By Colin K. Yu
Being a videogame player first, and a videogame reviewer second, I usually approach games with a good sense of confidence. By confidence I mean unwrapping the shrink wrap, popping in the game, and getting ready to give the game a medieval makeover. Who bothers to read instructions nowadays? I took the same approach to Sammy Studios newest release, Galerians: Ash. I had played the original PlayStation game, Galerians, when it was released and felt even more confident knowing I had personally experienced the first part of the story. Once the FMV introduction ended, I was ready to kick some butt and take some names. Ten minutes after playing Galerians: Ash, I ran straight for the instruction booklet.
Galerians: Ash begins with the notion that the player already understands every aspect of the game. The story begins where the first Galerians left off. So once the introduction FMV ends, the player is expected to know what Nalcon, D-Felon, and Appolinar are. The player is expected to know that after a certain amount of damage is taken and an amount of psychic abilities is used, Rion will "short" and become temporarily invincible while his life is slowly drained, and that the only way to cure Rion of it is to use a Delmetor. Or the fact that the player is expected to know attacking an enemy from behind results in twice the damage. Galerians: Ash does not contain any training at all, and injects the player straight into the game at the first opportunity, expecting a new player to have fully understood every aspect of the instruction booklet.
The Galerians storyline that the player is thrust into revolves around a futuristic theme, similar to themes in the anime Akira, and the movie The Matrix. The story begins in the year 2522, where Michaelangelo City is governed and managed by a self-aware computer named Dorothy. Realizing her power, she rebels against the human race by genetically creating human/psychic hybrids called Galerians. The only ones who could stop the Galerians and Dorothy lie in the hands of a boy named Rion and a girl name Lilia, who have the virus program that must be downloaded into Dorothy's system. Six years after the defeat of Dorothy, the last remaining Galerians are threatening Michaelangelo City once again, and it's up to Rion to stop them.
As discovered in the first Galerians, Rion has psychic abilities as well. This is Rion's form of attack, by harnessing his psychic powers into a physical manifestation. So anyone looking for a fast-paced, adrenaline-packed, gun-totting, sword-slashing action game should turn away now. In fact, if you're looking for a fun, enjoyable time, you should also turn away now. While using psychic abilities as your weapon is a unique idea, it is poorly executed.
Rion begins with three different psychic attacks: Nalcon, which is a projectile, Red, which sets enemies on fire, and D-Felon, which tosses enemies into the air. The only way to effectively dispose of the enemies is a charged attack, which requires the player to hold the Square button for a few seconds. Herein lies the problem. While charging the attack, moving Rion is restricted. This means he's open to a barrage of attacking enemies. Unless of course, Rion runs away, thereby resetting his attack charge gauge. So a typical fight would consist of running far away from the enemies, charging an attack, releasing the attack, and then running away again. Oh joy.
With all this running away the player will be doing, a lot of space to run around in would be helpful. This is one aspect Galerians: Ash manages to do successfully. So successfully, that the rooms are huge, but also barren. They're devoid of any activity or life. The design aspect that was put into this game is both disappointing and unimpressive. Even the items that the player can interact with are typically non-interactive. What this means is that the player can find out what the object is, but is usually unable to do anything with it. For example, there's a design of a giant face on the wall, and if the player inspects it, the message, "You see a giant face," will appear. Well that's nice. I didn't know I was looking at a giant face. Who'd have guessed?
Another example in the lack of creativity and depth is clearly apparent in the beginning of the game. The first puzzle that the player will encounter requires Rion to run through highlighted areas of the floor that alternate places with each pass. Toward the end of the puzzle, Rion will have to run from one end of the empty, spacious room to the other side multiple times. How this equals a fun experience is beyond me.
Simply put though, Galerians: Ash itself becomes a puzzle of a game. The game strays away from "I should do this and that," gameplay, and becomes more of a, "What am I supposed to do?" confusion. What the gameplay amounts to is the typical searching for a key, and running back to open a keyhole. Except in Ash, not only is the key difficult to find, the keyhole is just as difficult as well. Most times, discovering the key is an accident, and even then, that's the easy part. Figuring out where to use the item or who to speak to remains a mystery, so inevitably, retracing every interactive object happens frequently, which might or might not be so strenuous since there are only so few objects the player can really interact with. Add in the fact that the player will encounter the same common enemies that continuously respawn, and run through the same spacious, empty rooms, calculates into a gameplay that gets boring quickly.
Perhaps the reason why these rooms look huge is because the player gets to see so many angles of it. And while this sounds like a compliment, it's not. This is to note the chaotic camera problems in Galerians: Ash, which admittedly tend to plague most games. In Galerians: Ash, the camera is unfortunately never where you want it to be, and since it is automatic, the player has no control over it. The camera system is a standard third-person view camera, and for the most part, it does such a poor job of focusing on where you want it to that it becomes the biggest enemy. This becomes glaringly apparent during battles, when the player has to constantly move to dodge attacks, and the camera steps in with a quick angle change that chooses to focus on what the player is running towards, rather than the hordes of enemies running behind him. There is an option to lock onto the enemies, but not only is this even more disorienting, the range of speed and movement is severely restricted.
So what's left to drive a person to play this game? Well, it's not its combat system, artistic design, camera system, or its lost-and-found gameplay. The reason I continued through the game was its storyline. I wanted to find out what happens to Rion, Lilia, and the Last Galerians. And depending on how one looks at it, the eight hours it typically takes to finish this game could be considered short, or simply eight hours of torture. Also to note, the English dubbing is by far one of the most meager attempts in gaming history. Not only is the translation poor, and the speech not matching any movement of their lips, the enunciation is so lackluster and banal that if the gameplay doesn't lull the player to sleep, the conversations almost surely will.
When it comes down to it, I wouldn't exactly call it Galerians: Trash, but it takes a high threshold of pain and tolerance to have the patience to venture forward in the game. The Galerians series definitely has the potential, but it might be a while until it's reached. And frankly, with other great games on the market, the Galerians series has a lot of catching up to do. My best recommendation is if you've played the first Galerians and loved it, or my review still hasn't frightened you enough to stay away with a five-foot pole, I'd suggest renting it first. Oh, and make sure you ask for the instruction booklet.