The basic gameplay involves two combatants needing to win two of three rounds, with each round being 30 seconds long or more. If a character is knocked out (or falls out) of the ring, the opponent wins the round. A fourth round is necessary if a double knockout (both players knocking each other out at the same time) occurred in a previous round and the match is tied one round each. In this fourth round, players fight on a small stage wherein one hit equals victory. Its control scheme is deceptively simple, using only a control stick and 3 buttons (Punch, Kick, Guard); however, through various timings, positions, and button combinations, players unlocked a bevy of moves for each character. Traditionally, in the single-player mode, the player runs a gauntlet of characters in the game (which may include one's doppelgänger) all the way to the final boss.
In 1998, the series was recognized by the Smithsonian Institution for contributions in the field of Art and Entertainment, and became a part of the Smithsonian Institution's Permanent Research Collection on Information Technology Innovation. The arcade cabinets are currently kept at the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History.
Virtua Fighter 3 came out in 1996, with the introduction of Taka-Arashi and Aoi Umenokouji. Aside from improving the graphics via use of the Model 3 (such as eyes on characters that followed opponents), the game also introduced undulations in some stages and a fourth button, Dodge, both of which altered the gameplay. Virtua Fighter 3tb in 1997 was the first major update in series history, implementing tournament battles featuring more than two characters (though not simultaneously as in Tekken Tag Tournament).
Virtua Fighter 4, which introduced Vanessa Lewis and Lei-Fei and removed Taka-Arashi, was released on the NAOMI 2 hardware in 2001 instead of hardware from a joint collaboration with Lockheed Martin. Additionally, the game also removed the uneven battlegrounds and the Dodge button from the previous game. The title is consistently popular in its home arcade market. Virtua Fighter 4: Evolution, released in 2003, was the first update to add new characters, these being Brad Burns and Goh Hinogami. Virtua Fighter 4: Final Tuned, an upgrade to Evolution, was released in the arcades in early 2005.
The transition of the Virtua Fighter arcade games to the home console has generally been hit or miss.
For instance, even though the Sega Saturn's Titan architecture was essentially the same as the Model 1 arcade board, the port of VF1 to the Saturn in 1995 suffered due to flickering polygons and floaty control. The game was unfortunately rushed onto the Saturn to make the early launch date of said system, and little time was given to optimize the game. VF1 also appeared on the 32X system and while considered the weaker of the two systems, the 32X port was considered the superior. An update of Virtua Fighter, called Virtua Fighter Remix, was made for the Saturn in order to deal with the problems and mailed to registered owners of the system.
Although the Saturn's Titan board was inferior to the Model 2, the port of Virtua Fighter 2 on the Saturn for Christmas 1995 was considered a success. Save for the missing bridge in Shun Di's river level, the game was kept intact.
A port of the original Virtua Fighter and Virtua Fighter 2 with enhanced graphics were also released for the PC. Virtua Fighter 2 was also rereleased on the PlayStation 2 as a part of the Sega Ages series.
The only port of Virtua Fighter 3 was for the Sega Dreamcast by Genki (instead of AM2) with Virtua Fighter 3TB in 1998 for the Japanese release of the console. Although the Dreamcast's NAOMI hardware was superior to the Model 3, the Dreamcast port was considered to be inferior in terms of graphics. Many blame a rush job to make it for the Dreamcast's Japanese release as the reason for this issue. Additionally, the Japanese release did not include a proper two player mode (a second player had to jump into a one player game instead of a proper option on the title screen), although this was fixed for the American release in November 1999.
Following Sega's retreat from the hardware market in mid-2001, Virtua Fighter 4 was ported by Sega to the PlayStation 2 in 2002. Outside of a slight downgrade in graphics, the port of the game was considered well done. This port was followed by Virtua Fighter 4: Evolution, an update that added two new characters as well as a host of game balancing tweaks, in 2003. VF4:E was immediately released under the PlayStation 2's "Greatest Hits" label in the United States, which lowered its initial sticker price. This game also included a version of the original Virtua Fighter, called Virtua Fighter: 10th Anniversary, which is a remake of VF1 with all characters in the series up to that point (in the first VF4 release for PS2, a button code would make the player's character look like a VF1 model).
Virtua Fighter 5 was released for the American PlayStation 3 on February 20, 2007. As games on the Sega Lindbergh arcade system board could rather easily be translated on the PS3's architecture (the Lindbergh uses x86 architecture; the PS3 uses a PowerPC architecture), the conversion is essentially perfect. In December 2006, Sega announced that an Xbox 360 port of the game was due the summer of 2007. It was released in October 2007 and contains the additions of online fighting via Xbox Live, improved graphics, and gameplay balances from the newer revision of the arcade game.
Sega's 8-bit consoles, the portable Game Gear and the home console Sega Master System, as well as the 16-bit Mega Drive/Genesis are not capable of internally displaying polygonal, three-dimensional graphics (Genesis polygonal racing game Virtua Racing relied on the Sega Virtua Processor hardware co-processor). To still be able to profit from the franchise's success, Sega created two-dimensional ports for those systems in 1996. A 2D-version of Virtua Fighter 2, which featured graphics that somewhat resembled the original 3D game, was produced for the Genesis. A 8-bit game, called Virtua Fighter Mini, based on the 35 episodes long anime series of Virtua Fighter was also created. Virtua Fighter Mini was later ported to the Master System by Tec Toy under the name Virtua Fighter Animation.
The release of VF2 on the Saturn was followed by the super deformed version called Virtua Fighter Kids in 1996. Also released for the Saturn and related to Virtua Fighter were Fighters Megamix (1996). In Japan, the curious Virtua Fighter Portrait Series, wherein each character in the series had their own Saturn CD showcasing various poses of the fighter, was released around the same time as well. People who collected all the discs could send in their proof of purchases to get a special Portrait CD of Dural.
The Dreamcast game Shenmue, also developed by AM2/Yu Suzuki, was called Virtua Fighter RPG in the early stages of development and features a Virtua Fighter-like fighting system and in-game Virtua Fighter memorabilia (such as capsule machine toys of the characters). Suzuki has said numerous times that he used the series' main character, Akira Yuki, as the main influence in the main character Ryo Hazuki. Throughout the game and its sequel, there are several characters whose appearances and fighting styles closely match those of the Virtua Fighter series.
Virtua Quest, a simplified RPG (which was also known as Virtua Fighter RPG) with new characters aimed at the children's market, was released for the Nintendo GameCube in 2004 and the PlayStation 2 in 2005.
In particular, its fans note its more realistic, "tournament rules"-style gameplay (for instance, a loss can occur when a character is knocked out of bounds), which differentiated the first iteration from other fighting games at that time. It is also applauded for its depth, as each character has plenty of moves and strategies to learn, and that each character plays differently from each other. Additionally, the game is also known for its balance across all characters, such that a good user of one character can have a fair match against another good user of any other character.
The developers of the game have also been considered rather meticulous, as shown by their removal of Taka-Arashi, the reason being that the hit detection was too difficult to calculate for the character in comparison to other characters. The producers also held strong on their refusal to add an online mode to console versions of the games; because the gameplay relies so much on timing, any lag would ruin the experience, as expressed by VF5 producer Noriyuki Shimoda in the February 2007 issue of Electronic Gaming Monthly when speaking of the PlayStation 3 port of VF5. Eventually, with the Xbox 360 release of VF5, Sega decided to add online capabilities via Xbox Live.
The success of the Virtua Fighter series resulted in Guinness World Records awarding the series 7 world records in the Guinness World Records: Gamer's Edition 2008. These records include, "First Polygon Based Fighting Game", First 3D Fighting Game", and "First Fighting Game for a 32-bit Console".