The game opens with a scene of a ruined city and a person dressed in black who's trying to figure out what happened. It turns out that the trouble began when two dead girls were suddenly transformed into implacable magical war machines. In a nutshell, they tear across the countryside, destroying a Well-Intentioned Extremist prince's advanced technology and spoiling his Assimilation Plot. Everyone dies; the end.
Let's get a bit more in-depth. The game world is rife with Fantastic Racism. The Sulunakan, a race of peaceful Magitek masters, are oppressed by Audo overlords who invaded their world long ago. The Sulunakan do fight back, but they are no match for the Audo. In a chance meeting, Bel Cain, a young prince (secretly a half-breed,) meets Nell and Seana, half-breed daughters of a Sulunakan resistance leader. They promise to meet again, but they never do (in the strict sense, at least).
Years later, Bel Cain becomes crown prince and resolves to create a new world order with super advanced Magitech, all managed by a computer made from human brains. Bel Cain doesn't realize that the computer hates its existence so much that it has created weapons capable of finding and destroying it... using the corpses of Nell and Seana (who joined the Sulunakan resistance only to be killed and taken as trophies). The things that used to be Nell and Seana they tear across the countryside, destroying Bel Cain's advanced technology, culminating in a sad, one-sided reunion... and they all die.
But wait, there's yet another plot layer to be found in the game's unlockables which casts the events of the game in a different light. A different light of forbidden knowledge, eldritch abominations and shadowy extra-dimensional organizations... and the possibility that maybe not everyone died after all.
This game contains examples of:
- Adipose Rex: King Jabugal is one of these, of the hedonistic Villainous Glutton variety.
- Antagonistic Offspring: Bel Cain is one with Sympathetic P.O.V. King Jabugal killed his mother in a fit of rage, and Bel Cain harbors deep hatred for his father because of this. As a result, Bel Cain finally kills his father in Act 4 and reveals his plans to his subjects.
- Arm Cannon: The Holy Guns that Nell and Seana host are BFGs that completely encase one arm.
- Black-and-Gray Morality: There's only one character with no redeeming traits: King Jabugal.
- Boss Subtitles: Simple ones in the WD version. No grandiose titles, just a name.
- Bottomless Magazines: There is no reloading. Magical guns don't run out of ammo, apparently.
- Co-Op Multiplayer: Player 1 is Nell, player 2 is Seana. All enemies have twice as much health in 2 player mode.
- Cryptic Background Reference: Everything from the final cutscene on. What does "human-shaped Gigu" mean? Who is Yuri, whom Tagami will "always love"? What is the Septentrion trying to accomplish? Don't expect answers in this game, though later games and books elaborate. See Modular Franchise below.
- Darker and Edgier: To Project: Horned Owl, but especially compared to most Light Gun Games. The protagonists are recent victims of violent death, brought temporarily back to life to destroy the kingdom which had been their home.
- Death Seeker: The Neural Network Computer apparently cannot self-terminate and creates the means of its own demise.
- Difficulty by Region: Working Designs made the easy mode into a training mode that ends after three levels. The normal and hard modes are the only way to experience the full game.
- Downer Ending: It was inevitable. The protagonists are already dead, Bel Cain and his kingdom are doomed, and even Tagami is unable to leave World 4 in the aftermath.
- Elves vs. Dwarves: Delicate, magical, peaceful Sulunkan vs. tough, technological, warlike Audo.
- The Ending Changes Everything: The mission report interspersed in the credits reveals that Tagami planned the whole incident. The unlockable library provides additional context — namely, Tagami works for an agency that opposes an inter-dimensional cartel called the Septentrion.
- Facial Markings: The Sulunakan race has internalized spirit circuits in their bodies, but they aren't ordinarily visible. However, Audo/Sulunkan half-breeds aren't so lucky. Their circuits show through their skin.
- Fanservice: The transformation of Nell and Seana into Elementals incorporates a Panty Shot and Clothing Damage, which is pretty squicky considering they're dead.
- Fire, Ice, Lightning: The three types of attacks Nell and Seana use are called Blaze Phoenix, Water Snake, and Thunder Tiger.
- For Doom the Bell Tolls: Bells ring a warning at the start of Act 1.
- Half-Breed Discrimination: It is not really a part of the main narrative, but Bel Cain's claim to the throne is dubious on account of his half-breed status. He poses as a full-blood Audo by concealing the circuits in his skin.
- Intro-Only Point of View: The game opens with a scene centering on Tagami, but shifts into the past for the main action of the game.
- Kill 'Em All
- Late to the Tragedy: The whole game is a flashback, after all.
- Memento MacGuffin: Bell Cain breaks his necklace in two and gives part of it to Nell as a symbol of their promise to reunite.
- Modular Franchise: Alfa System staff members remark in the interviews in the manual that they wanted to expand on the world they created in Elemental Gearbolt. Well, they actually did just that. This game became the first entry in a multiverse "Nameless Worlds Setting," and a number of original properties developed by Alfa System since Elemental Gearbolt tie into Nameless Worlds — namely Gunparade March, the Castle of Shikigami series, and Kenran Butousai.note
- No Biological Sex: The manual states that Tagami is neither a man nor a woman, though this detail serves no purpose beyond enhancing Tagami's other-worldiness.
- Obstructive Code of Conduct: Tagami operates under a code of non-interference, and this is what necessitates the events of the game. Tagami knows the Septentrion is giving Bel Cain tech, but she cannot make any observable effort to stop him. Instead, she gives two Holy Guns to the Neural Network, expecting it to use them to commit suicide. As she discovers while surveying the ruins, it worked perfectly.
- Oedipus Complex: Oh, is Bel Cain ever an Oedipal figure. His fixation on his mother Leminea could be construed as subtext-y, but that aside, she is the reason Bel Cain despises his father and the catalyst for his intent to change the world.
- Orchestral Bombing: The soundtrack is all orchestral, all the time; the gameplay is all aerial battles, all the time.
- Painfully Slow Projectile: This is one of the genre's most common Anti-Frustration Features, and Elemental Gearbolt is not one to pass it up. Missiles travel only slightly faster than mooks.
- People Jars: Nell, Seana and Bel Cain's mom all wind up in jars. Or at least, their remains do.
- Pillar of Light: In their last appearance, Holy Gun host-Nell and Bel Cain disappear into one of these.
- Pyrrhic Villainy: Bel Cain's plan is well underway by the time the elementals get to him. He actually succeeds in awakening The Beyond — the glowing spirits in the ruined city are proof of it. All the Audo may become Sugiku eventually, just like he intended. But clearly he's not going to rule the world.
- Regional Bonus: The chalices hidden in the English version of the game. They figured into a contest sponsored by Working Designs that offered cash prizes and such collectibles as gold-plated light gun controllers.
- Revenant Zombie: The player characters are dead and they have been revived to accomplish one task, even though the task is technically someone else's. In the end Nell at least shows signs that she's still in there, but it only enhances the tragedy.
- Royally Screwed Up: King Jabugal murdered Bel Cain's mother, yet has Bel Cain as his successor. Whether he's oblivious to his son's hated for him or simply being cavalier, it's a perfect storm of depravity and short-sightedness.
- Royals Who Actually Do Something: Bel Cain (world domination) and Ialu (Military chief of staff, covert agent).
- RPG Elements: Points scored in a level can be allocated into experience, allowing Nell and Seana to gain levels.
- Schizo Tech: According to the supplemental material, the gun Bel Cain uses to kill his father is a Beretta M92FS. This is a literal Smoking Gun revealing the involvement of the Septentrion, the group supplying Bel Cain with technology from other worlds.
- Score Multiplier: This was analysed by FAQ writers back when the contest was going. The multiplier is based the number of consecutive targets destroyed modified by level. Plus there is purely additive hit bonus for consecutive targets hit.
- Score Screen: Displays points scored in the level and adds bonuses for the fairies you freed. It is followed by the Trade-Off screen, where you can decide how much (if any) score to allot to experience.
- Single Tear: Shed by Nell in the final cutscene.
- Spell My Name with an "S": The entity called "Liftrashil" mentioned in the manual is the same as "Reftraseal", the final boss, but the name was rendered differently between the two sources.
- Spiritual Successor: To Project: Horned Owl.
- Tragic Villain: Bel Cain has done (and plans to do) awful things in pursuit of his goals. But if he gets in Nell and Seana's way, (as he must) his chances of survival are dismayingly low.
- Utopia Justifies the Means: Bel Cain wants to make the world a better place. So he's going to free a Sealed Evil in a Can known only as "the Beyond", use its magical contamination to turn all the world's Audo into Sugiku like himself, and use the military might he's been building up to Take Over the World in the ensuing chaos. With all that out of the way, he'll be free to remake the world in his own image.