Time Gal Review (Sega CD)
These days, most of the big budget action titles out there often feature many quick-time events. They were used so much in last year’s hit PS3 exclusive Heavy Rain that many people jokingly renamed it Quick Time Events: The Game. Yet, what about the games that were were quick time event based games? One of the genres of arcade games born in the 1980s were the FMV game with Dragon’s Lair. Since most people are already well familiar with Dragon’s Lair and since I have no personal attachment to it, this review will be focused on another game in the genre that I do have experience with – Time Gal. I first played this at a friend’s house on his Sega CD in the mid 90s and recently went back to give it another look. How does it hold up? Glad you asked. Even if you didn’t, I’m going to tell you anyway.
The year is 4001. The evil Luda has stolen a time machine and plans to use it to take over the world. The heroine, Reika Kirishima, the “Time Gal” of the title, is a skillful and pretty scientist on a mission to chase Luda through different time periods, and stop him from assuming control of all history. In this globe-trotting FMV adventure, she must cross 16 stages that take her from prehistoric times to future realms and even to historical events such as World War II. She must get the time machine back, and save the world!
Time Gal is essentially a slightly interactive anime from the mid 80’s. It will appeal to anime fans and oldschool gamers alike. Time Gal is one of the better looking FMV games on the Sega CD due not only to it’s large video window with excellent video quality but also to the sheer quality of the animation itself.
All of Time Gal’s animation was produced by anime giant Toei Animation, best known in the west for anime such as Dragonball Z, Yu-gi-oh and Sailor Moon. Time Gal was a Laserdisc arcade game that made excellent use of the medium to showcase outstanding smooth animation. Even on the much more limited Sega CD hardware, Time Gal retains it’s vibrant, clean look and the animation is still smooth as silk. Compared to many other examples, Time Gal stands out as one of the best games of its type on the Sega CD.
There really isn’t much in the way of audio in the entire game. There is no background music during gameplay, but the game does have a few nice tunes that play during the opening and ending sequences. Of course, the English Sega CD version features a symphy pop tune whereas the Japanese uses a fully voiced j-pop theme that fits the game perfectly.
Reika has several dozen voice samples that are clear and “funny”, but they sound like they’re preformed by a ten year old girl. Not that the Japanese version fared much better in this matter, but it is a shame the voice acting wasn’t slightly higher quality. With only one voice needed, it’s a shame Taito couldn’t have found someone with a little less squeaky voice.
Time Gal is a pre-recorded animation which players’ only interaction is by pressing a button when prompted to progress the animation. It’s extremely basic, arcade fun. The game is broken up into 16 stages of different time periods. Some of these sequences last less than a minute while others drag on for upwards of 5-8 minutes.
When a gladiator swings his sword at your head, press down and Reika will duck and the animation will continue. If you either don’t press the right button or don’t press the right button within the time limit, Reika will die and you will need to restart the animation sequence you are at.
Other times, all four directions will flash which means it is time for Reika to either fire her laser pistol or freeze time to get out of a dangerous predicament. Time Gal is a blast to play through once every few years or so. It’s a little bit of a shame the game doesn’t have more replay value, but I suppose the same could be said of any FMV game.
The controls are very basic and straightforward. When one of the four blue orbs flashes red, press the d-pad in that direction. When all four flash red, press either A, B, or C. There’s really nothing more to it than that.
The difficulty options in Time Gal are misleading. The game requires quick reflexes, not any gaming skill per say. The more difficult options simply reduce the amount of time you have to press a button before you die, and even on easy die you will. Amusingly though, Time Gal features a unique death animation for pretty much every different danger Reika encounters. During these death sequences, the animation style changes to that of the super deformed cutesy “chibi” look to downplay the horrible ways Reika meets her doom. These funny animations, coupled by the fact that the button presses don’t change per continue keeps the frustration of this FMV game to a minimum.
A little more frustrating are the points where Reika stops time and three options appear. During these segments, the player will have to choose that Reika does, with only one of the three options being correct and the others leading to her demise. The problem is, with only a few obvious exceptions, any one of the three could be right with the only way of knowing being trail and error. It’s rather unfair to die after making a decision when your given nothing to go on.
Still, I can’t be made at this game for all it gets right. The Sega CD, with its single speed CD drive, was notorious for legnthy load times. Despite that Time Gal features constant high quality animation running at a smooth 30 FPS, it’s surprisingly light on load times, with the longest lasting only a few seconds.
Availability & Price
The Sega CD version of Time Gal can be found rather cheaply for around $15 complete. I wouldn’t pay more than that unless you are a collector looking for a new copy. The Japanese Playstation and Saturn ports usually hover around $40-50 and quite honestly are overpriced compared to the Sega CD original, even if those versions do offer higher quality visuals and a greater color depth.
Time Gal was released on Laswedisc in Japanese arcades in 1985, representing Taito’s Eastern version of the Western Dragon’s Lair. The unconventional choice of featuring one of the world’s first female lead characters in Reiko wasn’t made to better represent women in gaming as some had said over the years. Rather, Taito hoped the sex appeal of the heroine Reika, who was heavily based on the extremely popular character of Lum from Urusei Yatsura, would help the game become yet another smash hit for the company.
Unfortunately, the game met with only moderate success in Japan and never came close to the sales figures Taito had hoped. To make matters worse, Laserdisc driven arcade games was starting to become a fad worldwide and the the expensive of the medium added to the cost of translation and localization prevented any western release of the game, ensuring an even quicker death to the format.
Several years later, the Laserdisc game was ported to the Sega Mega-CD in Japan, and finally deemed cost effective for a western release. The Sega CD version of the game sold fairly well but received mixed reviews with some feeling it was a brilliant showcase of what the Sega CD could do over cartridge-based games while others felt it was a complete waste of the CD format. Even today, opinions on the Sega CD version are rather mixed.
In a retro throwback to Time Gal, Alfa System’s 2006 shmup Castle of Shikigami III featured Reika Kirishima in the roster of playable Characters. Reiki is still as goofy as ever with some brilliant one-liners. Reika’s Shikigami power is the Time Freeze, yet another reference to the 1985 arcade classic.
As usual, the best videos for the game are in Japanese. Here’s the Japanese opening for Time Gal on Sega MegaCD.
- Beautiful, fluid animation
- Large window of animation for Sega CD standards
- The situations Reika finds herself in are priceless
- Simple, easy to understand controls in comparison to other FMV games such as Dragon’s Lair
- Can be found for Cheap
- There’s very little replay value. You beat it once and don’t need to return for at least a few years
- Reika’s English voice makes her sound like a ten year old
- No music during gameplay at all
- Some sections are overly difficult
Time Gal may seem like any other FMV game, but its sheer quality blows most out of the water. Even now it is just as unique and charming as it was twenty five years ago. It’s a shame the game hasn’t been ported to new systems as Dragon’s Lair has, because Time Gal may just be the best laserdisc classic out there.
Platform: Laserdisc Arcade, Sega CD, Sega Saturn, Playstation 1 (Both Japan only)
Release Date: 1985 (original), 1993 (Sega CD)
Publisher: Wolf Team
Also from the developer: Space Invaders, Bubble Bobble, most of the late era NES classics, etc.
Game Length: ~1 hour
ESRB: N/A, but would be “E”