If you think that a lot of games get released over here, spare a thought for the poor Japanese, who on average have the dubious pleasure of wading through three times the number we do. We know this after sitting through too many Chris Deering-hosted stat-fests, and we can't help but wonder what kinds of games we're 'missing out' on. We've heard that those crazy Japs go wild for GirlKrazy Sniff My Panties XI and Ladyboy Horse GoGo shenanigans, but the weary, dreary truth is that for the most part it's a world of sub-par action-adventure drivel.
Just gasping for air in the retail whirlpool is Enterbrain's Galerians: Ash, recently released via the newly established Sammy Europe (currently attempting a merger with Sega, no less). A follow up to the PSone original from three years ago, it's a curious anime-inspired survival horror hybrid that takes Resident Evil and gives the lead character Rion Jedi-esque psychic powers with which to deal with his adversaries. And the requisite dodgy hair cut.
Follow the follow the follow the follow the
Picking up from where the last game left off, it's the year 2522 (just three years before the famous 1960s classic pop ditty, handily), and a 14 year-old boy Rion has to kill an out of control 'HAL'-esque mother computer called Dorothy, which has got a bit big for its boots. Actually, it's not the real Rion at all, but a 'Galerian' who has been implanted with his memories and decides to protect Lilla, who has a virus that can destroy the evil eyeball-swallowing Dorothy.
But we didn't knock on this door to sit down and listen to some Manga-inspired fantasy tale. We came seeking the future of Japanese gaming, and we're not going to be happy if it's a wasted journey. We've got forty quid burning a hole in our pocket; are you going to look me in the eye (for I only have the one) and tell me honestly that this should be paid direct into Enterbrain's merry (futuristic) bank account? Short answer? Don't be insane.
The rather longer answer involves explaining the main elements of the game and why they don't add up to an enjoyable experience. Make yourself a cup of tea and join us in explaining why Galerians: Ash is such a sorry mess. At least we'll try and make this bit vaguely entertaining. Vaguely.
Although we've tried to pigeonhole Galerians: Ash into some kind of futuristic survival horror niche, it's a fairly lazy comparison. First of all, it doesn't attempt to inject suspense into the proceeding with rubbish camera angles, and instead uses a fairly bog-standard third person viewpoint, which has you steering Rion around with the left stick, while the camera swoops around after you. If you feel the need to become totally disorientated, then the right stick lurches into an unhelpful first person viewpoint, but you'll never use it it's not been designed with human beings in mind. Probably just for Galerians, then.
While you're wandering around, you'll observe that the background scenery is uniformly industrial, futuristic, sparse, clinical, lacking in finesse and attention to (texture) detail, and is ultimately blighted by first-gen PS2 jaggy hell. It's not totally disastrous, but after a matter of minutes you realise that this is as good as it's going to get. Oddly, objects that you need to collect suddenly pop up into view when you're just a few paces away, meaning that in order to find weapon and health pick ups, you have to trawl around every nook and cranny of each room before it's apparent that they're even there.
And it's these objects that form the bedrock of the combat system something that in itself is the mainstay of Galerians: Ash. Rion has three types of Psychic ability (selectable with triangle); Nalcon (a shockwave blast), Red (flame attack) and D-Felon (raises foes into the air and slams them onto the ground). Each of these can be targeted at specific enemies with R2, and then invoked with square, with a charged version of the attack possible if you hold the button down until a circular meter fills up. Later on you'll get the more powerful Bustanor (homing laser) and Breakaron (the game's BFG), but you'll need plenty of dedication to ever get that far.
P-P-P-P-pick-up a power-up
There's a disadvantage to all this psychic battling. It sends Rion a little crazy, and 'shorts' his AP meter out if he overdoes it, requiring a shot of Delmetor, which you can apply via your inventory. It's vitally important to keep a close eye on the various meters during your time with the game, with the top right of the side of the screen displaying your health points as well as the current amount of 'juice' left in your selected psychic attack and the aforementioned AP meter.
Defeating enemies produces one of two types of PPEC (Psychic Power Enhancement Chemicals) pick-up; Red, which increases your maximum health abilities, and Blue, which increases your weapon's abilities, RPG-style. Bosses might even spit out a 'Skip', which can be used to increase the level of a specific psychic ability. Overall, the pick-up system is quite pleasing in that Rion is consistently upgrading his abilities, but it requires a fair bit of repeated inventory visits, which we're sure could have been eliminated.
Anyway, once the initial novelty of pulling off the game's main attacks is over, Galerians: Ash quickly becomes a series of unconnected encounters with batches of drones, followed by some mini-exploration (and/or conversations), and a series of unnecessarily challenging bosses. It's all held together with a consistent smattering of narrative, but the half-arsed localisation is as bad as you could possibly fear not quite in the All Our Base league, but certainly in the Resident Evil circa 1996 bracket.
Seeing as the game delights in killing you off at half-hour intervals, it's nice that at least Enterbrain had the foresight to place save game points just before them, but that alone can't save Galerians: Ash from failing to grab you. Bizarrely, you're forced to revisit and replay the initial tedious section all over again (although there are subtle differences, it's a case of spot the difference), and time after time you're forced to wade through the same game areas with the same set of respawning enemies to do battle with. We're not talking 'bout a revolution here.
Nice inlay, shame about the game
The repetition of the exploration, the game world, and the unsatisfying combat leaves Galerians: Ash failing to engage at any point. It's one of those games that has you looking at your watch, praying that you've played it long enough so you can go and write the review and never have to play it again (nice box and manual though!). And now for the sound bite, for all those of you that skip straight to the last line. Not so much survival horror, just a horrible survival game.
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