As a fan I’ll preface that I have favoritism towards Cyber Formula but will try and talk about it’s PS2 titles in a neutral manner. Also there isn’t all that much cringe so you’re spared… for now.
Cyber Formula is a Formula One -style racing series created in 1991 by Sunrise. The story is about futuristic racing cars being powered by advanced AI cyber systems. Once such system, Asurada, is so advanced that it is desired by various terrorist groups for nefarious means. A young man, Kazami Hayato, is caught up in the action. Prior to the opening race of the Cyber Formula season, Hayato inadvertently registers himself to Asurada as it’s driver. Asurada itself was created by Hayato’s dad who died under seemingly mysterious circumstances but ties Hayato further to Asurada itself; it’s like a final link to his deceased father.
The series’ first season was broadcasted over thirty-seven episodes that played out very similar in a manner to a modern Speed Racer. Each episode or small set of episodes tell a short story or action sequence relating to Hayato and Asurada. Eventually through perseverance Hayato both becomes a better driver and acclimates himself more as a friend to Asurada, who often aids him in his endeavors.
The success of the first season gave the series enough money to move to OVA. For the next four seasons, Double One, Zero, SAGA, and Sin, the series would move to focus more on the actual racing aspects of Cyber Formula rather than the Speed Racer -esque hi-jinks of the first season. Many characters are reoccurring, and come to form their own stories and sagas within the Cyber Formula world.
An anime about racing has to have – what else – racing games.
The very first Cyber Formula game has a unique story behind it. It actually was released in the United States, but altered beyond recognition as Cyber Spin for the Super Nintendo. Takara, the company that carried the rights to all the merchandising for the series, removed all references of Cyber Formula from the Super Famicom title for the US market. It left gamers with a shell of a title that never stood out, and what always struck me as odd is it most certain was a product of the time in terms of localization. Ultimately there would have been nothing wrong had Takara just released the title to the US as Cyber Formula; we would have just assumed it was some sort of strange futuristic racing series. Instead, an entirely new IP was created for the US market from it’s Japanese original.
The next title would release on the PS1 and it served as a side-story of sort that introduces both a new hero character and an alternative Asurada car. The spin of the narrative here was likely to keep the games separate from the anime itself, but that line of thinking proved ineffective and for the series first PS2 release it reverted back to focusing on the Cyber Formula series proper.
We’ll look at both the first and second PS2 titles. The first title is actually very interesting in regards to the other Cyber Formula titles (four games would eventually come to PS2). It is based solely on the fourth (third OVA) season, SAGA, carrying the story and all the drivers and cars from that season. That in itself is what makes this particular title so unique; you can play as EVERY character from Cyber Formula SAGA, including very minor characters and their cars that possibly only appeared in one frame or none whatsoever in the anime. You likely won’t actually play as all of them (I’ll admit I did eventually play one race with every car given) but that the option itself to do so is rather unique considering the later and previous titles’ focus on the major characters.
Gameplay is very arcade-ish in format. The races play out over a small set of laps, typically three to five, among five opponents. As in the anime, most of the cars have an ‘aero’ and ‘circuit’ active aerodynamic configurations. As you play you have to switch the car back and forth between the two to either gain optimal speed on straights or downforce in corners. The game does reward a degree of consistency to those that master the constant aerodynamic changes, and good drivers will finish higher up than those knocking themselves around walls and being all around inconsistent.
Continuously driving fills the over booster gauge. As in the anime, the characters have a set amount of boost to use during a race. Most of these are strategic in nature, meaning it’s best to save the boost until it can be used effectively such as entering the longest straight on the circuit. Using the boosters near competitors elicits responses to whom your racing against, and play out very similar to the anime in terms of feel.
Cyber Formula aficianados will recognize that many of the circuits are actually modeled after their anime counterparts, and as such there are recognizable stages. As the series of games went on more circuits were introduced, and gradually increased in modeling to mirror their anime counterparts. There are some issues with English naming of circuits and such, but were likely a byproduct of dealing with a lot of English text.
Overall the game plays very much like watching an actual Cyber Formula episode. All the voice actors reprise their roles, and the drivers make comments and reactions based on driving interaction. Again, it’s all very well presented. The opponent AI is very much a weak point and it’s not dynamic in any form whatsoever, but the focal point becomes the game’s representation as playing Cyber Formula and not necessarily any sort of serious racing title.
The second game presented a new dynamic for how these titles would progress. Instead of focusing on just one season of the anime this one focused on ALL of them, and also includes extra content beyond the anime introducing both new characters and new storylines for established characters. Additionally, all the focus was put on the primary cast and it’s inner circle, with most of the obscured characters and cars simply dropped from the game. While the game play is very similar to the first title two new gaming characteristics were introduced. The biggest of which was to numerically limit the over booster function to a set amount of times. This actually places the function in line with the anime, and makes it’s use even more strategic than the first title. The second was the importance of ‘moves’ that were introduced in the later portion of the Cyber Formula story. Many characters have a secondary ‘move’ that they can perform, such as Asurada flying in the air while turning or Olga AN-21’s illusion lane change move. These moves tend to actually not be all that effective in practice, but they do make for good eye candy during the races.
All of this sounds good right? So whats the problem?
Want to know?
The first game has a multiplayer option. It’s your atypical split screen mode, but allows two human players to play against one another. For the second title onwards it became… one player only.
ONE! PLAYER! ONLY!!
It’s difficult to fathom why the switch was made to focus solely on single player. My immediate assumption is the change in focus on the second title to all the various seasons and core characters meant players were likely going to play the story and be done. To a degree that’s very much the case with the second game; there’s little incentive to keep playing once you’ve completed all the seasons, and overall replay value really suffers. Another consideration could have been the minor changes in the second game, which possibly couldn’t handle two human players. Complete removal of a second player option just kills any sort of further replayability whatsoever though.
I could go further into the subsequent titles but like with most sports games, and more so with how close proximity these titles were in relation to one another, not much changed. There was some significant game engine upgrades for the third and fourth title and these titles also introduced the final dynamic to the series the Zero Zone, the slow time dynamic introduced in the third season.
Following these four PS2 releases a PSP title was also released. Quickly after no more Cyber Formula titles were made as the original story itself had finished and begun to fall into obscurity. A loyal following of fans made doujinshi (fan-made) racing games for the series that would be distributed at various conventions in Japan. These games became so well defined and structured that instead of aggressively chasing the creators off and ceasing their works Bandai Entertainment simply licensed the games themselves, and many of the recent versions have seen digital releases such as on Steam.
These games are interesting racing titles, relate to their anime counterpart decently, and if anything in terms of arcade playability these are some of the more better titles from the PS2 era. Cyber Formula itself is a very interesting series. It was immensely popular in Asian markets, but did not penetrate far outside. Most of the voice actors went on to do other Sunrise series such as Gundam Seed and the voice actress for Asuka Sugo was none other than Kotono Mitsuishi who would later voice Sailor Moon. A moreI do not believe Cyber Formula will ever receive any sort of modern remake or spurred rejuvenation in interest. Ultimately with Sunrise’s current focus on series such as Gundam and Love Live I cannot see them returning to an older IP unless it can somehow make them money.