I lazily assumed for the longest time that the FX suffix meant this was either some sort of remake of one of the original Yuna’s or one of those nice but nothing of substance fan discs packed with illustrations and short movie clips at the sort of resolution that would struggle to fill a postage stamp. I was wrong on all counts. Galaxy Fraulein Yuna FX is actually an all-new adventure for Yuna and her entourage of goofy friends, harnessing the briefly mighty power of the PC-FX and the once-futuristic medium of the compact disc to throw animated scenes around the screen with wild abandon.
The plot this time centers around a mysterious women known only as Fraulein D, a masked individual who posits to the galactic council that Yuna hasn’t in fact been busy saving the galaxy at all but is instead trying to dominate it with her unstoppable powers, and her adorable moron personality is all an act to throw them off the scent. The assembled leaders completely buy the fraulein’s argument after offering only the mildest arguments in Yuna’s defense once they are shown footage of an obviously fake El-Line (long story short: Yuna’s giant mech) in completely the wrong (and very evil) colours kicking over a few buildings while shouting “I’m Yuna!” to nobody in particular as these people apparently have all the intellect of an envelope filled with yoghurt. On the “strength” of this fabricated evidence Yuna is captured and sentenced to be shot into an extra-powerful black hole (really), because she’s so wily and dangerous on an interplanetary scale.
Except of course she isn’t. Yuna really is a charming idiot surrounded by people who are very much the same as her and Fraulein D is well aware of this but as a woman who spends much of her introductory screen time sitting in the dark while wearing black capes and swilling red wine around an ostentatious glass (and later reveals that the “D” in her name stands for “Devil”) she is bound by the unbreakable laws of anime to try to extinguish the goodness and light that is Yuna so she can plunge the whole galaxy into darkness.
There’s a tangible sense of quality to Yuna FX’s incredibly frequent cinematics even when displayed as a window within a window like they are here: No matter what’s happening every frame always looks and feels like a real nineties anime production captured on a single CD-ROM… because that’s exactly what this is – a commercially-released OVA that’s been chopped up and then reformed into a semi-interactive movie.
I want to stress at this point that I don’t believe Hudson, RED, or anyone else involved in the creation of this game – fully titled “Ginga Ojyousama Densetsu Yuna FX: Kanashimi no Siren” – made any attempt to trick or hoodwink users into thinking this would be anything else. The game came out in March 1996, mere months after the VHS and laserdisc release of a new Yuna OVA called “Ginga Ojyousama Densetsu Yuna: Kanashimi no Siren” (eventually released in English under the plainer title “Galaxy Fraulein Yuna”), and although the back of the box makes no direct references to the show it’s derived from (it does however boast about having “Super Digital Animation”, minigames, and new scenes created especially for the PC-FX) it would take some strenuous levels of mental gymnastics as a potential consumer at the time to pick up the box and not make any connection between the two. Why would Hudson want to force some distance between them anyway? Viewing high quality digital movie footage on a home console via a CD was still something of an unusual novelty and the thought of being able to play a cartoon has captured the imaginations of developers and consumers alike since at least as far back as 1983’s Dragon’s Lair; if consumers thought there was any direct overlap at all between the two that would have more than likely been a selling point rather than a problem.
The tower-console excels at putting moving 2D art on screen so in many ways Yuna FX is a demonstration of the ideal PC-FX game as NEC imagined it: The resolution may suffer a bit even during the rare full screen clips but there’s none of the artifacting or colour crushing that plagues early FMV sequences on other hardware – and that’s because the PC-FX isn’t actually streaming a movie at all, but decompressing and then displaying a series of still images in order and in time to an audio track, like a high-tech flip book. Unfortunately for NEC 32-bit gamers were by and large actually quite tolerant of the unwanted graphical side-effects found in early FMV (and developers soon found ways to minimise the visual damage) so in the end this wasn’t the great boon the PC-FX needed to position itself as a strong alternative choice in the great console war but even so it’s a technique that has aged relatively well. The hardware also had one unique trick up its sleeve that neither the PlayStation or the Saturn could do (not that it mattered when everyone and their granny were busy arguing over Ridge Racer and Daytona USA): truly seamless transitions between stills and cinematic scenes. As the PC-FX sees no difference between the two it creates an environment where an image can suddenly burst into life without a single hitch or fade transition and it feels downright luxurious even twenty-four years later.
There are still some limitations though – there were always bound to be – and the big one outside of the expected reduced viewport are a number of missing or shortened scenes when compared to the original OVA, even though both episodes together (yep, just the two) struggle to hit an hour’s runtime in total. To compensate for the absent footage and to allow the user to do more than pick from two or three options whenever the video stops (there are no wrong choices here, only the right answer and an alternative “Yuna thinks about something or talks about someone for a few sentences” that loops back around to the original selection box) Yuna FX adds some exclusive interactive minigames that take over the narrative at one very good point and muscle their way in for the sake of it in all the others.
To keep things positive for as long as possible we’ll start with the good one. In both the OVA and the game there’s an deliciously absurd scene where Yuna has to chase after an incredibly cute kidnapped puppy that’s in the middle of being whisked away on a speedboat by a pair of Fraulein D’s nefarious minions. In the original scene Yuna ties some handy nearby rope around her waist before Yuri throws her at the boat – it’s a comical scene that’s over in seconds. In Yuna FX this is expanded into a minigame, one where you have to judge the distance and positioning of Yuri’s throw, aiming to hit the boat three times (once per baddie and a final one for the pup). The sprites here are as colourful and expressive as anything Hudson have ever done, and seeing Yuri whirling around like Taz (remember him?) before releasing a saucer-eyed Yuna into the air is a heck of a lot of fun.
This is sadly the sole bright diamond in the rough with the remainder having only the flimsiest connection to the events of the game, never mind any quality to them. It all starts with a dressing-up game to get our ditzy heroine ready for school: The problem is this is handled via a slot machine of all things, and to make matters worse once you’ve finally managed to successfully align three reels (representing a top, shoes, skirt, accessories, traditional slot cherries/sevens, and even… a penguin!?) you then get to manually decide which of three potential items in that category Yuna gets to wear. You have to do this four times (top, bottoms, shoes, accessory) and then the game will tell you if you’ve got the outfit right or wrong – and if it’s wrong you’ll have no clue if the problem is the bag, or if the bag’s fine but she’s in the wrong shoes, or which top goes with which skirt, or should she have a bag at all…? There are no obvious comedy outfits to narrow things down – no inflatable rubber rings or dinosaur costumes – and everything looks pretty good when worn with everything else so there’s nothing you can do other than keep guessing and either get lucky or desperately flip through the manual for inspiration like I ended up doing – I was only able to work out the right casual wear for Yuri because the manual happened to have a small screenshot of her in that outfit nestled away in there (that’s right, once you’ve sorted out Yuna you have to go through the whole rigmarole all over again with Yuri). And you end up having to do this four times. I’m still so annoyed by this damned game I’ve included all of the correct outfits below to save anyone reading this from suffering like I did:
Still with me? Good, because now we have to move on to the side-scrolling spaceship game, the one that looks in screenshots like one lucky PC-FX owner is about to get treated to a little bonus shmup, Tokimeki style… sadly any imagined excitement is utterly shattered within seconds of starting this segment as you realise the only thing you can do is dodge asteroids until the stage scrolls to the end. You’re incapable of shooting anything even if you wanted to, and the food items floating around space (including cake, burgers, apples and bagels) can be collected but there’s absolutely no reason to other than to try and distract yourself from all the wasted potential.
I’m sorry to say it gets no better: Towards the end of the adventure as you’re plunged into a protracted first-person dungeon segment (this is the bulk of that all-new PC-FX content mentioned on the back of the box), walking through a linear set of visually indistinguishable blue and silver corridors and popping into single-screen rooms with nothing more in them than a switch to open up another room for you to flip a completely different switch in so you can finally unlock the elevator doors and do the same thing all over again on the next floor up. The bright spots here, and what doesn’t feel like a bright spot in this terrible scenario, are the card and tile-based minigames tenuously used as security programs – winning these unlocks the next floor and the whole dreary cycle starts afresh. The good news is if you don’t get these right first time the game will automatically restart the sequence, giving you another crack at the whip rather than kicking you back to the last automatically handled save point. The bad news is you have to win to carry on, leaving you in a hellish puzzle game limbo until you either finally complete them or give up and go and watch the final ten minutes of the OVA instead. It’s all poorly-disguised padding and crushes the pacing of the story at a time when it should have been building towards the climax.
The game ends as it begins, with a turn-based battle that uses a good chunk of made-for-the-game animation clips to display the attacks (your enemies both use unique animations, whereas Yuna’s are repeated for the end fight). These are as simple as Yuna game battles usually are – build up energy reserves using standard attacks or the El-Line special move before unleashing a weapon-based attack, and then finish them off with a super-special blast. There are just two battles all game – far less than the previous PC Engine adventures, and the opening fight is completely irrelevant to anything and exists pretty much just so the game can say it has more than one battle.
In spite of these issues Yuna and friends remain as charming and as unchanged as ever: Likeable morons out saving the galaxy while being exceedingly cute and sometimes fighting against the forces of evil in giant mechs along the way. If you’re already fond of the cast you’ll enjoy the lighthearted story in here even if this isn’t the best way to experience it, however if you aren’t already familiar with the previous two Yuna games you’ll find yourself feeling very lost – Yuna FX makes no effort whatsoever to introduce anyone or explain anything before rushing headlong into its unmistakable Yuna-ness. This release manages to be impressive and disappointing all at once: it’s a new Yuna game! Yay! Only it’s not a Yuna game at all, but an OVA that pauses every now and then to make you choose to do the only thing the OVA was going to do anyway. When the good stuff’s happening you’re not in control, and when you are playing your enjoyment levels take a noticeable dive. And as hard as the PC-FX tries there’s no getting away from the fact that the OVA just looks better even when viewed on lowly VHS tape. In a bid to make the most of the expansive storage available to Yuna FX there’s a bonus gallery of character artwork and extra merchandise accessible from the main menu – phone cards, posters, figures and various promotional illustrations, that sort of fluff. The presentation’s endearingly lacking in polish – the images are just photographs of items hanging on a wall or scans of CD cases – but sadly the heavy pixellation coupled with the lack of any real information in the optional text box means this digital library’s of little use beyond confirming the objects shown within it exist.
Yuna FX perfectly encapsulates the troubled direction of the PC-FX as a whole: Games needed to differentiate themselves from the extensive library of the long-worshipped PC Engine that came before it but the console was incapable of the 3D graphics that had arcade-goers, Saturn owners, Playstation adopters and everyone else on the planet at the time utterly enthralled. But the 2D animation it displayed so well was (and is) expensive to produce, so an easy way to keep costs down would be to reuse preexisting footage… which also means what few PC-FX fans there were weren’t really getting anything they couldn’t already consume more cheaply on a more popular format. Yuna FX’s strengths are the PC-FX’s strengths, and equally Yuna’s problems are the PC-FX’s problems.