[IMGW]http://media.1up.com/media?id=2681351[/IMGW] by James Mielke, 03.07.2007 When it comes to the two biggest rivals in the 3D fighting arena, people usually point to Virtua Fighter and Tekken as the main proponents, and with good reason: Where Virtua Fighter has gone, Tekken has always followed (and occasionally surpassed). In this feature we're going to break down each series in a number of critical categories and evaluate who comes out on top, determine who exactly is the winner, declare who is the champion of them all.
The Early Bird Catches the Worm
No matter how much you're inclined to say "Tekken r00lz!" you can't deny that Virtua Fighter came out first. 1993 versus 1994. 1993 wins. In fact, Sega and Namco were fierce arcade rivals then (and now), but Sega had a significant edge -- its AM2 division. Sega-AM2 was responsible for pioneering 3D visuals in its arcade games, introducing the first polygonal racer in 1992 with Virtua Racing. While most people think of Sega's dominant Daytona USA when it comes to AM2's racers, that game actually came out in 1994, shortly after Namco's Ridge Racer series debuted. It's hardly a secret that whatever Sega did Namco also did, occasionally better. But when it came to fighting games, the first 3D fighter set foot on virtual pavement in 1993 with the worldwide arcade debut of Virtua Fighter. It took Namco a little longer to navigate animating human characters and creating the complex animations a fighter requires since Tekken didn't arrive until 1994. First salvo fired by Sega.
Winner: Virtua Fighter
While recent trends in Japanese arcades suggests that either Virtua Fighter's popularity is waning or that Tekken's is rising, history gives the overall nod to Virtua Fighter. Whether it was because Virtua Fighter came out first or because it had deeper gameplay is unclear, but Sega's game dominated Japanese arcades in ways Tekken could never match. During Virtua Fighter 3's heyday, Sega's fighter remained at the top of the Japanese revenue charts for over a year, unseated not by Tekken 3 but by Sega's own Virtual-On: Oratorio Tangram.
In America the battle was less clearly divided. While arcades were still to be found in the States, Virtua Fighter was quite popular, as was every iteration of Tekken. By the time Sega's Virtua Fighter hardware became prohibitively expensive (around the time of VF3tb; Sega's Model 3 hardware was very pricey) arcades in general were in decline, in both number and quality. Namco's cheaper PlayStation- and PlayStation 2–based arcade hardware made it an easier commitment for arcade operators to buy into, given the surge in both popularity and power of home consoles. Soon, arcades would become the exception and not the rule, and fewer and fewer Virtua Fighter machines were working their way Stateside from Virtua Fighter 4 on. Now it's almost impossible to find a machine of Virtua Fighter 5 in North America, as Sega's arcade business model has reached cutthroat tactics even in Japan, allowing arcade owners to lease -- but not own -- VF5 machines. Still, while the tables may have turned on Sega in North America, it's hardly any better for Namco either. Fewer arcades equals fewer machines, which meant that control and favor in the home console market would be a crucial battleground.