Virtua Fighter 2 - Sega Ages 2500
Sega's highly popular Virtua Fighter 2 jumps back to life on PS2. Has the Sega Ages 2500 series finally got it right or claimed another victim? New video included.
In 1993, amidst the 2D fighting craze stirred up by Street Fighter II and its variants, Sega's AM2 department pioneered a new breed of fighting games when it introduced Virtua Fighter into the arcade scene. As the world's first 3D fighting game, the original Virtua Fighter set a new standard in its genre. The game utilized Sega's Model 1 hardware, which first powered Virtua Racing. At the time, it was an experimental 3D arcade board co-developed by General Electric Aerospace, the company responsible for the first 3D simulators at NASA back in the '60s and was later bought out by Martin Marietta, the company that would go on to produce Sega's later, much more advanced Model 2 and 3 arcade boards.
Model 1 enabled the developers to create flat shaded, fully polygonal fighters with smooth motion-captured animation - a revolutionary combination of visuals for videogames of the time. The game featured eight playable fighters, each with distinctive fighting styles to master - a task easier said than done, since VF featured a deep fighting system with many techniques to learn.
The following year saw the release of Virtua Fighter 2, one of the most polished fighters ever made and a game that served as a great showcase for the new Model 2 arcade board. VF2 took everything that was great about the original to a whole new level, with faster and more refined gameplay, detailed texture mapped graphics, two new fighters, and greater depth with additions like counters and reversals.
Those aware of their limitations, knowing that their technique was just not strong enough to beat best players, still remained dedicated to mastering some aspect of the game, and in time persistent players were rewarded with unparalleled depth that other fighters simply could not provide.
With the popularity of Virtua Fighter 2 continuing to grow in arcades across Japan, AM2 wasn't done with the game just yet, as evidenced by the 1995 release of Virtua Fighter 2.1, which augmented the original VF2 release with slightly tweaked gameplay, designed to balance, tune and speed up a few areas, as well as a newly designed and playable Dural.
Virtua Fighter 2 was an extremely popular game with arcade goers, and Sega quickly capitalized by converting it over to the Saturn console. While the Saturn hardware lacked the 3D prowess to reproduce the entire Model 2 experience perfectly, the coding wizards at AM2 did an amazing job with the conversion, successfully retaining the 3D polygonal characters, replacing the original 3D backgrounds with 2D bitmaps, and maintaining the framerate at a blazing sixty per second - all while reproducing the detailed gameplay with total accuracy. The conversion is the highest selling 3D fighting game in Japan ever, with close to 2 million copies sold in the territory.
So with the tenth anniversary of VF2 now coming to a close, AM2 has seen fit to reawaken this classic fighter on newer, much more powerful hardware. Given the power of PS2 and the coding genius of AM2, an arcade perfect VF2 was pretty much in the bag - or so we thought. Alas, it has turned out to be yet another victim of the Sega Ages 2500 series "close but not perfect" curse.
Porting a game between two different architectures and retaining quality is rarely a straightforward task, but if you're re-releasing VF2 on something many times more powerful, anything less than arcade perfect is unacceptable, especially given the developer's amazing ability to squeeze a higher spec game like Virtua Fighter 4 onto the PS2 and keep the game looking fabulous. Unfortunately Sega Ages 2500 Virtua Fighter 2 suffers from a few problems.
The most glaring of all issues are no doubt the game's visuals. Graphically, Sega Ages Virtua Fighter 2 is noticeably battered. Everything from the character models, to the backgrounds and texture maps have been downgraded. The major problem is the texture resolution, which has been severely downgraded, giving some really pixelated surfaces, especially on the backgrounds. As if that wasn't bad enough, the frame rate tends to fluctuate occasionally, producing minor slowdown that wasn't present even in the Saturn version.
The reason for the underperformance is that AM2 decided to emulate the Model 2 hardware directly on PS2 - quite an inefficient way to go about recreating VF2 in terms of what all the processors are up to, leaving less resources for the detail itself. It's really just unacceptable, even for a budget title.
While the framerate dropping wouldn't have been so bad had it reared its head only during the pre-match, post-match sequences, the fact that it happens at random moments throughout the game makes it worth mentioning. In a game like Virtua Fighter 2 where split-second timing is often required, getting hit with slowdown can sometimes be a little distracting in the heat of battle. Fortunately it doesn't happen often enough to render the game unplayable.
On a somewhat brighter note, with the 3D backgrounds making the transition over to the PS2 intact, we finally get the cool scenic-looking bridge from Shun Di's stage that was missing in the Saturn version, along with fully 3D buildings on all of the other wonderfully designed stages. Playing with the bridge passing overhead certainly brought a smile to Adam's face - but then, he's a blatant Virtua Fighter geek. If you squint, this IS the Model 2 original in terms of overall effect, it's only when you notice the texture problem that you feel the disappointment. The artistry of the design is still wondrous, but the AM2 magic is definitely tarnished.
While the graphics are struggling with their own set of issues, the sound department has faired much better with a variety of solid sound effects ranging from the sounds of wind and crackling thunder in Sarah's level, Akira's thunderous sounding blows to the familiar winning and losing taunts and phrases. However the highlight of the audio package is no doubt the inclusion of the BGM tracks from both the Saturn and Arcade versions.
Players get to experience the original MIDI-powered synth sounds of the Yamaha soundchip in the Model 2 board (which never made it into the Saturn version totally faithfully) and the arranged digital audio renditions that debuted on the Saturn conversion. There are all kinds of sound tidbits that have been included from the arcade that never existed in previous conversions - you'd need to be pretty obsessive to notice it - but they are here, and it sounds totally like the arcade experience.
Of course, what really matters is how well it controls and plays, and Sega Ages Virtua Fighter 2 is a resounding success, since the gameplay and controls have translated perfectly from the arcade original. The computer A.I. also appears to be pretty much identical - for better or worse, as anyone who remembers the Wolf and Jeffry PPP bug will remember. You'll still face tough bouts against the likes of Lion, Kage, and Akira - even on the game's easiest setting. Control wise, and for the arcade experience, you will of course need to use the Hori VF4 Evolution arcade sticks - although the pad doesn't fare too badly.
VF2 is suitably different from VF3 and more importantly VF4 for it to warrant extended play, and even the most experienced VF4 players will have to re-adjust to the VF2 style, which could take anything from hours to days.
The game features the same Arcade, VS and Ranking Modes that could be found in previous versions of the game, while the options lets you switch between VF2 and VF2.1
And let's be honest, nothing from any other fighting game compares to the joy of battling Dural underwater. The slow-mo underwater physics makes it by far my favorite fighting game level of all time and worth putting up with some the game's other disappointing turnouts. And this time, we even get the sound distortion and echo effect that was another touch missing from the Saturn version.
The most disheartening thing about the quality of this conversion isn't that the visual quality leaves so much to be desired - it's the fact that AM2 is directly responsible for handling it. With games like Virtua Fighter 4 and its update, Evolution, running on a far more powerful arcade board than VF2's and yet still appearing near perfectly on console, it's obvious that developers are guilty of a rush job on this project.
(See Latest Videos & Video FAQ Here)
|PLEASE DO NOT DIRECT LINK TO ANY MEDIA FILE ON KIKIZO|
Virtua Fighter 2 - Sega Ages (PS2)
This is a shaky-cam video we took at TGS earlier this year and never published because we thought the result was a little crap, but since we haven't bothered to take any direct feed of this game, you'll just have to make do, won't you? A few different stages and fighters are shown here. (640x480, 1.6Mbps)