Lightgun and rail shooters generally aren’t regarded as particularly deep and meaningful experiences for the most part, and this is fine; after all, sometimes all you want to do is hold a plastic gun in your hand (or aim a crosshair) and blow seven shades of shit out of everything walking your way.
Sometimes, though, these games go the extra mile and provide a surprising amount of depth beneath the facade of mindless blasting. Nintendo’s Star Fox series has been a good example of this in the rail shooter genre since Star Fox 64, with its complex scoring and medals system, and Gal*Gun: Double Peace does something similar for the (lightgun-less) lightgun shooter genre. Which may surprise you.
Gal*Gun’s wrapper mechanics are that of a dating sim — a proper, full-on, stats-based one like True Love rather than the games that get called “dating sims” but are actually just visual novels with romantic themes. The protagonist has statistics determining his intelligence, athleticism, fashion style and lewdness, and these can be adjusted over the course of a playthrough either by taking girls into the “Doki Doki Field” and poking them until they emit some extremely suggestive moans, or by purchasing items between stages. The difference between the two approaches is that while purchasing items allows you to choose the stats you raise (or lower, if you need to) so long as you have the ability to pay for it, taking girls into the Doki Doki Field generally affects more than one stat at a time to a more significant degree, and each and every one of the girls in the game has a different impact on your stats. In other words, if you’re trying to form a particular “build” — something that becomes particularly important in the more “freeform” mode that unlocks after you’ve beaten the main story-based routes — you’d better learn which girls are most useful for your purposes.
The stats are relevant in a couple of instances. Firstly, in the story-based routes, your stats need to be at a particular level in order to choose certain dialogue options. For example, if your lewdness level is too low, you are unable to make lecherous comments towards the heroines, which is probably for the best. Secondly, in the freeform mode, in order to pursue a particular girl, you’ll need your stats to be in specific regions in order to be the type of guy they want you to be. I haven’t got far enough to try out this mode yet, but it presents an interesting twist on the formula; in the story-based routes, you can pretty much get away with just raising all your stats as high as possible in order to have the maximum available options in dialogue.
As for the story-based routes’ structure, they have a Good End and a True End, with the latter being dependent on a combination of your overall score for the playthrough being high enough and your affection rating with the heroine being high enough by the time you reach the final chapter. The latter is mostly a case of saying the right things in dialogue sequences, but it’s also affected by the “event” levels where you’re doing something other than just blasting incoming girls.
The scoring system, meanwhile, has a certain degree of depth to it, too. Most of your points come from fending off the girls who relentlessly charge towards the protagonist, but just blindly blasting away won’t get you the best scores. No, in order to score highly, you need to achieve “Ecstasy Shots”, which allow you to one-hit eliminate a girl by hitting her in a weak point. These are helpfully indicated when you move your crosshair over the girl by a piece of Japanese onomatopoeia appearing, though you can also learn where each girl’s weak point is over time, too. There are four main weak areas: red popups indicate you should hit them in the head, orange means the neck, yellow means the torso and pink means the legs.
Each time you get an Ecstasy Shot, your combo counter increases by one. Your combo is broken if you take damage or eliminate a girl “normally” without performing an Ecstasy Shot. There’s also an additional Quick Bonus for eliminating girls in rapid succession.
The Ecstasy Shot system makes the shooting a lot slower and methodical than the typical franticness of regular lightgun shooters, and there are a couple of other techniques you can use to tip the scales in your advantage, too. Firstly, shooting a girl anywhere but her weak spot without eliminating her stuns her for a moment, preventing her from doing her attack animation briefly. Secondly, holding down the fire button allows you to do a “Charged Shot”, which covers a wider area and can likewise stun enemies briefly. Thirdly, taking one or more girls into the Doki Doki Field and poking them until not-an-orgasm-honest causes a smart bomb effect to go off, taking out all girls in the vicinity as if you’d Ecstasy Shotted them. These techniques are particularly helpful — even essential — during the sequences where enemies come at you from all sides and you have to manually turn to face several different directions to fend them off as they approach.
As well as the points earned through eliminating enemies in each level — not all of whom charge at you, so some need to be quickly taken out as they wander past during transitions between “shooting gallery” areas — there are also three bonuses at the end of each level for clear time (the quicker the better), amount of damage taken and accuracy, ranked between one and five stars, with five stars providing significantly more points than anything below. Clear Time is a particularly variable one, as many of the levels offer branching routes, with some being significantly quicker than others, but perhaps counterbalancing this with fewer enemies to chain Ecstasy Shots off.
As well as clearing the various story routes and attaining high scores, there are loads of hidden collectibles to uncover throughout the game. Some of these are hinted at by the “requests” you receive on your phone between levels, and largely involve finding either hidden objects or characters and shooting or staring at them, depending on what the request was. Others are simply hidden objects and provide anything from point bonuses to new costumes — the game’s Dressing Room mode allows you to customise each and every character in the entire game to your own personal preferences (including undies), though disappointingly, the PS4’s Share facility is blocked while you are using this, meaning you can’t take pictures of your own personal take on the cast.
Alongside the hidden objects are student and teacher handbooks hidden in plain sight around the levels; shooting these unlocks parts of each character’s profile, and you can complete said profile by taking each character’s bust, waist and hips measurements by using the “zoom” function (also used to locate hidden objects by seeing through otherwise opaque scenery such as locker doors) and staring at them in the appropriate region before you blast them into euphoria.
On top of all that, there’s at least one hidden ending that you can achieve by fulfilling a particular set of conditions (they’re fairly obvious, but I wasn’t expecting them to actually lead to a full-on ending) and a Score Attack mode that allows you to play either a whole story route or an individual stage and record your best score and highest combo.
So yes. There’s a lot to this game. It’s no Time Crisis, in other words, which, while it was great, pretty much played all its cards within twenty minutes if you were the slightest bit skilled with a lightgun. Gal*Gun, meanwhile, looks set to keep me busy for a very long time indeed.