["I often import games from abroad and play them. On such occasions, my imagination is sometimes stimulated more as I don't understand the language.” – Fumito Ueda, creator of Ico and Shadow of the Colossus. 'The Gaijin Restoration' is a weekly examination of underappreciated Eastern games that never cross to Western shores. This week's title is Gunslinger Girl Vol. 2 for the PlayStation 2 released in Japan in 2004.]
On November 23rd, 2004, the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility revealed their list of the WORST VIOLENT VIDEO GAMES for 2004. Talk about making my job easy; we were ramping up for Cinematech: Nocturnal Emissions (under a different project name at the time) and compiling our own lists of the most violent, depraved, weird and FMV-full games we could think of. Their list ended up being laughable at best and sorely in need of a proof reader. There were games not released yet, games from 2001, and a lone end quote hanging out with San Andreas, no doubt in coercion to go out for some Hot CoCo. The creme de la stupid was the inclusion of Gunslinger Girls 2.
First off, such a game does not exist. Gunslinger Girl exists as Vol. 1, 2 and 3. A small caveat, but still. Also, this game was only released in Japan, based on an anime series that ran in 2003-04 in Japan, and as far as Wikipedia can tell me, was released on DVD in the States in late 2004. This makes me think someone on the ICCR has a kid ankles deep in some sinister torrenting scheme. (To be fair, the ICCR later re-edited their list, leaving the initial lampooned paper as a sort of rough draft.)
So, of course when I recieved Gunslinger Girl Vol. 2, I hoped for heaps of gore, with villains brained, and hopefully, girls hurling guns at rabid okapis, with a bravado and accuracy that screams: "We don't need no freakin' bullets!" Alas, we get a piecemeal shooter on flexi-rails that's as violent and sexy as a sad-sack 12 year old, sweaty yet turgid, trying to sneak into a PG-13 movie.
In Medio Tutissimus Ibis
Gunslinger Girls Vol. 2 starts out with you playing a 14 year old school girl in a lengthy tutorial, followed by another, briefer, tutorial. There are also a few tutorials in between. The gameplay, boiled down to roots and ash, consists of taking cover, reloading, aiming and shooting as an endless army of henchmen as you track down the bosses. Occasionally you shoot thrown grenades or dull scenery that may reveal power-ups. The triangle button and a nudge of the analog stick act as a sort of super-aim, draining a bit from your concentration bar as the aiming reticle snaps onto an enemy, so you can unleash a flurry of iron slugs into his trunk.
This super-aim is the scoring prodigy of the engine, allowing you to dance around several enemies and rack up a sort of combo. The problem is juggling triangle to circle (to shoot) to X (to reload) doesn't have the finger chemistry it should. More importantly, the lock-on feels cheap, when manual shooting is also easy (but carries the weight of challenge) and you can then shoot people in the freaking head, which is much more cathartic. Except the gunshots remind of anemic cult members at the outhouse: strained.
Past the tutorials lay two episodes with 3 sections apiece. Part one has you on Knight Boat right out The Simpsons, chasing down, what I can only assume, is an evil, gorgeous albino girl, through the canals of Venice. A final confrontation places us both on motorboats exchanging shots, instead of the saliva that I may or may not have hoped for. The next level has you chasing a stranger on a train, ending in a shoot out with some dudes on motorcycles right out of Shadow Hearts. And that's all you get.
The End of the Middle
O.K. to be fair, the game has a bit of charisma and replayability, as well as a DVD with four or five episodes of the show, Region 2 encoded. There are a variety of guns to unlock, either through high scores, or killing specific enemies, and what you unlock on one volume can be played in the others, giving the series a bit of a .Hack feel.
As for the charm, when running from one area to another, obviously late for class, you often find yourself under fire with no cover. ROLLING will flash near the score and you can quickly dab the shoot button to do a rolling dive and perhaps flash some scandalous Fruit of the Looms. You can also smash square if you have enough concentration to go into super concentration mode and peg every enemy on the screen. Just don't forget to duck and reload afterwards. Still, the game punishes you in end of mission report cards for using super concentration, but also castigates you for not feathering the triangle button enough.
So, this is a PG-13 experience all around. Maybe if it bundled all three volumes together, sans the anime, maybe it would feel like a game. Or maybe it just needs a GunCon 2 or a Wii re-haul.
[Ryan Stevens is the associate producer on the various Cinematech shows on G4TV, which showcases many of the games written about here. He's been known to do the collaborative blog thing at That's Plenty.]