RETRO REBOOT | Virtua Fighter Remix (Sega Saturn)

That's right, it's another Sega Saturn review. I talk a TON about the Sega Saturn (don't expect that to change anytime soon) and fighting games (also not changing). Surprising myself with this one, only because I'm miffed I haven't found a reason to talk about the game responsible for me becoming the fighting game mark that I am, Virtua Fighter. While the franchise is out of the public spectrum today, it was the first 3D tournament fighter developed, and one of the most important video games ever made. Street Fighter II: Champion Edition was the first fighter I studied, Virtua Fighter was the first fighter I wanted to MASTER. 

When the original Virtua Fighter was released on the Saturn, it was not very optimal. In an effort to make it as direct a port of the arcade game (which was built off the Sega Model 1 chip set), the rendering on character models was spotty and very glitchy as hell with a ton of flickering. Virtua Fighter Remix was a visual upgrade that removed said issues, beefed up the polygon count considerably, and added more texture to the character models, showcasing the power of the Saturn architecture. Each character received stylish hand drawn art for the character select screen, aiding in providing Akira, Pai, Lau, Wolf, Jeffry, Kage (pronounced "Kah-gae"), Sarah, and Jacky a little more personality. 

It looked like a brand new game, and if North American consumers pre-registered, Virtua Fighter Remix was free in-bundle game upon purchase. Rather than the standard long jewel boxes, Remix came in cardboard promotional sleeve. This is how my family ended up with a copy of the game in 1995. If there is any setback, the new character models omit the lighting on the original blocky fighters, so everyone looks unnaturally bright. While it is distracting, I personally LIKED this, as I felt it made the "pop" more, even if it gave off a phony clipart presentation.

Gameplay wise, Virtua Fighter Remix is unchanged. Being the first of its kind, Virtua Fighter shows the promise of what a 3D fighting game can be capable of, even with some shortcomings. Physics and fighting philosophy would be considerably different from its 2D brother, the game design choices would have great implications on characters and their fighting styles. This is one of Sega AM2's greatest traits, each playable fighter sports unique techniques and forms of hand-to-hand combat, from Jeet Kun Do, Mizongquan, to pro wrestling. 

That being said, the first Virtua Fighter can be a little bit rough to revisit. That's mostly due to the leaps its sequels take when it comes to game design. While characters are 3D models, the fighting still mostly takes place on a two-dimensional plain, and the action can feel a little overly floaty. With two attack buttons for punching and kicking and a button dedicated to blocking, each fighter has a pretty substantial moveset. It can take some time to get a hang on how each fighter works, but the game's depth is engrossing. Special moves are one thing, but knowing how and why the attacks and when to play defensive teaches fundamentals that can be applied to any fighter.

Virtua Fighter also introduced Ring Outs, which plays a lot into the offensive and defensive meta of the game, generally understanding how to play as a total bully, or knowing when to counter. For instance, Akira (one of the more complex and advanced fighters), has several momentum-based throws. One well-timed grab can yank your opponent over the edge. Environmental hazards would be seen in future series like the Dead or Alive and Soul Calibur franchises. 

The first Virtua Fighter was a watershed moment for fighting game development, and established Sega AM2's line of fighters as staples of the genre throughout the 90's. I'll always have tremendous respect for its design, purity, and depth, and while the lore isn't reflective in its single player mode, I've always found the cast to be very memorable and charming. I'd say the first game may not be necessarily a must-play, due to how it's aged, but many of its rules remain intact from this entry and can be felt even up to Virtua Fighter 5. Should you indulge, Remix is the definitive way to play it on console.

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