reviews\ Jan 20, 2003 at 7:00 pm

Galerians: ASH - PS2 - Review

OK, Survival Horror to me has always involved zombies, half decayed dogs, demonic humanoids, and a hero who’s main weapon usually revolves around something which seems ineffective like a plank of wood or a hunting knife. It entails darkness, creepy noises, and some of the most shocking and frightening imagery that sometimes even hell would seem like it was outdoing itself to produce. Well, this is neat for a while, but lately there has been a flood of titles that are a little different but still revolve around the same style of monsters and settings. Sammy Studios has released a sequel to it’s sleeper PSX hit, Galerians, and the result overall is a unique blend of Blade Runner, Akira, Dragonball Z, and a Marylin Manson video which definitely stands out on its own.


Unlike most survival horror titles out, Galerians: Ash goes into the future rather than sticking to the present to tell a disturbing story indeed. A super computer named Dorothy runs the planet, and learns what God is. She decides that she too can be a creator, and begins tinkering with human children to produce a sub species known as Galerians. Armed with cyber implants and packing some intense psychic powers, the Galerians are ordered by Dorothy to turn on and destroy the human race. One Galerian, Rion, denies his existence and fights for humanity, ultimately teaming up with a human named Lilia and uploading a virus into Dorothy. Right before she is destroyed, Dorothy executes one final program to create another race of Galerians to finish the job, including a ticking time bomb named “Ash”, and this is where our story begins … or ends … since the game picks up right at the ending of the first one. You must control Rion and save humanity from total destruction in a post apocalyptic world filled with cybernetic nightmares and some really creepy and murderous children.


At first glance, Galerians : Ash may seem like your typical survival horror style title. It’s presented in a third person viewpoint, and the main object is to guide Rion through a few different locales solving puzzles, unlocking doors, backtracking, killing monsters and an assortment of weird humanoids, and fighting bosses. The controls are tight and maneuvering Rion is simple, and switching between weapons or pulling up inventories is a breeze. At it’s bare core, it contains the same recipe as other titles, but there are a couple of things which make it different.


The first thing that really set Galerians : Ash apart from other games in a similar vein out there is the weapon usage. Combat is not done with pistols and shotguns, but rather with psychic energy known as PPECs (Psychic Power Enhancement Chemicals). Rion has a few different types of psychic energy weapons to select from, each one doing various amounts of damage or being more useful in certain situations. Some will fire rapidly and are useful for taking out weaker “foot soldier” type enemies, while others take longer to charge up or spread a wave of fire across the floor, but ultimately will do more damage and come in handy for bigger creatures or boss battles. Much like reloading a gun, Rion will keep his PPEC energy filled up by injecting a dose of serum into his neck, which results in a cutscene and is a really interesting idea rather than your average “lock and load conventional weapon” style setup.


Now, having the power to clear out a room of bad guys seems like a lot or that it may be unbalanced, and there are times where it seems like you will always have the upper hand. Well, to make things a little fairer for everyone, there is also what is called an AP meter. This meter fills up as Rion uses his psychic powers or takes damage, and if it gets to the top he “shorts”. Things get blurry, and he emits an explosion of psychic energy capable of popping heads off of enemies like Gallagher hitting a watermelon with a sledgehammer. The downside to this is that Rion will take massive damage in the process. It’s a neat looking and cool attack / concept, and can come in handy at times, but ultimately it’s better to use an injection to keep the rage under control. 


Another unique feature to Galerians : Ash is the usage of items and things in an “inventory”. This title focuses more on navigating and periodic combat than collecting tons of items as you go, so you won’t have a lot of “key A obtained by braking item B found at location C by using item D to make the statue drop it” kind of thing. Most of the items that you will find scattered around are PPEC refills, but there are some times where a cable or key will need to be used and will be found by searching.


Now, there are things that were done well in this game, like tight controls and an interesting and unique concept, but there were also some things that could have been done better. For one, combat is exciting … true enough. Having enemies that just keep coming back over and over and over again in a repetitive cycle can get annoying quickly. There are multiple areas that you will have to go through where killing a bunch of creatures just results in more popping up and coming after you. On a plus side, they will drop items like HP recovery or PPEC refills when killed, but if you are OK on items it just gets repetitive and regardless, it happens way too often to be a minor thing.


Another thing that hurts this title is the overall difficulty of what needs to happen at times while you are playing and trying to progress. Most of the game you will find yourself running down hallway after hallway looking for some kind of items or clues in room after room, then sometimes going back and trying it again because you didn’t find what you needed. Unlike other survival horror or third person action games, “hard to see” items like small keys don’t have any indicators to tell you when they are nearby … like the character looking at them or a light flash … and some things tend to blend in with the environment. The graphics, which I will get into later, are really good … but the similar color scheme in most places hides things well. In addition, some solutions are really vague, and can ultimately lead to a lot of running around.


Graphically, Galerians: Ash really stands out in the CG department. The game is chock full of movies which are sometimes weird, sometimes creepy, sometimes informative, but always good-looking and well done. The overall presentation in them and the game itself definitely sets up a bleak and industrial future for mankind, and the confrontations with other Galerians out there are just plain spooky. There are some really cool things here and there also, like reflective floors, great lighting effects, nasty looking monsters, and decent character animations. In addition, the enemies are top quality during CG scenes or the gameplay itself, and you will never see a creepier set of kids. Unfortunately, the future takes place mostly in underground structures, with multiple connecting areas of the same color scheme or design and set up which gets a little dull after running through them for an extended period of time. This is mostly found in the beginning, and it gets a little better as you move forward.


Sound wise, the game sets the tone of what the developers wanted by offering a strange variety of industrial clangs, buzzes, and whirs which makes up most of the background music or sounds. The setup and the fact that they don’t overkill it by doing it ALL of the time is good, so when it does happen it adds to the environment. The music here and there in the game is good, but many times is easily forgettable. There are also character voiceovers, most of which have an anime kind of childlike quality to them, and most are well acted and don’t sound too scripted. Dorothy sounds just positively intimidating during your first (or last, if you played the first one) confrontation, and really makes you go “Great … look what I get to look forward to”.


Overall, Galerians: Ash will probably cater to the survival horror fans out there and offers something a little more unique than the run of the mill action game that is seen so frequently today. It’s a good blend of horror, science fiction, and unique gameplay that stands alone in its genre. While it improves on the original title for PSX and definitely operates and looks a lot better even boasting 60FPS consistently, it unfortunately has flaws to it that may cause even survival horror buffs to get a tad frustrated. Ultimately, science fiction, anime, and ex - Raccoon City veterans will probably get enjoyment from it, and fans of the original will love it, but if those types of games just aren’t your thing … you will definitely want to rent this one first.


Gameplay: 7.4
If you played the original, you will be amazed at how much different this title is. The controls are tight and there is no slowdown, even when Rion’s “short” takes place. The combat system is unique, and the usage of PPEC’s and a handy lock on feature makes fighting simple. Unfortunately, there are some issues with the “what do I need to do now” progressions of the game, with many puzzle solutions being a little too vague and items being hard to find which leads to more running around and backtracking than action or progress. In addition, areas with consistently regenerating enemies gets annoying quickly, happens more than it should, and makes it hard to inspect everything in that area to look for what you may need … as if it wasn’t difficult enough. Needless to say, there are also some camera issues here and there which make certain battles difficult, but if you’ve played any similar games … you should be used to it by now. 


Graphics: 8.0
As I stated before, the CG scenes are absolutely awesome, and creepier than heck as well. The developers took advantage of the PS2’s power for this one, and it shows that they wanted to give one heck of a presentation. The game runs smoothly and quickly, with no pop up or slowdown. The only issue that I could see here was in the repetitive environments found in the beginning, since everything had a very similar look and setup to it regardless of the room or area. It gets better as you progress, but a little more change of environment overall would have been nice.


Sound: 7.9
The sound to Galerians: Ash was mostly made up of industrial noises and clanging sounds, but did a good job in setting the tone. The creatures all sound tormented and in pain, and some of the monsters that you face will be re-worked children … some of which will send a shiver down your spine. The voiceovers were well done also, and the dialogue was better than a lot of other survival horror titles out there (“I sure hope this isn’t Chris’ blood” to name one). There could have been a little more intense music or random things to make you jump when setting something up, but that’s my opinion.


Difficulty: Hard
There are two difficulty settings, the easier one not making puzzles any more easier than the normal one, and this is where most of the difficulty comes in. This will definitely have you running around and going “now what am I supposed to do” at times, and the battles themselves will sometimes take strategy rather than constant fire to win.


Concept: 7.9
In a world filled with zombies and hellish mutations, it’s nice to see someone step out of the normal mold and make something completely unique to the normal style. At its heart and mechanical soul, it remains a third person survival horror title, but the unique plot line, enemies, and weaponry make for a one of a kind experience.


Overall: 7.5
It’s a one of a kind, fear filled glimpse into a bizarre future where mankind is no longer needed nor wanted. The designers did a great job in bringing something that feels like a playable “Akira style” anime – like title to the PS2, and I would have loved to see some of the kinks worked out prior to release. If you are a fan of the original, you won’t be disappointed by this game regardless of a couple of issues. If you are a survival horror or science fiction buff, the plot and creepy images will give you some enjoyment but you may want to try it out before you buy. If you haven’t really become a fan over the years of other horror games, this one probably won’t change your mind and should be rented prior to purchase.   


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