For those of you who have been wanting more Sailor Moon arcade action since learning about Quiz Bishoujo Senshi Sailor Moon last year, I’ve got some good news: Banpresto, the makers of that game, also made Pretty Soldier Sailor Moon, a 1995 beat-em-up in the vein of Final Fight. I’ve also got some bad news: it’s not that good of a game and doesn’t contain anywhere near the level of polish and love that Quiz Sailor Moon did.
The biggest problem with Pretty Soldier Sailor Moon is that it feels like an incomplete game, or at the very least one that was rushed to market—this seems strange because the game is based on the first season of the anime, where the Sailor Senshi battle the Dark Kingdom, but it was released more than two years after the first season ended on television. The fighting mechanics are nowhere near as tight as they should be for a game of this kind, with spotty hit detection on bosses and animated special attacks that sometimes seem to be missing a few frames. Judging by the information available at locations like the Spriters Resource, there is a significant amount of game content that was prepared and then never actually coded to be used in the game. Dialogue images and sprites for characters exist which I never found during multiple playthroughs where I tried several different methods—single player, multiplayer, no continues, continue with all five senshi, European, American and Japanese regions—but never achieved more than a single cutscene between Queen Beryl and Jadeite, and no ending other than a simple credit roll. The YouTube videos and game FAQs I’ve checked online seem to confirm this. There was supposed to be more here, and we just didn’t get it.
The fighting portion of the game isn’t thrilling either. Repetition is always an issue in beat-em-ups, but it’s really troublesome in PSSM, where the common enemies you face are the monster-of-the-day youma from individual episodes of the anime. While these were unique creatures, dispatched on the spot in the show, here they appear time and time again. Often you’ll face multiples of the same youma at once—with sometimes as many as six palette-swapped but otherwise identical enemies on screen simultaneously. As you plow through foes, you’ll be puzzled by the story, which borrows elements from the show but without any continuity. For example, the boss of the first stage is a set of twin youma from the Nephrite arc of the series; in the second stage, you’ll face Morga, the very first youma Usagi ever encountered, followed by an intermission between Beryl and Jadeite which is never brought up again. In a later stage, you’ll face Zoicite, but he appears to be commanding a bunch of thug humans to break into a bank for some reason. You don’t actually face or see any sort of resolution with Jadeite or Nephrite before this point. In the absence of cutscenes or explanations, the story just doesn’t make any sense.
The game does do some things right, though. It looks great, for one thing, with graphics right out of a Capcom beat-em-up game (albeit one from slightly earlier than 1995.) The youma and bosses you face are illustrated wonderfully considering the graphical size limitations involved. This part of the game certainly wasn’t rushed. Each of the senshi has a different fighting style which feels appropriate to the character, from Usagi’s near-flailing to Mako’s brute force to Minako’s graceful somersault kick to finish her combos. Much like potions in Golden Axe, the girls can pick up crystals which allow them to unleash magical attacks; the more crystals you have, the more powerful the attack is. Banpresto got the voice actresses to record original dialogue for the game, so there’s some nifty you-won’t-hear-it-elsewhere stuff here. It’s a little odd that you have to pick up five crystals (the maximum) just to use your standard anime attack, though. With crystals dropping at a rate of 2-3 per stage, you would have to go about two full stages between each use of, say, Shabon Spray, which is a bit on the ridiculous side. The game’s creators did a decent job of tying in some great anime moments and references, even if they don;t follow any sort of logical progression, and there are some nice touches that fans will appreciate. Getting to them, however, is a bit of a chore. In the grand scheme of Sailor Moon games—and there are a number of them—this one might have the most squandered potential.