Retro Look: Galerians

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Some games are good, some are bad, and some are so bad they are good. Galerians might have been one of those. It starts off really good, with an interesting and mysterious plot, but somehow ends up soiling itself along the way. In Galerians you play as a boy named Rion. The game starts with Rion waking up in an experimental facility unable to (yup, you guessed it) remember his past. But there’s a twist, Rion now discovers he has psychic and pyrokinetic abilities. These are here to ensure you will have fun during your time with Galerians, but everyone’s favorite „tank“ controls and fixed camera angles are here to make you suffer.

Personally, I miss the old „tank“ controls, there’s just something about it that makes navigating corridors with fixed camera angles more thrilling. Unable to see what lurks behind a corner until you walk into it might not be realistic, but it’s pretty damn cinematic and suspenseful at times. On the flip side the fixed camera angles really come and bite you in the rear during boss battles, where all of them teleport and shoot at you and once they go off screen you’re in for some trouble and quite a couple of headaches.

Because of the supernatural powers at your disposal, it feels very much like Parasite Eve 2. As soon as you start exploring the facility Rion starts gathering documents. The very first one does its best to make you acquainted with all of the items you will be collecting and using. The overly long document starts explaining various types of drugs and their affects; drugs which you will be administering to restore your stats or replenish your newly found powers, but scrolling pages and pages through these made-up terms and names is a bad way to start a game as no player will be able to memorize it anyway. What it fails to mention are any kind of actual gameplay mechanics or tips, instead you are left to find everything out for yourself the hard way.

Galerians does have some pretty solid gameplay though. Rions AP gauge rises whenever you have him use his mysterious battle-focused abilities, but also automatically rises a small bit when he moves around. Once it’s fully charged and you try to use an ability, Rion gets severe headaches and becomes „Short“. During  this so called „Short mode“, Rions HP starts decreasing, his movement speed lowers to a crawl and is only restored once you use a drug to replenish your AP. However „Short mode“ has its fair share of uses, while Rion is „Short“, he automatically paints the walls (and floors too) with brains of anyone who is lucky enough to be near him, turning him into a walking (or maybe crawling would be more accurate) weapon of mass destruction.

Gameplay itself finds a pretty good balance between using and collecting items. Some games tend to ask you if you would like to pick up a certain item and then offer a „yes“ and „no“ option, and this is often a one sided decision when you have no limit to the number of items you can carry. In Galerians however, deciding which items to carry and which to leave on the table plays a big role. It’s mostly about resource management, as you need to carry recovery drugs, AP reducing drugs and other specific drugs to restore each individual powers as you deplete them by using them up.

The problem arises when you notice that you can only carry about 10 of them in Rions medical pouch. Thankfully though the environments are loaded with drugs as they can be found on almost every single table or cabinet you try to inspect, the only problem is they are completely invisible to the human eye. No, they aren’t actually supposed to be invisible, it’s just that developers haven’t really bothered to make them stand out in the environment. Unlike Resident Evil where you could see a box of ammo lying around, in Galerians you need to inspect every single object you come across if you want to resupply yourself. Fortunately there will always be an excess of items, meaning you can focus on carrying more recovery drugs if you keep getting hurt, or maybe more of power restoring ones if you happen to attack everything you see like a raging addict.

Perhaps the most interesting part of Galerians is Rions psychic vision. By pressing the triangle button on a locked door, Rion can see certain visions. Usualy you get a hint of the location where the key lies, or what needs to be used to get the door moving, and other times he can sense what lies behind closed doors. Sometimes it can be confusing to find the right computer that operates a specific door, because most the visions boil down to terminals and machines that look fairly alike each other.

As you make your way across the hallways, Rion starts to hear a girl cry out for help directly to his mind through telepathy. This is also where things start getting really interesting, as the plot brings up terms like mankind, God, family and even AI. As Rion struggles to understand what is happening around him, you will be struggling with other things. The game fails to teach its player what he can and cannot do. There will be moments where you will most probably get stuck, because nowhere in the entire game is there an indication that you need to keep pressing buttons during something that appears to be a scripted event to change its outcomes. Galerians tries its best to be sly and sneaky. At one point when trying to open a door you might get a message that its locked and the only way to get it open is to repeatedly try opening it (and get the same exact message saying its clearly locked) to actually get it to eventually open itself.

At this point you start to feel like Galerians is trying to be cheap because you spent hours retracing your steps and researching all of the rooms for possible key items or events you might have missed, but then even more outrageous things happen. To get another door open, you must knock in a specific rhytm (which you are shown beforehand), but the game will only accept the most inhuman, down to a millisecond robotically precise inputs which you have to pull off by using your own ear and your most trusty trigger finger. There’s only 4 knocks to be made, but it still took me more than 15 attempts to nail it, most probably on accident because I already started to mash it like crazy. By the end you even start feeling like Galerians is simply trolling you at this point. During a sequence based memory puzzle consisting of 5 colors, the game will start a cinematic simply to distract you so that you have to go back and re-memorize the colors again, and this happens floor after floor again.

Length is probably its most weakest point; its only about 5-6 hours long (depending on how many times you manage to miss something) and is only 4 stages long. But this is what I always had a hard time understanding, Galerians happens to be on a set of 3 discs, and the two largest levels are on the first disc, while two shorter levels are on the second and third, how and why?

There’s a fair share of cinematics to be viewed in Galerians, and all of which have equally terrible childish voice acting that mostly consists of moans and other varied noises for your ears enjoyment. Lipsync is on a whole other level though, they didn’t even bother with this, and I bet if you asked the developers they would explain how all of the characters are in fact communicating telepathically most of the time, when in fact you can clearly see the characters struggling with their oral muscles.

It’s a shame that Galerians boils down to a cringe worthy experience, because I really liked the first half of the game (whole 2 hours!). But in the end, I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t have fun playing it. I cried and laughed at it, you can’t have sweet without the sour. There’s actually a pretty good game under those rough edges, too bad the headaches will likely be the part I will remember the most. Galerians had a sequel called Galerians Ash for PS2 which I personally never got around experiencing, but I just might try it out eventually.

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