Saturday, February 23, 2008

Sega Ages 2500 Vol. 16: Virtua Fighter 2 Review

While the original Virtua Fighter was a solid game that helped introduce 3D fighters to the world, its sequel, Virtua Fighter 2, was where the series really found its rhythm. Running on Sega's new Model 2 board, the graphics had been improved dramatically from the original, adding texture maps and nearly doubling the polygon count. The fighting system had been reworked as well. Though still relying on only three buttons, almost all areas were expanded, adding more moves, more characters (Shun and Lion), and more depth, while still retaining the basic VF formula. With the booming arcade scene of the time and the demand for fighting games, Virtua Fighter 2 was a success in Japan and America. (On a side note, my small, redneck hometown had a Virtua Fighter 3 machine at the local Wal-Mart. In hindsight, I'm completely baffled as to why.) VF2 was the right game at the right time - having some of the greatest graphics of the era, amazing gameplay, and players willing to pump quarter after quarter into the machine.

With a game this successful, it was only a matter of time before a console version came around, and Sega delivered VF2 to the Saturn in 1995. Though the Model 2 board was more powerful than the Saturn, the AM2 developers were able to crunch out a great, though graphically reduced, port of the game. The 3D backgrounds and Shun's infamous bridge were removed, while polygons were cut out of the characters. Even so, VF2 was one of the few games to run in the Saturn's high-res mode, even higher than its arcade counterpart. Gameplay was ported intact, with every character’s moves making the transition. Although hardcore VF2 players might have complained about subtle differences from the arcade version, it was an amazing conversion. GamePlayers (or was it Ultra GamePlayers by now?) gave the VF2 a score of 9.9 - at that point, their highest ever.Ten years later, Virtua Fighter 2 finds itself on the PS2, a machine that is more than capable of handling this game. Somehow, things got lost along the way. This was the first Model 2 port in the Sega Ages line, and unfortunately, I think that is the game's real downfall, as later games in the Ages line-up would be free of the flaws in this one. Rather than take the time to fix the bugs on this release, it was thrown out the door before it was fully cooked.

The graphics have taken the biggest hit, and this a pretty big disappointment. For the most part, the game looks like the arcade VF2, but some things have gone awry. Upon entering the character select screen, it is evident something has not gone right. The eyebrows and facial features of the characters have become a pixelated mess, as all of the textures have been significantly blurred or downgraded. Supposedly, the original source code wasn't available, so the game was emulated rather than being programmed directly for the PS2. This really shouldn't be that big of a problem, since the other Model 2 Sega Ages games are being emulated as well.

As far as playing the game, the ugly textures don’t really have an effect, but it is disappointing to see a ten year old game with these graphical flaws. Background textures have been reduced. Some seem to have been changed. Character faces and clothes are blurry. But not every texture is like this. Sometimes the ground looks great, while other times, it looks like a blurry mess. It's better than the Saturn, but not arcade-perfect.
Fortunately, all of the geometry from the arcade is there. This means that the 3D backgrounds are intact and Shun's bridge finally makes its way to a home console. Other elements left out from the Saturn version are included, such as the smoke in Pai's stage and the light posts for Wolf's cage. Small touches, such as coconuts dropping in Jeffrey's stage and birds flying in Lau’s, are nice to finally see at home. Characters look slightly blockier than the Saturn version, apparently due to the gouraud shading that was applied in that release.

Other reviews have pointed out that the colors on this release are darker than the arcade or Saturn. Just in general, things are off, color-wise. While it is noticeable, as backgrounds and blacks look partially washed out, it really wasn't as bad as I was expecting. It is still, however, there. This too probably has to do with the emulation of Model 2 lighting effects, as PC emulation for certain Model2 games (such as Daytona USA) seems to have similar problems. In an article on Sega of Japan's website, the programmers for the port posted their problems in attempting to emulate the Model 2's handling of lights and textures.

Now for some good news: The music from the game sounds great. Tunes from the arcade original or the Saturn version are available, and blast in all of their digital glory. And some bad news: The rest of the sounds don't seem to hold up so well, though. The voices and sound effects are grainy, like they've been recorded at a really low sample rate. There's little "oomph" to the kicks and punches and everything sounds grainy. I broke out my Saturn to compare, and it’s got the same problems. Fortunately, all of the original sounds from the arcade make it in, as several had been cut from the Saturn's VF2.The game plays like it should, running, for the most part, at the arcades 57.5 frames per second. This is slightly slower than the Saturn version, which is barely a noticeable difference. Characters do float a bit differently than on the Saturn, as well. Despite the graphical issues, play-wise, this is the arcade game. Occasionally, the frame-rate drops below the 57.5 it should run at, which is frustrating not only while trying to time attacks, but that it shouldn't be happening on a game that was created over 10 years ago. It really is just the sign of a lazy port.

The PS2 controller rears its ugly head again. It's not it's uncomfortable to hold, but that the direction pad is just awful for fighters. I'm really surprised I made it through VF4: Evo with the thing, not to mention the troubles I'm having with VF2.

From the select screen, arcade, versus, or ranking mode can be selected. Expert mode is not available right off of the bat, though it can still be accessed using the arcade code. I'm not sure why exactly it was left out from the selection screen while ranking mode can still be selected right from the get-go. I guess it's not that big of a deal, but it just seems to be another sign of a lazy port.If you've got Virtua Fighter 2 on the Saturn, there is really no reason to get this version. While it's the first time that the 3D backgrounds have come over intact in a home port of VF2, it's still not an arcade-perfect version, and the backgrounds alone aren't worth the price. Ultimately, it's still the same game that's been on the Saturn all of these years. There are differences between that Saturn and the arcade VF2, but anyone who is still worried about it at this point probably already has the PCB sitting in their home.


Comparison shots taken from this forum post.

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