You may recall that I came away from my time with the first game in Galaxy Angel II’s sequel-trilogy feeling as if the series and taken an unexpected stumble: Definitely inferior to what had gone before but not so much so that I didn’t feel ridiculous holding on to the hope that this sequel couldn’t get up, dust itself off, and set things right.
I was wrong.
It turns out I’ve been playing the Galaxy Angel equivalent of the Star Wars prequels, except they’re all The Phantom Menace with Attack of the Clones infamous “I don’t like sand” quote shoved in there for good measure; and with that poor analogy I don’t simply mean “This bad thing is bad, let’s all gather ’round and mock the bad thing.”, but “Here’s an in-house follow-up that misses the point of everything that made the originals so good in the first place.”.
But before we rush headlong down that particular rabbit hole that let’s start with positives:
The most immediate one is noticing that Broccoli took the time (and money) to redraw all of the Angels’ standard body poses, allowing for their faces to finally become about 90% eyeball. Whether you like this slightly more extreme eyeball-to-face ratio is one thing, but it’s worth a mention here as most games will reuse whatever they can get away with for as long as possible regardless of budget (and sometimes even longer than that – hi, Morrigan!. On a more serious the original trilogy’s Moon Angels and their ex-captain Takt have thankfully almost entirely retreated from the plot this time around, finally giving the Rune Angels team a chance to shine.
Unfortunately that’s honestly about it, so all I can do now is plough ahead and hope that the following text at least adequately explains exactly where and how tediously often Mugen Kairou no Kagi (“Key to the Infinite Corridor”) falls flat on its stupid face.
Mechanically speaking there’s no real change to what has gone before; the game is still divided into the now-familiar adventure/pick-your-location-on-the-map adventure/battle scenes formula that it’s always had. Battles again offer no surprises or particular refinements over what has gone before but in all fairness they’ve had the basics of these skirmishes nailed down pretty well since Galaxy Angel: Moonlit Lovers (GA1-2), so on paper that’s not a huge issue, as commanding multiple units in real-time is as smooth and swift on a controller (I will always find this a pleasant surprise) as it’s always been. I do have to point out though that these encounters are so dull they’d make a good cure for insomnia as with the exception of the final battle anything that can’t be cleared by killing everything on the map can be won by sending the whole team to immediately pile on the enemy flagship, wearing it down before everyone’s swarmed by (entirely optional) enemy fighters – oh and all the enemy ships look the same again, and they have identical attacks again. These fights may have only ever been the cherry on top of the cake even back when the series’ was firing on all cylinders, but to see them so phoned in when the rest of the game is already on its knees feels like adding insult to injury.
The real issue though is sadly with the script; something of a problem in an adventure game, no? Which isn’t to imply that any previous Galaxy Angel could ever have been held aloft as a fine example of high literature (or even merely as an example of particularly great game writing), but there was a time when someone playing this series could expect to come away from the experience entertained if not enlightened.
Not any more.
Galaxy Angel II-2 goes out of its way to undermine not only everything that has gone before, but the very core of the series itself. Early on lead scrap of nothingness Kazuya admonishes tomboy Anise for… acting like a tomboy. The personality niche she was designed specifically to fill is now an canonical in-game problem. There’s also virtually no romance or even plain old kindness on Lily’s route (you cannot pay me enough to play this through again to check the others), with one of her main touching moments being a misguided attempt at lovingly making a natto cake – playing a scene like “Man forced to eat disgusting dessert” for laughs is all fine and dandy in theory, but not when your lead has already acted like an utter jerk and quite frankly has never done anything in particular to earn the love and devotion of anyone in the story. In GAII-1 there was a unshakable feeling that romance was a tacked-on afterthought, stuck on because it had to be. Here the impression is more that romance is not only something to be sidelined (dialogue options, romantic or otherwise, are few and far between with only minor impact on events) but actively reviled – as if the writers took the original trilogy’s “What happens after that first kiss?” question and turned it into “What happens if you wish you hadn’t taken this job writing about first kisses?”.
Now this isn’t necessarily a problem: there are many many many stories in this world (heck, even in this hobby) that are incredible without ever having the lead guy be so irrepressibly sweet that his chosen love can’t help but make puppy eyes at him. But the genre, tone, and the previous four games create a certain expectation for this particular title, in much the same way that you could reasonably complain about a Gran Turismo game, however good, that didn’t contain any cars, or a Gears of War that didn’t star a band of sassy wardudes measuring 7ft across at the shoulders.
The new characters only serve to enhance this gutting of the series’ heart, with the two new characters being Perfect Sorta-Rival Guy Roselle and Spoiled Princess Natsume, the latter of which is introduced as evil (a complete waste of a “twist” seeing as she’s on the front of the damned box) and isn’t available as part of the team until chapter seven (of nine – no, not that one) anyway, and the former introduced as a non-Angel Angel with a special prototype ship that implies every member of our rag-tag band of well-meaning misfits – characters we’re now five games invested in to – are potentially a mere test cycle and rubber-stamp away from being completely replaced with generic military soldiers. That’s not something that should happen in a game where The Power of True Love is a tangible boss-defeating force. That’s not Galaxy Angel.
On the non-Angel side of things there’s Tapio Ca (sigh), a crew member who starts off as a high-powered Tut-mo-Tron and ends up as bridge wallpaper.
But wait, we’re not done yet (oh how I wish we were)! We need to take some time to discuss Coco, who previously spent the rest of the series as unflappable bridge support for Takt. In this game she finally gets the respect she deserves and is promoted to captain of the Luxiole, and we’re suddenly in an interesting position as we are suddenly playing a game where we technically have a woman in charge of a group that’s mostly women – hurrah! Unfortunately the instant this happens she falls to pieces, even though the series has repeatedly shown her to be so reliable she could execute orders flawlessly even if her eyebrows were on fire. To make matters worse we then have to sit through scenes where Roselle – to be blunt – outright bitches about her behind her back and you aren’t even graced with the opportunity to deliver an emphatic rebuttal thanks to the game’s dialogue choices only occurring once in a blue moon. In a serious space opera complaining about the captain being un-captain-y would be a fair point and a genuine concern, but in a game with a sing-along theme tune it’s just out of place and comes across as plain spiteful.
Then we get to the real kick in the teeth. When Takt announced her promotion he also gave Coco a small box, telling her to not open it until the time was right. When that time finally came, when she’s at rock-bottom in this “suddenly terrible at a job even one-time-and-done players like me could see she was perfectly capable of doing” arc, she opens the box. Inside is a mini hologram of an AI Takt who’s pep talk involves encouraging her to discard her glasses and let her hair down, and that “magical” moment is when she finally shakes off her doubts and becomes the captain she was always meant to be. This wasn’t a crucial moment of growth for Coco, it was a chance for Takt to be right even when he’s not there.
Now I do not seriously expect a game of this type to be a feminist trailblazer, at all, not ever (It’d be nice though, wouldn’t it?). But I would say that it would make – if nothing else – good business sense for something like Galaxy Angel to treat its most merchandisable characters with some basic respect rather than as rejects from an 80’s straight-to-video movie about a librarian letting her hair down and learning how to love.
This weirdly unpleasant “The guys are the best at space” sensation carries on all the way through to the climax, which sees every female Angel knocked unconscious at the drop of a hat with only Roselle left to save the day in an “ultimate sacrifice” kind of way. I hate to say it but I’d emotionally checked out of GA II-2 long before this moment, and bizarrely even the concluding epilogue didn’t make any great deal out of his death: I found myself suddenly longing for the scene-stealing but at least tonally correct Moon/Rune Angel big bash that ended the previous entry.
What we have here is a romance-based-space-battle game that fails so completely to understand why it was ever popular that it almost feels like deliberate sabotage. The first Galaxy Angel II came off looking worse for wear when compared to the original trilogy; it wasn’t bad, but you know it could have been much better. Galaxy Angel II-2 has the dubious honour of being a bad game in its own right, willfully avoiding, if not outright destroying, everything the series ever had that was liked.
But hope springs eternal and there’s one game to go, which means there’s still time to get it right! Even with all the issues above there’s nothing about this general framework that couldn’t turn into a great game – it worked well enough for the original Galaxy Angel trilogy after all – they just need a decent script that remembers why the series was so well-loved.