The NEC PC-FX Review
The PC-FX, like it’s older and far more popular brother the PC-Engine, isn’t actually a PC of any sort. You’d be forgiven for thinking otherwise – it looks very much like a traditional tower PC and confusingly you will find Youtube videos of people running PC-FX games on PC hardware (using a PC-FX GA card, more on that later) but in reality it’s just a regular console, albeit one that could also play CD+G and photo CDs as standard.
The PC-FX’s strength was in its ability to play high quality full screen Full Motion Video (FMV) sequences at 30FPS, something that both the Saturn and PlayStation would struggle to reproduce to the same standard. Unfortunately the PC-FX had no other technical advantages over its contemporaries and in an era where 3D was king (regardless of how good it actually looked) the PC-FX struggled and ended up with just 62 games released over its four year lifespan.
While the console can rightly be considered a commercial failure, it’s still relatively easy to get a hold of. However the majority of the games require some grasp of the Japanese language to be enjoyable making English speaking discussion of the system’s library limited. Due to the PC-FX focusing mainly on RPGs and adventure games, a grand total of five titles can be considered easily playable by anyone – ‘Battle Heat’, ‘Tengai Makyo Karakuri Kakutoden’, ‘Chip Chan Kick!’, ‘Tyoushin Heiki Zeroigar’ and ‘Kishin Doji Zenki: Vajura Fight’. I have ordered them roughly by value, from lowest to highest. ‘Battle Heat’ can generally be found for around the $30USD mark, however prices rise sharply and just keep going – ‘Tengai Makyo’ is about $90USD and the cheapest, ’Zenki’ can be found for around $350USD plus shipping!
This doesn’t mean the PC-FX is lacking in quality affordable titles however, just that such games are difficult to play without some understanding of written Japanese. The system has many remakes of classic titles – ‘Farland Story FX’, ‘Der Langrisser FX’, ‘Power Dolls FX’ (the suffix wasn’t actually used as much as I’m making it out to be), original exclusives like ‘Last Imperial Prince’, ‘Miraculum’ and ‘Kokuu Hyouryo Nirgends’ and even games that ended up finding some success elsewhere – ‘Wakusei Kougekitai Little Cats’, ‘Boundary Gate: Daughter of Kingdom’ and ‘Angelique Special’ all ended up with Saturn or PlayStation ports at a later date.
Despite the short lifespan, the PC-FX still had a few interesting accessories – the official mouse suited the strategy games well and a memory card could be slotted into the concealed front expansion port if the player found themselves running out of space in the system’s internal memory. The final accessory isn’t actually for the PC-FX, but it is the most interesting – the PC-FX GA I mentioned earlier, is very much like the 3D0 Blaster – a PC card that allows users to play standard PC-FX discs on their computers. The card even included two controller ports to allow the use of standard PC-FX pads as well as s-video and composite out (just like a normal PC-FX) ports. Development software was available to buy (GMAKER Starter Kit and the GMAKER Starter Kit Plus), apparently in an attempt to stimulate interest and production of PC-FX games.
It’s easy to see why the PC-FX failed to generate much enthusiasm at the time – it was under-powered under-supported and expected NEC fans to ditch the vast PC Engine library in favor of a console that had adventure games as far as the eye could see (contrary to some rumors confusion, the PC-FX is not compatible with PC Engine software of any kind). However, as time has generally eroded prices and increased availability, what we now have is a quirky little system that didn’t really do much but did do what it did well. As an owner myself, I struggle to recommend it to others, but on the other hand, I can’t help but look at my PC-FX games and smile.