Review: Virtua Quest (GC, PS2)

Virtua Quest
Platform: Gamecube (Also on PS2)
Genre: 3rd Person Action RPG
Publisher: Sega
Developer: Sega-AM2
Rating: Teen
Release Date: 1/19/05

Virtua Fighter fans have been patiently waiting for their opportunity to a fabled RPG set in the Virtua Fighter universe for years. The first rumors about “Virtua Fighter RPG” and “Project Berkley” came about around 1998, and when this project (which had already been in development for 3 years!) turned into Shenmue, it looked like it would never surface. After years of rumors and false starts, Virtua Quest is in our hands. And those faithful fans who waited and waited for 10 years of work to get their VFRPG? They got hosed.


Story:

It’s true, Virtua Quest is set in the Virtua Fighter universe, but those looking to team up with Akira or Jacky to kick some ass are going to be very sad. VQ takes place in the future, where everybody spends most of their time in a computer world called Nexus. There is so much here that rips from the Megaman Battle Network series that Capcom should be simultaneously flattered and appalled. Plucky young lad having adventures on a highly-evolved mutation of the internet, single-handedly taking on a huge secret organization bent on controlling the world? Sounds rather familiar. The only difference is that VQ steals a bit from The Matrix instead of MMBN by having people personally enter the virtual world rather just sending AI.

Give Sei a guitar and a mech and we’ll have Superhuman Samurai Syber-Squad!

Turns out Sei, who starts out as a regular kid just looking for some cash for a new bike, ends up in the middle of a conflict far bigger than he can imagine. It’s revealed that he is the only person who can use Virtua Souls, which are bits of data recorded from the VF tournaments that contain AI versions of Virtua Fighters, who can teach Sei new, powerful skills. The story is a pretty generic unlikely-boy-wonder-is-the-chosen one tale, although some of the other characters are mysterious, and the game provides a few “who can Sei really trust?” moments that work moderately well for a game whose story is otherwise so generic.

Story Rating: 4/10


Graphics:

The graphics aren’t making the Gamecube’s hardware break a sweat (particularly when you consider that it’s on the same system that’s running RE4), and the visuals are pretty sparse all around, but somehow, I can’t hate it. The whole thing has a very Dreamcastian look to it; the art style, particularly in the main characters, will have probably inspire more than a few gamers to dig the DC out of their closets. It’s classic Sega, love it or hate it.


The game is at the very least consistent here, as the graphics are nowhere near jaw-dropping, but they never get completely abysmal either. And while levels like the mall/construction site and the docks are the textbook definition of generic graphics, levels like the jungle and the ruins give it some character. One basic complaint is that the game characters, with their wide-eyed and cutesy animeish appearance, don’t mesh at all with the Virtua Fighters. Sei’s fighting animation is good for a game aiming this low on the graphical wow factor, but if they screwed up the fighting in a mediocre spin-off of one of the most kmportant vs. franchises in existence, there would be rioting.

Graphics Rating: 5/10


Sound:

I often complain about the utter forgetableness of the music in a lot of games, but I literally had to go back and play a few minutes of the game over just to convince myself that there was music in the game beyond the bootup cinema. The background music is just that. This stuff outclasses even The Weather Channel in terms of absolute unmemorability. Generic background music that picks up and gets a little heavier when in a dangerous situation, but then goes back to filler. It’s not bad… some of it, like the Ruins theme, is actually pretty soothing. The voiceovers are incredibly over the top, which fit with the animeish theme of Sei and co. Somehow, it manages to keep the characters likeable despite their absurd dialog. Technically, the quality is good. The sound effects are pretty standard, matching the music’s mediocrity.

Sound Rating: 6/10


Gameplay and Control:

Virtua Quest attempts to meld a number of different genres, with very mixed results. There are elements of RPG, beat-’em-up, and platformers, but it fails to be hugely successful at any of these endeavors. The platformer sections are hindered by less-than-responsive controls. The game is EXTREMELY picky about everything single aspect of the platforming. Using the neon pink electro-rope extremely difficult when trying to swing about the levels, as the targets you can swing from have a very small time window in which you can latch on; you’ll find yourself backtracking for these segments with annoying frequency. When they’re close together, you can transfer directly between them by just throwing the rope again, which is incredibly handy, but for the most part (especially in the license exams), you’ll have to do it over and over to get it right. Everything in the exams, which are simply platforming obstacle courses, is irritating and requires a number of tries. These exercises show the full extent of the controls’ shortcomings. Double-jumping is incredibly precise, and the window for your second jump is incredibly small. Grabbing onto edges and running on walls is imprecise, as though a lot of it was thrown in at the last minute; it’s not hard at all to imagine a Sega exec excitedly showing clips of Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time, and saying “This! Do this! The kids love the Arabic guy who runs on walls!” The pinnacle of control irritations, however, is the camera. This year will mark the 10th anniversary of the birth of the true 3D platformer (Mario 64), and yet the VQ team missed everything. The camera steadfastly refuses to rotate or change position in most circumstances. And since the second analog stick is used for that silly rope, all you get is a recenter button. This isn’t like most games, where you need it, but only once in awhile. You have to pound on that L button like it owes you money if you want to have any hope of progressing.

The most successful portion, luckily, is the combat. Beating up enemies, when they’re not cheaply knocking you down every 3 seconds and packing far too much power, is great fun. You can easily string standard punches and kicks into combos, and it just feels very satisfying overall. It borrows again from The Matrix (and damn near about everybody else) by throwing a bit of bullet time into the mix. A basic rule of thumb is that if it’s in the air in VQ, it’s going to be in slow motion.

Jumping at an enemy and launching a series of attacks is great, particularly against the irritating little flying bots; Sei will hover, allowing you to pull off a stylish midair combo that ends with an attack that sends the enemy to the floor. This can get annoying when you’re trying to finish off an airborne enemy, but it keeps the action from just being silly like


Dragon Ball Z. Enemies also hang in the air when dealt an upward attack, allowing the skillful to grab them with the fruity rope, fly across to them, and start an air combo. The only problem here is that you do a bit of the floating when YOU take to the air, which gives the enemies a few seconds to regroup and can really be a hassle. The special attacks from Virtua Fighters are nice, but a bit slow and energy-draining, as well as horribly easy to cheese with. Only the game’s complete lack of depth perception can save a normal group of baddies from your wrath once you pick up a few new skills. Learning the new skills is fun, but it would be nice if you could power up existing ones, so you wouldn’t have to abandon favorite attacks in order to get the more powerful (but less fun) attack in order to survive. The main problem with these is that they all use the same button, and it’s easy to make the wrong move at the wrong time.

One of the most interesting parts of combat is that every once in awhile, after finishing a few levels, Sei’s abilities and appearance will change, depending on your playing style. Sei starts out at Medium, which is obviously the most well-rounded style, but if, for example, you rely heavily on good ol’ fashioned jumping-in-and-punching-the-crap-out-of-everything and chaining massive combos, Sei will evolve into Raichu Light style, which trades a bit of offensive power for speed, and adds to your standard combo abilities. Another blatant ripoff of MMBN, but an interesting twist, and one that definitely makes the player feel more involved in the game.

In a slightly-lacking-but-still appreciated bonus ripoff of MMBN, you can take missions from NPCs between story levels, in order to get money and the occasional rare item. The problem here is that there is no variation. You’d better like exploring areas for collectibles or kicking enemy ass within a time limit if you plan to spend much time in the missions. Not that it’s really possible anyway; they’re all 5 minutes or less, and there aren’t enough NPCs to give a decent amount.

Gameplay and Control: 6/10


Balance:

VQ’s balance is off. Hard. The first couple levels are mind-numbingly easy, but it doesn’t last. The problem here is that the game feels like it’s schooling you up not because your reflexes aren’t up to par, or you’re not reading the enemies’ techniques correctly; you’re getting your ass kicked because the enemies pack a bit too much power. This is a big problem considering that there’s no experience system, and the upgrades to your stats are only available through stores in the hub world. The fact that you get stuck in every world upon first entry, and therefore have to make do with what you have until you beat the boss. The bosses aren’t necessarily hard, they’re just really powerful, and rather cheap. The Virtua Fighters are tough to engage in actual combat, but are pretty easy when you figure out how to cheese them to death. They have a glaring AI weakness in the fact that they will fall for a charge-up move 9 times out of 10, and then you can latch on with your rope and get 5 or 6 free hits while they’re falling.

There’s also the fact that your upgrades are managed in another Megaman Battle Network ripoff. Your upgrades are Tetris pieces that you have to arrange within a cube. Bigger pieces make bigger bonuses, but also make for less opportunity for variety. While this is a neat concept, it really works better in a game like MMBN, where there are occasional upgrades to your base stats. Here, it’s a hinderance. Making it a bigger pain in the ass is the fact that prices on these parts are outrageously high; completing a level can easily take over an hour the first time, and about half that once you know the layout and the objectives, but each run-through yields enough credits for about one good upgrade. Also making it unnecessarily difficult is the fact that there are no restorative items that you can keep for emergencies; everything comes in the form of pickups that take effect immediately. When your only options are to take on a mob and pray that you can take out a few without getting hit and get to the health they drop before you get owned, or to run 10 minutes backwards to find a save point, it gets irritating really fast.

Balance Rating: 3/10


Replayability:

There’s not a hell of a lot of compelling reasons to come back to this. If you REALLY loved the game, or you’re REALLY curious about the different styles Sei can adapt to, you could go through it again. It’s not long enough to be horribly restrictive about this sort of thing, but the irritation involved in struggling through its unbalancedness makes it a bit less appealing.


In all fairness, though, Sega did make a solid attempt to give you a good bit to do. The fact that every level and mission is graded will be an automatic challenge and source of replayability to that select few who have to have the highest possible score in absolutely everything, no matter how trivial. There are also a decent array of Virtua Soul abilities to learn, some of which require revisiting old areas, and a sizable selection of Virtua Fighter models to collect. The models are a great idea; not only do they give the die-hards a reason to comb the levels, but they also power up the movesets of those Fighters. There’s also the quest to find all the possible forms of Bit, but since the game gives you no help whatsoever there, players will pretty quickly get bored with playing with his diet.

Replayability Rating: 7/10


Originality:

Sadly, there’s not much originality here. Virtua Quest is basically a mediocre spinoff that’s far too derivative for its own good. Megaman Battle Network, Prince of Persia, and basically every decent platformer of all time implement VQ’s ideas, and better. A few things, like the customizable sidekick, the moderately deep combat system, and the multipurpose rope, may have been done before, but it’s good to see them being acknowledged and attempted instead of making a crappy genre game. Kudos to Sega for at least trying.

Originality Rating: 3/10


Appeal:

The lack of quality here isn’t going to bring in anyone who isn’t either a huge VF fan or who automatically distrusts game reviews. If this game didn’t have a franchise associated with it, it would probably already be in the bargain bin. Virtua Fighter fans desperate for chances to learn more about their favorite characters in order to give them a little hold-over until VF5 are basically the only players who’ll give this more than a glance.

Appeal Rating: 3/10


Addictiveness:

Unfortunately for VF, the story just isn’t hugely engaging; there’s no real drive to keep pushing Sei closer to the truth about Judgement 6. Were the balance not so off and the controls tighter, combat would be more than a bit engaging, The super-linear levels and the general episodic style of telling VQ’s story leaves a definite lull between levels that is easily enough to jar the player out of their involvement in the game. Rabid fanboys or high score junkies, however, will find this a good bit more diretly engaging.

Addictiveness Rating: 3/10


Miscellaneous:

There’s a character… an important character to the story, mind you… who is named Schatt. That’s right. That’s how it’s pronounced in the cinema scenes. I think I speak for all of us when I say “Dammit, Japan.” Oh well, they make up for it with a Sonic monument.

Miscellaneous Rating: 6/10


Final Scores:

Story: 4/10
Graphics: 5/10
Sound: 6/10
Gameplay and Control: 6/10
Balance: 3/10
Replayability: 7/10
Originality: 3/10
Addictiveness: 3/10
Appeal: 3/10
Misc: 6/10

Overall Score: 46/100
Final Score: 4.5/10 (BELOW AVERAGE)