Note: All content in this review is generally based on the English client, though covers the basic gameplay and most content of the others. It was played on a Windows PC via the Bluestacks emulator; any specific control or technical issues concerning that will be noted as appropriate.
Ever since "Kantai Collection" popularized making ships into cute girls and making a gacha game based on the premise, a flood of "follow the leader" games have been made, and this review will cover one of the better ones, which make actual military and civilian firearms into cute girl android soldiers in a gacha game.
Gacha games are games based on the "gacha" model, based on a term referring to type of capsule toy vending machine in Japan. Games of this nature adapt the mechanics of these chance-based toy machines to a digital format, in a manner similar to loot boxes since they encourage spending real money, but it's usually possible (if somewhat more tedious) to acquire all collectible items in-game through dedicated play.
The story of Girls Frontline is set in an alternate universe post-apocalyptic WWIII, where over 90% of humanity perished. Now, androids called "Tactical Dolls" have been refurbished from civilian uses for military applications in various organizations, especially by the one you are a new commander in, the private military corporation Griffon and Kruyger. Your rivals and the chief antagonists are Sangvis Ferri, a rival PMC gone rogue whose T-Dolls threw off their moral restraints against killing innocents and others in general without orders, murdered their human overseers, and now will threaten a large if vaguely defined part of Eurasia if it wasn't for Griffon and Kruyger working to contain the threat.
While the story starts off simple, it snowballs into an emotional tale of war and explores themes of freedom and free will in artificial beings, for good or ill, at least if you follow the story.
Outside of the main story plot, it is a rather charming and quite silly android girl raising simulator. It's also loaded with all sorts of obscure and interesting trivia concerning military history, to the point many T-Doll weapons can be identified as certain real-world designs (Lee-Enfield's gun is based on the No.4 Mk.1 Enfield used in WWII, hers being a sniper specific derivative variant). Even their uniforms contain a lot of references to military history (MP40 looks like a WWII German tank officer, though her red armband has the Nazi swastika absent), among other neat little references to the firearms industry. It even has shoutouts to other military games and franchises, with a large portion of the fun being if you can identify all the shoutouts and firearm lore.
The gameplay of Girls Frontline can be divided into three parts: a strategy RPG game, a raising simulation, and a metagame that optimizes T-Dolls for long term usefulness.
The S-RPG part is much like any other turn-based strategy game, in which units need to be optimized for optimal performance in order to fulfill objectives, and their success is largely dependent on how well they have been equipped and how well you move them to capture nodes on battle maps to complete objectives, which often include taking down bosses, holding certain nodes for several turns, and hostage rescue missions.
The raising simulation aspect takes place outside the combat sections. When not in combat, T-Dolls live in dorms that can be accessorized with different looks and furniture bought with tokens or acquired as special rewards. Additional costumes and gifts to raise the affection the T-Dolls have for you can also be obtained and high affection ratings can increase combat performance, and well-decorated dormitories can boost affection gain as well as provide for special scenes. Certain facilities to boost abilities can be leveled up alongside the dorms to provide further boosts to combat abilities as well.
The metagame aspect is the long-term customization of combat echelons to be able to do all sorts of missions efficiently in the long term. Certain unit formations are quite effective for certain situations, some units specialize night over day missions, and some have niche abilities that are only useful in certain situations. Overall, while any player can pick up Girls Frontline and enjoy themselves, career players will certainly want to master the metagame, especially if they wish to win unique rewards for occasionally hosted special events on the server offering unique challenges and rewards, such as T-Dolls that cannot be manufactured or obtained in regular play.
The game itself is free but does have in-game transactions to purchase gems to acquire resources and expand certain T-Doll and equipment limits. The game is quite generous handing out resources for completing daily and weekly missions, though, and the developers are quite generous with compensation bonuses for maintenance periods. While drop rates for certain T-Dolls and equipment can be rare, the drop rates are rather fair compared to many other games using the gacha model, with occasional boosted chance events provided by the developers on occasion to make things easier.
Graphically, the game is a medley of contrasts. All cutscenes and story events use a slightly rough, darkened anime style with realistically proportioned characters. The gameplay sections, by contrast, use a super deformed, cutesy anime style with bright colors, while character portraits use the colors and shading of the latter while maintaining the realism of the former. Overall, it helps with the mood whiplash the rather serious plot can generate while most of the rest of the game has an adorable "chibi" look in most gameplay scenes. Aside from a few animation goofs (some were purposely retained by the developers because they were funny), all art looks smooth and well drawn, though gun enthusiasts may be irked to see occasional minor rendering errors for guns in both portraits and gameplay mode if they have a sharp eye for details.
The sound is again a whipsaw of charming, gentle music, like the idyllic and peaceful theme that plays in the Dorms where your T-Dolls stay in-between missions, and the intense, techno styled battle themes, like the boss battle theme "Black Out." These contrasting themes again help enhance the mood whiplash between the laid-back, non-combat sections, and the gritty, serious story sections. Sound effects are quite good, with many being very accurate to the guns (the M1 Garand even has the distinctive clip "ping" it became famous for), and if one chooses to use the voice-overs (Japanese by default on the English server), most are pleasing on the ear, though some like IDW's can be pretty grating (to the point it's something of an official meme acknowledged by the developers).
Control is accomplished by touchscreen styled control on Android/iOS devices, while the mouse is used as a substitute for desktop PC emulation. In both cases, controls are generally responsive, but the server load delay can be tedious when switching frequently between different gameplay screens. There are also some game engine stability issues tied to input, elucidated below in more detail.
On a technical level, this game is quite well put together, for the most part; menus are generally responsive, and crashes are quite rare. The only concern that can be a problem for users of actual Android/iOS systems and those who emulate them on PC is the "Illegal action detected" bug, where it will display an error if it believes input is faster than human speed. Almost all of these occur between turns and disappear if the player does nothing, generally being an annoying but harmless false positive, but in severe cases can force the game back to the title screen, though a save is made where you left off prior, so data loss is not an issue.
On a more serious front, any macros (automated key movements pre-programmed to simplify certain tasks) should be disabled while in-game, no matter their purpose, or the player's account could be banned permanently as a cheater by the game server, which checks for repeated input much faster than humans could interact with the game.
Girls Frontline is a game about war, so it's going to have some moral issues, and its "weapons as cute girls" hook introduces some more that deserve some in-depth analysis before anyone commits, as the content is certain to be offensive on several grounds for moral reasons.
Violence is strictly limited to robotic beings destroying one another lethally. Despite the humanoid appearance of the T-Dolls, they and all opponents are very much mechanical, and the violence takes place in the context of your characters fighting against rogue androids who, unlike your characters, are unfortunately ethically free to fight humans and innocent targets. There is no blood display in-game. Cutscenes show similar damage as a real human would incur, but blood is generally absent, as the T-Dolls do not bleed actual blood. Gore is also absent for the same reasons. In-game, defeated units simply fall to the ground and disappear without leaving remains.
Some minor PG-13 level profanity is used throughout the game, generally in cut-scenes or certain character quotes. (d*mn, b*st**d, etc.)
Sexual Content for this game needs to be discussed in detail because the game offers it in two forms: Censored (by default in all countries, legally so in mainland China due to gaming regulations), and Uncensored (unlockable via a special production code in-game in all other territories).
The censored versions of the game feature some revealing outfits, like midriff bearing outfits and those that show some cleavage, but still cover all the essentials, with little to no display of undergarments. The dialogue contains some suggestive comments and innuendo (as the characters are female and can be romanced by the player, who is male despite the developers intending to leave the commander character as gender neutral as possible), but it stays no worse than teen level. If female characters are "oathed" (in-game version of marriage), some lines are added for oathed characters indicating you had sex with them, which is only available after what amounts to marriage, though if you click on the characters on the main menu screen prior to oathing them, they will either scold you for being inappropriate or ask you to wait until you tied the knot before attempting anything intimate with them. You can oath multiple female characters (similar to how men could have multiple wives in ancient history), but oathing is required before you can be intimate with any female character. The characters are all androids who have forms ranging from childlike to quite mature looking, and thankfully all the lines indicating post-oath sexual encounters are nigh exclusively reserved for the characters who look legally aged enough to engage in intimate relations, with oathing otherwise regarded as a more intimate form of friendship with the more childlike characters.
The uncensored version, however, is far more risque and borders on the pornographic at times, with damaged character artwork showing dangerously revealing amounts of skin and undergarments not shown in the censored artwork, and some outfits are much more fetish-like and impractical (like PTRD, who wears an impractical tank top that shows the underside of her breasts, while the censored version opts for a more sensible, fully covering uniform shirt that matches her Russian styled military coat). Both versions do have some risque alternative outfits, and in an inversion, some of the alternate outfits for some characters can be far more conservative and sensible than their default versions (T-Doll AS Val's Mod3 outfit is much less risque than her regular one, the former being a full outfit, the latter having an exposed midriff), though all animated outfits (aka, Live2D skins) default to their censored versions even if the de-censorship code is applied, since they have actual physics animation for the characters. The walking around sprites are based on the uncensored, non-damaged character artwork, but are generally drawn in a cutesy, super-deformed style, and the very low detail of the outfits as drawn in this style means they contain barely any offensive or sexually noticeable features compared to their portrait versions.
The game is set in a strict sci-fi alternative universe Earth setting, there is absolutely no occult or supernatural references in game-play or plot. Authority is clearly respected throughout, as the characters under your command are bound to military protocol, your superiors are experienced military officers, and disobeying orders is portrayed as a consistent negative. The sci-fi prejudices against artificial beings are present to some extent, though generally with good reason, as T-Dolls with guns going rogue is the impetus of the plot, though in at least one side story some prejudices that are based on sheer ignorance are displayed, though the game does not portray this as being correct or justified in any way. There is some cultural stereotyping depending on the nationality of the T-Doll origins, but this is generally affectionate or based on historical information. Finally, while there are a few comedic or recreational mentions of drinking alcohol (M16A1 mentions enjoying Jack Daniel's in a character comment for example), most are references to historical facts, such as the Russian WWII-based characters referencing alcohol consumption since actual Russian soldiers were given an official alcohol ration.
There are no instances of crude humor (being a game largely oriented around cute girl characters) I could discern, and themes of family and sacrifice are key parts of the main and side story plots, as many T-Dolls regard one another as family members and allies, and both the story and gameplay reinforce the moral that it's important to regard your forces as individuals worthy of your respect and protection as their commanding officer.
In conclusion, it's certainly a mixed bag both for secular and moral reasons. It's an "easy to learn, difficult to master" game fun for casual play but not recommended for long term play save for dedicated fans of gacha games. From a moral standpoint, it's got several very big red flags in the sexual content department, especially if the game is uncensored. While its rated Teen, I would not in good conscience recommend this to any but older teens in it's censored form, and I would definitely discourage any attempt at decensoring it.
If you can accept the moral red flags and want a cute yet surprisingly deep gacha-styled strategy RPG, Girls Frontline can be quite fun, especially if you stick with it as a dedicated player.