A little look at…Melty Lancer

As with many nineties games starring a gaggle of walking clichés in anime lady form it looks like the developers of Melty Lancer had dreams of conquering the world through a mixture of tie-in TV shows, drama CDs, and any other related merchandise they could slap the game’s logo on. This worked out just fine for some games but for others… not so much. The Melty Lancer we’re going to look at today is the very first game in the series, a PC-98 simulation game that would go on to be remade for the Saturn (1996) and PlayStation (1997) under the slightly frillier title Melty Lancer ~Galaxy Police Girls 2086~. As far as I’ve been able to tell the content between them is nigh-on identical, meaning the only major difference is the additional voice acting and the more colourful graphics found in the console ports, although I’d question whether the latter is an improvement over the crisp pixel art found here.

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Your task, faceless and nameable but definitely male individual, is to spend one year at the GPO - that’s the Galaxy Police Organisation to normal people – and whip your rag-tag team of Lancers into shape (not literally, mind – it’s not that sort of game), keep the streets safe-ish, and make sure you pursue any bad guy or girl important enough to have a name and a portrait when they speak. Anyone who’s spent some time with either the Princess Maker or Tokimeki Memorial series will immediately feel right at home here, being as it is a Japanese-style ‘simulation’ game that’s all about keeping track of and improving a mountain of attributes while battling with a rigid timetable.

Many of the statistics are the usual sort of thing you’d expect from any game that involves beating people up: health, attack power, speed… typical RPG stuff. But simulation games are never content to leave it at that, and Melty Lancer obliges by assigning not only numerical values to things like ‘enthusiasm’ and ‘self belief’ but super-secret hidden stats that determine whether your favourite policewoman will go out with you at Christmas or if you’ll get to see her in a swimsuit during the summer months.

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Improving these various abilities is handled via the weekly staff rota: just before the start of each week you get to split each officer’s schedule into chunks of patrolling, special tasks, and rest periods and then optionally talk to one of the six Lancers. This is your one chance a week to charm them with your deep understanding of their personal concerns and troubles as well as personally assign their training or even give them a little time off. The benefits of doling out a specific task rather than leaving it up to them (as is what happens to every other Lancer you don’t talk to) is that assigned training is slightly more effective than self-appointed practise and you obviously get to choose exactly what they’re up to rather than hoping for the best. A little tip for anyone thinking of playing the game: raising anything other than agility (effects chance to hit in battles) and investigation (used as the main stat in an awful lot of special jobs) is by and large a waste of time – you need these stats to be as high as possible as quickly as you can, whereas everything else tends to take care of itself.

Once that’s all taken care of it’s on to the week’s (galaxy) policing – we’ll look at patrolling first as that’s the more straightforward of the two main areas of GPO work.

Before deciding where to send someone off to patrol you’ll be shown a small map of the city divided into nine zones, with each zone being rated from 1-100 – the higher the number, the safer it is. Of course with nine zones and at most six Lancers even if you have everyone on patrol all the time (absolutely not recommended) you can’t keep an eye on everywhere every day, making this something of a whack-a-mole scenario as you try to keep it all under control. Most of the time when a Lancer goes off to have a look around nothing will happen other than a small boost to the civility of the area, but on occasion she’ll be forced to fight off either generic thugs or a previously encountered boss by herself. Battling is simplistic with little control – you can attack, auto (attack until one of you falls over), move them about the field (doesn’t do much, in my experience) or try to capture the lawless individual on the other side of the screen. In theory arresting individuals makes for a better officer than the sort that beats criminals to a bloody pulp but with the success rate being so low it’s often best to just hit auto and pray your Lancer’s stats are better than theirs. If they do happen to lose their fight then the officer has to sit out for a few days until their health recovers, wasting precious number-building time.

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The other main aspect of weekly GPO duties are the special jobs you can send them off to complete; every day a short list of generic tasks pops up and if someone’s not on patrol or having a rest day then you have to give them one of these jobs to do. The tasks are entirely automated but there is a little strategy involved here as each one has a difficulty rating as well as a particular attribute assigned to it, both of which have a direct effect on whether your chosen Lancer will complete the task within a day without even breaking a sweat or give up after spending three days on it and got nowhere. Sometimes enthusiastic team members will go off and try to complete jobs for themselves without any prompting from you beforehand – they don’t always pick the most appropriate jobs but as you almost always get some stat boosts from simply attempting a mission it’s usually better than them sitting around twiddling their thumbs. 

Mixed in with these generic jobs at apparently random points are ‘event’ tasks – plot-relevant emergencies and incidents that occur in a set order and further the story. Some of them just require your presence to clear, others need your team to be in top condition and ready for a tough battle. Failing in these scuffles means having to wait until whenever the same event decides to show up in your job list again, eating up valuable time as you bumble around raising stats as best you can and hoping your next chance comes around soon. About twenty events make up this main storyline, and you’ll need to knuckle down if you want to get through them all before your year at the GPO runs out. To further complicate matters at the year’s end your behaviour towards the Lancers as well as your management of them in the field will determine which one of six possible endings you’ll end up with, ranging from marriage to career glory to what amounts to ‘Don’t let the door hit your arse on the way out’.

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Leaving your fate mostly up to the unpredictable whims of your Lancers attribute gains doesn’t make for a whole lot of ‘game’ in the traditional meaning of the term but the characters are pleasant enough (if predictable) when you do get to interact with them, the pixel art’s top notch, and as it can be beaten in a day you don’t feel too cheated if you don’t get the ending you hoped for. With most simulation games I tend to get fed up after a while and start skipping things just to reach the end even when I know it’ll mean getting an undesirable ending – that didn’t happen with Melty Lancer, and after polishing this off I’m looking forward to playing through the Saturn port I’ve got lurking somewhere around here as well as the two sequels beyond it at some point in the future.

If you want a more involved game starring a clutch of unlikely near-future women kicking backside then Tuned Heart or even Galaxy Angel are both games you should probably look at first, but if you enjoyed Princess Maker and its ilk and fancy more of the same then Melty Lancer should scratch your stat-building itch well enough even if it is a little less refined.

Want to have a go yourself? Melty Lancer’s on Project EGG! It does cost twice as much as a normal game but on the other hand they went to the trouble of preinstalling it to a virtual HDD so all you have to do is click and play rather than wrestle with 3947 floppy disc swaps.