Reviewed: February 23, 2003
Reviewed by: Mark Smith
After youíve played as many games as I have itís hard to find something that is remotely fresh, either in story or gameplay. Galerians: Ash tries very hard to break new ground in both areas and while is succeeds at first it quickly shows its true roots which are grounded in traditional 3D action-adventure games that we have all played before.
The story that drives this adventure is fairly interesting even though it borrows heavily from popular sci-fi themes found in movies like Terminator, Akira, and of course, The Matrix. Basically it goes something like this: Man builds super computer (AI) to serve mankind. Computer realizes mansí imperfections and decides it is the superior being. But in an interesting twist, man convinces computer - in this case a giant female construct named Dorothy with some scary looking breasts that serve no apparent computing function Ė that God created man and man created Dorothy so she does not have the right to control the humans.
Unbeknownst to her creators, Dorothy started conducting experiments at the local medical center until she created a race of super-beings known as Galerians. Logically, she has created these people so she is now ďgodĒ. Meanwhile, Dorothyís creator engineered a super-virus to take down Dorothy. The virus was imbedded in his son, Rion, and the launch code in a girl named Lilia. Together, these two have the power to destroy Dorothy.
Ash is the sequel to the original Galerians that appeared on the PS1 quite some time ago. I never had the opportunity to play that game, but the sequel does a very nice job of getting you up to date with a nice opening movie and even an opening level that recounts the events leading up to the big finale and the ďapparentĒ destruction of Dorothy.
The first level is a recap of events from six years prior, a playable prologue if you will, and also serves to introduce you to the gameplay mechanics. You play this game as Rion, presumed dead after his encounter with Dorothy, but kept alive in stasis by Lilia until the time was right to bring him back. Ash plays like your typical third-person action-adventure game as far as mixing combat with plenty of puzzles and exploration, but unlike those traditional games Rion doesnít carry around a huge arsenal of weapons. He employs various psychic powers that allow him unique attacks that actually puts a clever spin on the gameplay.
You have several psychic powers that can be leveled up in RPG fashion as you play the game. These powers are much like Jedi powers in that you can create an outward shockwave, generate a shield, or telekinetically lift enemies into the air, juggle them, then dash them to the ground. You can also torch your enemies, create a homing laser, or employ the most powerful ability of all and summon lightning to zap your foes.
Using these powers puts a drain on your mental stability as shown with the AP meter. When this meter is full you will suffer a psychotic break and anyone within a few feet of you will explode. You are also invincible during this time but you are also slowly taking damage as shown by your HP meter. Strategically timing these ďepisodesĒ is a great tactic for clearing out large rooms with several enemies. Make sure you have some Delmetor handy to restore your sanity when the carnage is complete.
The premise of psychic combat is indeed an often unexplored game element. Sanity: Aikens Artifact managed to pull it off nicely on the PC several years ago using a trading card system for collecting mental powers, and as cool as it all sounds there are a few flaws in the execution of the combat system in Ash. You are given the ability to lock-on to enemies, which is most appreciated given the 3D nature of the game, but there are timing issues that you will need to overcome if you ever hope to get very far into this adventure.
The way the combat works is that each power you use takes a moment to charge. During this time you cannot move and you cannot defend yourself. To make matters worse, if you get hit you lose your concentration and have to start charging your chosen attack power all over again. This isnít too difficult for most enemies, but some have lasers and can fire at you from clear across the room. Your shield power might help you in some melees but often you will find yourself surrounded by several opponents and your shield only block attacks in front of you leaving you wide opening for side and rear attacks. Itís definitely a flawed combat system and it becomes very frustrating at first, but with a bit of practice you can eventually get the timing down and work your way through the game.
When you arenít blasting the bad guys you will be exploring some wonderful levels and solving some not-so-wonderful puzzles. The puzzles themselves arenít that bad, actually, some are quite clever and nicely integrated into the environments, but none really tax your brain to any extremes. What is taxing is the linear nature of the game design and rigid scripting that can often deter from your fun.
Puzzles generally consist of finding item A to use at location B to solve crisis C. Itís all standard logic stuff. Whatís totally illogical is the fact that you are not permitted to pick up item A until you have visited location B and learned about crisis C. Most adventure games let you pick up anything that isnít nailed down in hopes of using it at some point in the future. Ash wonít let you pick up anything unless you already know when, where, why and how you need to use it. Here is an example:
Early in the game you need to get through an emergency exit but the power is off. You need to activate the emergency generator to power the door but first you must repair the generator, which takes a piece of cable and a key. You will find the piece of cable long before you need it, but you are not allowed to take it. You will probably find the generator room long before you find the emergency exit, but unless you have previously visited that door you are not given a clue that the generator needs repairing. So basically, you end up running around finding all these clues that you, as a gamer, will figure out long before Rion, but are forced to play with only the knowledge that your character has. Itís a bit frustrating and it creates a lot of backtracking around the levels.
Galerians: Ash is a visually stunning game. From the opening room with its shiny reflective floors and futuristic biotech art design to the futuristic settings of a post-apocalyptic city under siege by deadly cyborgs, I was held captive by the wonderful design. Some of the interior rooms that featured grid patterns or lots of parallel lines had substantial jaggies and there was even some occasional shimmering, but 98% of the time this game looked great.
The game box boasts real-time battles at 60fps and they arenít lying. In fact, the entire game plays at a solid 60fps no matter whom you are fighting, what you are doing, or where you are doing it. Some of the scenes are amazingly complex with stunning backgrounds and loads of special effects such as lighting and particles.
The character animation contrasts these excellent environments with merely an average design and some unimpressive animation. The enemy creatures and robots you will be fighting range from creative to uninspired blobs that lurch around the screen. Some are funny and some will send you running for a clean pair of shorts. The human characters look like your typical anime-style creations lifted out of games like Final Fantasy, but dressed in cyber-punk tunics and leather pants.
Ash features over an hour of movies that range from some amazing pre-rendered CG stuff to cutscenes that were obviously created using the game engine and converted to video. You can easily spot which ones are which. There are also some lip-synching issues, but since this was created in Japan I tend to blame that on localization. I really donít expect them to re-render the movies for an English dub. One nice feature is the movie viewer that lets you review any of your favorite cutscenes from the main menu.
What little music there is in Galerians: Ash is really good. Itís all techno-synth stuff that fits the mood of the game perfectly and blends into the background to the point where you wonít even realize you are listening to it.
Sound effects are decent and include plenty of environmental and ambient noises along with some nice effects for your psychic powers. Again, itís all standard stuff and really doesnít stand out, but it certainly doesnít disappoint.
The voice work ranges from average to pretty bad. I blame a lot of this on a poor translation or perhaps just a poor original script. There is a lot of really bad dialog here Ė yes as bad as the original Resident Evil, but the actors do their best to speak these hackneyed lines. Unfortunately, several of the cast appear to be reading their lines right off the page and forgot to put any emotion into their reading. I might be able to overlook Rionís bad reading considering he is ďartificialĒ, but some of the human characters seem more like cyborgs than the Galerians. Surprisingly, some of the most convincing acting comes from the supporting cast.
You can choose from two difficulty settings when you play Galerians: Ash. I played on the easier setting and got through the game in about 18 hours, and yes, I consulted a walkthrough on more than one occasion. Choosing the harder difficulty will reduce the amount of Delmetor and booster serums for your powers that you start off with. I saw no real change in the number or difficulty of any of the encounters.
Galerians: Ash may not be for everyone, but if you enjoy action, adventure, survival horror, or just a good old sci-fi inspired story you will at least want to give this a rental.
Even with the flawed combat system and the linear puzzle designs, I still managed to have a great deal of fun with this game. It does require some patience, but once you get caught up in the gameplay and the story you will be able to look past the flaws and see the really cool game that lurks beneath.