And this is where Virtual On always differed from the competition – 3D “cyber” games were nothing new even back in 1996 – but Katoki Hajime’s (Policenauts, Super Robot Taisen, numerous Gundams) designs created machines that were somehow relatable while still being firmly in sci-fi robot territory. This strong design work didn’t just help sell Temjin model kits and allow for Phantasy Star Online 2 crossover outfits, it helped players get a good feel of the play style and weight of a VR before they’d gone anywhere near them – anime-style “hero” VR’s, more serious military combatants, and some really out-there mechs have always been a series staple and when they’re wrapped up in Virtual On’s beautiful style it means there’s a fighter to suit everyone.
Until 2003, when a sort-of pared-down version of Force hit the PS2 in both Japan and the US in 2003 under the name Virtual On Marz. Suffice it to say, nobody likes Marz and it didn’t sell terribly well.
But a little detail like that was never going to stop Sega from doing something crazy so in 2010, hot on the heels of Force’s arcade debut nine years earlier, the game finally got the arcade-perfect home port it deserved and Force saw the light of day on the Xbox 360. But only in Japan. It’s like they were trying to sell as few units as possible or something.
Anyway! Hori also got on the bandwagon and made an official 360 Twin Stick EX to go with the game, which only cost around five times as much as the standard edition of Force did at launch (30,857 yen for the stick, before shipping), and Sega released a limited edition version of the game that came with a booklet and six music CDs, because Virtual On has always had amazing music.
There may have been peaks and troughs over the past two decades but Virtual On remains an iconic and exhilarating series even though it feels like it’s constantly trying to be as awkward and unbuyable as possible. With Border Break taking over in arcades as Sega’s team-based mech game of choice and Oratorio Tangram’s best version remaining a digital-only 360 exclusive it’s unlikely that the series will ever reach the audience it deserves, but it has managed to carve out a respectable niche that both the developers and dedicated fans have every right to feel proud of.