The years 1996 and '97 sure bring back some memories, particularly arcade related ones. The console revolution was in full swing and everyone could finally experience the gameplay quality that up until now was exclusive to the arcades. Just when I thought things couldn't get eny better, Sega unleashed their Model 3 arcade hardware. September of '96 marks the date when everything changed and the future arrived. To see one million polygons in motion, forged into a fighting game by the AM2 team led by Yu Suzuki was an experience unmatched to this date. Virtua Fighter 3 became a benchmark and other games would be measured by its greatness for many years to come.
Virtua Fighter 3 was faster, better and more complex than any other fighting game seen before. It was a marvel both in terms of graphics and gameplay depth. Terrain variations on full 3D arenas plus the evade button made this title into the very first fully three dimensional fighting game ever made. In 1997 Sega released an updated version of their smash hit and added the team mode, thus the name "Team Battle".
Before I go any further into writing this entry, let me explain the first photo, which might seem a bit out of place for some. 1997 was the year when Virtua Fighter 3: Team Battle arrived, but it was also the year when Capcom released their CPS-III hardware along with Street Fighter III: New Generation. Namco followed shortly after and released Tekken 3 on their new System 12 hardware. Each one of these games was groundbreaking in their own ways and I will never forget the years when this trio ruled the arcades all over the world. Let's get back on the subject of Virtua Fighter 3 though.
Nowdays, whenever an important title premieres at the arcades, it's usually ported to one of the home platforms pretty quickly. Back in '96 there was no console on the market that could be match for Sega's Model 3. Virtua Fighter 3 had to wait for a suiting hardware to appear and so, after over two years from the arcade release, it finally got ported to Dreamcast and this is where things went wrong. Swamped with Dreamcast projects, Sega themselves didn't have the time to handle the console port of their flag title, so instead the game was ported by Genki.
Even though Sega's then upcoming platform had more than enough power to ensure an arcade perfect conversion, the development process was rushed to meet the Dreamcast launch date amd the conversion suffered greatly. The number of polygons was lowered which was clearly noticable, especially in the clothing which lacked the same amount of detail the arcade version had. Despite that, Virtua Fighter 3 managed to become one of the best selling titles on the Dreamcast and is still a great game which includes unique features that are yet to return to the series.
My Virtua Fighter 3 story doesn't end yet, so don't go anywhere. We all know Shenmue, the overly-ambitious Yu Suzuki project that never saw an end. Before it ever came out, it was codenamed Project Berkley and those who bought the first edition [Numbered HDR-0002. Edition numbered HDR-0017 is a second run and comes in a standard jewel case, unlike the first edition, which comes in a double.] of Virtua Fighter 3 for Dreamcast could take a sneak peek at the game. The Project Berkley GD-ROM disc found in the VF3 game case contains a 30 minute long interview with Yu Suzuki, who first talks about each and every one of his earlier projects and explains what he was trying to acomplish with them. Later he talks about Shenmue and his thoughts on the RPG genre. Suzuki San thought it would only be appropriate to create a whole new genre for his mastodont of a project and so FREE [Full Reactive Eyes Entertainment] genre was born.
Throughout the whole interview, Yu Suzuki is rather vague when it comes to Shenmue details. He talks quite a bit about his understanding of a creative process. The player should not be constrained by too many boundries and progression in the game should be seen as a free choice, but a choice that a player wants to make. This is all pretty interesting and it shows how Suzuki evolved as a game designer. Not many have the same opportunity to make games as they see them, without anyone else breathing down their necks.
Even before the Suzuki talk starts, we get to see some Shenmue footage from a very early developement stage, including a handfull of scenes never seen in the game. In the later part of the video we also get a glimpse of character concept sketches and here we'll see many characters we already know [or rather those who have played Shenmue games know] but also many that were yet to appear. All in all, Project Berkley is packed with interesting material and this disc alone is a good enough reason to justify a purchase of first edition of the Virtua Fighter 3 Team Battle for the Dreamcast.
If you by any chance see a Virtua Fighter 3 cabinet, don't forget to show this marvelous machine some love. This brilliant piece of hardware and software was lightyears ahead of the competition when it first appeared and it still plays great even today. It's time to finish this entry, but before you leave, click on the thumbnail above and watch some footage from a beta version of the game to see a couple of outfits that didn't make it in the final release. While watching, notice the music, especially on Pai's rooftop stage. It sounds different [and worse] on Dreamcast. Yep, that's another one of Genki's gifts to us, people who wanted a 1:1 arcade conversion.
Lastly, one more picture and a rare sight indeed. Virtua Fighter, Virtua Fighter 2, Virtua Fighter 3 and Virtua Fighter Kids side by side in one of Akiba's arcades. This picture was taken during the peak of Virtua Fighter 4's popularity and at least a dozen of Virtua Fighter 4 machines can be seen in the background along with arcade staff members wearing VF4 jackets.
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