The PC-FX uses CD-ROMs as its storage medium, following on from the expansion released for its predecessor, which originally used HuCards. The game controller resembles that of the Sega Genesis in shape, only with more buttons and it virtually identical to a DUO-RX controller except for the fact that the rapid fire switches have been changed into mode A/B switches.
The PC-FX's computer-like design was unusual for consoles at the time. It stands upright like a tower computer while other contemporary consoles lay flat. Another interesting feature is its three expansion ports, as expansion ports are relatively underused in consoles and therefore their inclusion increased the price without offering a great deal to the end user. However it was one of the first consoles to feature an optional mouse which made strategy games like Farland Story FX and Power Dolls FX more accessible to play on TV.
Unlike nearly any other console in history, the PC-FX was also available as an internal PC card in PC-98 and DOS flavors. This PC card came with 2 CDs of software to help you program games for the PC-FX. However, compatibility issues prevented games developed with this software from actually running on the console.
The PC-FX was designed based on a new 32-bit development kit by NEC called "Iron Man". Iron Man was designed in 1992, while the PC Engine was still quite popular in Japan. It was around the time of the first running demonstration units in mid 1992 that NEC started discussing an imminent release of an Iron Man based system with its many third party developers. Many PC Engine developers seemed upset and uninterested since the PC Engine market was still growing, and as a result NEC halted work on the Iron Man and continued making modifications to the PC Engine. By 1993 the 32-bit 3DO platform was released with much developer interest and Sega and Sony let it be known that the Sega Saturn and Sony PlayStation would be ready for the Japanese marketplace in late 1994, and Bandai was also readying the release of their 32-bit Playdia system. Now in a rush to keep the large development base that made the PC Engine so successful, NEC had to make a decision. Rather than spending the time to develop a new, more powerful platform capable of standing up to their competitors, they decided to utilize the now dated 32-bit Iron Man architecture in the PC-FX. The result was that NEC wound up with a severely underpowered system that impressed neither developers nor consumers, failed to release the 3D expansion, and ultimately led to its demise.
The shining quality of the PC-FX however was the ability to decompress 30 JPEG pictures per second while playing digitally recorded audio. This resulted in the PC-FX having superior FMV quality over all other fifth generation consoles. In fact, at times while watching the intros to games or the movies during them, it is easy to find yourself forgetting just how underpowered the PC-FX is. It wasn't until 1998 that FMV on the PlayStation really pulled ahead of the PC-FX, and even then, the PC-FX probably still has superior motion quality.
As the PC-FX struggled, NEC became far more liberal than most companies with regard to the titles that it allowed to be released for the platform in an attempt to get whatever development support they could. As a result, the PC-FX has gained quite a reputation for its abundance of hentai and dating simulation titles. It also has some standard action games and a good number of RPGs and strategy games as well, but most games require a fair amount of Japanese knowledge to play or patience. However most games feature digital speech, for nearly all the dialog or all of it, which may make it easier for those with limited Japanese knowledge to enjoy the heaping doses of plot and humor contained in nearly every game.
There were 62 games released for the system. The launch titles were Graduation 2: Neo Generation FX, Battle Heat and Team Innocent on December 23 1994 and the final game released was First Kiss Story on April 24 1998. The system and all titles were only released in Japan. A number of demo discs were also released with publications which allowed the user to play the disc in a CD equipped PC-Engine or the PC-FX.
There was no copy protection on any of the PC-FX games because at the time the system was released, the several thousand dollars a CD-R burner cost and the ten to twenty dollars per blank CD made piracy prohibitive for most owners.
The game graphics are usually like high quality SNES games or average quality Playstation 2D games. The still pictures in the dating simulation and visual novel games are often better quality than later made Playstation ports. The full motion fighting games might be the most responsive all FMV or LD like games that have ever been made. Nearly every game has hand animated FMV sequences and word for word speech to the text. The one 2D shooter and the one 2D action-fighter game have very large sprites which take up over half the screen, some graphical blurring effects and use FMV in the background at times! So while the PC-FX often gets branded as an underpowered system, the system does have games which take advantage of its qualities. The PC-FX also had a few action and shooting games.
Each game disc has a feature that when the PC-FX internal memory no longer has enough space to save one game or to create a save file at boot, a picture is displayed with a verbal and text error message telling you about this problem. Most of the companies made very custom message screens and it can be fun to fill up the memory and try out each game.
The PC-FX was discontinued in late 1997. At the time of the console's discontinuation, according to NEC the PC-FX had sold just under 100,000 units.