For the fifth game I’ve beaten this year, I wanted to keep the Mech trend going and realized that I owned Virtual-On Marz for the Playstation 2. Virtual-On was a fighting game franchise that started in the arcades, however unlike most fighting games the thing that made Virtual-On stand out was that you sat down in a cockpit and controlled the mech using two flight sticks. Virtual-On was a novel game that made you feel like you were piloting a mech from your favorite mech anime. Against another player, Virtual-On was always fun as each mech was unique with their own attacks and special attacks as amazing upbeat songs played.
The developer Hitmaker accomplished bringing the Virtual-On experience to the Playstation 2. Hitmaker even went so far as to not only provide multiple control layouts for people who never played the arcade game but also re-created the twin stick control experience using the analogue sticks and the shoulder buttons. The soundtrack also comes with songs that fit the arcade game.
However, this is where the praise of Virtual-On Marz stops because Virtual-On Marz comes with a story mode called Dramatic Mode. It is always unique when fighting games include a story mode and I had an expectation that the story mode involved picking a mech fighting each of the mechs that exist in the franchise with a brutal boss fight at the end. Dramatic mode has you play as part of the police force known as MARZ who oversees bringing order from corrupt organizations on the planet of Mars. What starts as being a beat cop explodes where you travel the galaxy uncovering a conspiracy.
What makes Dramatic mode so painful to play is that they took what should have been a simple fighting game and made an overly complex game mode that shows the flaws of Virtual-On as a fighting game against computer opponents.
The gameplay and controls provide the Virtual-On experience and that is great when you are playing against a friend. However, playing through a 12+ hour long story mode only reveals how poor Virtual-On works against computer opponents. One of the big issues is how immobile you are in fights. While you can move forward, back, left, and right without an issue, rotating is incredibly slow that even trying to turn will result in being an open target to the computer’s precise movements.
Another issue is the targeting and camera. Virtual-On Marz relies on an auto lock system, where if you are facing your enemy you will fire where they are. The flaw of this auto lock system is that the camera does not keep you facing your opponent. To face your opponent, you either must jump, dash and attack, or rotate the camera manually. This makes combat incredibly difficult against the computer as they are constantly mobile and able to turn and attack on a dime.
Finally, there are repair disks that you can use to heal yourself during missions. The problem however is that repair disks are either found in item boxes during missions or dropped by enemy mechs and the drop rate from mechs is extremely rare. Meaning you can find yourself up against a mission or boss with zero repair disks which means is that you’ll have to load an earlier save (if you made multiple saves) or the worst-case scenario being that you must start the story mode from the beginning.
These flaws are what makes playing through Virtual-On Marz’s Dramatic mode a painful experience that the amateur story and voice acting cannot make up for. While most of the gameplay involve fighting other mechs, Dramatic mode decided to go in another direction by having each stage be a mission. Missions can be simple and fair just fighting a single opponent to crushingly difficult that I would like to share with you.
Two of the most brutally difficult missions are escort missions. The first escort mission has you defending multiple caravans against two mechs. However, since these are AI they will aim directly for the caravan and while you can destroy the first two mechs, other mechs will be instantly replaced. You are fighting an infinite number of enemies that directly aim for the caravan that if destroyed result in failing the mission. It was a miracle that I was able to beat that mission. What was more difficult was the second escort mission but instead of protecting the caravans, I had to destroy the caravans that were being escorted by the computer. So not only did I have to fight an infinite number of enemies, but I also had to destroy the caravans. With a broken targeting system, poor camera controls, and being outnumbered beating that mission was an exercise in pain.
What makes Dramatic mode even more horribly designed shift from missions to a race against time trying to acquire fragments to access the final fortress. You select an area, go through a gauntlet of missions and if you make it to the final mission you fight either a team of mechs or a boss that you have previously beaten. If you win there is chance that you get a fragment. It is complete RNG. If the corruption gets to 100% it is game over. If you somehow make it to the final fortress then you better hope you have some repair disks because the final fortress throws in the worst thing any fighting game could throw at you, platforming.
In the final fortress you are not only doing another gauntlet but fighting even more bosses as well as platforming where if you fall off, you are going to take damage from the electrified floor. Where once again, if you find yourself going into the final battle with no repair disks you better hope you have an earlier save file.
Virtual-On Marz’s Dramatic mode is a mode that you should never play. Virtual-On is a novel arcade fighting game where you have the most fun playing against friends or other players. Mechanically the game has not aged well and shows flaw after flaw that works in an arcade setting but not as a single player story mode.
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