Review: Gal Metal is an ambitious cacophony

There exist in this world games that have appealing concepts and flawed executions. Gal Metal is one such game. The idea of a rhythm game that focuses on drumming is a good idea. Bandai Namco has a successful series based on that very concept. One that also introduces a storyline and character building could be exciting, but Gal Metal falters when it comes to making everything work together.

Time for a little history lesson! When NASA launched Voyager 1 and 2 in 1977, it included the Golden Records on them. These contained images, songs and sounds to help any lifeforms understand more about Earth. Well, in Gal Metal, aliens known Octoids found Voyager and had their whole planet and civilization as they knew it destroyed by the rock songs therein. They come to our planet for revenge, abducting a young man and young woman to act as their emissaries. In so doing, they put the man’s consciousness in the woman’s body. (Her presence is there, but he has control of the actions.)

Fortunately for these high school students and the planet, the young woman is the president of Kichijoji Metal Girls (K.M.G.), her school’s Metal club, and rock music is the enemy’s major weakness.

Fortunately for these high school students and the planet, the young woman is the president of Kichijoji Metal Girls (K.M.G.), her school’s Metal club, and rock music is the enemy’s major weakness. The four other members of her group, Shiimi, Kia, Erii and Mani, quickly believe the Prez’ explanations of things (minus the reveal of the body-sharing, which the duo omits), and they agree to fight back with night-time concerts against invading alien forces. From here on out, the duo sharing the Prez’s body handle daily life and relationship-building during the day and play music sometimes at night.

This gives Gal Metal a sense of balance. Each chapter is framed like an episode of an anime series. The villain for that segment is introduced. You then have a day or two to prepare. Once your stamina or time runs out, whichever comes first, you head into a rock battle against the alien du jour. Ideally, you should spend one or two portions of time learning the “hot” recommended rhythm patterns for the next concert, then spend the rest of the time watching skits with your bandmates or visiting locations in town to boost your characters’ parameters.

Yes, Gal Metal is a life simulation with visual novel elements in disguise! Each day at school, the K.M.G. members will take part in a text message conversation that opens up the opportunity to participate in an event segment with one or more members that will boost your relationship and lead to increased stat gains. Visiting different areas in town will also boost or lower specified stats and relationships if another character is there, with the caveat that stamina decreases. Increasing Morality offers higher scores for accuracy. Kvlt increases the chance of finding a hidden rhythm at a concert. Guts only takes effect in battles where Squidarians are present and will blast ink at a part of your drum kit to keep you from using it. Activity gives you more points for switching up rhythm patterns. Passion applies to all attacks, making enemies less likely to try and hit the band. There is a lot, and you would think there would be an issue with balance.

Except, there are times when I felt like these parameters did not matter. Or, at the very least, some did not have as much of an effect in Gal Metal as others. Squidarians are not a common opponent, which makes Guts rather useless. Kvlt is more for people who intend to freestyle, which is not the best way to approach concerts where you need to stick to certain patterns to win, so you could avoid investing in it. Activity, Morality and Passion tend to be the only ones that matter, and even then the infrequent alien attacks and ability to block them with a well-timed bash of the cymbals can negate Passion. Which means that during the segments where you should be building stats, it might be better to make friends instead.

This sort of lackadaisical approach can be applied to Gal Metal’s concerts, until you hit a point where you can’t.

This sort of lackadaisical approach can be applied to Gal Metal’s concerts, until you hit a point where you can’t. A difficulty spike appears here at the final hour, which means you go from participating in performances where you could pretty much earn between two and five times the score you need to pass just by attempting to stick to one “hot” beat to failing when you try to use the same method during “Twilight Starship.” It feels at odds with the ease there is in playing. The left Joy-Con can be used for one sort of beat, the right for the other and swinging both causes you to hit the cymbals. In the free play and practice modes, you can mess around and perform whatever beat patterns you would like, but sticking to predesignated combos during an actual song are supposed to be the way to pass. Early on, the game is quite forgiving, but it quickly decides you need to be perfect and having various combos memorized and good to go at the most critical moment.

Even when Gal Metal attempts to be accommodating, it somehow messes that up. There are two sorts of input options, one for casual players and another for drummers. The former is a lot more forgiving about beats and I suggest everyone start and probably stick with it. It also offers optional touch and standard control options, instead of motion controls. I was really excited when I saw this, because I (foolishly) assumed these would both involve similar two button options, where you tap on the left controller or side of the screen for blue beats and right for red beats. Nope!

Instead, Gal Metal puts an entire virtual drum kit on screen for any non-motion control scheme! It does not tell you that the red beats are kicks or blue beats are high toms. You are left to puzzle it out and hope for the best. It is less than ideal. Especially since later concerts do have enemies that will require you to watch them for visual cues that indicate incoming attacks, and having that framework onscreen is a huge distraction.

Here’s the thing about Gal Metal. I like it! I genuinely enjoy playing this game, even though there are times when it is a mess. It tries hard to do a lot, like offer a humorous life simulation with options to build friendships with characters. Its drumming segments do offer a lot of freedom and can be fun, especially when you are playing in a way that does not require you to memorize beats and make an attempt at a more structured performance. But its non-motion control schemes are poorly executed, it fails to make its stat-building feel meaningful and I experienced a bit of an unexpected difficulty spike. I loved its creativity and passion, but felt like it fell short of its true potential.

Score: 6/10
Publisher: XSEED
Release Date: October 30, 2018
Developer: DMM Games
Platform(s): Switch
Questions? Check out our review guide.
A review copy was provided by the publisher or developer for this review.

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