Sega has unveiled significant new details about the enigmatic Virtua Fighter Quest, the RPG-style adventure drawing on AM2's legendary fighting series, which is being developed to help commemorate the famous beat-'em-up's 10th anniversary. According to numerous reports based on US and Japanese press briefings and a few early screenshots, the game is now known as Virtua Fighter Cyber Generation: Ambition of the Judgement Six, and will be released on PS2 and GameCube in Japan during summer 2004.
Enter the Nexus
Based on what we've read, the team at Sega AM2 is crafting something really quite intriguing under the guidance of Shenmue II veteran, director Makoto Osaki. The game takes place in the aptly named floating city of Acropolis, a series of six islands tethered to a central island. The city was originally created for mining gold, and as such lacks creature comforts and, above all, space - which prompted the locals to develop a city-wide virtual reality network called Nexus, used to carry out their daily grind.
The Nexus is described as an enormous, Matrix-like system where it's easy to stumble off the beaten routers and into abandoned servers, and it's these rogue planes of data that we're concerned with. Here various professional hackers known as treasure hunters ply their trade, breaking into Nexus servers and locating misplaced or rare information buried deep within the lines of abandoned code.
One such treasure hunter is Sei, the game's main character, a 14-year-old who lives with his software engineer father. An archetypal RPG hero, Sei's life is quickly turned upside down as soon as the player starts listening in, as he gets embroiled in a quest (check) to uncover the 50 Virtua Souls, extremely rare bits of information hidden deep within the Nexus, said to hold the key to moves and techniques once used by legendary fighters in a long-dead tournament. See if you can spot the connection.
Obviously Sei isn't the only one out to get his hands on the Virtua Souls, but whatever his intentions (and that's not yet clear), they have to be nobler than those of the eponymous Judgement Six, a frightening mixture of shady figures from government and six giant multinational corporations. Named after tarot cards, the Judgement Six managers you'll have to contend with are Judgement himself (the group's supervisor), the Devil (who handles standard weapons development), the Wheel of Fortune (international politics), the Moon (terrorist/insurrection operations), the Tower (surveillance) and Death (chemical/biological weapons development), and they want nothing more than world domination - something they expect to get with the help of the coveted Virtua Souls.
Sega AM2 hasn't revealed too much about how VFCG actually plays, other than styling it as an action RPG where hitpoints and so on rub shoulders with recognisable Virtua Fighting manoeuvres. According to IGN, who apparently saw the game in action for ten minutes this week, the combat system is mainly based around simple button-bashing combos, with other buttons mapped to a sort of electric whip (used by Sei to haul himself in various directions and lasso things, including enemies) and the Virtua Souls themselves.
It seems that each of the Virtua Souls is worth a different move from classic Virtua Fighter, with Sarah's backflip kick and moves from Akira and Wolf already in evidence, but instead of inputting the moves using the original button combinations, each will be bound to a different button on the pad. It sounds a lot like the Lost Kingdoms system of distributing (card-based) abilities to various face buttons, which is certainly very promising.
Such a mechanic would also tie in with AM2's claim that the game has been produced for a younger audience. Although the revelation that the game is aimed a bit lower than perhaps we expected will obviously register as a disappointment for some (VF was, after all, the ultimate hardcore beat-'em-up in a lot of ways), there aren't enough of these action RPGs these days, and from what we've heard so far the game certainly sounds more interesting than most beat-'em-up spin-offs - anybody remember Sub-Zero's N64 game, for example? We're prepared to give AM2 a chance - after all, they've certainly earned one.
Virtua Fighter Cyber Generation: Ambition of the Judgement Six will probably be appearing on oversized boxes specially designed to incorporate its multi-mouthful of a name next year, and although it hasn't been confirmed for either the US or Europe at this stage, we're keeping our fingers crossed. In any event, even if there are shades of Super Mario RPG about it (popular franchise goes in new RPG direction for younger audiences and then Europe gets screwed over a barrel, maybe), it's coming out on PS2 and GameCube, and for that there's always FreeLoader...