Greetings Backloggers! After saving most of Earth’s chicks last week as Duke Nukem, the perfect follow-on would be a visual novel about being lost in the forest with three beautiful girls, right? These delinquents need saving, both from their various situations, and from the woods, so there’s commonality there. Okay, maybe Dharker Studio’s Army Gals wasn’t the most logical palette cleanser from Duke Nukem Forever, but it at least succeeded in being interesting, and having a decent story.
The story centers around Kyle, who has been sent or sentenced to some sort of rehabilitation camp for something he may or may not have actually done. It’s never really made clear. Either way, he got busted for arson and being a pervert, and thus was sentenced to a correction camp for troubled youths. Because this camp was designed by the Bad Idea Fairy, it’s a coed facility! The only other campers for this two week journey are three beautiful girls, each with their own set of problems.
Edda is the angry, butch loner with a dark, troubled past. Andrea is a reserved, gothy nerd sentenced for something, probably computer related. Raen is a bubbly, blue-haired free spirit with serious impulse control issues and big … personality. Also along for the ride is the grumpy senior camp counselor, and his younger, hostile for her own reasons, red-headed assistant. How will this incredibly quirky group with nothing in common ever manage to get along for two weeks?
Plot twist, they don’t! An argument and a supply run remove both councilors from the picture after the first night, leaving our hero alone in the woods with the three young ladies. That’s generally the setup for either a horror title or porn, and given that Army Gals is a visual novel from the studio that gave us Beach Bounce, Negligee, and other such interesting games, I’ll leave it up to the reader to guess which genre we’re closer to here.
Fate takes a hard turn, when the campers realize that they’re stuck out in the woods, and no one is coming back for them. Their only hope is to find their way back to civilization on their own.
Army Gals features a lot of branching player choices. The game plays out like a large, illustrated Choose Your Own Adventure, with the player having all sorts of choices that determine which of the twenty-one possible endings they reach. Each day in the woods starts by choosing a hiking direction for the day. That choice will determine what kind of encounters Kyle and the girls face that day, with certain direction choices also chaining together. For the truly adventurous players, there’s also an option to “Let Fate Decide” which picks a random direction for the day. This specific choice, plus sufficient luck to get a good ending are required to get the Ironman achievement.
Each of the endings has an achievement. There’s good endings, strange endings, and bad endings depending on what route is chosen through the woods. With all the varying choices, the story can change radically from one playthrough to the next. Elements of survival, romance, horror, fantasy, and tragedy are all somewhere in the woods, just waiting for the right choices made to find them. Dharker’s stylistic choice for a player character that has no eyes shows up in some of the endings. I’m really not sure how common this is in visual novels overall, but it’s a thematic art element in all of Dharker’s games that I’ve played.
Backlog Verdict: Despite the inexplicable title, because seriously, the only remote connection this game features to any Army is that the girls’ uniforms include camouflage pants, there’s a solid and surprisingly deep story here. The artwork is suitably pretty, and the number of branching options ensures that several playthroughs are required to get the most out of the game. For completionists, a walkthrough is highly recommended. For anyone who enjoys a good VN, and don’t mind some extremely risqué elements, this is worth playing.
Control Notes: Keyboard/Mouse only. No real need for a gamepad here, control is mostly clicking next on the dialogs and choosing options. Dialogs are skippable after having been seen. Autoplay options to remove the constant mouse clicking are easy to adjust for various reading speeds.
Previous Backlog Count: 1,212
Current Backlog Count: 1,214 – That’s not going in the proper direction again. Maybe I should spend a bit more time playing single player games, and not blowing all my game time on Gigantic! Nah.
Next Time: Minecraft: Story Mode Season 1
Backlog Burndown is a semi-regular feature on Marooner’s Rock. Read previous columns in the archives, and suggest future games to play in the comments!