It has been said time and again on 16-Bit Dad that I love Survival Horror games. I mean, my all time favourite game is a mix of Survival Horror and tactical RPGs; Koudelka. However, one thing that can be said about the Survival Horror genre is that it offers some very unique games amongst the repetitive Resident Evil and Silent Hill clones that were shoved in our face.
When I first came across Galerians as a child, I was instantly hooked on it. The idea of a cyberpunk style Survival Horror using RPG elements and focusing on psychic abilities instead of weapons was just so different from anything else in the genre.
However, it has now been 19 years since the release of Galerians on the original PlayStation. I haven’t been able to play it for at least 15 years either after it was accidentally sold amongst a bunch of VHS and CDs… So, now that’s I’ve gotten my hands on what was once one of my favourite games all this time later, does it still hold that position, or has time degraded the game? Let’s find out.
Galerians follows the journey of a young boy named Rion who awakens in a strange hospital room. He doesn’t remember who he is or why he is there… Yes, amnesia is used as a plot point in Galerians, and yes this is an overused plot device… In fact, bar a few specific games that use it brilliantly (like Amnesia: The Dark Descent), I usually hate it being used to set up a story. I find it a cheap tactic to allow the player to learn things along with the character.
However, with Galerians, it plays into the storyline so well that, even now, I am willing to forgive it.
After hearing a strange voice in his head, Rion is compelled to find the girl who is talking to him. He discovered that he has psychic powers to defend himself with, but that they drain his energy and mental state. However, they are his only defence against the hospital security who seem intent on killing him for unknown reasons.
The overall story of Galerians is incredibly dark; it deals with the likes of child experimentation in the name of science, the growth of Artificial Intelligence, murder and kidnapping. If that’s not one of the most interesting yet horrifying combinations of themes you’ve heard of for a game, I don’t know what else to say. This is a very mature themed game, with an utterly brutal storyline that will have your feelings and your mind going all over the place.
And this is in a Survival Horror game! That is a genre well-known for a lack of significant plot (bar games like Silent Hill). Most of the Survival Horror games are built on incredibly basic plots, instead focusing on the monsters and fear. Galerians manages to put a great storyline into a Survival Horror game, whilst going for tension and unease rather than jump scares.
As a Survival Horror game, the crux of Galerians’ gameplay revolves around either fighting or running away from enemies that are driven to kill you on sight. However, rather than these being zombies or deformed creatures that stumble towards you, the enemies are humans. You are a young boy trying to survive against security guards and hitmen, all armed with guns or other weapons. This is what makes the game more focused on tension.
When you play Survival Horror games, part of what makes them easier to play through is that you are killing monsters. You don’t really feel remorse because the things you are putting down aren’t normal creatures. Galerians turns that on its head; in essence, you are the one viewed as a monster and have to kill other humans.
This, subconsciously, feels wrong despite the fact that you know they are trying to kill you anyway. You feel uneasy as you are used to fighting faceless creatures that are usually already dead. Instead, you are now having to murder humans who are effectively “just doing their job”. It is this moral confusion that creates a huge sense of unrest and tension as you play through the game. Well, that and the fact that they are shooting at you and you have no weapons to shoot back with… Except you do; your psychic abilities.
Rion has a number of different abilities that can be used to defend himself, ranging from psychokinesis to manipulation of fire and more. This gives you a way to fight back against the various people trying to kill you, but comes with a downside. Using these abilities will drain Rion’s mental state, causing more stress. This is also true for taking damage or being in stressful situations as well. If Rion’s stress levels get to high, he will go berserk. In this state, you can’t run or use your abilities. Instead, Rion sends out a continuous blast of psychic energy that will basically cause his enemies’ heads to explode. Whilst this may sound great, you’ll also be losing health constantly.
So you can’t stay in the berserk mode for too long. The only way to control Rion’s stress levels is through injecting a drug into his neck. So as well as looking out for health items, you need to find vials of this drug, just to keep Rion stable. Do you see what I meant when I said this was a very mature game?
When I first played Galerians as an 11 year old, I thought the graphics were outstanding. They seemed so real to me back in 1999. Now that I’m playing it again at 30, I have to say they really are the point that lets the game down. With an expanded horizon and experience of so many other PSX games, Galerians doesn’t really stand up.
The anime style cutscenes are done well, to be fair. They make use of the PlayStation’s limitations by not trying to be too overly realistic.
However, it is the in-game graphics that really suffer. The background looks great, but clash horribly with the character models. Whilst characters have realistic proportions and relatively smooth animation, the actual character models have a very Resident Evil 1 feel to them. It’s important to note that the first Resident Evil came out in 1996, a full 3 years earlier than Galerians. Graphics had developed quite a lot in those 3 years, as game developers became more accustomed to the PlayStation’s software and hardware.
So the fact that Galerians didn’t really seem to have improved on these graphics in those 3 years is a real let down. This is especially true when the storyline and gameplay shine so brightly.
At least the user interface and HUD were clean and easy to read. They didn’t distract you from what you were doing, despite not being a common trait with Survival Horror games. Typically, this genre doesn’t actually use visual displays for health, but Galerians does so in a simplistic and very minimalistic fashion. So yeah, that’s one very good thing about the graphical design of the game.
Overall, the graphics are okay, but the character models definitely let the game down a bit.
And That’s All Folks
Despite the let down of the graphics, I have to say I am still in love with this oft-forgotten Survival Horror classic for the original PlayStation. The storyline itself is just amazing, and the gameplay is one of the most unique examples of a Survival Horror game for the time. Galerians might not be a pretty and realistic-looking as I remember, but everything else about the game definitely lives up to the nostalgia-fueled memories I have of the game.
If you’re looking for something that will creep you out, make you feel uncomfortable with your actions, and drag you into the story kicking and screaming, then you need to check out Galerians for the PSX.