Players can choose from a selection of eight fighters, six male and two female, each with his or her own distinct fighting style. Fights are conducted as best two out of three affairs, meaning that a fighter has to defeat his or her opponent twice in order to win and advance to the next round. Fighters can be defeated by either hitting them to drain their life bar, or by forcing them off the edge of the fighting platform.
Fighters do not have access to the special techniques or super moves that have become a staple of 2D fighters. Instead, they must rely on a selection of throws as well as attacks performed either singly or in small combinations. The game features over 700 moves, with each fighter using techniques that are appropriate to his or her background and martial arts style.
In another departure from 2D fighting design, Virtua Fighter uses only three buttons. Players have one button each for punching, kicking, and blocking. When used together or in various combinations, players can bring out a character's full range of fighting techniques.