Psychic Force 2012, a victim of limited appeal, will be easily scoffed at by those who don't give it the chance it deserves. For open-minded fighting fans, it represents what a niche fighting game should strive to achieve - extremely bizarre play mechanics, a steep learning curve, and highly stylized anime art.
In this game, you take the role of a "psychiccer" - someone imbued with paranormal abilities, such as flight and telekinetic projection of energy and solid objects. Each fight takes place in a clear cube suspended in midair, and characters float around inside until they are knocked out, at which point they crash to the floor or are blasted out of the cube as it shatters with the force of the final blow. As you hover, float, and dash through the air, you can come in close for some traditional combo-based punch-and-kick action or remain distant and fire a volley of projectiles. At any rate, and at any distance, the action is fast and at times hard to perceive. A wave of energy coruscates and throbs across the screen; the combo counter ticks, and suddenly your character is smacked to the bottom of the cube. The computer is a tough opponent in this game - although fairer than in the Japanese version of the game - and can make it difficult to get a good grasp on the gameplay. Unfortunately, that can initially make the game seem like a terrible button-mashing experience, even though it can be so much more.
You have a shared psy and life gauge. As your energy decreases, your psy increases - this is what gives you the power to execute supernatural moves. These moves drain the psy meter, which then must be charged. The special moves are mostly of the tap-tap variety found in other 3D fighting games, and control seriously benefits from an arcade joystick, which returns to a neutral position on the completion of each move to facilitate smooth transitions in the arena. This is a game that requires almost surgical precision, deadly quickness, and a keen eye. The extremely steep learning curve is off-putting; it's hard even to crack it and get into the deep gameplay, let alone ascend it without obscene amounts of practice.The characters are extremely appealing. From Emilio, the androgynous and haughty seraph, to Might, this game's take on the spiky-haired anime hero we are all intimately familiar with - they all shine with personality throughout the game. The voice-acting, which is in Japanese, is superb, and the story mode really glows with personality. Anime purists will rejoice to know that Acclaim decided to subtitle the game's dialogue. While that might irritate many average players, at least they can take heart in the fact that they are not being subjected to the kind of poor-quality acting that populated the first Psychic Force. It's a shame that the subtitles are of extremely dodgy quality. "I... don't know!" becomes "You'll never know!" Also, unlike its predecessor for the PlayStation, this game totally lacks any animated sequences. There are ten characters playable initially, and three more hidden, and each has a distinct personality. Unfortunately, these personalities have all been lifted from other anime (as the very theme of this game has been lifted from Clamp's X, down to the protective cube erected by the challenger), and you will definitely be familiar with them if you have any grounding in Japanese animation. That they are handled so expertly is what keeps them from fading easily from sight and mind.
The graphics are competent and appealing, if not technically excellent. Being a direct port of the arcade version, which runs on Taito's Wolf hardware, the game is far behind the capabilities of the Dreamcast. The models and backdrops are made of a higher number of polygons than you see on the other systems, and the textures, especially, are much nicer, but other Dreamcast games are clearly more taxing to the hardware. Still, the frame rate is a consistent and smooth 60fps, and as Taito's recent release Psychic Force 2 for the PlayStation proved, there is absolutely no way to cram this game back a generation and retain its quality. As for the music, it's about as old-school as game music can get. Provided by Taito's Zuntata sound team, it sounds basically like a CD-ROM soundtrack circa 1991. It is appealing, if that's the kind of thing that you like; it's definitely got that video-game music feel to it. The whole game has that sense. It's a video game, and it never tries to be anything else. There is no illusion that you're entering an interactive world or fighting a battle for the good of mankind. This is a game with graphics and life meters and pulsating green energy.
What will make or break this game for you is really the original and unintuitive gameplay. It's truly unlike any other fighting game out there. Easily dismissed, this game needs time devoted to it before its qualities begin to shine. One big bonus is the game's price - with many Dreamcast games coming out at $44.99 and above, Psychic Force can be had for $29.99. The first few times you play this game, your initial reaction may be to blow it off and never try it again because of the difficulty and the bizarre game system. That said, it really is worth a second or even third look, because there is depth here to to be found.