30 Days of Dreamcast – Day 25: Psychic Force 2012

Psychic Force 2012
Genre: Fighting
Developer: Taito
Publisher: Acclaim
Release Date: 10/31/99


Y’know, I have no idea why Psychic Force wasn’t a successful franchise. Back in the 90’s, when Dragonball Z was starting to gain popularity in the US, fans were looking for a game that emulated the experience of the TV show, but there were no games to be found. Psychic Force was something of an answer to that need, as it was a fighting game that involved people flying around in the air launching energy attacks at one another, and it featured colorful anime characters as the cast, which seems like it’d be a winning formula if I ever saw one. Instead, Psychic Force 2012 for the Dreamcast was the last game in the franchise, which is something of a shame. It’s not that the series was fantastic, or that the games were amongst the best created, butPsychic Force 2012 was, and still is, incredibly fun to play. It was a fighting game featuring psychic characters who fly around beating each other up with flashy special moves, and while it wasn’t the easiest game to learn, it was a blast all the same.

The story behind Psychic Force 2012 picks up two years after the events of the first game. The first game ended with a confrontation between Keith Edwards and Burn Griffin, friends-turned-enemies on a collision course, and their confrontation resulted in the destruction of the underground fortress of Noa, an organization of psychics trying to take over the world. When we jump into the story, Keith is up to his old tricks again, having created Neo Noa, with the goal of creating a peaceful place for psychics. Richard Wong, something of a side villain in the first game, has also created his own group, dubbed the Army of Psychics for lack of a better term, who seek complete control of the world and death to their opponents. In-between these two groups stand several psychics with no ties or loyalties, among them Burn Griffith, and you pretty much know that things are going to go down. Every character has their own story in the game, and while the stories aren’t exactly classic literature, the stories are fine for what they are. Further, as this was years before such things became notably commonplace in fighting games, it’s pretty neat to see it in a game from ten years ago. The game itself offers plenty of play modes as well; you’ve got Story Mode, Arcade Mode, Versus Mode against both humans and the CPU, Training Mode, and “Watch Mode”, where you can watch the CPU characters fight. Between the solid storylines and the good selection of modes, Psychic Force 2012 comes on strong from the get-go.

Visually, Psychic Force 2012 looks decent, and while there are better looking games on the Dreamcast, it’s by no means a slouch in the graphics department. The character models are smooth and well animated for the most part, the backgrounds are mostly quite epic and impressive backdrops for your battles, and the special effects are generally flashy and vibrant. Each character has different special moves, all of which are fairly impressive looking and look nice in action, and the game generally runs at a good, stable frame rate. However, the visuals aren’t the best on the system, as the textures aren’t super impressive compared to what the system is capable of, and the characters look angular in places, making the game look a little rougher than something like Soul Calibur, though it still looks pretty good. Aurally, the music is primarily electronic rock, which fits the concept and the game perfectly fine, and makes beating the stuffing out of your opponents more exciting. The voice acting is mostly solid, though the acting is Japanese only, for those who were hoping for English voice acting. What’s here is solid, however, and the appropriate emotions and power come across in the voice work well. The sound effects are also mostly spot-on, between the various effects of the characters’ elemental attacks and the standard sounds of punching and kicking, and the overall effect of the sound effects is satisfying.

Psychic Force 2012 might be a bit daunting for new players to wrap their heads around, as the game, though familiar in certain respects, doesn’t really play like anything else on the market. You fight in an aerial arena in each battle, with each arena being incased in a translucent cube that keeps the fighters in a specific range of one another, and can be used as walls to smack opponents into. Your characters have a light and a heavy attack, which work at both close and long range; at close range they can be chained together for combination attacks, while at long range they act as projectile attacks of differing sorts. Each character can also block at the press of a button, and they can dodge up, down, left and right at the press of a button and a direction. Each character is equipped with multiple special moves, which are mostly performed using Mortal Kombat style directional taps, IE forward, back, forward and the button, as well as the occasional roll motion, and aside from lumping up opponents at close range, you can also grab them and deal damage with a solid grapple attack. None of the above should be hard to understand on its own, except possibly for the full range of motion; as there are no floors, there’s no jumping and ducking, and players simply fly around and strafe aside to avoid attacks, making the game a bit more involved than your typical fighting game out of the gate.

When you start taking in the game’s more unique mechanics is when the game becomes a little more involved. Your characters have a life bar on the left or right side of the screen that’s divided in half. The top half represents your life energy, while the bottom half represents your Psychic energy. As you attack with anything but fisticuffs and weak psychic attacks, your Psychic energy depletes. You’ll have to charge it if you want to keep fighting, which puts you into an odd rhythm of attacking and charging as needed. As you take damage, however, your Psychic meter becomes larger as your life bar depletes, meaning you have more reserves of energy with which to attack, making you, in effect, more powerful as you’re losing. Simple enough, right? Take damage, get more energy with which to deal damage. Well, you can also use what’s called Hyper Charge, which not only charges your Psychic meter, but ALSO increases your attack power, at the cost of some life, if you’re someone who enjoys a risk/reward scenario. For more defensive players, you can employ a regular guard to block attacks in addition to dodging, or you can use Barrier Guard, which drains some Psychic energy, but completely blocks most attacks, which can be vital, since more powerful attacks can still knock you into a wall. If an opponent is stomping your face in you can also throw up a Retreat Barrier to push them back and give yourself breathing room, or if your opponent is spamming the Barrier, you can use a Barrier Break to break their defense and rock their face. Psychic Force 2012 is as much about offense as it is defense, and knowing when and how to dodge and block is as important as knowing when and how to attack, which keeps games fast-paced and frantic.

There are a total of thirteen characters in the game, each with their own special moves and abilities to use, and each is surprisingly different in how they play. Characters like Burn and Keith are straight-up, in-your-face fighters with a solid ranged game, while characters like Patty and Wendy are more defensive, and characters like Richard and Emilio are more strategic. It’s not that the characters play exceptionally differently, as many of the motions and abilities work the same from character to character, but their special moves are quite diverse from one character to the next, making characters who have fundamentally similar play mechanics suitable for completely different styles of play. It isn’t that other fighting games don’t do this so much as many other fighting games make the cast members completely different from one another; Psychic Force 2012, instead, makes everyone play like everyone else, but changes around what everything DOES from character to character in a way a lot of fighting games don’t, which makes it a bit more interesting than it first seems. The game also offers up a Normal and a Beginner Mode, depending on your level of experience with the game; Beginner Mode allows you to auto-charge and auto-guard (up to a set amount), and directs projectiles at the enemy at all times which can take some of the guesswork out of learning the ropes, while Normal Mode leaves these tactics to you, but allows you to choose the direction to throw projectiles, making it a bit more exciting for experienced players.

As far as the modes go, Arcade Mode simply sees you face off against a series of computer opponents, as with any standard Arcade Mode, while Story Mode sees you face off against a series of computer opponents while going through your chosen character’s storyline. Versus Mode, as you’d expect, allows you to face off against your friends or the CPU in one-on-one duels, though there’s no online component to the game to speak of. Training Mode allows you to practice your abilities, as you’d guess, though there’s no move list to speak of in Training Mode… or any modes, for that matter… leaving you to figure out the basics or consult a FAQ online. Watch Mode allows you to pick two fighters and let the computer pit them against one another, if you want to look for strategies or moves you hadn’t thought of or didn’t know about. There are a few hidden characters to unlock to give the game some added depth beyond simply playing alone or with friends, and completing everyone’s story will take you a few hours, at least. The game also offers several different difficulty modes for those who are looking to improve their skills alone, and with the complex gameplay mechanics, you may well need the practice.

The biggest problem with Psychic Force 2012 is that the mechanics of the game are strange to adjust to at first, making it somewhat awkward to learn if you’re not used to what it’s trying to do. Blocking and dodging play equally important parts in the game, which could be something of an adjustment for a player approaching it fresh, both because it’s hard to focus on one or the other without getting smeared AND because doing both can take some time to adjust to. The mechanics of charging for attacks, using multiple kinds of blocks, dashing around the arena looking for the sweet spot and jacking up opponents against walls can take some serious getting used to, and aren’t going to be easy for casual fighting game fans to adjust to at first. The game itself isn’t dramatically changed from the first Psychic Force, mechanically, so if you’ve managed to play that, there’s not a significant amount of difference between the two. The concept itself also is a bit derivative; while the game mechanics and such are incredibly unique, the concepts in the game feel very much like an anime mash-up of sorts, and anime fans may feel like they’ve seen some of this before, if not mechanically, then conceptually.

The bottom line, though, is that you’ve most likely never really played a fighting game quite like Psychic Force 2012 unless you’ve played the game or its predecessor, as very few games do what this one does, and while the game can be hard to learn, it’s worth the effort. The game features a solid story and a good amount of game modes, the presentation is quite good, and the gameplay, though complex, is quite interesting and unique, which makes the game feel fresh and different. Unfortunately, it can take a significant amount of time to really learn how the mechanics operate, the game hasn’t changed or improved much from its predecessor, and it feels a bit derivative conceptually, if not mechanically, which might make it seem less original than it truly is. If you’re in the market for an interesting fighting game unlike any you’ve ever seen, Psychic Force 2012 is easily worth your investment, but if you’re not willing to put in the time learning how it works, it might not be for you.

The Scores:
Story/Game Modes: GREAT
Graphics: GOOD
Sound: GREAT
Control/Gameplay: GREAT
Replayability: GOOD
Balance: ABOVE AVERAGE
Originality: ABOVE AVERAGE
Addictiveness: GOOD
Appeal: ABOVE AVERAGE
Miscellaneous: GREAT
FINAL SCORE: GOOD GAME.

Short Attention Span Summary:
Psychic Force 2012 is one of the better fighting games on the Dreamcast, thanks in large part to its innovative gameplay mechanics and solid design, but thanks to some complexities in its gameplay and some mild concept issues, it might not be everyone’s cup of tea. The storyline is solid and there are a good amount of game modes, the presentation is strong both aurally and visually, and the gameplay, though involved, is a lot of fun once you have a strong understanding of how it works. However, the game can take a good amount of time to learn, which might put off casual fans, and between the lack of innovation from the first game to the second and the somewhat derivative feel of the concept, the game can occasionally feel less fresh and exciting than it actually is. Anyone looking for a different kind of fighting game or a fighting game with a real super-powered anime feel will fall in love with Psychic Force 2012, but for everyone else, it might be a bit more involved than they’d prefer.

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