Gunslinger Girl vol. 1 (Japanese Import)
by Polly

So, what do you do when you're learning a new language, like videogames, and have a little expendable income laying around that you can't think of anything else to do with? Oh, and you're also stupid. Clearly stupid. Well, of course you HAVE to do what I do and just blow it as quickly and mindlessly as possible on things you probably really don't need in the first place! It's the American way after all! Such is the case with my recent importing of Gunslinger Girl vol. 1 for the PlayStation 2. I've had my PS2 flip-top modded for a while and haven't done much with it, so it can't be THAT bad a use of funds can it?

Gunslinger Girl is an ongoing manga series by Yu Aida and also currently has two seasons of animu under its belt (First season: Fuckwin. Second Season: Fuckshitassshitfuck). It tells the story of little girls (it's Japanese, you can't tell me you expected anything else) who were rescued from the brink of death by the Social Wellfare Agency and brainwashed into the most gosh darned cutest little assassins you'll ever see. CUTE AS A FUCKIN BUTTON!!! Despite its title, Gunslinger Girl typically tugs at your morals and emotions more than focusing on amped up action sequences (though those ARE a part of it). The struggles the girls face of accepting their fates and trying to live as normally as possible are the main points of the franchise, and overall usually makes for pretty good drama. But that would have made one intensely shitty videogame and it'd probably be filled with about 7,000,000 Kanji that I don't fucking know yet. Thankfully, the PlayStation 2 game focuses soley on the action aspect of the franchise. There's a stab at a story here, which focuses on a rogue Fratello of characters that never appeared in the manga or animu, Earnest and Pia. But sadly, nothing's going to get resolved. I'll go over that in a bit.

Gunslinger Girl vol. 1 is a straight-up action arcade shooter with a cover mechanic. Each stage is a series of run and stop sequences, where you're put behind cover and have to pop out to shoot the bad guys while keeping yourself protected or moving to a better position in the area for better cover. Mop up that area and move on to the next. You're sometimes given different routes to take through a mission, but it all ends up at the same place. If you're thinking Time Crisis you wouldn't be that far off the mark.

The controls can take a bit of getting used to, as they feel almost backwards for this kind of game, but once you settle into the groove it ends up feeling natural. Shooting bad guys' faces off and ducking behind cover is a snap and controls are as responsive as they should be in MOST cases. The big issue is with one of the more vital points of a shooter... The fucking AIMING. You use the left analog stick for aiming purposes, but the designers apparently didn't feel much of a need to work with that whole "analog" thing. It feels like you're using the D-Pad to aim as the reticle just zips around the screen, oftentimes overshooting the enemy you were trying to kill. If this is what they were going for, they probably should have put movement on the analog stick and aiming on the d-pad. It'd feel less annoying that way. Still, there's the auto-lock ability that helps you lock onto your nearest targets, and that helps out quite a bit, but it takes some of the skill out of getting a good kill and is a slight dent to the game's overall difficulty.

Graphically, overall the entire game is bland and there are some technical issues as well. While Henrietta and her weapons' models are done with a nice bit of detail and in uniform with the first season of the anime's look, the environments and enemies (Even Earnest and Pia) are entirely forgettable. Get used to seeing a whole hell of a lot of Generic Thug Guy and Generic Guy In A Business Suit. There's just not a whole lot standing out here.

The technical issues come from the fixed camera angles that you're stuck at behind each cover spot in a stage. More than a few times, I ended up running back and forth between two cover spots not able to get a shot off on some twerp that was always JUST BARELY off the screen at every spot I could try. But, bad gameplay design is pretty synonomous with licensed properties anyway. And Sonic Team. Fucking Sonic Team.

The sound department isn't QUITE as bland as the graphics. There are some nicely done tunes that play while the story unfolds and in menus, but the action music sounds like the same old recycled techno garbage you'd hear in any two-bit crappy Flash game. Unsurprisingly, the voice work is flawless as the VAs for Jose and Henrietta reprise their roles here bantering back and forth during missions. Also, given the manga and anime's attention to detail, the weapon sounds are nice and realistic and have a good bit of oomph behind them. I guess it's a good thing there's so much fucking gunfire going off all the time, because it at least drowns out the soundtrack.

Gunslinger Girl vol. 1 features two modes of play: Story Mode and Score Mode. They're pretty self-explanatory, I think. Story Mode takes you through four stages (including a tutorial stage) each with a varying amount of sub-stages. Only four stages? Don't worry! There's SIX MORE STAGES**********ASTERISKASTERISKASTERISK!!!!

*if you buy the other two volumes lol!

Yes, it's a bit of a stupid way to dish out a game. It took me no longer than 90 minutes to run through the story mode only to get stone-walled and told to BUY VOLUME 2! It's fine that they wanted to release the game in bits and pieces since they were packaging it with the anime, but fucking hell they really needed to offer a "full" version of this game with all 10 stages and all weapons to those who didn't want or already have the DVDs. Come on, Japan. I know you love milking the poor Otaku over there dry, but making them pay for THIRDS of a game? I think even Valve might look at that and go, "Wow...that's fuckin can we pull it off?" I'm almost convinced this is where they got this fucking episode nonsense.

Alright, bullshit distribution method aside, we move on to Score Mode which is more fun and more rewarding than Story Mode. Scoring mode capitalizes on the game's strong point which is an interesting scoring system. Using the lock-on mode and waiting to fire until you have 2 or more targets lined up nets you a bigger point bonus than picking off one guy at a time. It's easy! Lock-on your intended targets, and press fire once and Henrietta will mow down all the dotted enemies. It's simple, yet effective.

In Score Mode you run through the same stages that you do in the main game trying to, you guessed it, get high scores. Performing well in stage can net you a range of new weapons to play around with or level up your current arsenal. The nifty idea here is that weapons you unlock in volume one can be transferred over to volume 2 and so on. Which would actually be "nifty" if vol. 2 was an ENTIRE NEW GAME AND NOT JUST THE SECOND THIRD OF ONE ENTIRE GAME! There are a total of thirteen guns you can unlock and level up in both Story and Score Modes and once you've exhausted those, there's really not much else left here other than to keep driving your scores up as high as they can go.

Another real disappointment is that you're stuck always playing as Henrietta. You can add the other girls' special weapons to your arsenal, so it doesn't make sense that the girls themselves aren't in here. Even if just for looks, they could have given you a choice of who you'd want to take on a mission. Since every girl is proficient in a unique set of weapons in the manga and anime, this could add even more replay value as well as having to level up each girl and their arsenal getting them all ready for volume two.

For what it is, Gunslinger Girl vol. 1 isn't necessarily a bad game. It is decent fun and can get challenging, but it's over before you can even blink. Truthfully, a Gunslinger Girl game needs to be something more along the lines of Rainbow Six and SWAT mixed with this action-arcadey feel. Maybe even mix in a little Syphon Filter for good measure. It's never likely to happen, as companies just don't want to spend that much time on licensed products. If you're an importer, you could skip this one and never miss a thing. This game is strictly for the tardcore, such as myself who enjoy the franchise as a whole. Will I buy the other two volumes to finish it out, even though I know it's the same shit? Fucking income retax returns...

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