It’s the Retro Journal third strike! No, I won’t be talking about Street Fighter III: Third Strike…that’d just be TOO easy. This entry is about a different Dreamcast fighting game, the often overlooked 3D fighter Plasma Sword: Nightmare of Bilstein.
Dreamcast fans certainly didn’t suffer from a shortage of (good) fighting games. Compared to the PlayStation 1 and Nintendo 64, the Dreamcast was a haven for fighting game fanatics. SEGA fans enjoyed the luxury of a huge library of excellent arcade ports and original IPs. In other words, the Dreamcast had it all: Marvel vs. Capcom 1/2, Power Stone 1/2, Street Fighter III, Street Fighter Alpha 3, Soul Calibur, King of Fighters, and more. Capcom contributed greatly to the Dreamcast’s impressive catalog, but one Capcom fighter is often forgotten: Plasma Sword.
Maybe it was because the fighting game genre was so crowded on the Dreamcast, or maybe it was the franchise’s lack of notoriety, or the game’s own general shortcomings. Plasma Sword is by no means a perfect game for the Dreamcast and it’s hardly a great one. It’s the rough and unpolished gem to the brilliant diamond that is Soul Calibur. Compared to 3D fighting games today, it’s certainly nothing special, but it has a unique charm that may entice the retro gamer.
First of all, it’s a 3D fighting game. Capcom rarely make 3D fighters, and if so, they are often a hybrid of 2D and 3D mechanics like with Super Street Fighter IV today. Plasma Sword is also a weapons-based fighting game, so it’s balanced quite differently than the usual Capcom fighter. Like Star Gladiator, its PS1 predecessor, the gameplay is more similar to Namco’s Soul series.
Unlike Namco’s premiere series though, Capcom’s fighter has a cool science fiction style and an extremely quirky cast of fighters. The 22-character roster is filled with several “clone” characters, but the bizarre character designs and interesting fighting styles make the game fun to play and watch. Unlike Soul Calibur’s lengthy list of combos, Plasma Sword has a rather simplistic moveset. The button inputs are actually uniform for each character, but fighters have their own nuances, weapons, and special attacks. This means that performing attacks is not difficult at all; it’s essential to understand both the effectiveness and timing of attacks instead. The clone characters have subtle balances changes as well.
While the graphics were decent by Dreamcast’s standards, they certainly haven’t aged well. In-game character models are blocky and rough, and the backgrounds lack the detail and punch of Soul Calibur. Still, the art direction and visual style make the game easier to look at. The music is awesome though; Plasma Sword’s soundtrack is incredibly underrated.
The gameplay is fun but predictable for the genre, and it lacks the depth that Soul Calibur offered. Unfortunately, Plasma Sword just isn’t good enough to go toe-to-toe with Namco’s amazing 3D fighter. Remember to keep things in context though, because Soul Calibur was an extremely tough act to follow. It just couldn’t be done. Plasma Sword is a far more modest game. It’s fun and interesting, and the series does deserve some attention. Plasma Sword was one of Capcom’s few attempts at making a 3D fighting game (and a weapons-based fighter at that). The lead character, Hayato, even made his way into Marvel vs. Capcom 2!
Had the graphics been better or the game given more depth, perhaps it would’ve been more fondly remembered today. If you’re a dedicated Dreamcast fan, fighting game fanatic, or just a curious retro gamer, Plasma Sword should provide for some fun afternoons. Used copies only cost about $10, but a new, sealed copy may cost over $25.