The game features eight playable fighters, each a dependent of the fictional Gouketsuji bloodline, as they fight to determine who leads the clan (which honors combat prowess above all else) after the disappearance of its former leader, Oume.
Although it is similar to other fighting games of the early 1990s, especially Street Fighter II, Power Instinct is known for its use of double jumping, powerful dash attacks, and breakable barriers at both edges of the stage (which open up a new area of the arena). Most of its sequels would expand on both the gameplay and the bizarre and humorous tone of the fighting (making each fight seem more like a stage performance).
The game was later ported to the Super Nintendo Entertainment System in October 1994 and the Sega Mega Drive (exclusive to Japan) in November 1994. The SNES version was later digitally re-released in Japan for the Wii (via Virtual Console) on October 4, 2011 and again for the Wii U Virtual Console on November 11, 2015.
- Otane Goketsuji: An elderly woman and scion of the Gouketuji clan. Was threatened and abused endlessly by her older sister, Oume. Trained in secrecy for many years to surpass her, to the extent that she now has superhuman ability.
- Angela Belti: A physically imposing Italian strongwoman who follows her heart into dangerous situations.
- Annie Hamilton: A young English woman with a fondness for animals, which also feature in her specials.
- Keith Wayne: A cocky American martial artist and ex-gang member. He enters the tournament for his own pride, but falls in love with Annie and is determined to win her over.
- Reiji Oyama: An overly serious Japanese fighter who is focused purely on combat. Meant to be a parody of other overly serious martial artists, like Street Fighter 2’s Ryu.
- Saizo Hattori: A mysterious ninja from Japan who keeps his face, and emotions, carefully hidden.
- Thin Nen: A Chinese Shaolin monk with mystical powers whose greed is insurmountable.
- White Buffalo: A Native American warrior who appreciates nature.
- Oume Goketsuji: An elderly woman, physically similar to Otane. Is considered one of the most powerful human beings alive due to her martial prowess and Goketsuji clan connections. Bitterly despises her younger sister Otane and is the final boss for the game (and is thus unplayable by any conventional means).