If you've known me for a long time, you know that this is one of my favoritest games ever. If Virtua Fighter 2 made me an AM2 fan, Fighting Vipers made me their devotee for life. Looking back on it even now, it was a superb accomplishment - a fast-paced game with depth and strategy, yet accessable to the player who didn't want to bother with learning all the complexities of VF2. It was both an excellent technical fighter and fun as hell to play.
Unfortunately it didn't really take off in the US like it should have, even though it was kind of considered the "Western appeal" game by JP gamers and even some AM2 staff. I blame this on several factors:
- Crappy distribution. I don't know if the price was too high (like VF3) or what, but it didn't get into even half the arcades that VF2 did.
- Camp factor. The general design of the game looked like America circa 1985... in 1995. Amusing for some, a turn-off for many others. (Perhaps something like it might achieve more success today, since we're all riding the wave of 80s nostalgia at the moment.)
- The Playstation had just begun its slaughter of the Saturn in the US market, and Toshinden/Tekken were being pushed as the fighters du jour. The Sega fighters weren't really viewed in a favorable light in the minds of much of the public.
The non-success of both the arcade and Saturn versions in the US, along with Sega's financial state at the time, lead to FV2 being neglected stateside (it won a game of show award at some big arcade trade show I forget, but it seems as though Sega never had plans to bring the game to the west to begin with - the arcade game only has a Japanese setting!). There's a long story about how I went somewhat insane and purchased an FV1 cabinet, FV2 boards from Japan, and modded it to make the US's only FV2 machine (the monitor on the cabinet is now dead, which is why I figure I'll purchase a Japanese-style cabinet in the future). This got me into the second-to-last issue of Gamefan, among other things.
But I digress. I'm supposed to be talking about the original FV, which has been ported to the PS2. I played the original to death on the Saturn and in the cabinet before FV2 was installed. Wait, did I mention that the difference between the arcade and Saturn versions of FV is gargantuan? I'm glad this port is of the arcade version so that people can finally experience the game as it was meant to be played originally. The Saturn version isn't just downgraded graphically, there's a whole load of gameplay changes as well, some good and some bad. (Yes, I'm very picky (HAR HAR) about my AM2 fighters. Remember, I didn't like FMM much, either.)
The port quality appears to be excellent. The colors seem brighter than I remember, but I'm pretty sure that's my TV. The resolution doesn't seem to be quite as sharp, either. The textures are fine, however, and the gameplay is 100% intact, glitches and all. At 60 FPS the game runs slightly faster than it's supposed to, so if your timing is off (it does happen), you want to set it back to the original 57.5 FPS setting.
As for the gameplay, it manages to hold up surprisingly well. It doesn't have the depth of FV2 or VF4, that's for sure, but there's still a fair amount of strategy and skill needed. It still beats the pants off of a lot of sorry fighting games released in recent years.
That having been said, the game is also horribly, horribly broken in some areas. I'm talking Versus-series level, here. There's a few characters with <5-second, two-hit kills (conditional, but you can still pull them off semi-frequently if you know what you're doing), some extremely damaging traps and exploits against the walls, and a whole bunch of moves that got altered or removed in FV2 for damn good reason. I've also heard whisperings of infinite combos for Jane and Grace from Heruru and the Nagoya FV crew, but I know not much of these forbidden techniques. (Though someday I shall find out!)
In case you're curious, the character tier list basically boils down to:
1. Jane/Bahn (it's debatable, but most people side with Jane)
Some of these spots are up for argument, but it's obvious that the "heavy" characters have a huge advantage over the others. From what I've been told, the original Japanese FV champion was a Jane player - but this is hearsay, so I could be horribly mistaken.
In any case, FV is far from a perfect game - despite its flaws and exploits, it remains a fast, fun fighter that's still enjoyable 10 years later. Both it and its successor have influenced the VF series far more than many would like to admit. (I still don't get why the hell many VF players are condescending towards FV, considering the two series are blood brothers.) While I like the general atmosphere of the original FV more, I do believe FV2 is vastly better in the gameplay department. I'm hoping that both VF3 and FV2, along with some of the lost Model 3 titles (Daytona 2! Scud Race!) will get proper ports in the near future to make up for the lackluster DC offerings.
I'll end this by saying that I believe FV was one of those games that seriously changed my life. I know that sounds ridiculous, but I have to wonder just what would be different today if I hadn't dropped $900-some on the arcade FV2 setup...