Sega often had multiple arcade boards running at the same time and never really dedicated their library and efforts on just one board. For example, while the Model 3 board was developed to replace Model 2 and was introduced in 1995, Model still kept going until 1998 and was phased out only after NAOMI hit the scene. Furthermore, Sega had their System 21 running from 1987 to 1996, while their H1 system was barely a blip on the scene in 1995, with it being their last Super Scaler board and had only two games. Other companies, like SNK with Neo-Geo, emphasized the amount of games on a board for a more economic approach. However, Sega had made good business in the arcades with excellent selection of timeless classics, but as we saw with the Dreamcast’s end, all things must come to an end.
Sega Hikaru hit the scene in 1999, before Model 3 was phased out and after NAOMI was put into public use, the Hikaru is almost a high budget, envelope pushing hardware to NAOMI’s ties to more budget conscious approach. Despite being derivative of NAOMI technology, it was expensive to produce due to its chipset, and it was hard to code for due to its intricacies. It featured a custom build Sega GPU with advanced graphical capabilities, almost a standard for Sega’s flagpole systems, with additional CPU, sound and other custom processors that utilised the expanded bandwidth and memory. All this was partially to enable the Hikaru to do Phong shading, which was the most advanced shading technique of the time, which essentially calculated the needed colour per pixel, making triangles on a model seamless and allowed better specular highlights.
The Hikaru was developed almost exclusively for Brave Firefighters, a 1999 arcade game.
The game made use of Hikaru’s prowress with its fire and water effects, making the game essentially Hikaru’s demo. As you can see in the How To Play sequence in the video above, the game had a water hose shaped controller the player would use to spray water like a real firefighter in a railshooter fashion, making the game a distant cousin to The House of the Dead series. Planet Harriers used the board to a much greater effect, and was the best looking game of its era in 2000. However, due to the Hikaru’s costs and Sega’s games not needing such a powerhouse, the company opted to developed further NAOMI derivatives, like NAOMI 2, which would be cheaper and see more licensing.
The last game on the Hikaru was Virtual-On FORCE.
Developed by Hitmaker, to which AM3 was merged into, Virtual-On FORCE was released in 2001, with M.S.B.S Ver. 7.5. Unlike with Oratorio Tangram‘s revisions, FORCE‘s revisions were strictly character balance and bug related. No new stages or Virtuaroids were introduced in Ver 7.6 or 7.7, which was released in 2002. The game is pretty to look at due to Hikaru, with presentation still being top notch. FORCE boasts one of the best designed GUI and HUD in the series thus far all the while still using clear and easily readable text and colours.
FORCE‘s title, and the logo’s 4, refers to the four-players the game now has in any given battle. While the core is still the same from Oratorio Tangram, the left Turbo button has been replaced with a Lock switcher. While this takes away some of the options per Virtuaroid, another larger introduction to the series was usable models per VR. Double jumping has also been removed.
Each VR now has a base model and variety of upgraded variations. For example, Temjin 747 has its base model, an armament and air mobility upgrade, heavy armament upgrade and an armorless prototype version, with high mobility. These three models also have a Commander upgrade to them, which all have ever so slight visual changes to them, which all are not represented in the listing below. For example, Specineff Type R can be recognised for having an open skull face. All these different variations would change weapons sets, movement options and overall behaviour of the VR to some extent, including faster shots.
Below you can access the playable cast of Virtuaroids in the game. Please click an image for a large view and a description. I would recommend checking the previous two entries in the series for larger context how each returning Virtuaroid has evolved, if needed.
Temjin 707, or rather its 707J variant, is an improved version of Oratorio Tangram’s Second Generation VR. The lore states that it’s having hard time coping Mars due to its being designed to function mainly on Earth, which makes this essentially the usual Temjin you already know. Weapons haven’t changed much, Left having a Power Bomb, Center having the saber and Right the usual beam rifle you’d expect. Not spectacularly efficient, but overall still a good starting point for the further versions. 707J+ uses the same base model, with additional thrusters on the back. While the weapons have been slightly adjusted, it plays very similar any standard Temjin. 707J/c is a Commander variant, which has Sleipner Mk5 as its beam rifle instead of 707J’s Mk4. Otherwise its mobility is the same. The 10/80 ADV here is the initial model brought to Mars to test out how it works under new conditions, and was spread around black markets afterwards. Essentially, just a slower variant of the original 10/80 Special from Oratorio Tangram.
A true Third Generation Virtuaroid, Temjin747 was developed from all the data gained from the tests and tribulations Temjin707 had to go through. Its armour can now be exchanged around for larger sets of equipments and the Commander variants have proper increase in performance. Despite this, its main weakness is slightly slower respond and recovery compared to the 707 series. The 747A is the main unit in the lineup, showcasing what the new boosters can do compared to the 707. The upgraded form of the balanced Temjin. 747F, just like its 707 equivalent, got extra thrusters bolted on it, which look a bit like they were salvaged from a Viper II as they enable a 4-way beam. It’s overall performance in the air got better at the charge of its armour. But if armour is what you are looking for, the 747H is what you want. Designed to hit hard and far, 747H can take a beating all the while slapping Buster Bomb Mk4’s all around the stage. The 747T is perhaps most interesting out of the group, as it functioned as the testbed for the 747 line’s armour swapping capability. The T variant simply lack any of them, which of course allows its performance to rise dramatically, despite still having 2nd gen thrusters. It’s a glass cannon the AI never uses. 10/80 ADV was listed among 747 series’ units, so I’m dropping it here as well. Much like the T variant, 10/80ADV was mostly used as a testbed model for various technologies before any particular direction was decided on.
Fei-Yen returns as a waitress in Force, something the otaku crowd approved of. The variant naming refers to what sort of Centre Weapon each Fei-Yen has, with ViVid Heart being classical model. Blue Heart on the other hand is a heavier hitter, with a larger sword and more massive Heart Beam-type weapon. This model was equipped with some of Kagekiyo’s weaponry, hence the sword. The result of the battle against the aforementioned, Blue Heart variant became rather popular. Panic Heart is a support role unit mainly, with its sword being able to transform into a bowgun. It’s special capability is to interfere with the Reverse Conversion process, causing its namesake panic in the enemy Virtuaroids and their pilots. Cinderalla Heart resembles a waitress the most, as it ditches any kind of sword for a tray for its melee weapon. Outside some weapon changes, its performance is similar to Fei-Yen with ViVid Heart
Raiden returns with various forms, though its first model 512E2 hasn’t changed much. The 512E1 model swaps the bazooka for a beam launcher, making the two complement each other, with the first variant doing more knock-downs while the latter can do more beam spamming. Both still have the shoulder lasers, which still devastate most enemies on the field. The 812A model changes Raiden rather drastically, as it swaps weapons for a Hyper-Club and knuckle-buster. Even the shoulder lasers have been switched different kind of version, making this a close-combat Raiden with a heavy defence. If the previous two were front-line attackers in both long and short-distance, then the 512D variant is the support unit. Its Left Weapon is more like Temjin’s Power Bomb while Right has the same weapon as MYZR series. The Shoulder Lasers now act like webbing to catch the enemy for a moment, allowing Raiden’s teammate to position itself for better hits. The N1 series exchanges Raiden’s armour for mobility, as you’d expect from those legs.
Apharmd J series follows the base series rather closely, with tonfas and SMGs, especially in Type C. Type J has a hat. Type A on the other hand drops the maximum melee capability in exchange for more balance ranged combat, and slightly lower mobility. And as you’d expect, this being an Apharmd line, you have to have concentration on melee somehow. While Type C has one point higher melee, Type G is all about that knock-down with its Knuckle Buster equipment, which was made to compete with VOX’s Claw Launcher. Apharmd line was supposed to function as shock troopers, and Type X probably aims to fill the role with its optical camouflage. When the Type X stands still, it turns invisible, Predator style. In exchange, all of its capabilities mid-range with straight fives out of ten. Lastly, Type M was favoured by some general who wanted to put laser blades unto Apharmd’s legs. The kicker of the group, obviously, with otherwise pretty standard weaponry. The J in the line stands for Jaguar, and as such wears a jaguar’s spot pattern.
The T model, despite its buff appearance, was aimed to be more a support line of units rather than shock troops of the J line. Type F embodies the support role in a straightforward fashion, with a bazooka and a shoulder launcher strapped on its frame. If that’s not your game, Type D offers a beam weapon and shoulder mounter rocket launchers. Type B is almost a mix of support and attack units, with its emphasize on close-combat. It’s mobility is higher and works best in harassing the enemy to keep it out of balance. T-lines Type X uses the same optical camo as J-lines, but exchanges its armour for higher mobility, making it more a glass cannon.
The BAL series returns with an experimental 3rd Generation Virtuaroid Operating System in Bal d CISTA, and follows Bal-Bas-Bow’s and Bal-Bados’ limb separation attacks with the ERL weapons. An interesting concept in the lineup is that there is a special attack two Bal’s can do together, something no other Virtuaroid pair can. The BAL series still excel at field trapping like no other, but reach variation gives an emphasize to a different field. To add more mobility to the BAL series, BAL d MEORA returns to use a pod-type lower body, increasing its mobility a bit, but otherwise leaving it middle-of the road. v TIGLA on the other hand drops some of that mobility for one of the strongest areal attacks in the game with its Left ERL Weapon, which leaves a spider-like trap on the field. Despite sources saying m RINO has same mobility as d MEORA, that’s not exactly the case. It is a bit more manouvreable, which complements its middle-of-the-road attack power just fine. m LANDA is the female variation of m CISTA, having the same overall stats but slight differences to its weapons. s RIMSO probably shows the best that the difference between the male and female body types used in this BAL series differs mostly in weapon variation and female version being slightly more agile. As a quad-walker, this type’s speed is notably higher than its v TIGLA male counterpart.
The VOX series is an interesting mix of previously seen lines, being direct descendant of Dorkas and Dordray, with healthy loads of Belgdor thrown in there. There’s not much to say overall, outside that each variant emphasizes different field of firepower. Some have a lot more missiles than others, some have more lasers, some emphasize on close combat and some have tracks to keep the upright in a clash. The VOX line has the most dakka out of all Virtuaroids, and should be treated as such. They’re frontal assault and support rolled into one. It should be specially mentioned, that you can see all the elements from the previous lines that occupied the heavy hitters’ spot in VOX series.
Successor series to the Cypher line, MYZR takes over as the transforming VR line with light armouring and best mid-air performance. Delta model is effectively a renamed Cypher, having similar weapons and overall performance. The R variants denote a Commander unit. The Heta version however emphasizes on attack power with a beam launcher and micro missile launchers. This drops its mobility a bit, but still excels in mid-air. The Gamma model tries to compensate MYZR’s weak armor by changing its Right Weapon for a shield that can reflect shots. It’s Centre Weapon is also slightly tracking long distance weapon now, and unlike its two other variant brothers, works surprisingly well in close-combat.
Angelan found its sweetspot as a both long-range fighter and support craft. Unlike with others, you can spot the Commander variants straight up, as they have a new head gear and their wings are now coloured gold. As MH’s name would imply, this model is more about playing things on the defence and can allocate teammates’s damage to itself. WH on the other hand emphasizes attack power, but this Angelan can still heal teammates from abnormal statuses e.g. Fei-Yen with Panic Heart can cause. SH is a multifield support unit compared to the two, with it having best direct attacks and is able to share its energy with teammates across the stage. It’s Left Weapon also shoots bullets that look like Opa Opa from Fantasy Zone.
The Third Generation VR Specineffs are essentially split variations of the Second Generation model’s abilities. The Sin resembles the original Specineff in appearance and weaponry the most, and is considered the mainline unit the series. However, due to the split in capabilities, it’s a mid-range fighter at most, with its EVL Screamer having shorter distance. The War changes the scythe for an axe, this emphasizing heavier close combat. Out of all the versions in the lineup, this Specineff hits the hardest and can actually take more than just one hit. However, as usual, it has lost some of its ground mobility. The End uses giant scissors, and its legacy ability is to disable enemies’ weapons. Despite being a longer ranger unit than its two brothers, it really doesn’t hit all that hard and is best used as a support unit.
One of the two new playable Virtuaroids introduced in FORCE, Kagekiyo excels in physical close combat with its relatively high speed and defence. Its weapons overall do surprising damage, but this is in exchange of slightly higher recovery period between attacks and large Weapon gauge consumption, making it necessary for the players to make sure their attacks hit. This was partially why Kagekiyo didn’t see much use in the arcades, where MYZR and Specineff ruled as kings. The base model Wind has one larger sword alongside two smaller ones. This lightest armoured Kagekiyo has the best air mobility in the lineup, and has a special ability where it can increase its attack power at the price of long-range weapons and half of current energy is consumed. Grove variant ditches the swords for a spear, and takes things a bit slower when up close, but this Kagekiyo variant is all about keeping the enemy at a distance with its increased long-range distance shots. The Fire variant uses a thin blade to attack, and has the highest armour rating among the variants in exchange for its mobility. However, its melee is still quick, and it can use the same melee power-up method as its Wind brethren. Mountain Kagekiyo is all about long-range, as it strangely can even shoot properly. Its melee may be slow, but it also has the longest close-combat reach in the game. Lastly the Gale variant is similar to Wind, but has a difference in performance, can’t power-up its melee and is able to combine its two swords into a bow, allowing this Kagekiyo to have a more balanced combat range.
Guarayakha may not have variants, but that just means it doesn’t need any. This Virtuaroid is highly destructive, with most of its attacks dishing out decent, explosive damage. Unlike other VRs, it has a gimmick gauge Anger, which increases as it takes damage. If this gauge fills up, Guarayakha tranforms into Juaguarandi, with magical girl hat and all. This of course, ups the firepower the player has in his use, but Jaguarandi is not the most agile unit in the game, and is scaled down from its mid-game boss form. On the plus side, Jaguarandi does not take any damage. All this damage is dealt directly after the gauge is empty and the VR transforms back to Guarayakha. It may seem weird for Guarayakha to transform into Jaguarandi, but the lore states it was specifically designed and built to capture the Phantom Beast Trooper. This didn’t work, with Jaguarandi using Guarayakha as a conduit to access the physical plane. Guarayakha was nevertheless put into production, now with the ability to transform into a smaller, less powerful version of Jaguarandi.
In the arcades, the players had a pass they could use to save their progress as they collected items to unlock these different model upgrades. In the end, this caused the difference between starters and veterans to be rather high, as veterans tended to have powerhouse versions that steamrolled over beginners’ base VRs. This system was implemented to level the players’ skill levels and preferences, but it didn’t work out as intended.
Furthermore, the game’s overall speed and pacing has been taken down a notch, slower than Operation Moongate. The reason for this seems to be the addition of four-player gameplay. Constant four-player mode affected the stages to be designed from different standpoint from previous two games. Some stages are almost chock-full of objects, while others have large enough open fields that weapons won’t carry from one end to another.
The four-player standard brought in cooperation elements in form of healing and revival. You can heal your partner with certain motions, if they’re going into critical energy. Reviving is what exactly as it sounds, and can be done by touching the spot where fallen partner’s marker is. These two elements do make things slightly more tactical with the added emphasize on cooperation outside selecting complementing Virtuaroids.
While this seems like a logical approach, the stage designs themselves mostly don’t really work. Due to these changes, matches slug along slower, and all the enemy attacks easy to see and avoid due to the distances involved. The HUD also has a minimap now, showing you the position of your team mate and enemies, trying to make these larger stages work better for Virtual-On.
The few matches that make the game shine have less drastic height differences in geometry and are smaller, making the four-player matches hectic as you’re trying hit your locked-on opponent while trying to keep track on your teammate’s status and where the other opponent is. However, all these good points can only be enjoyed and seen in high-level of game play and normal play will be as sluggish as the VR introductions that appear between the levels that you can’t skip. This is where FORCE shows it has potential, but it is wasted with few wrong decisions in the stage department and terribly sluggish pace.
However, it must be said that FORCE can be enjoyed, if its approached properly. It’s not a blitz like its predecessors, and trying to tackle it as such will only yield disappointment.
The exception are the pair of final bosses in the arcade mode, Ajim and Guerlain, which simply are not fun to fight at all. A complete let down.
What supported the game in the arcades was its community. The four-player element asked a partner to go with you. Alone you were gimped, as the player supporting AI can be outright stupid at times. The AI overall in FORCE can be infuriating, as it seems it reads player inputs and acts according to those. Nevertheless, the game really came together when you had a large amount of people to play with rather than tackling this alone, something that detracts from the game on the long run. However, this close human contact aspect also is why the game still has a following behind it, along with the whole getting new VR aspect it has.
The slower speed of the Virtuaroids wasn’t hand waved away though, with the lore explicitly stating that the performance of these Virtuaroids is not on par of Earth’s due to Mars’ and Jupiter’s V-Crystals being of lower quality. The game’s plot surrounds on the war for Mars’ and Jupiter’s Crystals and who would be able to take control over them. Just like how Operation Moongate‘s first half is a simulation before sending you to Moongate, and Oratorio Tangram taking place first on Earth, then in space, FORCE starts on Mars and moves to Jupiter.
Since Oratorio Tangram had a marginal success, and giant robots were enjoying their last days of popular glory, it mean the series had gone from mainline success to something only the otaku crowd mostly enjoyed. Later Oratorio Tangram materials introduced bunny girl Fei-Yen and Angelan, and the decision to turn Fei-Yen into waitress was part of this fanservice. Waitresses were popular in the early 2000’s, after all.
The 360 port was released in 2010, year after Oratorio Tangram‘s. It would seem Sega tested the waters if it was worth releasing the game on the platform, which seemed to hit the spot. It is a superior port compared to its predecessors’, despite still being rather lacking in bells and whistles department. However, Apharmd the Hatter from MARZ was included as an unlockable VR, split-screen multiplayer was introduced alongside with some DLC missions, making FORCE to have more bang for you buck. It is also region free, which is something Sega probably decided on after assessing the success, or the lack of it, Oratorio Tangram‘s 360 release had.
As FORCE was a physical release, it had both standard and collectors’ edition, named Memorial Box. This collector’s edition included Virtual-On Chronicle 15, a massive book that looked back at the fifteen year history of the series at the time, a six disc soundtrack collection Virtual-On Official Sound Data, and to offer service to certain demographic, and a download code for an item called Thorax, which allowed the player to adjust Fei-Yen and Angelan’s bust sizes. Two superballs were also included, both having Tangram printed on them in red and blue.
[27.11.2019 update] With the release of Cyber Trooper Virtual-On Masterpiece: 1995~2001 on the Japanese PlayStation store, we’ve got a new definitive home release for the game. This digital collection saves you the problem of importing (unless you prefer collecting physical games), and does support Tanita’s Twin Stick. You have online mode and such to go with it as well. However, if you are a XBOX One user and have your original 360 disc, the game is backwards compatible, though no word yet if you can use 360 Twin Stick on XBOX One. T
With these releases, Virtual-On models took a new wind, with pretty much each and every variations getting its own kit. These weren’t mediocre kits that the series saw in the 1990’s, but competitively high-grade injection kits produced by Hasegawa. They’re rather complex and fragile, and require just a step more skill to build than a Gundam kit, though Bandai’s Gunpla has superior quality in every regard. Most paint applications came on water transfer decals, which were in high numbers due to the most complex paint schemes the series had seen thus far. These kits are still in-stock at some places, with prices ranging from thirty euro to hundred depending on the model.
Virtual-On FORCE would be the last game in the series to debut in the arcades. Sega would develop more affordable arcade options for the ever dwindling market, while concentrating to produce games for platforms that were their competitors just a year prior.