Just before Sega's return to the squared ring, we spoke with producer Seiji Aoki about Virtua Fighter's comeback, and what could be next.
While Sega is mostly known for the Sonic and Yakuza franchises these days, there was a time where the developer and publisher was also a fighting game powerhouse. During the 1990s, Sega launched the Virtua Fighter franchise, the first 3D fighting game that utilized the now standard polygon-based graphics and physics. The series would go on to have a dedicated following as it set the arcade scene and Sega built platforms like the Saturn and Dreamcast, carving out a fanbase that enjoyed its incredibly technical fighting mechanics. Even today, players still engage in competitive play with the previous entry, 2012's Virtua Fighter 5: Final Showdown, being a fixture in fan-run tournaments.
With the upcoming Virtua Fighter 5: Ultimate Showdown, and its placement as a free game for PlayStation Plus members at launch on June 1, the fighting game franchise will be making a comeback in a big way. Before its release, we spent some time getting reacquainted with the game's uncompromisingly technical combat mechanics, which still manages to give way to satisfying and thrilling matches when you nail the right flow. With VF5's new look and refined combat mechanics--now running on the Dragon Engine, which powers the recent entries in the Yakuza series--Ultimate Showdown brings the franchise back in serious style. Before the reveal of Virtua Fighter 5: Ultimate Showdown, we had a brief interview with chief producer Seiji Aoki about returning to Sega's original 3D fighting game series.
Editor's Note: This interview has been edited for clarity and readability.
It's been about 10 years since the last Virtua Fighter game. What has it been like to return to such a well-loved fighting game franchise?
Personally, I’ve been a big fan of the series as a player for many years and it’s been very rewarding to take part in a new project. Virtua Fighter is such a historically important series to Sega, well-loved by so many players dating all the way to the initial arcade launch nearly 28 years ago! I think we were able to create an amazing new game that hopefully lives up to the high standard we’ve set for ourselves over the decades.
What do you think is special about the Virtua Fighter series that has allowed it to endure in the minds of hardcore fighting game fans throughout the years?
I think it's the strategic depth, intricate balance, and wide range of real-life martial arts styles--all performed at a fluid 60fps. That defines Virtua Fighter, and that realism defines it when compared to other fighting games. Virtua Fighter 5: Ultimate Showdown brings back the combat fans know and love, remade with modern graphics, enhanced online play and spectate features, new background music, and more. We’re really excited to see how fans respond to this new entry.
Given the growth of the esports scene these days, do you feel that competitive Virtua Fighter play can still carve out a following with modern audiences?
With Virtua Fighter 5: Ultimate Showdown, we've remade the infrastructure of 2012's VF5 to get up to the standards of competitive play in 2021. That includes a number of new features and tools built for organized online competition: expanded match room sizes, new modes and match types like Tournaments and Leagues, live replay and spectate, new hit effects, and communications tools like stamps that enhance the experience for viewers as well as players.
With VF5, we’re preparing our first forays into organized esports, with two official sponsored tournaments in Japan on the horizon, and we’d love to some day participate in global tournaments like EVO and see professional VF players emerge. That all starts by giving our community the tools they need to continue growing in that space.
What led to the decision to release Virtua Fighter 5: Ultimate Showdown as a free game on PlayStation Plus at launch?
This project started as a part of Sega’s 60th Anniversary Celebration--it was made as a gift for our community. We want as many people to play it as possible. Launching on both PlayStation Plus and PlayStation Now allows us to offer the definitive Virtua Fighter experience as an essentially "free"game for millions of players around the world, many of whom may just be trying out the series for the first time!
Modern fighting games see regular updates and DLC components as a part of their roadmap. Are there plans for VF5: Ultimate Showdown to have DLC after launch?
We do! The new Legendary Pack will launch right alongside the new game. That pack includes over 2000 customization items, and a ton of new and classic content that celebrates the entire history of the Virtua Fighter series. This includes retro UI, stages, alt costumes, never-before-released background music from the previous games in the series, and all the original classic character models from the first Virtua Fighter--which you can use as special costumes. As for additional post-launch content, there are plenty of items and features we wanted to add that didn’t make it in time for launch, and we hope to share those details in the future.
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On a more fun note, fans of the Yakuza series have been eager to see characters like Kazama Kiryu and Goro Majima show up as guests in fighting games. Would you ever consider having characters from Yakuza join the Virtua Fighter roster?
We actually did discuss adding new characters during development. However, to add new characters we’d need to readjust the balance of the game, which we felt had been perfected in VF5: Final Showdown--so we put that idea aside for now. But we know there’s demand for more characters, and we will continue to look for ways to include them in the future.
Sega has also worked on other fighting game franchises as well, such as Fighting Vipers, Last Bronx, and even a Sonic fighting game (which we see a small return as a bonus game in Lost Judgement). Is there another fighting game franchise that you would like to revisit?
There are plenty of popular Sega games that have their passionate fanbases, particularly in the fighting game space, that I would love to see revisited. But right now I am 100% focused on VF5: Ultimate Showdown and re-introducing the Virtua Fighter series to modern fans now.
With this remaster, do you hope that this will lead to a new beginning for the franchise? Many fans have been clamoring for a new entry in the series.
As a fan of the series, of course, I’d love to play a new Virtua Fighter game. For now, our goal is to get as many people playing Virtua Fighter as possible, and we’ll see what the future holds.