Truth be told I wasn’t expecting to get around to this blog post as quickly as I have – and I wasn’t sure if there’d be enough to talk about that I hadn’t already covered in my last Galaxy Angel blog post - but here we are! Right from the new opening FMV it’s clear that Moonlit Lovers has far more polish than the original Galaxy Angel – the most obvious tells manifesting as more in-game FMV sequences, fancier battles (not that there was anything wrong with the spectacular space-bound skirmishes of the original), and some pleasant little adjustments such animated mouths on speaking characters.
It’s fair to say that some of this new visual sheen is because Broccoli were able to outright lift a lot of character and location art (not to mention the underlying designs) from the previous game but Galaxy Angel’s far from the first series to do that, in this genre or any other. It’s also fair to say that the other reason is because Moonlit Lovers is really quite short, but we’ll come to that in a bit.
As with any Japanese adventure/novel/SRPG/whatever the most important aspect of the game is the story, and Moonlit Lovers breaks out of Sakura Taisen’s shadow in the most spectacular way by doing something Sega’s series has never done – actually have the lead chap Takt in a romantic relationship with his favourite Angel. Exactly who this person is is decided during a whirlwind recap of the original Galaxy Angel – the partner you remember going to the dance with is your favoured lady for this run through the game. This decision doesn’t just affect a handful of scenes or how the intro plays out, but instead determines your path through the entire story. This is a huge deal - most games along these lines choose to ignore this sort of thing no matter how hard you had to work to get your love’s attention for the ending illustration, leaving players in the incredibly weird limbo of playing a dating game where you never get a date – not one that means anything, anyway. Moonlit Lovers chooses to go in the opposite direction, daring to write what happens after two characters finally admit they like each other.
If cute anime romance triggers your gag reflex you’ll be pleased to learn it’s not all about picnics and taking tea, with the rest of Galaxy Angel’s setting given just as much of a once-over with new enemies, sort-of old enemies turned allies and some exciting revelations that will shed new light on events from the previous game, expanding the world in some new and interesting ways. In general the approach to Moonlit Lovers writing is the same as the rest of the game – more of the same, but with better execution. So the snappy pacing’s still there, but thanks in part to the groundwork laid out in the first game as well as the new focus on a single lead lady rather than the usual ‘Gotta catch ‘em all’ mentality means scenarios are free to venture off into new territory instead of giving everyone generic ‘Isn’t this a nice date, [INSERT NAME HERE]?’ dialogue to try and cover all possible scenarios.
Battles have a bit more depth and are more interesting in general than their Galaxy Angel equivalents but there aren’t any drastic changes here. There biggest worry for me was that I might have been spoiled by the PC version’s numerous hotkeys now that I was forced to play with a pad (I have sadly been able to buy parts 1 and 3 on PC but have never been able to get my grubby mitts on PC Pt2, forcing me to buy it on PS2), but actually I slipped right back in with no trouble at all! It certainly helps that the game automatically pauses/unpauses while you issue orders to units – it may sound like a little thing but it really does make all the difference, as do the arrows that show you exactly which unit you’ll skip over to if you press a particular direction on the dpad, leaving you with the feeling that more thought has gone into the battle UI than a game of this type ‘should’ have. The 3D battle graphics are once again very beautiful but objectively completely useless – if you want to win battles you’ll stick to the overhead tactical view.
I didn’t expect much more than a Sakura Taisen knockoff when I started the first Galaxy Angel game, and at first I expected Moonlit Lovers to play it safe and simply offer more of the same. As it turns out… I was going to say ‘This is exactly what you’d hope a sequel would be’, but the truth is what makes Moonlit Lovers special is that it throws the rulebook away - you’re expected to hit the ground running, already blushing-cheeks deep in a relationship with one of the cast. I have to admit that I probably wouldn’t want every adventure/dating/SRPG hybrid to be this way, but it made a fantastic change from spending the first half of the game chasing after someone who already admitted last game (and 10-20 hours of personal time investment) they were fond of poor old Takt just to try and get back to where you romantically were last time.
So while it may not be all that long but Moonlit Lovers is ‘wide’ – you’ll play through one of the game’s short scenarios and not only be left wanting more – just for once you’ll have it too. The variety to be found in the available routes means every character experience really is very different, changing Takt’s circumstances since the end of the last game, who you meet up with first and even how Takt interacts with the other Angels, making this well worth playing through as many times as you’re able.