(That title’s so good it doesn’t really need anything else added to it)
T&E Soft’s (Hydlide, Undeadline, Laydock) Psy-O-Blade first wooed gamers with its exciting sci-fi adventure tale on the FM77AV back in 1988, with X1Turbo, MSX2, and PC-98 ports the year after. This Mega Drive sorta-remake is the last version of the game, and was released only in Japan on 27th April 1990.
Psy-O-Blade’s an adventure game that goes with the dreaded “using a cursor with a controller” interface; although as there’s no pixel hunting and menus are never more than one choice deep (the most common example being “Move –> <location>”) it doesn’t feel like trying to do origami with welding gloves on as these games sometimes can do. Saving is possible at just about any point you like, and there’s a handy on-screen map so whenever somebody says “Go to the computer room” you always know exactly where to go. Adventure games can often feel like the most difficult task is fighting against the interface, but I never felt like that was a problem here.
The “Moving adventure” part of the game’s title is in reference to the relatively frequent cutscene graphics and special animations used throughout the game. While a quick glance at the screenshots here might not make the game look especially impressive given the tiny square viewing window it actually works very well in practice, the simplest but most immersive touch being the way individual characters will turn to look at you when you talk to them. Fancy-pants cutscenes often employ a little animation and some basic parallax scrolling that go a long way to making the story feel like the action really is happening now and you’re not just clicking on various hotspots until the end credits roll.
I have seen comments floating around the web mentioning that the Mega Drive version is a cut-down port in comparison to the computer originals – this is true. As it turns out this is also a very good thing, because the main bit the console port cuts out is a hideously complicated collect-the-thingymabobs maze that appears to have been included just because eighties computer games really should have a first-person maze section in there somewhere. Here’s a map of the labyrinth in question -
As I hope the hellish image above illustrates, this isn’t some sort of carefully-considered puzzle design crafted to give the player some variety and a bit of freedom in a traditionally restrictive genre, this is something slapped in to pad out the end of the game and increase sales of graph paper. Normally I’m all for experiencing games in their original formats in the hopes of playing them “as intended” (or at least as close to intended as possible), but as far as I’m concerned the Mega Drive port of Psy-O-Blade proves that sometimes less is definitely more.
More good news comes in the form of a complete lack of item menus – you’ll still need to find and pick things up on occasion, but there’s none of this tedious malarkey:
SHOW –> KEY –> PERSON “It’s a key”
EXAMINE –> KEY “It looks like a locker key”
SHOW –> KEY –> PERSON [finally spews out pages of game-progressing locker key text]
You’ll still find yourself talking to everyone to get things moving, but as you’re not allowed to wander very far it doesn’t take a great deal of effort to keep things on track. Whether you consider that streamlined design or a horrific simplification is a matter of personal taste, but I was pleased to play a story-based game that felt like it actually wanted to tell its tale and not begrudgingly hand out tiny morsels of plot to players the designers had failed to kill off in a previous scene (there’s only one possible “wrong end” style game over in the Mega Drive version of Psy-O-Blade, by the way). It’s not a long game by any means, but unlike other more supposedly involved titles the twists and turns here kept me interested right the way through rather than desperately scouring the net for a FAQ or skipping through the text just to try and get the damned thing finished.
The only real fly in the ointment comes from the mercifully one-off into-the-screen shooting section. It looks absolutely fantastic but it’s incredibly hard (you have to take down two hundred enemies and are only allowed to get hit three times) and if you die you have to start from the very beginning. Again. And again. And again. You have my express permission to try that part properly once just to enjoy the graphics and then save state the heck out of it until it’s nothing more than a distant memory.
I’ve come away from the Mega Drive version of Psy-O-Blade thinking it’s a real a visual treat considering the era and genre with an engaging story and not once did I wish I was playing the “full” computer original. So good on Sigma Enterprises for not only creating a good port but also some thoughtful and worthwhile edits too.
I’ll leave you with a bit of very good news – there’s a complete English translation patch available here (and shown in the video below), so everyone can enjoy this ace sci-fi adventure game!