A Return Trip Worth Taking
It bothers me so much when I get into a(n assumedly Japanese) video game series only to find out that it hasn’t been entirely localized. Sure, it’s great when devs bring us in partway through, but it still bugs me not being able to go back to where it all began for whatever particular series is striking my fancy at that moment. For many series, this is something that won’t ever become a reality, unless I either learn whatever language it was originally released in (which, once again, is probably Japanese) or find an unofficial English ROM patch—which I would never do because we definitely do not endorse that, here. And, for about 10 years, the same held true for Inti Creates’ “cute ’em up” Gal*Gun franchise… but that’s since changed, thanks to the release of Gal*Gun Returns—and I’m certainly glad about that.
Aside from the fact that it took a whole decade for the game that “started it all” to get here, Gal*Gun returns is exactly what I expected—and wanted—it to be; nothing more, nothing less. It’s an officially dubbed version of a game that we originally missed out on when it was first released. Given the fact that we’ve since seen two additional titles within the series—three, if you consider Gal*Gun VR to be entirely its own thing—you could say that the gameplay makes a return to the basics (hah!), but that’s just fine by me. After all, it wouldn’t be a true remake of the original otherwise!
Luck Be a Lady Today!
I love the Gal*Gun franchise, but I’d be lying if I said that the phrase “if you’ve played through one, you’ve played through them all” didn’t apply to their narrative structures pretty heavily. I suppose that Gal*Gun Returns is technically a remake of the very first game, though, so let’s not get too carried away with semantics. Anyway! Gal*Gun Returns‘ story follows a second-year high school student by the name of Tenzou who finds himself in the crosshairs of Cupid! Lucky him, huh? Well, no, not so much. As it turns out, it’s not Cupid himself, but an angel trainee by the name of Patako working as a cupid. And, instead of hitting him with one arrow, she hits him with 16. The good news? He is going to be really good with the ladies for the next 24 hours. The bad news? If he doesn’t find the love of his life before said 24 hours are up, he’s going to be hated by all women forever. Yikes!
So, this might come across as a tad ironic considering that I sort of made fun of its narrative at the beginning of the last paragraph, but Gal*Gun Returns‘ writing is one of the best things about this game, hands-down. I’d even argue that it’s as entertaining as its gameplay. Yes, really. While I can only speculate about how certain parts of the game’s script came to be, it seems to me like some of the story had to be re-written to either a) fit in with more contemporary times (this is a 10-year-old game, after all), or b) make more sense for Western players.
In some cases, extreme localization only bastardized the final product, however, in a game as comedic as this one, I’d argue that the opposite ultimately happened. This game had me laughing out loud on several occasions thanks to its keen sense of comedic timing and, at times, downright absurdity. Regardless of how certain changes came about, it was easy to see that whoever was in charge of the localization was clearly enjoying themselves, and that enjoyment is easily carried over to the person playing the game.
Locked Onto Love
Being what essentially boils down to a gussied up version of the first tile in the series, Gal*Gun returns is extremely straightforward in its approach. After selecting which of the four girls you want to go after, you’re then taken through 4 different levels, with each level being comprised of a handful of stages—some route-specific and some shared across all routes—and a “boss” awaiting you at the end. And what do you do within each of these levels? You shoot girls, duh! Wait, no, no, not like that. Sorry, let me take a step back and try to explain things a little more clearly.
In terms of mechanics, Gal*Gun Returns is a rail shooter in the most straightforward sense. Your character, Tenzou, moves throughout each level automatically while enemies attack you. However, while most rail shooters feature monsters trying to tear you limb from limb, the only enemies chasing you down in this game are love-struck high school girls (and a few teachers) affected by Patoko’s magic arrows. In order to fend them off, you have to shoot them not with bullets but with pheromones. Unfortunately, while your pheromone shot does work, it doesn’t incapacitate them for long—meaning that you’re going to keep running into these girls over and over again until you get to where you need to be.
In terms of difficulty, this game isn’t going to cause you to lose any sleep. In fact, bosses aside, you could probably get through the entire game by wildly shooting at enemies as soon as they appear on-screen. The real challenge lies within racking up (no pun intended) a high score. The easiest way to do this, of course, is by going for your opponents’ weak spots. You’ve got to keep in mind, though, that this isn’t a zombie apocalypse—you can’t just headshot everything and expect to go places. Each girl has her own specific weak spot, and shooting her there triggers what is known as an “Ecstasy Shot.” Ecstasy Shots are not only worth bonus points—and trigger combos in Score Attack Mode—but even have the added effect of being guaranteed OHKOs! Talk about handy!
Finally, you’ve got your Doki-Doki Mode. You know how most shooters have some kind of bomb or bomb-equivalent that clears out the entire screen? Well, Gal*Gun Returns has that, too… sort of. By storing up energy and entering Doki-Doki Mode with a girl on-screen, you begin a mini-game that has you zooming in and touching said girl’s “weak spots.” Once you’ve filled the Doki-Doki Gauge all the way up by doing so, she’ll, um… well, she’ll be pretty happy with you, and her happiness will radiate to all of the other girls, instantly hitting them all with Ecstasy shots. It’s a great way to clear out rooms and pad out your score, but, if I’m being honest it gets kind of boring due to how long it takes to get through a single session. There are ways of “Doki-Doki-ing” girls more quickly, but it still feels like too much of an investment at times. Still, I suppose more options are better than fewer!
Since I’ve spent the last several paragraphs prattling on about the mechanics, let me get a little more generalized, here. Compared to Gal*Gun: Double Peace, and, especially, Gal*Gun 2, Gal*Gun Returns does feel a little bit lacking. The added QoL features that GGDP added aren’t in there, nor is the level of freedom granted to the player by GG2. But that didn’t really matter to me. Despite this game taking a few steps back, I enjoyed it for what it was. It’s arguably the most arcade-like game within the entire series, and there’s definitely something to be said for that. So, while it might not be quite as advanced, it’s still plenty of fun, and I wouldn’t let its lack of features scare you away from trying it.
Lighting Up the Night
Story Mode is undoubtedly the main attraction of this game, but it’s not the only thing that Gal*Gun Returns has to offer—and I’m not just talking about the aforementioned Score Attack Mode (although that’s a lot of fun). If you can manage to beat the game and get any of the girls’ True Endings, you’ll unlock something called the Doki-Doki Carnival. Working as something akin to an encore mode to the story, DDC takes place a short while after Tenzou and his lovely lady start dating, and follows his quest alongside Patako and familiar face Eroko as he tries to ensure that he and his girlfriend live happily ever after. DDC revolves entirely around a modified version of Doki-Doki Mode which, admittedly, isn’t my favorite, but the story gives you an opportunity to learn more about the game’s supporting cast of characters which is pretty great. Even if you’re in the same boat as me regarding Doki-Doki Mode, DDC is still most definitely worth playing through at least once.
Here’s to Another 10 Years!
Gal*Gun Returns is exactly what it should be. It’s a new way for some fans to re-experience the original Gal*Gun with updated visuals, and, for us over here in the West, the chance to finally experience Gal*Gun for the first time. If you’re looking for something that’s going to top Gal*Gun 2, then you’re going to be disappointed. If you can appreciate it for the faithful recreation that it is, however, I can guarantee that you’ll have an absolute blast.
Final Verdict: 4/5
Available on: PC (Reviewed), Nintendo Switch ; Publisher: PQube Limited ; Developer: Inti Creates ; Players: 1 ; Released: February 12, 2021 ; M for Mature ; MSRP: $49.99
Full disclosure: This review is based on a copy of Gal*Gun Returns provided by the publisher.