When I started this Cover Game feature, I figured that these two games by Shade would be fairly similar to one another.
After all, they’re both third-person shooters featuring cute girls and a certain amount of fanservice to enjoy. Taking games with what I assumed to be a similar “feel” to them as a guideline, I estimated that they’d both be reasonably short affairs that I could romp through quickly.
After 45 hours of pursuing all of Gun Gun Pixies’ endings, I realised that I might have been wrong. After starting the rather more mechanics-centric Bullet Girls Phantasia, I confirmed that yes, indeed, I was very wrong. And, as such, because I want to do a proper job of this… it’s going to take a few articles to do the latter justice. So let’s begin today with a look at how it plays.
We’ll talk more about the narrative in a subsequent article, but suffice to say for now that Bullet Girls Phantasia is a piece of isekai fiction that sees the members of Misakimori Academy’s Ranger Club cast into a fantasy world that is being ravaged by a very angry black dragon.
Rather conveniently, the Ranger Club managed to also get all their equipment (including a helicopter, several tanks and an armoured personnel carrier) sucked into the other world with them, so they have all the supplies they need to survive. Even better, shortly after their arrival they discover that the practice ammunition they use in their club activities actually works as live rounds on the “Devyant” monsters they find themselves under attack from. And thus begins their quest to get home. It is, unsurprisingly, not a simple task.
In Bullet Girls Phantasia, the gameplay is split into four discrete components.
Firstly, there is the “Adventure” mode, which veterans of Japanese gaming will know translates to “visual novel” mode. Here, a combination of narration by the various characters in the game and animated dialogue sequences tell the story of the girls’ adventures in the other world. It’s a strictly linear affair with no choices to make along the way, though as you progress through the game there are a number of optional scenes that you can choose whether or not you want to watch; these tend to flesh out the relationships between characters or provide some opportunities for secondary cast members to spend some time in the spotlight.
Second is the “Mission” mode. This is the meat of the game, consisting of nine main chapters of four missions each, plus a large number of optional “Extra” missions that unlock under various circumstances.
Each mission opens and concludes with an “Adventure” sequence introducing the context of what is going on; this only plays the first time you attempt the mission, after which it can be replayed at any time from the main menu. Given that the game has rather long load times, even on PlayStation 4, this is a welcome part of the overall structure; when returning to missions on harder difficulties or in an attempt to gather items, being able to jump right back in (load time notwithstanding!) makes the whole experience much more comfortable.
Before the mission proper begins, you have the opportunity to engage with the third main part of the game, which is its progression system. Each of the playable characters available to you — you begin with eight and six more join you over the course of the narrative — has a number of elements that can be customised, along with an experience level. This latter aspect determines their maximum health, the amount of “material” they can equip and the number of “JKP” (女子力開眼ポイント, joshiryoku kaigan pointo, roughly translated to something along the lines of “girl power enlightenment points”, more broadly represented as a measurement of the character’s “femininity”) they have available to spend on abilities.
Each girl can equip up to three weapons. There are no limitations on who can equip what, but each girl is presented as having a particularly “iconic” weapon in their primary slot by default, plus a shotgun and pistol for backup. Several of the cast earn character-specific weapons of their favoured type as you progress through the game, too, so it’s usually worth keeping them in their comfort zone.
That first weapon slot is important for another reason: when starting a mission, you choose an “Attacker” character, which you control, and, in most cases, an AI-controlled “Buddy” to back you up. Your Buddy will only ever use the weapon in their first slot, so you’ll want to make sure they’re equipped in a way that will complement your Attacker — and also bear in mind their character-specific passive abilities.
The weapons initially include a selection of military hardware, including pistols, shotguns, assault rifles, heavy machine guns, sniper rifles, multi-missile launchers and bazookas. As the game progresses and you encounter characters who are native to the fantasy world of Midgard, you’ll also unlock access to melee weapons such as a long sword and twin blades, throwable explosive shards of magicite and a staff that allows you to lock on to multiple enemies at once.
All the weapons handle very differently, providing plenty of gameplay variety if you want it. Conversely, if you find yourself enjoying a particular combat style more than the others, you can either stick with a favourite girl or outfit your Attacker for the current mission with a weapon type you find appealing.
The weapons themselves cannot be directly “upgraded” as such, but under various conditions — usually story progression — you unlock higher level versions of them that can be purchased from the store in the girls’ camp. You may wonder why they’re having to pay for their own equipment — don’t worry, this is addressed by the narrative!
Instead, your main means of customising the way the weapons work is through the aforementioned materials. These are items that you collect throughout the missions, and which have various passive effects. They’re split into three main types: “Attack” materials have a direct impact on the way weapons work, including affecting range, damage output, recoil, clip size and reload speed as well as providing the possibility to attach elemental damage; “Defense” materials protect against damage types and status effects; and “Bonus” materials affect item drop rates, how quickly you earn money and the power and charge of each girl’s unique “S.O.D.” (Scramble Over Drive) ability.
There’s a limit to how many materials you can equip, however. Each girl begins with four available slots, and each material equipped takes up at least one — more powerful ones may take more than one. As the girl levels up, she gradually earns more material slots, allowing her to combine more passive abilities together to make herself stronger, but initially you have to be quite selective about what you choose.
There are other means of getting passive abilities, though. Firstly there’s the aforementioned “JKP” system, which takes the form of a skill tree. Here, you can develop each girl in any direction you please — including allowing them to specialise in one of the fantasy world weapons if you so desire. The passive abilities include a variety of factors including increasing base HP, clothing strength, power of the S.O.D. strike, combo length for melee weapons and resistance to damage and status effects. It is possible to unlock all abilities for every character and the tree is the same for everyone, but until you reach the maximum level of 99, you’ll probably want to develop each character according to how you use them.
On top of all that, you have the ability to customise each girl’s clothing and underwear. Their outer clothing acts as armour, having its own HP value independent of the girl’s own health, and protects against taking direct damage. Different outfits have their overall HP distributed over various body parts according to how much they cover; in practice, since your biggest danger is usually splash or melee damage that hits most or all of your body, this doesn’t make a huge difference, but it’s a nice touch regardless.
Underwear, meanwhile, initially appears to be purely cosmetic, though each girl expresses a clear preference for a favourite style. Start to discover more rare drops, however — which, for the most part, require you to either bump up the difficulty level or challenge difficult Extra missions — and you’ll find bras and panties that have passive effects attached, allowing you up to two additional added effects on top of those from your materials and JKP abilities. You’ll have to make the important decision as to whether or not coordinating your skimpies is more important than having a 12% bigger clip size on your weapon.
Playing through on Normal, the majority of the items you’ll discover will be fairly mundane in their capabilities — but they’ll be enough to get you through the main story. Once you start challenging the missions on Hard or Ecstasy, however, you’ll start getting much more valuable drops, and your girls will increase in power dramatically with appropriate combinations of equipment. Extra missions with more powerful foes will also be much more manageable; early in the game when these missions first unlock, they can seem unfeasibly challenging due to the amount of damage the “boss” characters put out — though they’re not impossible with skilful play.
And so that brings us on to the in-mission gameplay itself. Your exact objectives depend on the mission in question, but your main task is usually either to reach a particular location — with your progress regularly blocked by waves of enemies — or defeat all the enemies in a particular area. Sometimes there’s a fixed number of enemies; sometimes they’ll continually spawn from generators that you can either destroy, or keep blasting away at their products until they naturally run out of energy.
You control your Attacker from a third-person perspective. Basic movement speed is fairly sedate, though this can be increased with JKP abilities, and each girl is also able to sprint indefinitely; the tradeoff is that they’re less able to make sharp changes in direction while sprinting, and they cannot fire while doing so.
Firing or swinging your weapon is a simple tap or hold of the right trigger, while the left trigger allows you to aim more precisely. Certain weapons have their own specific functionality in this regard; pistols, for example, have the ability to lock on to an enemy while aiming, while the sniper rifle, as you might expect, allows you to aim precisely from range.
So far so conventional. Where Bullet Girls Phantasia distinguishes itself somewhat is in the additional moves added on top of these straightforward movements. You certainly don’t need to use these in order to succeed, but you look infinitely cooler if you do — and it makes the game considerably more satisfying.
Firstly, hitting your attack button while sprinting does not fire off your gun; instead, it launches a flying kick that is usually enough to knock an enemy down and even has the ability to “pierce” through groups of enemies if you aim it correctly. However, it’s also a risky move that can easily put you in harm’s way if you’re not careful, so it should only be used when you want to finish off a foe in a particularly dramatic manner.
Secondly, tapping the X button causes you to perform a dodge manoeuvre with temporary invincibility, the duration of which can be upgraded with JKP abilities. This is useful for getting out of the way quickly, but also has a couple of additional effects according to whether you start firing before or after the dodge.
Dodge then fire and you’ll leap into a kneeling stance that automatically locks on to nearby enemies in your cone of vision until your clip empties, allowing you to quickly clear out large groups without having to manually aim. Fire then dodge, meanwhile, and you’ll do a dramatic John Woo-style flying dive, continuing to fire as you do so. This can get you out of trouble while keeping you on the offensive.
It’s also possible to go prone and crawl around by holding down the X button; since this drastically impacts your movement speed, it’s only useful under certain circumstances, but when under heavy fire from a boss enemy it can help make you a smaller target.
The melee weapons, as you might expect, have their own movesets. A tap on the “fire” button in this case swings them, with repeated taps unleashing a combo. These combos start short but can be extended using, you guessed it, JKP abilities. The melee weapons also have the ability to charge magical energy and unleash a ranged shockwave, but given the necessity to stand still in order to charge this up, they’re best used on enemies that aren’t coming right for you.
Likewise, since you don’t “fire” a melee weapon outside of the shockwave mechanics, the dive-and-fire mechanics don’t apply, either. Instead, dodging then attacking with a melee weapon unleashes a swift, powerful stab, and the dodge manoeuvre can be used to cancel out of a regular combo and keep the attacks flowing, too. This is particularly useful in the early stages of the game, where the long sword weapon in particular suffers from only being capable of a two-swing combo.
Each enemy you encounter has a weak spot marked with a blue gem. Hitting this deals critical damage, but it’s not necessarily a case of just aiming and firing. Inherently inaccurate weapons such as rifles and machine guns will have a tough time pinpointing this exact spot thanks to their recoil and natural muzzle rise as you fire for protracted periods, though they make up for this with their sheer rate of fire and clip capacity. It’s not necessary to hit the weak spot, but a satisfying visual effect highlighting when you’ve achieved a successful crit makes them enjoyable to take aim for whenever you have the opportunity.
The enemies themselves cover a variety of fantasy tropes; initially you’ll mostly encounter large, lumbering orcs, but as you progress you’ll encounter undead knights, giant golems, ghostly magicians who can summon additional enemies to the fray and slimes of various types. Within each category of enemies there are several variations, too; orcs come in melee and ranged variants, for example, while certain types of slime explode a few seconds after you defeat them rather than immediately melting into goo.
Under various circumstances, you’ll also have to fight humanoid enemies, including the other members of the Ranger Club and the companions they encounter over the course of the story. This is where the clothing damage becomes more relevant; blasting off your opponent’s clothes makes it much easier to deal direct damage to their health bar, so it’s often a good idea to try and shred them from a distance until they’re in the nip, then dash in once your meter is charged to unleash your S.O.D. for massive damage.
The S.O.D.s themselves have a variety of effects that are unique to each character, though all have a highly entertaining cinematic animation when you unleash them. Some simply deal direct damage over an area; others fire in a particular direction. Probably the most interesting ones are those that “summon” something; the character Yurina, for example, can call a fine collection of howitzers to defend a particular location, while Princess Knight Silvia summons mobile mechanical knights to assist her, which can “tank” a considerable amount of damage while also distracting enemies, dealing their own melee damage and keeping Silvia herself from harm.
There’s an element of “risk and reward” at play with the S.O.D.s too. Unleash one while down to your undies and you’ll whip them off to perform an F.P.S. (Final Panty Strike, I swear I’m not making this up) which adds some sort of special or additional effect to the usual S.O.D. strike. You can also deliberately whip off all your clothes except your undies during a mission with a special button combination in order to set off an F.P.S. at will — though naturally you can only do this once and then have to do the rest of the mission in the buff, so only take this approach if you really think it will be tactically advantageous.
As you can see, there’s actually quite a lot to Bullet Girls Phantasia’s mechanics; for those who may have found themselves left a bit cold by Gun Gun Pixies’ deliberate emphasis on narrative over gameplay, you should find something to enjoy here. And for those with particular tastes — let’s not beat around the bush; those who are here for the lewd — you’ll find a lot to enjoy in the game’s fourth and final mechanical component: Intensive Drilling, most likely the aspect that ensured this game would never, ever get an official release in North America or PAL territories.
Throughout the Bullet Girls series, the Ranger Club — one of many self defense-themed clubs at Misakimori Academy — has been presented as a group of girls who are learning about all things military from a practical perspective. This includes elements you might expect (albeit perhaps not in a school environment!) such as the use and maintenance of weapons and vehicles, management of supplies, application of tactics and strategy and, most importantly, teamwork.
It also includes training to resist interrogation and torture… though in the same way that the girls only use practice weapons in their club activities, the “torture” they endure as part of an Intensive Drilling session is not violent; it’s light-hearted, silly and extremely sexual. Which, given pretty much everyone in Bullet Girls Phantasia’s all-female cast appears to be gay, no-one appears to have any problem with whatsoever.
During an Intensive Drilling session, the subject of the training is restrained somehow. At the outset of the game, they’re tied to a fence, but as you progress, different circumstances become available, including being stuck in a slime and tied up by tentacles — and later on, alternative forms of the activity known as Double and Reverse Drilling become available, too.
Before beginning a Drilling session, you can equip up to four items, which are mapped to the four face buttons of the controller. Each of these items have numerical ratings according to three attributes: “Good”, “Bad” and “Excellent”.
Once the Drilling begins, you’ll need to make use of these items to poke and prod the girl in various places in order to reveal which attribute goes with each area, then use the appropriate item to deal maximum “damage” to that region and “destroy” it for a few seconds.
It’s worth emphasising at this point that this is not a violent activity and it is depicted as consensual (except in one situation where the girls make use of it as “shock therapy” to snap someone out of supernatural brainwashing); you are not literally “damaging” and “destroying” areas; it’s perhaps best thought of as stimulating particular areas (through tickling, for example) until they become too sensitive to do anything else with for a short period. You know, like when… uh, never mind.
If you find an area marked “Good”, you’ll want to use an item with a high “Good” rating to deal more damage, and vice versa. Destroying an area scores you points on the respective “Good” or “Bad” meter; the values of these are added together with bonuses at the conclusion of the session to produce your final rating. “Excellent” areas add to both the “Good” and “Bad” meters simultaneously, so these are especially valuable discoveries that you should try and focus on, along with a moving “hot spot” that you can identify through audible cues.
It’s essentially a bit like a game of Hot and Cold, and far from being just mindless groping, it’s actually quite mechanically interesting as well as being pretty fricking hot. In order to attain maximum scores and better grades, you’ll need to build up a combo of destroyed areas; this means damaging multiple areas quickly and repeatedly without stopping. You by no means need to find every point on the girl; in fact, it’s much more efficient to find a good sequence of maybe five or six areas you can cycle around repeatedly, with all of those areas being ones that do not require much damage to destroy, since taking too long will break your combo.
As you progress through the game, additional options become available in the form of different Drilling items. More expensive items will generally deal greater damage to their favoured attribute, allowing you a better chance of building up impressive combos, and several items such as pacifiers, fish sticks and popsicles can be shoved into the girls’ mouths for various temporary effects such as freezing the timer for a brief period or increasing the amount of damage all your items do; these all have a “reload” time, however, so you can’t just repeatedly use them.
Intensive Drilling can be engaged with at any time from the main menu as a means of practicing the minigame or simply trying it out with different combinations of girls, circumstances and items. During the narrative, it’s only used at a few key points, so for those who aren’t entirely comfortable with the concept, you don’t have to do it very much. But give it a chance; you might find yourself surprised how fun it actually is, since it has a lot more depth than the stereotypical “wank off your Vita” fare from other fanservicey games. Plus, as I may have mentioned previously, it’s hot.
Bullet Girls Phantasia is a game that is absolutely, completely secure and confident in what it is. It shows that sexually provocative — borderline explicit at times — fanservice and solid gameplay are not by any means mutually exclusive concepts — and, as we’ll explore in a subsequent article, neither are fanservice and interesting narratives and characterisation.
It’s been a delight to explore so far, so please look forward to our continued adventures in the land of Midgard; I think we might be here a while!
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Thanks for reading; I hope you enjoyed this article. I’ve been writing about games in one form or another since the days of the old Atari computers, with work published in Page 6/New Atari User, PC Zone, the UK Official Nintendo Magazine, GamePro, IGN, USgamer, Glixel and more over the years, and I love what I do.
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