Psycho Soldier (サイコソルジャー) is an action arcade game developed by Japanese software company SNK that was originally released in 1986 and internationally in 1987. It is a spiritual sequel to the Athena game released a year earlier. Psycho Soldier continues the adventures of Athena, and is noteworthy for being the first video game with a vocal in-game soundtrack. Ocean Software on their Imagine label released home computer versions of the game for the ZX Spectrum, Commodore 64 and Amstrad in 1987.
A translation of the official story is as follows:
Beings from a distant land called Shiguma travel on earth. They decimated several civilizations and wrapped the world into darkness. They were formerly a brave and noble race sealed deep within the depths of the earth. However, the seal that imprisoned them was broken by someone of impure intentions. As such, they arose a thousand years later as the dreaded Shiguma with unmatched brutality.
Humanity seemed lost by their assault. Even the latest weapons of modern science had no effect on the Shiguma forces. All they could do was entrust their last hopes in an ancient prophesy that was said to occur. "When the eternally sleeping devils awaken on the land, it is said that two warriors of light will appear from the east. With an untold power, these two will bury the darkness in the land."
Enter Athena Asamiya and Sie Kensou, the mythical "two warriors of light". Facing impossible odds, they journey to battle. For the tomorrow of the human race...
Psycho Soldier continues the story of Athena, the title character of a previous game released one year earlier. In the last game, Athena was a mystical, almost divine figure loosely based on the goddess of Greek myth who fought her way through several otherworldly lands in order to destroy various monsters and evil beings who threatened the peace of the land. After her journey was complete, she returned to heaven, only to fade completely from the minds of the mortals who lived below.
In modern times, a young girl, also named Athena, displays special psychic abilities that allow her to unlock a number of hidden powers within herself. She hopes to one day use these skills not only to help others, but to advance her stage career as a future pop idol. It is speculated, she is the reincarnation of the Athena of lore. In her hometown in Japan, several evil beings have begun to appear. Along with her friend and fellow gifted psychic Kensou, she attempts to use her talents to protect her friends and home from this new menace.
While having much in common with several action side-scrollers of the day, Psycho Soldier is unique in the sheer number of power-up and special items that can be obtained during gameplay. While advancing through the game's levels, the player may come across rocks and other destructible objects that have a chance of holding items that either increase Athena or Kensou's power, or make enemies more difficult to defeat. This adds an addition game element of choosing how difficult the player wants the game to be as they play through it, or it may inadvertently make the game harder if they pick up these items by mistake. The game is advanced by traveling horizontally across the screen, transversing several harmful objects and enemies. Utilizing a special force known as "Psycho Energy", the player can perform a number of attacks including creating a shield of rotating spheres around the character's body to protect them. The amount of Psycho Energy is measured by the energy bar located to the left of the player's available spheres, and can be increased by obtaining certain items. Another button is used to launch the spheres out at enemies and destructible objects at the cost of using one, and depending on how much energy the player has, may produce a different result when used, such as bouncing around the screen or, when at max energy and the spheres are swirling at a higher speed around the player, will spread out and destroy everything in their wake at the cost of some power.
Both Athena and Kensou share the same abilities, and whichever one the player chooses has no real bearing on the difficulty of the game. The only real difference comes when the player happens upon a special item resembling a green egg which, if the player's energy bar happens to be full, will transform them into a powerful "Psycho Creature", in Athena's case a phoenix and for Kensou a green dragon, yet they share the same abilities: a powerful fire breath attack that hits enemies in front of them, or a move which rams them into a single nearby enemy. The transformations last until the boss of the stage is killed or until the player runs out of energy from taking too many hits.
Psycho Soldier is noteworthy for being the first video game to utilize a vocal track during in-game play, with vocals provided by Japanese pop idol Kaori Shimizu. This was achieved by creating a JAMMA board that was much larger than usual, and consists of three PCB boards hardwired together and sandwiched on top of each other inside the game cabinet. Her song made Athena one of the earliest video game idols in Japan. Both the Japanese and English-language versions of the game have different vocals for the main song.
The Japanese version of the song was released as a single in 1987 on a special cassette that was available only to those who purchased the Nintendo Famicom version of Athena in Japanese retail stores. The cassette also included a special vocal version of the ending theme.
The Japanese version of the theme song used in this game (sans vocals) became the theme song for the Psycho Soldiers team in The King of Fighters '94 and The King of Fighters '96. It also served as Athena's individual character theme in The King of Fighters '97 and The King of Fighters 2002.
The ZX Spectrum version was published in 1987 by Imagine Software, and was converted by Ross Harris (as Source Software). This port received moderate critical success. Your Sinclair awarded 8 out of 10, praising the smooth sprite movement and well-tried formula gameplay but lamenting the monochrome graphics and weak sound effects. CRASH awarded 69% and 75%, one reviewer criticizing the boring gameplay and Athena's slow reactions.
- The character of Kensou was at the same time introduced as a teammate for Athena in The King of Fighters series as Sie Kensou and underwent several cosmetic changes as well as reworking his abilities to differentiate him from Athena. The version of Kensou seen in this game, however, has made a cameo in one of the special endings in The King of Fighters '97, and was also featured in The King of Fighters 2000 as a special striker called "Psycho Soldier Kensou". This version of Kensou also appears in the recent SNK vs Capcom: Card Fighters DS trading card game as an SNK character card.
- The characters Kensou and Athena, as well as the items Psycho Armor and Psycho Shield, both appear in the game Crystalis (a post-apocalyptic RPG) for the NES.
- In The King of Fighters XII Athena is wearing her winter school uniform from Psycho Soldier. Kensou is also wearing a somewhat more decorative version of his Psycho Soldier outfit.
- The game's theme was remixed in Super Smash Bros. Ultimate. Additionally, a Spirit Battle plays homage to the game. The player must defeat Palutena (who represents Athena) and Richter Belmont (who represents Kensou) in the side scrolling Mushroomy Kingdom stage to acquire the Athena spirit.
- 【アーケードゲーム】 サイコソルジャー 1987年 - Japanese gameplay footage, Nico Nico Douga video (registration required or login with Facebook/Twitter account)
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