It is no secret that I enjoy RPGs and graphic adventures, but I also greatly enjoy fighting games. I've probably put as many hours into Marvel vs. Capcom 2 for Dreamcast as I have for many of my favorite RPGs. When I first posted on RPGFan's forums, I heard a lot of people saying, "Why can't there be an RPG where the battles play out like in Tekken or Guilty Gear?" Some RPGs such as Xenogears and Legend of Legaia have infused fighting game style combos in their combat. There have also been a few RPGs based on fighting game franchises over the years, such as the Samurai Shodown RPG on the Neo-Geo based on the fighting series of the same name.
Enter Virtua Quest, an action-RPG by Sega for PS2 and GameCube, based on the venerable and highly acclaimed Virtua Fighter series. Taken on its own merits as an action-RPG, Virtua Quest is decidedly below average. Taken within the context of the Virtua Fighter franchise, Virtua Quest is a failure. No matter how you look at the game, it is an utter waste of anyone's time.
The game's downright silly connection to Virtua Fighter is readily apparent in its throwaway story. The game does not star Akira Yuki, Jacky Bryant, Aoi Umenokouji, or any of the roster in the lead role but rather some stupid kid named Sei. Already this is disappointing, because when I think about Virtua Fighter, I want to play as Akira, Jacky, Aoi, or one of the other awesomely cool combatants, not some wet-behind-the-ears twerp like Sei pretending to be Akira, Jacky, or Aoi. What really sucks is that Sei is completely devoid of personality, has no mind of his own, and is phenomenally stupid, complete with a permanently clueless facial expression. All he seems to do is repeat back everything that's said to him like a complete idiot and go along with what people tell him to do like a brainless follower. I'll gladly take a typical JRPG angst-bucket over a brain dead moron like Sei any day. And do not get me started on the unlikeable NPCs that Sei encounters. A couple of them are more annoying than Sei himself and make me want to punch kittens.
Anyway, through a series of unfortunate events instigated by his so-called best friend Hayami, Sei must warp to various virtual worlds within a network called The Nexus, find the legendary "Virtua Souls" of various Virtua Fighter combatants, harness their power before the bad guys do, and save the world from their evil takeover. Really, that's all there is to the story save for a token plot twist that anyone could easily see coming a mile away. Even with the surprisingly lengthy and talky cutscenes throughout the game, characters babble on about nothing at all, and the plot is as shallow as it gets. It does not help that the voice acting during cutscenes is laughably bad. I know Virtua Fighter is not as story intensive as other fighting games such as Soul Blade, but any given Virtua Fighter combatant has a more involved backstory than this tripe that makes kiddie anime like Bakugan Battle Brawlers look like Citizen Kane.
Speaking of brawling, let's talk gameplay. Sei's home base is a central hub with shops, information counters, a save point, NPCs to do inane quests for, and warps to various virtual worlds within The Nexus. Exploring the virtual worlds requires Sei to swing from nodes with his grappling hook, briefly run along walls, and hang off of ledges as well as run and jump. When Sei enters a virtual world for the first time, he cannot log out of it until the boss is beaten. Thankfully, there are save points scattered throughout the virtual worlds and once an area is cleared, Sei can revisit it to seek hidden treasure and log out whenever he wants.
The Nexus also has legions of incompetent thugs for Sei to beat up on the way to boss battles. To help Sei fight bad guys, Virtua Souls are scattered throughout the world for him to find. Virtua Souls house the combat data of Virtua Fighter combatants, and when Sei finds one, he must best the fighter in combat to learn an equippable special move. Although this hints at depth, the simplistic two-button combat in the game is shallow and a far cry from the deep and complex fighting systems Virtua Fighter is known for.
All of this appears to be workable action-RPG gameplay, but there is a laundry list of flaws that make the game an absolute nuisance to play. Sluggish controls, floaty jumping, a wholly uncooperative camera, and an equipment system that feels like putting a square peg into a round hole are the pieces of this bad gameplay puzzle. An action game should have super tight control, especially one based on an acclaimed fighting franchise known for precise control. The camera cannot be rotated at all. There is only a one-touch button to center the camera behind Sei, and the camera still manages to get that wrong more often than not. No matter what, the camera always proceeds to go wherever it wants, and it is never where the player wants it to be. The loose controls combined with an uncooperative camera, floaty jumping, and a finicky auto-targeting system (for both enemies and grappling hook nodes) make combat and platforming more frustrating and downright cheap than need be. It is too easy for players to screw up because they are fighting with the controls and/or the camera. This is obviously not the kind of combat players want in a "fighting" game.
A key ingredient in the most successful fighting games is adrenaline pumping music that makes players want to kick some butt. Once again, Virtua Quest gets it wrong by using bland, forgettable music that changes only slightly when enemies are nearby. At least the Virtua Soul battles play those characters' respective theme songs, which are generally the best pieces in the game.
The graphics are good, but not great. The 3D locations are bright, and the polygon characters animate smoothly, but as clean as the visuals are, they are also quite sterile. The locations lack flair and the characters all have glassy-eyed expressions making them look like spaced out dolls. The character designs are quite generic as well, a sharp contrast from the cool character designs in the Virtua Fighter series.
The whole idea of a Virtua Fighter RPG could have been fantastic, but a twerpy protagonist, lame plot, sluggish control, an uncooperative camera, boring music, and bland visuals are not ingredients that make for a good action game, especially one based on such an acclaimed fighting franchise. This game was largely ignored by gamers and for good reason. Virtua Quest is just plain awful and a disgrace to the Virtua Fighter moniker.