A special thanks to @FerniWrites for stepping in, spreading his freelance wings and creating this review. He can be found on the above twitter handle or via e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
Believe it or not, this year marks the 10th anniversary of the Gal Gun franchise. It boasts a collective four titles, though the initial release remained exclusive to Japan. North America wouldn’t get its first taste until 2016. Gal Gun: Double Peace introduced the West to its lunacy, but it was actually the sequel to the one that got away. That wouldn’t deter my enjoyment and I had a ton of fun. Then in 2018, Gal Gun 2 blessed the world, coming to all major consoles. The fan-service kept pushing the envelope, but that first entry still eluded us. Now it’s 2021, and Gal Gun Returns finally sees western shores. For the unfamiliar, these are ecchi on-rail shooters – and competent ones at that. The question is: will Gal Gun Returns fill me with euphoria, or is it a limp experience.
SHOT BY CUPID’S ARROW! (Story)
Gal Gun Returns follows the silly premise of a failed attempt to become Cupid. In the midst of it all is Tenzou; he’s the protagonist. As he gets to class, an angel mistakenly shoots him with a plethora of love bullets. Her name is Patako, and she quickly glides over as he falls to the ground. While he stands back up, she explains what she’s done. As a consequence of her actions, Tenzou must now find love in a single day or be forever repulsive to females – that includes animals. This kick starts a chain of events that depending on your decisions could either end happily or catastrophically.
AN ECCHI COMEDY!? (Writing)
The writing in Gal Gun Returns won’t leave you in awe. Although, I do admit that I did chuckle a few times. I, however, also rolled my eyes an equal amount of times. The biggest reason is the unnatural interactions – most felt inauthentic. It was evident that humour was a goal but instead of organically creating funny moments, it felt forced. The narrative itself is filled with insane plot points that sadly miss more than it hits. That’s another issue actually – the insane dialogue loses impact on further runs. Any shock emanating from what characters say is no longer there. Fortunately, Gal Gun Returns does have a fast forward so you can skip text on subsequent runs. This works much like in visual novels, and I’m grateful for that.
On a positive note, I’d like to highlight one thing I liked a lot. The banter between both Tenzou and Patako was really fun to read. It came across like a sibling relationship because of the constant badgering. To be frank, I felt this was the peak of the script, and that’s sadly not saying much. The writing is certainly the weakest aspect but to its credit, Gal Gun Returns does try to be ambitious. It has an illusion of choice that’ll be given when speaking to a love interest. It’s nothing extensive, but there’s a slight bit of difference in dialogue depending on your reply.
Tenzou has a choice between four possible girls; each with their own route. I did like the variety between them, as well as their unique quirks. There’s the rich girl with bodyguards; the aggressive girl armed with a kendo stick; the sweetheart; then the band girl. One thing I noticed is how they all adhere to classic anime stereotypes. You’ll be courting a tsundere, a deredere, a himedere, and a bakadere. Quite fitting as the aesthetic, in general, is very anime.
THESE GIRLS LOOK ADORABLE! ( Graphics)
As I’ve already established, the fidelity is very anime, and that works to its benefit. While it’s the normal graphical style each title has, it’s also timeless. Despite being a decade old, it still stands alongside its sisters. There are tiny differences like a crisper resolution, but it isn’t jarring In the least. One thing I love is the character models of the girls; the main four especially are really darn cute. The cherry blossom trees appear vibrant, and the school corridors are reminiscent of actual halls. My sole complaint actually lays with those female students. While I appreciate that Inti Creates made the area feel populated, all the girls eventually blended into one another. This issue will mainly plague those that like to complete their games 100% – I’ll touch on this later.
Since we’re on the topic of girls, I’d like to say I appreciate the boldness. Gal Gun Returns has no shame in how provocative the outfits get. If anything, the game routinely leans into its sexuality with the DLC outfits included in this package.
CHIP-TUNE MAGIC, ANYONE? (Audio)
Personally, I’m rather lukewarm on the audio. That’s not to say that it’s all bad because I did genuinely enjoy a few. I found them catchy and cheerful. There’s a specific track that’s only accessible if you choose to chase Aoi; she’s in a band. A mission of hers will have the two of you writing a song – a song I felt was the best of the bunch. It never overstayed its welcome, unlike the others – tracks are limited. In fact, the same tune plays throughout every level. As a result, it became grating after the fifth or sixth time playing through. The variety just isn’t there, and that really hurt Gal Gun Returns. It got to the point that I’d opt to listen to a podcast instead. I did turn it off when Aoi played her jam though – Am I a groupie?
AIM FOR A HEAD SHOT! (Gameplay)
It’s oddly addictive – that’s the only descriptor I can think of for the gameplay. It’s honestly the main reason I revisit this franchise. Gal Gun Returns harnesses arcade culture in its truest form. You’ll want the highest score in every level. To earn points, you’ll simply need to shoot girls with your pheromones. Because of Patako’s misfire at the start of this journey, Tenzou has become quite a ladies’ man. So be prepared because those slacking can quickly be overwhelmed. Each time you shoot one of the students, they’ll be granted a glimmer of euphoria. It’ll take a few shots to bring a girl down. That’s, unless, you hit the right spot. I struggled to do this at times – please no jokes.
Luckily, there are indicators to steer you in the right direction. As you hover over a girl, you’ll notice Japanese characters appear. Depending on where your cursor was when they did, it’ll have a specific colour to reflect that particular part of her body. For example; if you see red, that indicates that shooting your payload to her face will send her into a complete euphoric state. Not only will she be brought down with one-shot, but it’ll contribute to the Doki Doki meter.
And thus begins what I expect will ruffle a few feathers. After sending a girl into utter bliss, a small bit of the heart meter on the bottom right will fill up. Once a charge is collected, you’ll be able to take one of your admirers into a pink field. It’ll be here that you’ll, for lack of a better phrase, explore her body. The familiar Japanese characters will appear once again but in another manner. Instead of differing colours, you’ll find that size does matter. If you target the body part that shows the biggest characters, it’ll contribute massively to the meter off to the side. Once you’ve reached the top, a button press will cause her to pop. I’m realizing this game is a giant metaphor.
YOU’RE A STAR! (More Gameplay)
For those that enjoy completing games, you’ll have a lot to do. The first is unlocking the profiles of every female student and teacher that you encounter. After you’ve activated the Doki Doki Field and sent one of the girls into euphoria, a star appears beside her name. This indicates the amount of information in her profile. There’s a maximum of three stars and each one grants tiny tidbits that include her measurements – you know, for those curious. It’s this, however, that I feel is hurt by the fact that the students all eventually start to blend in. With fast and furious action, it isn’t always possible to check on progress. So, it would have been nice if these girls differentiated a little. I had instances where I’d activate the Doki Doki field with a girl I had already got to maximum rank.
IT’S NOT YOU, IT’S ME! (Missteps)
Inti Creates has created a real fun arcade rail shooter – no pun intended. It’s not without its flaws though and sadly, they come in the form of half-baked mechanics.
After Tenzou meets Patako, she’ll quiz him on a few things. This’ll determine his stats which divide four ways: Intelligence, Lewdness, Style, and Athleticism. Just like real life, the eligible girls have certain types. One might not like lewd boys, while the other doesn’t mind it. Her questions won’t be the only way to improve the attributes either. Each time you enter and complete a Doki Doki Field, they’ll also go up, but here’s the problem; it isn’t clear what girl affects what. Even if I’d like to pander to a particular girl, it’s a gamble as to if I even can. I’m assuming that focusing on their likes will manipulate the type of ending that I get. If I’m not mistaken in that assumption, it brings up another problem – there’s an issue in communicating the functions of mechanics.
The failure to disclose goes even deeper than mechanics too. During a route for another girl, there’s a mission that has Tenzou taking many positions. She’ll dictate what to do and in the beginning, it was clear and concise. She’d then, however, request that I strike a cool pose and that’s a problem. I wasn’t entirely sure what qualified as such. It made making the right choice based on sheer luck. If I got it wrong, I’d hurt any affection I had built up, thus hurting my chances.
My final complaint happens in a boss fight of sorts. Big black balls will be hurled towards Tenzou and he’ll need to shoot them out of the sky before he’s hit. They, however, moved very quickly and while it may be poor reflexes on my part, I didn’t always succeed. It was a bit frustrating having to repeat the whole level just because I’m old and not as fast as I used to be.
AND THE VERDICT OF MY PHEROMONES IS…(Summary)
Gal Gun Returns is addictive, but is held back by a slew of confusing decisions. I wasn’t able to fully grasp some of the mechanics because of poor communication. This led to problems such as being unable to pander to certain girls. I wasn’t able to better my attributes with planning but instead had to rely on luck. Furthermore, the sheer speed of boss battles was too much for my reflexes. I lost a couple of times due to this, and it only contributed to frustration. The game itself is rather enjoyable. Although, when compared to its predecessors, the differences are apparent. Gal Gun Returns does lack a lot of innovations from the others.
It’s not all doom and gloom though, as I quite liked the banter between Tenzou and his angel Patako. It reminded me of a sibling rivalry of sorts, always teasing each other. The music is a mixed bag, with the song unique to Aoi a high point. I did find the tracks catchy, but because of a limited set list, they quickly became grating. In a game that encourages multiple runs, this became an annoyance. So much so that I’d often opt to instead put on a podcast. It’s worth mentioning that I love games that let me do this, but know some don’t.
Addictive and there are things to work towards unlocking. Because of the repetitive nature of it and the price, I’ve got to insist you wait for a sale on this one.