Shin Force | Sega Saturn Review

Shin Force > Systems > Sega Saturn > Reviews N-Z

Shin Force ~ Saturn ~
Virtua Fighter Remix
Geoffrey Duke
1x CD
Jul. 14, 1995 (Japan)
Sep.1995 (USA)
Oct. 27, 1995 (EUR)
Arcade/Vs. Fighting
Arcade Stick
Backup 17
     > It's no secret that the Saturn was rushed to market in Japan mere weeks before the initial launch of Sony's Playstation packaged with a very rushed conversion of Virtua Fighter which was a very popular "dated" flat-shaded polygon-based arcade game in Japan at the time (and the very first fighting game to experiment with 3D graphics). Sega of Japan was so terrified of the Playstation seizing the market at the time that the people there felt they were left with no other choice. Big mistake IMO; they could have afforded to wait in order to deliver more polished launch titles (and perhaps an even more powerful Saturn). With such a popular arcade game on Sega's side, there was no need to be so hasty if its home debut was so long-awaited. Daytona USA also suffered at the hands of an impossibly short development time for this console with dual processors that the industry just wasn't ready for yet. So... to make amends for the (graphically) under-achieving original Saturn conversion of VF, Sega decided to give this flagship Saturn title a colorful makeover. *This* is the version of Virtua Fighter that *should* have been launched with the Saturn in America and Europe, since it holds its own against Tekken and Toshinden, two sleek Playstation launch titles, when set side-by-side. Had Sega releasd VF Remix and an improved Daytona USA (with reduced draw-in, a smoother frame rate and a sharper appearance), it would have made a world of difference in the Saturn's market share. Rushing the Saturn out in Japan was one thing; expecting the same trick to work twice outside of Japan with hardly any killer launch titles (against Sega of America president Tom Kalinski's advice who wanted more time to prepare better launch titles to give the Saturn a fighting chance) was another when facing much sleeker competition. In fact, it was a disaster waiting to happen. However, kudos to Sega of America for doing the right thing (for once) by giving this game away to registered American Saturn owners.
     > Good. The flat-shaded polygons of the original game have disappeared to be replaced (or in other words, mapped) with vibrant, colorful textures. These rainbow-like textures bear all the hallmarks of a true Sega game (Dragon Force and Skies of Arcadia with their rich colors are two more fine examples of games that scream Sega quality). The arenas, and now texture-mapped character models (replacing the blocky flat-shaded models of before) are sharper and less-jagged than before (thanks to) running in the Saturn's medium 640 * 224 resolution (if I'm not mistaken) with all the life-like movement animations of the original. The frame rate doesn't go higher than 30 FPS, but neither did the original. There's no blatant texture tears or unseemly draw-in now either that might drive you to distraction. Also, instead of flat-shaded polygonal faces shown in the character select screen, Sega replaced them with very colorfully stylish anime portraits. Even if the new texture-mapped models are still somewhat blocky in the main game, how can I not be impressed? Overall, Sega did an excellent job in redeeming the mistake of not bringing the best possible version of this game to the Saturn the first time.
     > This area of the game is more or less exactly the same as the first game, so I have no cause to complain. The game has a simple to learn punch, kick, block interface that has more depth than it would first appear on the surface (this also makes the game highly importable from Japan too). A wide range of different combination attacks of punches, kicks on top of grapple throws (and the ability to pounce on downed opponents) are available to anyone prepared to delve deeper into the game. You must either knock an opponent out of the ring or simply knock them out (by reducing their health meter at the top of the screen to zero before time runs out if there's a timer on) to clear your path to victory. Jacky Bryant who specializes in Jet Kun Do (the martial arts Bruce Lee pioneered whose strength comes from sheer speed far ahead of raw physical strength) is easily my favorite character, as he is simple to learn yet difficult to master with impressive round-house kicks, in addition to a vici
ous back-flip kick (a back-flip followed by a back-flip kick was always a fulfilling combo to execute in this series with good timing). And of course, what Sega AM2 fighting game would be truly complete without at least one ninja? Kage's kick-throw, throwing an opponent high into the air, and Sarah Bryant's triple kick (three quick kicks in a row up the height of the body) were always moves that made me grow fond of the arcade game. 8 main characters and 1 hidden robotic boss character all with 700+ moves between them are waiting to be mastered. Want to play with a friend? Be my guest.
     > This area is more or less exactly the same as the original game again. Sound effects are still clear enough for you to take notice. The impact sounds of kicks and punches hitting combatants sound exaggerated and the music thankfully doesn't bore you to death. The English commentator's voice is naturally (for an arcade game) loud and exuberant in a not-so-serious manner. The character select screen music is by far my favorite with nicely increasingly dramatic beats to it.
     > Quite simply put, VF Remix is the same game as VF only with a graphical upgrade ("...all the glitches from the original have been taken out, plus texture mapping has been added to the characters, and the graphics on the fighter select screen have been given the anime treatment."). I like to think of it as a nice coat of polish. Collision detection feels slightly tweaked to me as well, though, even if the pace of the game isn't up to speed with its deeper sequels. There are no fireballs and no weapons of any kind, yet the patented VF combat system (later used in Yu Suzuki's own Shenmue which surprisingly began life on the Saturn) is still as fun as ever. Too bad very few people outside of Japan took to it. The game focuses less on storytelling than other fighters and much more on fighting itself (without even a semblance of storyline), making it less intriguing to gamers who want to empathize with any of the characters. Giving the series a much darker look as we see in VF4 and the forthcoming VF5 may be the bait it needs to draw people in, while the deep combat system will hopefully keep fighting fan(atic)s hooked for a long time to come.

     > When in the right hands, the Saturn was more than a match for the Playstation. Let's not pretend otherwise just because it's more convenient to attribute the Saturn's downfall to a lack of raw power. Dead or Alive on the Saturn is far more technically impressive than the Playstation version that came out *later* believe it or not. The Saturn was designed to use quadrangular polygons and although these quads could fill more space than the Playstation's triangular polygons (so matching polygon counts wasn't a problem), the latter (triangles) were far easier to manipulate than the former (quads). Personally, I think the fatal mistake Sega made here was launching a console with dual processors hardly anyone understood (even developers at Sega). Sega of Japan didn't exactly help matters by choosing to build the Saturn out of on-the-shelf parts instead of state-of-the-art hardware, which Kalinski had recommended hiring Silicon Graphics to build around a simpler to understand single chip precessor. Not even veteran third party developers like Capcom could figure out how to co-ordinate/sync the Saturn's dual processors properly to muster the best possible performance out of them (parallel processing on a hardware level). The end result was that many Saturn third party developers only harnessed one out of the two Saturn twin processors... which was a shame to say the least. Good graphics engines (which Sega should have provided) were scarce, good third party developers not taking bribes from Sony for exclusive support were scarcer, and anyone who aimed to get the most out of the Saturn (to the extent we see in the high res. Athlete Kings/Decathlete) needed to code in Assembly language when everyone was using C/C++. Who knows? If it wasn't for that, Sega may still be making consoles now.

     > The Saturn's lack of inbuilt hardware support for 3D transparency effects was undeniably a killer blow to its chances of success too; an ugly "net curtain" effect was used where proper transparencies should have been used instead (Travelers Tales refined it, however, to what they called "pixie dust", a very fine mist effect in Sonic R). Also... too few Saturn games used the Saturn's highest resolution (704 X 480) mode because the Saturn's processors weren't speedy enough to use it in games with high polygon counts without compromising frame rates even half the time, so it was only used in a handful of games like Riglord Saga 2 (one of my own personal favorites). Of course, Team Andromeda were no strangers to parallel processing, having worked on arcade boards with dual processors for years prior to the unveiling of the Saturn. This experience is evident in the Panzer Dragoon games as TA crammed in flat 2D planes masquerading as convincing transparency effects (albeit "pseudo-3D transparencies" rendered "via the background processor, which can more or less put two properly texture-mapped translucent perspective correct planes"). Who would have thought that transparent riverscapes were possible on the "underpowered" "less 3D capable" Saturn?! 

     > The (often misunderstood) Saturn had wonderful 2D sprite handling capabilities on top of its decent 3D performance (when in the right hands as I noted earlier). Some of the Saturn's best games (tailored specifically for the Saturn hardware) are in fact those that blend 2D sprites with 3D graphics seamlessly (otherwise known as "2.5D" games) like Dragon Force, Guardian Heroes, Grandia and Shining The Holy Ark. While 32bit 3D graphics have aged terribly to become an eye-sore, the 2D sprites in Guardian Heroes etc. still manage to be a sight for sore eyes for the simple reason that they will never age. I just wish more games had followed in their footsteps to show the world what the Saturn was truly capable of; these were the games the Saturn was best equipped to handle IMO. Sony lent a helping hand in preventing these games from thriving by attempting to ban 2D games altogether in order to bring us out of "the dark ages" and usher in the dawn of the 3D era (something Capcom didn't appreciate). Way to go Sony!

Bottom Line
     > If you're looking for fireballs, look elsewhere. When you put Virtua Fighter Remix next to Panzer Dragoon (with its reflective water effects) and Guardian Heroes (with its awesome combination of detailed, colorful ageless hand-drawn sprites scaling in and out/back and forth of equally detailed and colorful 3D backdrops), it boggles the mind to think that the Saturn wasn't considered to be a capable console in its early life. It had a lot of potential and a lot of that potential unfortunately went to waste in some Saturn games (see Panzer Dragoon Saga or try searching for some screenshots of Shenmue for the Saturn to see the Saturn at its peak, pushing the console to its limits and beyond).

     > Unlike the home version of Virtua Fighter 2 for the Saturn, which was quite a downgrade from the arcade version (don't even try to deny it) lacking all the fully 3D backgrounds etc., and unlike Fighting Vipers which went the pure gameplay-over-graphics route by retaining the 60 frames per second gameplay of the arcade game while sacrificing much of its detail to include too ambitious caged arenas that paid the price of low res. visuals and low polygon models (when Sega could have cut the frame rate in half and doubled the amount of detail seen on-screen), VF Remix is actually a step up from the original arcade game I so enjoyed more than a decade ago, so finding a reasonably-priced copy even today (and the CGI artwork Sega of Japan released) is money well-spent (don't even bother with the original Saturn and 32X conversions, for their stick-figure graphics leave something to be desired). I lack the words to express how great the hand-drawn artwork on the front of the Japanese copy's jewel-case is, and the screens on the back make for a great preview of this game. The European box cover doesn't do half as good a job at drawing your gaze (why it was changed here is beyond me). Too bad VF Remix wasn't originally packaged with the Saturn so as to give a better impression of the console's potential.

Overall: 9.0 | Graphics: 9.0 | Control: 9.2 | Sound: 8.9 | Fun: 8.8
~ Geoffrey Duke ~

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