When the CD first became a part of the gaming experience back in the Genesis/Sega CD days, developers saw the format chiefly as a way to introduce movies into games--often at the expense of playability and design, as in the infamous Sewer Shark or Night Trap "games." Later, developers realized that they could use the extra storage space to make real innovations, and flashy movies worked their way back into the games as an enhancement, rather than as a raison d'etre. Galerians, unfortunately, is a throwback to the early days of CD-based development, rather than a tight integration of movie and game.

 My brain hurts!
I've got a hemhorrage this big!

   This is especially frustrating because the world of Galerians is definitely an intriguing one. With its twin elements of psionic powers and drug-induced madness, Galerians stands out as one of the most aggressively moody games in recent memory. With the exception of a few moments, Galerians makes no attempt to shock the player with enemies jumping into the picture. The game goes for a consistent, dark mood and achieves it. The character are for the most part interesting and well-designed, and the backgrounds are appropriately seedy.

   The story to go along with the environment is also fairly compelling, if a little unoriginal. You play Rion, an amnesiac teenager who wakes up strapped to an operating table just in time for his daily regimen of drugs to be injected directly into his neck. From there, you must use your powers to escape from the ward and figure out just what's going on. It may sound cliched, but it has its moments, such as the significance of the time 2:50 and a few unexpected revelations about Rion's past.

Star Wars ... a film by David Lynch?
Size matters not.

   With good plot, characters, and locale, Galerians would make an excellent film, especially with its high-quality CG movies that advance the story. However, it is not a film--it is a game, and a poor one at that. The first of the game's offenses is the control scheme, which seems to have been made mandatory for all PSX adventure games. The operative movement in the game is "forward," as all other directional buttons are centered around that concept. Left and Right only turn Rion rather than actually moving him, while Down does at least move Rion backwards, albeit in a slow, halting manner. The problems with this scheme manifest themselves in several ways. When Rion is in the background of a large room, it can be unreasonably difficult to tell which way he's facing and have him go off in an unwanted direction. Sudden turns are impossible with this control setup; Rion can only move in wide circles without stopping, turning, and moving on again, an untenable alternative during combat. Even when Rion is up close, and there are no immediate dangers to worry about, the controls are still awkward: at the last dungeon, when I should have been used to the controls, I found myself bumping into objects instead of going around them.

   Many would argue that such a control setup is necessary for games such as this which feature abrupt camera changes. Without these controls, the character would move in unplanned directions immediately after the shift in viewpoint. On the other hand, one could counterargue that these sudden camera changes, which replace a scrolling background, are also an element of poor game design. True, their inclusion can add mood and drama to a game, but there are countless other ways of achieving atmosphere in a game without resorting to a shoddy camera system requiring an equally shoddy gameplay workaround.

This is where you'll wish you had a first-person view mode.

   Beyond the control problems it shares with many other games, Galerians has specific problems of its own. At once the coolest and most problematic concept is "Shorting." Rion's AP (Anger Points) meter fills up both with the passage of time and with abuse taken from enemies. When full, pressing the R1 button to charge up an attack will instead send Rion into Short mode. In this state, Rion's psychic power will overheat and instantly, messily destroy any enemy he comes near. It's one of the most stylish ways to defeat enemies that's come down the pike, but the concept was perhaps not as well-thought out as it could have been. For one thing, while Shorting, your HP gauge decreases alarmingly quickly. If you don't stop the Short, you die. This might be tricky, because the only way to stop Shorting is to take the Delmetor pills, of which there are few in the game. Furthermore, Rion is forced to move at walking speed while Shorting, so if you don't have a Delmetor before activation, it's unlikely that you'll find one in time to save yourself afterwards. Shorting also doesn't damage bosses, most of whom require quick dodging, so you'll have to beat them before the AP meter fills up because it's impossible to use regular attacks while Shorting. In fact, most of the time you'll have to beat each level before you overload more than twice, which can be nigh-impossible given the puzzles Rion must solve and the enemies Rion must defeat. There are games which require trial-and-error method of solving particular puzzles, but in Galerians, frequently the only way to advance is to take each stage as a trial-and-error block: the slightest mistake could mean a certain death at some later time.

I'm here for the Trent Reznor lookalike contest.

   Speaking of defeating enemies, while the concept of "levels" of psychic power might have seemed like a good idea at the time, in practice it's useless or worse. Holding the R1 button will charge Rion's abilities; the longer the charge, the more powerful the attack. Full charges will take up more of your drug supply (the equivalent of MP), while light charges won't damage an enemy as much. While this seems nice in theory, during battle a full charge is rarely affordable since the enemies tend to both move much faster and have a much wider range than you. What would have been preferable would be to have tapping R1 fire off a fixed-damage shot, rather than waste time with levels of charge that inflict the same damage and use the same amount of drug that several smaller shots would.

   Galerians shows promise and potential, and in the end is ultimately more disappointing and frustrating for failing to deliver on that promise. While the 60-odd movies are impressive and tell a worthwhile story, it's unfortunate that they're not part of a more worthwhile game.

Review by Nich Maragos, GIA.
Developer Polygon Magic
Publisher Crave
Genre Adventure
Medium CD (3)
Platform PlayStation
Release Date  08.26.99
150 screenshots
New wallpaper
Japanese guidebook cover