Galaxy Angel II is a 2006 Playstation exclusive released as part of a whirlwind of sequelly-branded manga/light novels/anime, no doubt intended to kick off another financially viable series of spacefaring adventures with One Plain-ish Guy (that’s you!) and a clutch of romantically-inclined ladies for him to date.
You may think that having a game titled Galaxy Angel II as the fourth in a series would be a little confusing: It is, and perhaps never more so than when you’re trying to grab the right trilogy of similar-but-different sci-fi adventure-romances, so let’s try to clear something small but significant up before we go any further:
Galaxy Angel: Moonlit Lovers (PC/PS2, 2003/4) is Galaxy Angel 1-2.
Galaxy Angel II: Zettai Ryouiki no Tobira (PS2, 2006) is Galaxy Angel 2-1.
The “II” in the title is important: This game was supposed to represent something of a break away from all that had gone before and ended so beautifully with Galaxy Angel: Eternal Lovers; with an all-new cast and an all-new playable lead, on a new ship (the Luxiole), and even in an entirely new universe.
That drive to cast out the old and refresh the series appeared to last all of five minutes into the first planning session, as the new character-but-kind-of-an-avatar lead Kazuya works directly under the previous games now legendary hero and saviour of the (original) universe Takt Mayers, was trained by ex-Angel Forte Stollen herself, and will display nothing but awe and respect for any previous Angels he happens to meet during the adventure: which is all of them, eventually, parcelled off neatly into discrete chapters as the genre gods command.
But we’re getting ahead of ourselves, and I was very happy to see the game kick off so strongly with all of the familiar trappings of the previous Galaxy Angel trilogy: You, an inexperienced new young man, have been thrust into an all-female group where you will assume the role of leader – in spite of your main talent being dessert-making and saying “…..” – and then woo one of the selection of ladies on offer. The introductory movie is slick and endearing (it’s also repeated at the start of every chapter, so it had better be), the battle segments control as beautifully on a humble Playstation 2 pad as they always have, and the free sections where you wander around the Luxiole and hopefully engage in some fun event scenes are all present and correct.
The new Rune Angel group stick closely to the personality types used for the previous Moon Angels, with the only major upset being Vanilla’s quiet-to-the-point-of-roboticism type replaced with Kahlua’s/Tequila’s dual… whatever they are. I would like to put it more delicately than this but there’s no two ways about it: Kahlua/Tequila are the small-tits/big-tits anime “joke” in a single body-swapping character, topped off with an out-of-nowhere childhood tragedy about an accident that didn’t really hurt anybody but is treated with the steely seriousness of a Metal Gear monologue about war.
Romancing this chocolate box of women, which the game not only encourages but overtly forces you to do on a number of occasions, feels far more vague than it did in the games before. Galaxy Angel II still keeps track of your interactions throughout the story but until chapter eight (of ten) it doesn’t feel as if these decisions makes any real difference to your options as the game always allows you to outright choose who you’re going to spend time with (either during the free-roam ship sections or before official dates), and when it does finally force Kazuya to make a permanent route-altering choice at that eighth chapter he can still pick from his top three (of five) favourites. Now on the one hand this is a good thing, because from your first go you can play largely however you please and still end up with the Angel you want without leashing yourself to a FAQ or guidebook. On the other hand it takes away a lot of the feeling of actually playing the adventure sections and even on the impact that final decision’s supposed to have: Rather than work hard for the attention and affection of your favourite lady you merely pick out one from a selection, as if the chosen true love of your life (and it is Magical True Love, the sickly-sweet Disney kind, as the plot later goes on to rely on) is an off-the-peg number you can pick up when you’re ready for her. The writing only seems to reinforce this “She’ll do” sentiment as Kazuya never feels romantically inclined towards any of his crewmates and bar some “Oops, now you’re touching my boobs” moments (played for “comedy”) the Angels don’t seem all that interested in him either. Dating’s in Galaxy Angel II because dating was in Galaxy Angel I, and that’s that.
The real time strategy space battles were always a visual highlight in the original trilogy and the same almost holds true again here with new universe NEUE (all caps, yes I know it’s “new universe New”) boasting the same colourful skirmishes, vibrant missile trails, and copious amount of lens flare as ever, although the polish has taken something of an undefinable dip and you face overly-similar variations of one enemy craft, over and over and over again. I was a little concerned that I’d perhaps been spoiled by playing the PC version of Eternal Lovers in glorious 1080p, but after checking through my screenshots of the previous trilogy again (and inevitably getting stuck on images of Mint doing something adorable) I can only conclude that whatever “it” is – and it might be something as uncontrollable as budget/time restrictions or internal company politics forcing the staff to release the game half-finished- “it” is missing from Galaxy Angel II. On the mechanical side of things there’s a new first-person mode that allows you to personally control your ship’s cannons (not the positioning of the ship itself, however) and knock off individual turrets/segments to do more damage and prevent the enemy from attacking, but this soon wears thin as not only do all the ships look nigh-identical but they attack in an identical way as well. This means that by the end of the first chapter you’ll have experienced almost everything the battle system has to offer, with just one lone “chase the missiles” mission later on reminding you that it is possible to do more in space than shoot and shoot some more.
The real issue behind all this is that while Broccoli went to great pains to sell this game as the new Galaxy Angel – even to the point of literally taking place in a different universe – the original cast looms large over the entire game, possibly through a lack of faith in the strength of these new characters, fear of fan backlash, or due to pressures from on-high to keep the entire multimedia franchise as merchandisable as possible. This creates a plot that is not only constantly reminding you how good and cool the original team are (to the point of certain members of the Rune Angels explicitly idolising them), but also revolves the overarching scenario entirely around the perfect original couple, Takt and Milfeulle. This goes so far that the writers even had the nerve to snatch the final victory away from your B Team of Other Guy and his Not So Bads as the Moon Angels, reintroduced in a relatively extravagant animated sequence that could have been used on the Rune Angels, join the fray one more time; making what should have been the crowning achievement of the team you’ve spent the past twenty-ish hours with feel like little more than a better crew’s support act.
Galaxy Angel II is a tricky one to judge. On the one hand this is the first part of a three part series, and as such it isn’t unreasonable to expect it to be a little wobbly out of the gate. On the other hand this is the fourth game in what was previously an excellent series and an important flagship product in a new line, and it should have been crafted with more care and polish than anything that has gone before. It feels noticeably cheap in places, with too many significant or exciting events played out using standard text boxes accompanied by standard character portraits over a single static background. Often these segments are perfectly well written and enjoyable to read through in themselves but this only makes it even more frustrating to see so many events like these played out off-screen. Galaxy Angel II needed either to be an impeccably executed take on the formula that worked so well before or be so experimental that comparisons to the original became meaningless; but instead you’re stuck playing as a rookie called Kazuya in a game all about a legendary hero named Takt, and while the moment-to-moment writing is often perfectly decent the overall feeling is of being sidelined in your own story: the Raiden to his Solid Snake, the “Things I Do for You” to his “Thriller”. Galaxy Angel II was the perfect opportunity to refresh the series and pass the torch over to a brand new cast of characters, but instead they’ve been made to carry it for someone else.