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VIrtua Quest Retrospection - Sony PlayStation 2

Virtua Quest

Developer: Sega AM2
Publisher: Sega
Release Date: January 18, 2005

It has been almost two weeks since I watched The Super Mario Bros Movie and although he didn't reprise his role as Mario, Charles Martinet delivered several lines in the movie as Mario's brother. A charming cameo aside, this leads me to think about the man behind the iconic voice for over 30 years. Watching an old interview about how he got the role with the lines It's a me a Mario I make a the pizza also shows a lot about his character. There are just as many surprise roles that Martinet is known for outside of voicing the Mario family, including Paarthurmax from Skyrim.

Despite voicing a Nintendo character, he has lent his talent to several Sega games, two of which stand out. The first was one I covered as a part of my Jet Set Radio retrospection, as in Jet Set Radio Future, he voices Goji Rokkaku, the main antagonist of the game. The other Sega game is an enigma in itself, as he provided the voice of Lau Chan and Shun Di in Virtua Quest. Now, fighting game fans will recall the names as characters from the fighting game Virtua Fighter and they are indeed the same characters. Virtua Quest was one of the rare Virtua Fighter games to have an all-English cast, so the characters that are usually dubbed in Japanese are dubbed in English. In this case, dubbed by the voice of Mario.

Before beginning Virtua Quest, players go through an obstacle course.

Virtua Quest was Sega's version of branching out one of their rising IPs at the time. Virtua Fighter 4 was released in the early 2000s and it served as the series revival. Many fans praised the graphics, animations, and tight gameplay that helped usher in the modern fighting game eSports as it's known today. Sega did everything in its power to maintain the popularity of Virtua Fighter, imposing Akira, the series mascot, in many Sega cameos.

Action adventure platformers were also on the rise, so why not create one while using the Virtua Fighter IP? What does Virtua Fighter have to do with Virtua Quest? Not much. Could the plot of Virtua Quest exist without the Virtua Fighter content? Absolutely. But it wouldn't have sold a fraction of as many units as it did. It wouldn't have been enough to pique my interest in looking at this game for the first time anyway.

The dialogue is filled with characters who are oblivious with their surroundings.

The story begins with Sei, a digital treasure hunter who is collecting data chips to make money. His close friend is in the process of repairing his bike for a race, so every data chip counts. After officially applying for a hunter's license, Sei is targeted by an unknown organization and he discovers he has the power to use "Virtua Souls." Virtua Souls carry the fighting spirit of Virtua Fighters, who have participated in a major tournament in the past. Often considered a myth, the protagonist's ability to use the Virtua Souls makes him a target and it's up to him to save the Nexus, or the virtual world.

Virtua Quest takes place in the same universe as Virtua Fighter but it's well into the future. The tournament that's being referenced is the Virtua Fighter 4 tournament, with each Virtua Soul giving several lines of dialogue referencing their role in the plot. The Virtua Fighter series does indeed have a plot. Something about clones and science and copying fighting data to create the ultimate fighting person, yeah I've never heard of any of this before. What made this plot premise interesting was that it felt like something out of Phantasy Star Online. PSO is Sega's flagship online game set in the future with an emphasis on space and technology. The main hub in Virtua Quest looks like the lobby in PSO as well as the NPC dialogue and the pacing of its events.

Most Souls fights consists of spamming the same move over and over.

Unfortunately, this is where the positives end, as while I appreciate the creativity and I love Virtua Fighter, this game could have been so much better. The biggest drawback is the horrific camera as the player cannot adjust it freely. Despite the game using analog sticks and originally released in 2004 in Japan, for some reason, the right analog stick isn't used to control the camera. That's instead reserved for the grapple hook. There's a grappling hook where Sei can latch on to objects and transport him to locations. This could have been reserved for a single button however as I don't understand why an entire analog stick is needed for a single action.

The player can never control the camera, instead pressing either the L1 or L2 to center the camera behind Sei. Why couldn't the L2 button be used to center the camera angle, while L1 would have been used for the grapple hook? Then the player would have had a free right stick to, gasp, have free camera control! A very simple addition to the controls would have saved me hours of frustration because a worthless camera angle is one thing. Sei moves as stiff as cardboard, which I don't know how is even possible. The AM2 team had worked on many action beat-em-ups in the arcade era. I also find it very hard to believe that they couldn't implement a proper fighting system in Virtua Quest.

Even the boss fights are simply "spam special moves until you win"

But you're probably wondering, what about the Virtua Souls? The main selling point of Virtua Quest was being given the abilities of various Virtua Fighters and using their signature moves to defeat enemies. While that's partially true, it's not to the extent of the Combot training mode in Tekken Tag Tournament 2. Sei has a default move list consisting of a charge attack, running attack, strikes, throws, and aerial attacks. Akira's Virtua Soul is a strike, replacing Sei's default attack for something far more powerful. That's all the Virtua Fighter moves do, they become "stronger versions" of moves the player already has access to.

There are powerful moves ranked by stars, with 1 star being common. However, in order to unlock higher-ranked Virtua Souls, the player would have needed to unlock the corresponding leveled move first. This means that the game expects the player to backtrack to earlier levels once they progress through the story. Levels tend to drag on for far too long and checkpoints are few and far in between Aside from reaching checkpoints, the only way to restore health is by hoping the enemy drops health pickups. Getting your HP to 0 leads to a game over, even though the game states that you "lose your chips." This was released in 2004 so the concept of "roguelikes" wasn't mainstream quite yet. Still, a "Game Over" screen is a brutal reminder of what era Virtua Quest comes from.

Hearing Aoi in English for the first time was pretty interesting.

Hearing my favorite characters dubbed in English was interesting, especially hearing Akira for the first time. They sound as one would expect, while the characters who already speak in English give even more of their epic performances. I passed on the opportunity to play this game during my teenage years and truthfully I didn't miss much. Virtua Quest was an interesting concept, but Namco was already perfecting this with Tekken 4's Tekken Force mode.

Tekken 5's "Devil Within" mode absolutely blew Virtua Quest out of the water and the former was a mere fraction of Virtua Quest's full experience. I'd personally pass only if you're morbidly curious to hear what Mario sounds like as a drunken master, but I'll share a clip below so you don't have to play Virtua Quest.

Technically, he could very well end up in a future Smash.

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