Sega Ages 2500 Series Vol.16: Virtua Fighter 2

The back of Virtua Fighter 2‘s box is keen to highlight not only AM2’s direct involvement in this port but also its extreme technical accuracy, leading with information on the game’s oddball 57.5FPS refresh rate, precisely matching the arcade original. Even the tiny red-on-black text further down, explaining that OK, it’s actually 60FPS because that’s how TV’s work but don’t worry because they’ve done a technical thing with some inserted frames to make it indistinguishable from the real thing, has an air of nerdy confidence about it: this is right, we know it’s right—and we know you care.

It may not sound like much, but this is the start of a new relationship between the Sega Ages 2500 series and us. From this point on the series is going to assume we notice this sort of thing, and we will appreciate it when they make the effort to get it right. We don’t want a similar-ish remake. We aren’t picking these up for mere convenience’s sake or because they’re cheap. We are being defined as Sega gamers in a post-Dreamcast era, and that means we are dedicated to the hobby and we want this done properly, our pixels perfect and our polygons pointy.

So the sadly tainted 3D Ages branding has been ditched, and the need to “enhance” (successfully or otherwise) these old games with it. The aim from this point on is to make classic games available on the PlayStation 2 and let people get on with playing them. A good Sega game, presented well, is enough on its own to justify its existence and its purchase.

So Virtua Fighter 2 dispenses with the showier frills—there are no new costumes based on later games in the series, no modernised movesets, no cut characters restoredFighters Megamix style—and instead chooses to focus on the minor details that turn a good port into a great one.

Many of these small but significant features are found in the options menu, offering a string of tweaks that allow you to tailor the game to your own specific needs. Both the 2.0 and 2.1 versions of the game are included and available to play, even though pretty much everyone will want to use v2.1: the updated version of the game, and this port’s default setting (the manual does include a brief explanation of the differences between the two). So why include 2.0 at all? Historical value’s one good reason: why wouldn’t a retro package want to preserve as many (consumer-ready) versions of a game as possible? Curiosity’s another: the chance to try out both for yourself rather than merely be told which one’s best. Nostalgia’s important too: 2.0 may not be the most “correct” version of the game, but if that was the one at your local arcade, or the one you spent an entire summer holiday playing one year, then being able to spend some time with that again will mean far more to you than any new features or technical rebalancing. The point is, it’s up to you. You’ve been given the choice and trusted to make your own decision.

Nestled amongst the other features in the options menu is the ability to select on of three different display modes: the raw original Model 2 resolution of 496×384, another that maintains this aspect ratio but enlarges the image, and finally the first choice stretched to fit a (4:3) screen. Just for once all three are handled well, with the default being of a reasonable size and the screen-filling alternatives not looking stretched or smeared.

Best of all it’s been set up so those who wanted to hear Jacky say “I’m faster than lightning!” one more time will find the default settings provide a perfectly normal Virtua Fighter 2 experience, while the sort of person who studies frame data for fun and knows the difference between a 2A and a 2B Model 2 boards without looking it up can easily create the Sega fighting experience of their dreams.

Once you’ve picked either arcade, versus, or ranking mode (there’s no practice mode to while away the hours with, although the back half of the manual is dedicated to extensive character movelists if your memory happens to get a little fuzzy once you’ve exhausted the usual PPK combos) the game continues with its dedication to bringing the arcade experience home, every bout loading quickly and every little stage detail, from the wind-caught leaves in Lau’s arena to the stone bridges on Shun’s stage passing overhead, present, correct, and where applicable in 3D for the first time on a home console.

Unfortunately, striving for arcade perfection doesn’t mean the team working on the game were able to ignore the PlayStation 2’s technical limitations. The textures—often seen in extreme close-up on the character select screen and during many victory poses—are of a significantly lower quality than those found in the original, the disparity between the two great enough that it’s painfully obvious even if you only have some general memory of playing Virtua Fighter 2 in an arcade years ago to go on. This port just isn’t as sharp and clean as the game it’s based on, and there’s no use pretending otherwise.

Disappointing? Yeah, a little. But the quality and attention to detail seen in every other aspect of this port implies that this is truly the best that could be done, or at least the best that could be done within the time/budget given, and once you get past this quibble there’s no doubt this is Virtua Fighter 2 as it’s always been: a superb fighting game that is still rightfully considered one of the shining examples of its genre. The game has a timeless quality to it, it’s one of those games where everything just feels right, where everyone with the slightest interest in the genre already has a favourite character and stage. Its lack of obvious spectacle—Sarah’s lightning-lit stage background is about as “showy” as the game ever gets—prevents it from visually ageing in any obvious way. Virtua Fighter 2 has never tried to do anything Virtua Fighter 2 couldn’t do really well.

While it may not be perfect, it’s clear this is a turning point for a retro-focused series that Sega could have quietly shut down several times before this release and not exactly been blamed for doing so. There’s real effort in here, a real desire to create the very best home Virtua Fighter 2 experience and by extension turn the Sega Ages 2500 series into something worth persevering with on both sides of the publisher/consumer divide.

Almost twenty years (!!) may have passed since this PlayStation 2 port’s debut, but it’s still the best physically-released standalone version of the game you can buy, even if it does fall short of the graphical finesse found in the later Xbox 360/PS3 releases (as you’d almost hope it would) and the freebie arcade machines tucked away as a cute bonus feature in Yakuza: Like A Dragon. It may not be an exciting purchase in many ways—we are not short of Virtua Fighters to play in one way or another, even if the series isn’t active in the same way its competitors are—but the game remains an essential experience, on PlayStation 2 as it is anywhere else.

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