Galerians is a 1999 PSX survival-horror game. It is bizarre in the greatest ways, embracing the more wacky elements of 90s Japanese cyberpunk and taking advantage of its graphical limitations to make it as uncanny and stylish as possible (a la Hell Night). It tells the story of Rion, a young boy who wakes in a research hospital with no memory. He has visions of a girl and hears her calling out his name. With no other option in the mix, he elects to seek out this girl. He soon learns that he has telekinetic powers, and uses these to escape from the dangerous people keeping him hostage in the hospital. Rion soon learns that his captors have something to do with a great scientific project to breed a powerful psychically-powered human evolution known as Galerians. What’s more, he may likely be a Galerian himself.
It’s a mishmash of a game as a whole, with repetitive corridors and unfair deaths, short but feeling like a chore to finish. The telekinetic combat is unique for survival-horror, but in practice it is woefully clunky, especially aggravating in the boss battles. Yet Galerians also has some of the most original setpieces I’ve seen in survival-horror. The dreary world, which we only see in glimpses, is so delightfully strange. You don’t meet a single ordinary, non-deranged human the entire game. Everything is technologized yet nothing seems to really work. It’s a Blade Runner universe in sharp decline. The late 90s CG shines with this kind of universe.
Nowhere is this atmosphere more evident than the game’s 3rd chapter, which places you in what might be videogames’ strangest hotel level. By this point in the game, Rion has discovered that not only is he part of the Galerians breeding project, but that the other Galerians are hunting him down. You’ve already fought off one, Birdman, in the 2nd chapter. But here you are facing two more. They track you down soon after you arrive at the hotel.Thing is, the only time Rion actually runs into these villainous Galerians is near the end, when you actually fight them. Before that, you go back and forth between the multiple levels of the hotel, talking with the hotel’s various guests, collecting info and solving puzzles. There’s a depressed ballerina, a Jesus freak, a man bent on blowing up the building, and an arms dealer, to name just a few.
After running back and forth a number of times, the horror at last begins. It’s a slightly tedious but overall satisfyingly creepy experience. As you go from room to room, you slowly begin to discover each of the hotel’s off-kilter residents brutally murdered in their rooms. Even the hotel staff don’t get out alive. Using your psychic powers, you can get a glimpse of the act of each killing. You get a snapshot of the Galerians hunting you, but again you don’t actually see them until much later. This process goes on until every single resident and employee has become a victim.
This whole section in Galerians is unusual for a survival-horror game. For one, there is little fighting going on. Enemies start to appear in the hallways and in a couple rooms, but only gradually and in small numbers. For the most part, it’s just going back and forth between the hotel’s many rooms. In this way it reminds me of P.T. or one of its many derivatives, an early version of the stripped-down horror game, minimalist in mechanics but heavily relying upon environmental interaction.
It’s not a perfect section, to be fair. As mentioned before, it’s tedious. The unexpected arrival of enemies – many of which are unavoidable encounters – can result in numerous gameovers due to the game just not warning you of the sudden gear switch. But really, how often does something like this happen in survival-horror games of its era? The only thing that comes close is perhaps small events in the Silent Hill series, light interaction feints or creepy but safe areas that disrupt the flow of puzzle-solving and abomination-killing. But these aren’t quite as drawn out as what happens in the hotel in Galerians.
The 3rd chapter of Galerians was an admirable attempt to do something different in a survival-horror game in the late-90s, where everything was nearly 100% resource management and puzzles. Galerians decided to cut out of chunk of its ~5 hour length to send you through a darkly comedic, psychotic hotel tour. A similar, elaborated-upon technique would later come to dominate horror games with the blow-up of Amnesia: The Dark Descent and other similar titles, who have stripped down horror game interaction to its simplest elements and highlighted environmental storytelling and exploration instead. It was a unique little experiment in Galerians itself, and it’s interesting to look back and trace the history, to see how the ideas behind this section have blown up into an entire genre of “walking sim” horror games.
Check out this part of the game on this Youtube walkthrough here.