One of my most vivid arcade memories was the very first time I saw Virtua Fighter in action. It was a giant sit-down cabinet with multiple CRTs stacked on top of one another, the images from the game encompassing them as if they were one screen. It was the first 3D game I’d ever seen, so in my young mind I’d surmised that the images were simply too intense for one screen. I remember a lot about that arcade trip, being the same one that saw my first ever co-op victory on an X-Men machine, but for some reason that I can’t recall, even though the image is clearly burned into my head, I didn’t play Virtua Fighter that day.
Maybe it was too expensive to play or it caught my eye as I was just walking out, but for a while, Virtua Fighter was this mythical thing that I’d convinced myself I simply imagined. Of course, the various magazines I read confirmed its existence, going over-the-top in praising the sequel (the aptly named Virtua Fighter 2) for its balance in depth, far beyond any other 3D fighter at the time.
I didn’t quite get it at first. Even with my natural inclination to love anything with a Sega logo on it, I couldn’t grasp all of the layers that hid underneath the relatively basic framework. As with most games I obsess over, I eventually started to piece everything together, but I also recognize that most simply never had the patience. That’s always been one of the biggest things getting in Virtua Fighter’s way, I think. The fighting game genre as a whole already has issues with its numerous barriers for entry and for most outsiders, getting good at Virtua Fighter seems like work.
Or seemed like work, rather. As much as it pains me, it’s not exactly a series brimming through the public consciousness much anymore, Final Showdown seeming like the full stop on a well-written but rather dry sentence. It makes sense. The cast doesn’t have the.. ahem… “personality” of the DOA girls, nor do you fight any dinosaurs or bears, so it struggled to find a place in the modern landscape.
It’s a real goddamn shame since Final Showdown is so good, even while playing alone. I still have fond memories of the summer I spent working through the entirety of Virtua Fighter 4’s elaborate tutorials, all of the knowledge still at my fingertips whenever I come back to kick some people in the face with Sarah, making sure to shimmy her feet back and forth with confidence after every knockdown. It is like a dance, in a way. High level Virtua Fighter is likely the closest we’ll ever see to choreographed movie fights in an interactive form, at least, that’s what I keep telling myself.
Sometimes we feel the need to overcompensate in support of the underdogs we champion, even if they’ve long been capable of holding their own.
I just wish more people cared.