Galerians: Ash (PlayStation 2) review
"For people who are thinking about buying this game, I want to warn you. The Galerian series has never been marketed well, and reviewers on the pro magazines consistently can't seem to figure out how to categorize it. As a result, a lot of people try this game expecting X, and they're surprised and displeased when they get Y instead. So first, let me tell you what this game is *not*: "
For people who are thinking about buying this game, I want to warn you. The Galerian series has never been marketed well, and reviewers on the pro magazines consistently can't seem to figure out how to categorize it. As a result, a lot of people try this game expecting X, and they're surprised and displeased when they get Y instead. So first, let me tell you what this game is *not*:
-An action game
-A ''survival horror'' game
It has elements of all the above, but they're just a means to an end.
''Galerians: Ash'' is a story game. That is, the main source of fun isn't killing monsters or leveling up, but moving the plot along so that you can figure out the central mystery. In the first Galerians, the mystery was simple: a boy with no memory and some strange powers had to figure out who and what he was. In ''Ash'', the mystery becomes more existential. The boy from the first game has grown up in more ways than one, and in this game he comes to terms with his ultimate destiny.
As you can probably guess by the fact that I'm tossing around words like ''existential'' and ''destiny'', the plot is a lot deeper than it looks on the surface. ^_-
Other elements of the game aren't as well-developed, however---which is the only reason why I'm not giving ''Ash'' a 10 out of 10. These flaws are minor to me, but other gamers might be more upset by them.
Gameplay is the weakest element; although the controls and camera (mostly) work smoothly, the game's level design gets downright silly at times. For example, there are three basic locations that the player must navigate while searching for plot-clues. For some reason the developers force us to go through each one twice. And within each location, we're forced to go through the same rooms over and over again. I'm sure this probably saved them some memory space so they could insert lots of nicely-done CGI movies, but it really gets aggravating after a while. Another weak element is graphics outside of those CGI movies. The non-CGI character models look blocky and big-pixeled. It wouldn't be so bad on its own---but there are too many other games out now (like Devil May Cry 2) which have done a better job in this area. (Then again, games like DMC2 *need* to look better---''the look'' is more important in games like that.)
A third weak spot may not be a weakness---it's a matter of preference. The mood/atmosphere of ''Ash'' is somewhat different from that of the first game. In the first Galerians, the player got treated to a surreal descent into darkness along with the main character. The main character, Rion, was a drug addict fighting a losing battle against the side-effects of his addiction. His enemies were stronger and crueler than him---but also more pathetic. The hopelessness and sadness of the first game is still present in ''Ash'', but Rion's drug problems and the surreal atmosphere have been downgraded in favor of some truly intelligent story twists. You'll miss the surreality and some of the ''creepiness'' from the first game, but the twists in this game might make up for it. They did for me.
A fourth weak spot may just have been a problem for me because I'm pathetic, as gamers go--- I think the game is *hard.* =) Some of the difficulty lies in the built-in challenge of using Rion's psychic powers. As you may know from the first game, Rion needs special chemicals---drugs---to enhance his base-level psychic abilities so he can do things like shoot force-bolts, conjure fire out of nothing, etc. The side-effects are severe: if he overuses the drugs, his brain will rebel and unleash all his powers at once in a storm that's as deadly to Rion as it is to everyone around him. Players must carefully balance Rion's drugs against each other, and keep an eye on his ''AP'' (addiction points) meter to prevent his brainstorms at the wrong time. (''Ash'' fixes one major flaw from the first game--- now Rion's AP rises only when he uses his powers or is under stress. If he's calm and in a safe environment, it doesn't go up.) Rion must search his environment to find the drugs he needs---and not surprisingly, the most important/powerful ones are the hardest to find. As if this weren't challenge enough, using Rion's powers in combat requires some quick thinking and strategy. Some abilities require a lengthy powerup that leaves Rion vulnerable in the meantime. Some are more effective against certain enemies.
But the real difficulty lies in the bosses. I've never had so much trouble beating bosses as I've had in this game. It's just a matter of figuring out the bosses' pattern by trial and error, and adapting your strategy to it... but some of the bosses' patterns are so fast and so complex that it took me *lots* of tries to figure each one out. It might help if you read an FAQ or walkthrough and get tips first (there were no FAQs available when I started playing, just a few days after the game came out).
But ultimately, I could overlook all of these flaws because the game's story is so fantastic. I'm a writer so I may be biased in this regard, but really---it was that good. Characterization was excellent (despite the occasional bad voice acting), the sci-fi elements were well-thought-out, and the themes/moral dilemmas were thought-provoking. In a lot of ways this game reminds me of ''The Matrix''---none of its ideas are new, but they're being handled in a fresh and interesting way.
There's one more thing I have to mention, though I hesitate to do so because I'm afraid it'll drive some people away from this great game. There are some elements in this game which I believe were inserted for the sake of female gamers (who make up a large proportion of the gaming audience in Japan, where the game was made). Namely, the main character and the main enemy are both ''bishounen'', or androgynous pretty boys, and there's some mild homoeroticism between them---although the latter is a matter of interpretation. Being a female gamer myself, I loved these elements. ^_- Macho guy-types may not feel the same way... but then macho guy-types probably wouldn't enjoy this game anyway.
So overall, I highly recommend this game. I'd suggest buying it; you may need to play it twice just to figure out some of the plot elements, and the difficulty of the bosses might make it tough to beat within a 5-day rental period. (You could probably do it if you played on Easy Mode, but then you wouldn't get the better ending.)
Community review by nojojojo (March 13, 2003)
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