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Virtua Fighter 4: Evolution

You know what fighting games lack? Realism. No, I’m not talking about cuts and bruises that appear when your fighter gets pummeled, a shiny coat of sweat coming off their muscular bodies, or anything else that pertains to incredibly detailed graphics. I’m talking about down-to-Earth, common sense realism as it pertains to our own lives. Can people really fire off Hadokens and Sonic Booms? Can fighters really be possessed by evil demons or can use yoyos and teddy bears as deadly weapons? Wouldn’t people look kind of stupid if they suddenly shouted out, “Are you OKAY?! BUSTER WOLF!!!” or “PSYCHO CRUSHER!”? For the moment, let’s get rid of all the fireballs, the absurd weapons, the power gauge-based specials, multiple powered-up forms, and every other fighting game gimmick known to mankind. What’s left? A bunch of fighters that can punch, kick, throw, counter, and block. Seems kind of boring, doesn’t it? However, a quality fighting game isn’t determined by how many moves the characters have; it’s what they do with the moves that counts.

Ouch, that’s gotta hurt

Case in point: Virtua Fighter 4: Evolution. There is no world being threatened, no mystical or spiritual elements, post-apocalyptic cyborg takeovers, or any other plots that permeate the other fighting games that we love so much. Instead, we’re given nothing but a simple, honest fighting tournament (with a tiny bit of secret organization cover-ups on the side), bringing forth some of the most-highly skilled-martial artists from around the world. You’ll get to choose from the likes of the Akira, a warrior with Street Fighter Ryu’s mindset for fighting (aka typical karate dude), a ninjitsu specialist named Kage, a drunk old guy named Shun, an assassin called Goh, and a handful of other fighters that fulfill every other stereotypical fighting game character requirements. None of the characters on Virtua Fighter 4’s roster possess any personality or charisma whatsoever; they just don’t have the same kind of appeal as Sol Badguy, Terry Bogard, Siegfried, and countless other fighters that we’ve come to know over the years. In truth, you probably won’t even bother learning these characters names, let alone have any interest in their backgrounds and personal motivation.

However, these characters don’t need any personality to draw you in; their moves and actions will do the job for them. Each character has a distinct fighting style that requires focus, concentration, and a good grasp of the game’s excellent combat mechanics to use effectively. For example, Goh may look like some kind of zombie-like assassin, but he specializes in Judo and comes complete with a set of throws straight from the real-life fighting style. Should you want to kick some ass Shaolin style, Lei-Fei’s devastating punch and kick combos ought to be appealing. Each character is designed to follow their particular fighting methods perfectly. That being said, each character is also bound to their style’s particular strengths and weaknesses; some are more powerful but have short attack ranges, others can perform quick attacks but lack sufficient defensive strategies, etc. Also, there’s a strong emphasis on memorizing specific attack stances and incredibly good reflexes; the controls for this game are some of the most responsive of all the fighting games out there. Accordingly, the game’s incredibly technical gameplay is second to none; you’ll spend countless hours in the game’s Practice Mode trying to master some of your character’s combos. And you’ll need to spend some time practicing, too. The game’s got a harsh, unapologetic learning curve, forcing you to get better if you ever hope to make it through the last round.

And the girl in the funny hat wins! Hoorah!

Once you’ve mastered the game’s Arcade Mode, you can set your sights on the Quest Mode, the other half of Virtua Fighter 4’s features. Instead of merely fighting through a few rounds and facing the boss, you’ll get to participate in a series of mini-tournaments being held across in various locations across the city. You’ll have to go through the usual preliminaries, working your way up through the fights and eventually taking down the strongest opponents in the finals. By defeating enough people, your ranking in the tournament will go up, allowing you to achieve certain titles and take on other challenges. Also, there are a slew of bonus missions that will occasionally pop up before each bout. These usually test your skills as a fight requiring you to perform a set number of combo attacks, never getting ringed out, and other rules. While completing these objectives is entirely optional, doing them will grant you bonus funds that can be used to buy extra outfits, win poses, and quite a few accessories to customize your character as well. Also, the game keeps track of your fighting record, tallying wins, losses, percentages, and a few other stats. While these don’t have any real use in the game, it’s still a great way of keeping track of your progress through the game.

Virtua Fighter 4’s awesome gameplay is complemented with one of the most highly detailed presentations on the PS2. All of the character models, from Akira’s signature uniform to Pai Chan’s braid weave to Aoi’s wonderfully ornate kimono, are portrayed with an incredible amount of realism and detail. You can see the light reflecting off of Lei-Fei’s bald head, or the way that Kage’s signature bandana flutters in the breeze. Shun Di not only carries a small flask of alcohol for his Drunken Kung Fu style, but his cheeks tend to get a little more flustered once the he gets really buzzed. All of their movements are fluid and graceful, mimicking the attack patterns and stances of real martial artists. All of the stages are depicted with the same kind of detail, ranging from small ponds, aquariums, snowy fields, Tibetan monasteries, and everything else in between. When you fight in the sand or snow, you’ll leave footprints and markings every time you move. If you happen to do a kick while standing in water, the move will send a small spray of water flying through the air. Also, several of the arenas have breakable walls and floor tiles, adding just a little bit more flavor to the already wonderful levels. When the game’s decent soundtrack and wide variety of sound effects are factored in, this game’s presentation is a force to be reckoned with.

It’s safe to say that dress sense went out the window years ago

Virtua Fighter 4: Evolution possesses a seemingly strange, almost foreign concept. It eliminates all the gimmicks of its contemporaries, offering a small cast of characters to choose amongst and contend with. However, there is nothing simple about this game; the amount of skill, and patience required to master the intricate fighting styles and their inherent strategies might prove too great for some. This game is the epitome of three-dimensional technical fighting, beckoning avid fighting game fans to come and give it a go. That being said, many gamers new to the fighting game scene may give this a go, become frustrated by it, and cast it down into the shadowy depths of their closets or, even worse, the trade-in bin at their local gaming store. But if you can work with the game’s difficulty and take the time to learn the characters, you’ll find that Virtua Fighter 4: Evolution is a fighting game second to none.

9 out of 10

The author of this fine article

is a Senior Staff Writer at Thunderbolt, having joined in February 2005.

Gentle persuasion

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