A lovely present from Sega. Released for just $20 in the States, you get a tweaked-up version of VF4, a great game in its own right, with two new fighters, improved anti-aliasing, faster load times, many new and altered stages, and a vast and ingenious quest mode that delivers an unbeatable single-player experience, as far as fighting games go. Oh yeah, and you can play all the characters and stages in original flatshaded super-low-poly VF1 style, though why you'd really want to do that for more than a few minutes out of nostalgia is beyond me.
Two things disappointed me at first: you can't turn off the silly colored lighting flashes when people get hit, as you could in the original VF4, and VF4's curious "AI" mode has been removed completely. Messing with my little AI trainee's mind and watching them learn and grow as fighters was the high point of VF4 for me: fighting-game voyeurism at its best. However, I can see how most VF fans wouldn't have been too interested in it, and it's true that the AI's save files got way too big (600K a pop), so I guess its removal is understandable. And of course it's not like I can't just load up VF4 if I want to go back to it.
Another thing I'm not a huge fan of here is that character records are all tied in to a single save file on only one memory card slot: two per character, and if you want more than that, well you'll just have to remove your memory card and stick in a different one. There's gotta be a better way they can handle that.
So let's talk about the quest mode. I really liked the "Kumite" quest mode in VF4 where you play against a pretty much endless succession of unique AI opponents, gradually going up in rank and gaining items with which to customize your fighter as you win matches. However, it's true that ranking up could be very frustrating at high levels, as losing a single match could undue hours of strenuous battles, and that just going for rank again and again and again may get a bit dull eventually (I didn't play it long enough for that to happen, thank goodness: I'd just leave my AI fighting overnight and pause to watch them whenever I happened to be going past the screen). Well, Evolution's quest mode gives you many, many more things to do. So many that just deciding where to start can be a fairly daunting task for the Evolution newb.
What things? Well, this time instead of just an endless succession of random fighters, you choose various "arcades" located around the city (Tokyo, I think). Each "arcade" is home to a bunch of VF4:Evo players, each of which has their own character and fighting style. Arcades have tournaments, but before the locals will let you sign up for them you'll have to prove your worth by fighting/winning a certain number of times. While you're working on that, you can also take on little "Quest" challenges, such as throwing your opponent a certain number of times, winning five times in a row, or beating a certain character twice. These really add spice and variety to the huge amount of battling you'll be doing to earn R-E-S-P-E-C-T among the virtual arcade elite. The tournaments, of course, are incredibly tense experiences, and winning a tourney gives you a real sense of "I kick ASS!" There are also larger all-city contests where the creme-de-la-creme of the little virtual VF4:Evo world get together for massive bracketed beat-downs.
All the while you're earning money and unlocking various prizes with which to pimp out your character. I've only just started wading through the ranks in the second arcade and already I've got my Brad Burns (one of the rather unfortunately Tekken-ish-looking but very nicely-playing new characters, with some neat K-1 moves) a massive golden mohawk, pretty much the epitome of style as far as I'm concerned. What with quests and tournaments and all-city events being announced and ranking up and winning prizes there's always multiple things going on around you in this little simulated arcade scene, creating a real sense of atmosphere--quite amazing considering that they make absolutely no attempt to render the action inside these arcades: you just see the location on the city map and then a static image of the building's facade. Maybe next time around they'll have a little picture of the scrawny, bleary-eyed 12-year-old whose Shun just whupped you for the third straight time, that would be nice. But for now this is quite, quite satisfying, and at the selling price has to be considered a public service by Sega USA. Good work, folks, and give those AM2 people a big pat on the back if you stop by Tokyo.
Remember how I mentioned that "Oh yeah, and you can play all the characters and stages in original flatshaded super-low-poly VF1 style, though why you'd really want to do that for more than a few minutes out of nostalgia is beyond me"? Well, launched from Options - Special or something like that, this is actually what was a separate, limited edition release in Japan (and a pre-order bonus disc in Europe), Virtua Fighter 10th Anniversary, a combination of VF4:E's characters and move lists with VF1's style and rules. : ooo It is super smooth and removes things the VF series had acquired that I really didn't like: gone are side-stepping (VF3), hit flash FX (mandatory from VF4:E on), and ground juggles (VF4). : D
10th Anniversary's limitation of two inflexible arcade mode gauntlets--you can pick between 10 rounds of the VF1 characters, or 10 rounds vs some VF1, then later VF characters, but they always appear in the same order each time--combined with an old-school VF difficulty curve make the game feel pretty unforgiving.
On Very Easy, for instance, I can usually steamroll through all 10 rounds, and even the "Bonus Round" against Dural at the very end.
But on Normal or even Very Hard or whatever it is, the first at least two fights are *still* me steamrolling--which is to say, they're extremely boring, and feel like a waste of time, not even a warm-up--followed pretty much immediately by a fight in which *I* am suddenly the one being steamrolled; I have not yet managed to find a good difficulty zone of even one fight at about parity with my (fairly low) skill level that I can really sink my teeth into and have some good battles.
And, because the order of opponents is fixed in each of the two gauntlets, at a given skill level setting you will hit the first--and quite possibly the last--meaningful fight, where the AI level crosses your own, against the same AI character each time; for instance, playing Lau in the "Evolution" gauntlet at Normal difficulty, I find rounds 1 through 5 (that's vs Akira, Shun, Lion, Aoi, and Lei-Fei, in that order) way too easy, basically a waste of those characters as opponents; then in round 6 I'm suddenly up against Vanessa, who is suddenly catching or blocking the vast majority of my attacks, and thus creams me.
Now, the old-school gameplay would be pumping (now virtual) quarters into Vanessa until I learn whatever trick I need to beat her--then repeat the process against the next opponent, Brad, who will probably feel completely unbeatable by any normal means, at least at first.
And that's how it was in the old days. But it's much less appealing to me than just being able to play a variety of opponents at a reasonably challenging level. So, I find myself inclined to ditch 10ths two mean gauntlets for the grayer seas of Kumite / Quest Mode / Special Sparring in the more modern VF games.
Also, I'll admit that, while I do not like newfangled VF things like dodge/evade and ground juggles, they do give the games that have them a wild, loose, flowing that 10th and VF2 do not have--these "old" VF games feel unforgiving and smothering by comparison.
Forgot to mention, while the life meters in 10th Anniversary are the old-timey green and red of the early games, someone added in a new, very rapidly flashing yellow effect when life is lost. It's pretty awful, and my photosensitivity just hates it. If I'm in the right zone I can pretty much ignore it, up there at the top corners of the screen, but sometimes I can't seem to stop seeing it.
At least it's so fast that it seems to be near the right frequency for a pair of polarized, glare-resistant sunglasses to minimize. BP
These sunglasses are also pretty good against Evo's hit flash FX, and the little flash that happens when a round win marker lights up. So, maybe I'll just play Quest Mode. %_%