheme that was remarkably easy to master yet rewarded timing and technique (instead of turning fights into button-mashing fests that allow a newbie to kick a seasoned player's ass like on Tekken)... etc. etc...
In short a kick ass game, but of course, the question as usual was wether the game could come home intact, and to my surprise the PC version is even better than the original!! First of all unlike the console versions, there is no graphic loss in the game at all! You can use the lower poly-count models of the saturn version or go for the much smoother arcade ones as well as even allowing you to output the video signal as the actual Model 2 arcade video mode!! (only really useful if you want to output the display to a cabinet monitor or similar device), every frame of every move of every animation is there with every sfx intact and every music tune included as redbook audio cd tracks. In short? It's Virtua Fighter 2. Like in the arcades. Only on your PC!
But wait! The PC version boasts the loads of extras available in the saturn release plus even more! You have Arcade mode, VS, Ranking mode (which ranks you based on speed, technique, accuracy, etc.), Expert Mode (which records your progress and learns from your fighting style via save files and makes for an interesting challenge since basically you end up fighting an AI that blocks and counters most of your attacks), Team Battle Mode (turn your VF into a KOF Game!), a playback and watch mode where you can put the game on a perpetual "demo mode" or take a look at your saved replays or the extremely impressive collection of recorded tournament fights that come bundled with the game, a CG gallery, and of course, the crown jewel of the pc version: full modem / serial / TCP/IP multiplayer modes. I played serial mp games a while back and it was a blast, not to mention extremely fast on a couple of good computers.
The BadAt the risk of sounding extremely bitchy the game does have that weird function key-based interface so common in the early SEGA PC games, and for some weird reason it has never kept my graphics configs. (not now on my Athlon and not then on my P1 and P3).
Lastly the endings suck ass (just a grainy "congratulations" picture) though you have 1 small fmv cutscene if you finish the game right. And I would have killed for a tournament mode....
Oh yeah, and while you can easily play the game nowadays on it's day SEGA snubbed gamers the hard way by neglecting to add hardware acceleration support, a dumb stupid move that meant only those with real monster systems could get the game running smoothly (though they did add lots of detail tuning options).