Sometimes you can’t help but sit back and recline that a legacy is secure. The mark one VW Golf gti for instance, or the George Foreman grill. Some things just are, and always will be, and it is common knowledge.
Or you think it is, but oftentimes, in our personal legacy list, things that you left in someone else took out. And it can take years to sort one from the other. For instance, The Black Crowes album Amorica; I had assumed its position in culture was certain, given that it was harder than grunge and oh so lightning with whimsy. It turns out that after so long of thinking it was general legacy, it was just one for me.
Same thing with Virtua Fighter 3, because behind the back of my attention, question marks appear circling for carrion. Well not on my watch. Not now that I have come to my attention and turned to see what’s going on. Besmirching, that’s what. Hold my pint, this needs seeing too.
Virtua Fighter is not clunky
Virtua Fighter has always been a game that some unfortunate terms have been hung upon. Technical, clunky, floaty and other general misunderstandings do circle it, but I never thought for a moment that Virtua Fighter 3 was going to be written up as anything less than a titan of its time. The last word from a series of games that defined polygon people with the first entry, cranked up all the textual faders for the second and went hitherto unknown for fidelity with the third.
In terms of tech, no one came near to what Sega’s arcade teams were developing with, and running on the fresh Model 3 board, Virtua Fighter 3 cleared off over the horizon. Tekken 3? Amazing when it arrived on PlayStation, but out in the wild of the arcades, parked up next to Virtua Fighter 3? Entirely different weight divisions, but Virtua Fighter always was really. Sharper at the front end but looser at the grip than all the competition. I think some of those misunderstandings are simply a matter of timing.
To demonstrate we shall set our clock back for the October release of Sega’s Dreamcast across Europe in 1999, but then begin to look backwards from there because time travel always has to be unreasonably complicated. Virtua Fighter 3tb was a PAL launch game for the machine, because of course it was, even though Sega had scored only passing trade with the franchise outside Japan up to this point, and Virtua Fighter 3 was a three year old game by then. People were used to it. When I bought an imported Dreamcast almost a year before I had a much different reaction.
Almost arcade perfect
Stunning to behold was the game at home. Not quite arcade perfect (not quite programmed by Sega themselves either) but Tekken 3 was definitively put away. Dreamcast had marked a new generation, and not in some stumbling 3DO fashion, but with intent. All those ploygnomes that made up Akira and company, the detailing and undulating stages, the exquisite sense of pace and reaction time, both from you as a player and the game in reaction to inputs. I don’t think any polygnomic character had, up to that point, moved with such speed. They could almost have been sprites. It was immediately the premier 3-D fighter on console as of November 1998, if you could get your hands on it.
A lot happened in the year that led up to the Euro launch. Sonic Adventure became a rolling tech demo and promotional video for Sega going into 1999, and the arcade board variant of the Dreamcast, Naomi was getting rented out and ragged all over the place. Previously resting giant Tecmo had borrowed Sega tech already to make their smackdown’n’smut spectacular, Dead or Alive, but running on Naomi, Dead or Alive 2 looked like a finely layered French pastry next to the Mr Kipling of everything else. Honestly, even Virtua Fighter 3 looked a bit 3 a.m. next to this.
Then Namco took a swing with a game so legacy it was already cast into its broadsword; Namco on Sega hardware, this would be machine-selling stuff I thought, and will keep people from buying Virtua Fighter 3 if Namco got it out for launch, which they near enough did, and it very much did keep people away. Soul Calibur looked better and Virtua Fighter already had that reputation. Good for Namco though.
(I’d paid out a ransom for an import copy of Soul Calibur myself and I could see the appeal. It was stunning and still restrained enough to have not fallen into the combo-mania pit that came upon almost all fighters soon after. Props to Namco, they deserve the popular vote and some bad luck for Sega. )
But Virtua Fighter 3tb still played better. Now I had thought that this was all understood but it seems someone is going to have to go through it again. I am happy to do so. Let’s look at some complaints and clear away this mess.
Wrong opinions of Virtua Fighter 3 Team Battle debunked
A regular opinion of upset amongst the incorrect is that the game is a bit floaty. Now if that is meant to suggest that the game has the poise and speed of a water boatman then that is absolutely true. But of course that isn’t what is meant by floaty. They mean that when you go to jump it feels as though you are jumping through water. Hmm… yes, I am a bit had on that one. The common answer was that the programmers wanted to deter jumping and keep the action grounded, but why they thought this was a solution to a problem that only they saw I don’t know. For players the solution is simple. Don’t go jumping around. Dreamcast had Power Stone for those who wanted to get up to that.
The surrounding stages aren’t quite right and interfere with gameplay. I beg your pardon. Are you collapsed in the brain? I recently wrote about the art and delivery of game backgrounds, the top-tier ones as I saw it, and while Virtua Fighter always had stages rather than backgrounds, the same quality is here. Drunk-fu Master Shun Di went from having a flat floating platform stage in Virtua Fighter 2 to a floating, shifting raft of pallet wood’n’boat for the third game. It was a living thing, like scoring a ring-out off a rooftop on Pai Chan’s stage. Living, but in a supporting role. Dead or Alive 2 would soon blow the lid off staging by having fights topple over waterfalls and crashing through stained glass windows. Dynamic as heck but also more of a central character itself.
A third participant. It was becoming a bit of a crowd. You might get knocked against the Great Wall of China, but a couple of presses of the Escape button would shuffle you back to where you wanted to be. Now apparently, some of the professional crowd made noises about getting stuck on occasion and then the layman started crowing about it, like businessmen who pick at each other’s Porsches thinking that they are driving Le Mans and not the M6. Let’s have an end to it. Goodness me.
Lovely. Now where was I?
Ah, yes. Admittedly, this has been a haphazard effort of vanguard-ary. As I say I had no idea that this game had slipped from its rightful position, and there remains a great deal more to say in both defence and general mastication of its greatness. Getting all upset like that has parched my throat so I will take that pint back and finish it first.
John is a writer and gardener. He comes with various 90’s Sega attachments and is the author of The Meifod Claw and other works. His favorite tree is a copper beech and he would like his coffee black without sugar, thank you.