Galleria is the closest you’ll get to be to playing as the wall watching two girls in an rpg.
Many will use the word ambitious to describe Galleria, but overall my impression of the game is that Izumi simply does not care to follow genre-standard unspoken rules in both storytelling and gameplay progression. It likes to force the player to engage with it in ways they never signed up for, with the game feeling like 3 different games despite using the same battle system for the entire duration of its 100 (give or take) hour length. And while DRPGs tend to like to cleanly divide itself between gameplay and story, usually with one taking the backseat to the other (most of the time it’s the story to the gameplay), Galleria requires the player to not only engage with its gameplay to the point where I don’t think anyone who doesn’t like dungeon crawling is going to be wanting to pick up this game, but they also need to be invested in the story to the point where they need to recall odd scenes from tens of hours ago when the story starts unfolding its true nature.
Back in its predecessor Refrain, I thought the game’s dungeon design peaked at about the 3rd dungeon and everything later on does not require the interesting mechanics the game introduces to you nearly as much. Galleria has you covered–not only is wall-breaking important all the way to the very end, but it also gives you new abilities at a good pace and changes up its dungeon design approach to keep things fresh. It designs its part 1 dungeons in such a way that you really feel the excitement of exploring the dungeons. I was always excited to go back to old areas with newly-gained abilities to discover parts of the map I missed, and the game really does make you use your abilities to progress in its very complex main dungeon…for part 1. Instead of overextending standard dungeon-crawling which may tire someone out after 30-40 hours of it (personal experience from Refrain), it decides to change up its entire gameplay while remaining in the same engine, introducing procedurally-generated dungeon floors and a whole new set of classes for you to build your party from scratch with. It throws you some pretty standard DRPG maps for the story finale…and then makes you go through a 3651 floor procedurally-generated dungeon for postgame. Yeah.
In the current era, the popular path for JRPG game design would be to make the main story a gentle curve with an optional super boss and a bunch of sidequests that are optional. In Galleria, almost nothing is optional. You need to do all the sidequests that look like completely unrelated “get me 3x deer shits” style fetch quests in part 1 to even progress the story. To make the main story final boss beatable you have to do a line of quests that cumulate into farming salt and 26 red gems. The final boss is such a difficulty spike that you have to rebuild your party while making use of the reincarnation system to give your party the skills they need for what you want their final class to be, despite the rest of the game being playable without using this feature and it being introduced to you relatively late in the game. Crawling your way down a 3651 floor dungeon is also not optional if you want to see a satisfying ending, and if you’re invested enough in the game to stick with it to the end then you probably do (replace “you” with “I”).
The battle system itself is probably the most ??? thing about the game. I don’t think I truly knew what I was doing or how a turn would go. It felt like I was rolling a die, where on easy on normal I can just not care about rolling badly until endgame and on hard I immediately get a gore critical on my tank’s head in the first battle I get into when I step out into the dungeons and have to sigh and shake my head while reloading. I’m pretty sure every other DRPG I’ve played in recent memory has had a better battle system that puts more effort into having you engage with the micro elements.
The story, I feel, is quite unconventional when looked at through the philosophy of what would sell. The setting expands at such a weird point, throwing you reveals at the halfway mark when you would have expected it either much earlier as part of the setup or much later as part of a climatic twist. The game expects you to remember details from ages ago while not being super obvious with its foreshadowing–at most you can tell it might be an important detail because the normally very efficiently-used text is going out of its way to describe it. Oh and it spends tons of time building up a setting and its characters in a very eye-level kind of way. I was promised yuri and it took like 15 hours for another girl around Eureka’s age to show up! Since a lot of the scenes unfold at eye-level, it’s not easy to grasp just how the setting will expand or what kind of direction the game will go in part 1. It actually took me a while to get into part 1 because it was hard to see ahead and know what to look forward to, since the game just forgoes any kind of typical setup for an RPG plot. Once it gets rolling though, you get a game of two very compelling characters who would normally never star as an RPG protagonist clumsily caring about each other. I find both Eureka and Natyl to be very engaging and flawed, unpowerful and 媚びない protagonists, and when they finally take the leap to do the right thing it’s worth it.
One of the key things I noticed with Izumi’s writing in this game is that he is very unforceful in his text with regards to trying to draw in the player and telling them what to feel, describing terrible events in a matter of fact way. The ADV scenario text keeps the player at truly a 3rd party’s distance despite “you” assisting the protagonists at all times, with shocking reveals casually dropped and cruel events happening before you in a matter of fact manner because they are just the consequences of what has been brewing for the past 30 hours. There are scenes where I did a double-take because they just casually drop an upsetting event with no dramatic pull to tell the player how to feel–you just have to watch the broken characters react in the (bad, unwise, suboptimal) way they do because that’s how they would react given the character they’ve been built up as so far and are not given the time and space to ponder like the player is. The lategame scenes are impactful and emotional because we’ve watched the characters go through what they did.
In a commercial RPG with a given initial tone you’d expect there to be an unspoken set of rules on what is ok to do and what lines you do not cross. I don’t think Izumi gives a fuck as Galleria just casually depicts a worldview and events that may be more befitting of a non-pure love eroge, and completely ignores the unspoken “who is ok to cruelly murder and who you need to give plot armor to if you don’t want to upset your audience too much” guidelines. It’s a game about two cute girls in the end, but does not shy from depicting a world where a naive powerless teenage girl will be preyed on and taken advantage of. Even in somewhere more technologically and politically advanced, the reality of being a bishoujo with big boobs for her age is that she will be subject to creepy sexualization and constantly be reminded of her value in her looks as an object of sexual desire, even if dressed in the most unsexy clothing. And even then, some of these creepy dudes are depicted not as an obvious irredeemable piece of shit but more like “probably a decent friendly person overall when you look at it holistically but they’re a creeper towards this one girl and crossed the line once in the spur of the moment so it sucks and logically looking at the big picture isn’t going to make it better even if they ultimately did more good than bad.” It’s stupidly believable.
The game could easily be sprawling with its setting and I genuinely enjoyed the moments with the witches in the Moon Society and the setting of part 2, as well as the setting in itself, but ultimately it’s all about Eureka and Natyl so it ends up being a very focused experience. I wished a lot more of the characters and setting in part 2 could have been expanded on, but perhaps it was for the best that they were not. We got enough of the characters to appreciate their best moments, and leaving the player wishing for more is probably a better indicator of success in a 100 hour game than leaving them questioning why they are watching long scenes with side characters instead of spending time on the main plot.
I guess I will end off by talking about the 3651 floor post game dungeon. No, you don’t have to climb down every single floor because randomly you get elevators that can take you anywhere between a measly sub-50 double digit number of floors and 300+ floors. There is also randomly an unbeatable clown that can break through walls if they lock on to you. You can only leave and start back from a floor if you find a wardrobe, otherwise you have to start back at a hard checkpoint or the last wardrobe you left through if you get wiped. I played this part on easy and it still took me over 20 hours for this single dungeon. Mechanically it becomes unlike anything else in the game as you are at the point where the benefit of more reincarnations and grinding is trivial compared to the broken gear you get, and even then I would randomly have close calls with purple enemies or get the random debuffs (yes randomly you will just get debuffed) or run into the clown. (edit: I have been informed that the debuffs are not random but I apparently skimmed the tutorial for this part because it popped up 100 hours into the game)You walk down each floor, grasping onto the hope that maybe this time it will give you an elevator that sends you up 300 floors. Or you are stupid and didn’t watch your reinforce and are now stuck because you have to break a wall to make any sort of progress. It’s a long journey where at one point I questioned if I felt standard human emotions anymore. Oh, I guess that’s just in harmony with what the game made you do in the first postgame dungeon…
Was it worth it? I would say yes but maybe I am stockholmed by the game at this point to make it so that I have to see a better conclusion for Eureka and Natyl. I bet the average person would just give up (if they didn’t drop the game at the final boss or something) and I sound like a lunatic when I say “bro you need to do the 3651 floor dungeon you need to experience the 20 hours of grind it’s part of the game bro” for some short scenes and an ending sequence that is about an hour long. But look, you have to do the 3651 floor dungeon to experience it all ok!!