RETRO REBOOT | Psychic Force 2012 (Sega Dreamcast): Arena Fighting Anime Mediocrity

In the fighting game circles, the term "anime fighter" became pretty ubiquitous around the genre, mostly with the increased popularity of Arc System Works' Guilty Gear and BlazBlue series. Definitions can vary, but a general defining trait in the gameplay would be the air dashing mechanic, bullet hell projectiles, and of course the art style. In my eyes, their more primordial incarnations can be found with Tamsoft's 90's fighter Battle Arena Toshinden, Bloody Roar, and something like today's review, Psychic Force 2012, which is peak edgelord late 90's anime at its cringiest.

I watched a ton of anime throughout the early 90's and it had a heavy influence on me as an artist and writer. Naturally, anything that resembled the style, I was generally down for. That being said, the later part of the 1990's saw an influx of some of the worst anime, rife with some hideous traits; overly exaggerated physiques, tacky outfits, generic and formulaic plots, a hot-blooded protag, giant hair, colors so heavily saturated, they could induce vomiting. What does this have to do with Psychic Force? This game embodies ALL of these traits, on top of gameplay that's about as unappealing as toenail-flavored ice cream.

A sequel to the 1995 game Psychic Force, Psychic Force 2012 was developed by Taito (produced by Takeshi Kamimura, of Ys V: Lost Kefin, Kingdom of Sand), Psychic Force 2012 is an arena fighter or sorts. The action is 2.5D, while the battlefield is a three dimensional cube.

The plot is almost every mainstream anime and manga title that started to pick up traction around this time; youths gifted with psychic powers want to live free, but are pursued by an oppressive government for the sake of performing experiments. It's a battle between psychics and humans in a war for survival. By simply looking at the cast, I can write the generalization of each of their stories just on optics.

Its art style may be appealing to some, and technically the graphics aren't bad. For even a Dreamcast title, the 3D models have a decent amount of detail to them, especially during a period where cel-shading was still in its infancy. There's little slowdown or clipping, so Psychic Force 2012 is alright. Getting a read on where energy blasts are being fired, however, gets confusing. It doesn't help that the 2D mapped backgrounds on some stages don't contrast enough from the action, leading to some of the visuals looking way too busy. The saturation is way too high, and it's all just graphical vomit.

Then there's actually trying to play the goddam game. As mentioned before, Psychic Force 2012 attempts at blurring the line between an arena fighter and a 2D fighter. The aforementioned Toshinden games tried to do this, but with failing results, leading to special moves that come off clunky and unintuitive. Psychic Force is even worse, since it's varying camera and perspective leads you to believe it's attempting free motion, while still requiring input motions. It BEGS for dual analog sticks, since general motion is keyed to the directional pad, and aiming your projectiles is done with analog. 

I'm just getting started. Psychic Force 2012 has a couple of other rules that clash terribly, like the ESP system, where your psychic energy increases with the more damage you take, weight classes among the roster that affects how combos reciprocate to certain characters, wall splat (stun damage upon hitting a wall that can lead to follow-up attacks), and hyper charges that deplete your life bar, but regains your energy.

 Getting used to the attacks can be a pain; when far away, your light and heavies act as projectiles, but when the distance is closed, it suddenly shifts to melee combat. The gameplay feels like four different ideas chucked into a blender and set to "puree". Despite aiming for something cerebral, the action is incredibly mindless and wins mostly can be tallied by mashing my way through.

Psychic Force 2012 feels more like attitude than a true game. I can understand that seemed it was going for something pretty different, but the execution is pretty bland, despite the high energy. The fights can be over in a matter of seconds, damage scaling and balance is all over the place, the characters are forgettable and stock as hell, defense is inconsistent, and the story is uninteresting. 

At best, this is an over-ambitious idea that ends up feeling mediocre. At worst, this one of the lamest fighting games on the Dreamcast that feels like self-insert fan-fiction from my Jr. high sketchbook. The music is very syntho-rock, trying to capture the high energy it's going for, which says a lot about the "extreme" feel of the late 90's. The gameplay aims to be very arcadey, but is devoid of substance and strategy. It's mindless and forgettable.

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