Azure Striker Gunvolt Review – J-Pop Surges Through My Veins
Developer: Inti Creates
Release Date: August 29th
Inti Creates was not a well known name for me. I did know about and play a couple of the Megaman Zero games that the company developed. I haven’t played any of their more recent titles until now, but I’m glad I played this one. Azure Striker Gunvolt doesn’t disappoint. Hands down, it’s the style and presentation that makes this game for me. Everything about it screams character action, but in a 2D action-platformer format.
Azure Striker Gunvolt stars a psychic boy with the power to lightning who is fittingly named Gunvolt. The game starts with Gunvolt helping the resistance group QUILL on an assassination mission against the Sumeragi Group, who is subjegating the world’s psychics in the name of security. The mission becomes complicated when Gunvolt discovers that the target, a virtual pop star named Lumen, is actually an avatar of a psychic muse named Joule. The Sumeragi Group has been using her to amplify the power of their psychics, and Gunvolt is impulsed to save her rather than kill her. The QUILL leader Asimov disagrees, so Gunvolt leaves QUILL with Joule.
The tone that is established here shows that Azure Striker Gunvolt is heavily anime-inspired. The story presenting The Sumeragi Group as an all-powerful being is pretty cool. That being said, this tone can produce dialogue that is exposition-heavy. The story as a whole is fine, but the reasoning behind Gunvolt leaving QUILL and still working freelance for them is a bit unbelievable to me. I feel that it could have worked better if the intro was restructured a bit, but it doesn’t obscure the rest of the game.
Azure Striker Gunvolt’s anime inspiration bleeds into the futuristic sci-fi design of the world. The graphical style is pixel art, but the detail is still excellent. The characters are visually abstract and varied in their dialogue art as well as their pixel design. Environments are also varied with sections of levels involving different styles of traversal. Other than these sections, though, the levels are in a pretty standard left-to-right layout and aren’t as interesting.
The music and sound of the game also fits the futuristic tone with its fast-paced techno style. The crackle of Gunvolt’s lightning powers as a more dominant sound effect in gameplay is appropriately fitting. The decision to not include English voice acting and keeping the Japanese voices also adds to the anime feel.
As for the combat, your attack and movement speed is fast-paced like the Megaman Zero games. The layout of the 3DS’s controls feels surprisingly natural and easy to get used to. I also appreciate having the option to double-tap left or right to dash instead of needing a button as that feels more natural to me.
The core combat makes use of Gunvolt’s Flashfield power in tandem with other skills. Flashfield creates lightning in a field around Gunvolt and can be redirected by tagging enemies to cause damage. Tags can affect multiple targets and can stack up to three times for extra damage. Flashfield uses EP which can be gained back over time or manually recharged by double-tapping down. If you run out of EP, Gunvolt will Overheat and only have his gun until it recharges. The core combat flow takes time to get down, but I got used to it by the time the tutorial level was finished.
As it has applied to everything else, the combat has the tone of the presentation. Not only does Gunvolt’s lightning powers share this trait, but this effect also applies to Skills. When using his Attack Skills, splash art of Gunvolt pops up on screen with the name of the Skill in bold letters before executing the attack. The English translated text for these does bug me a bit in this case. For example, one of the Skills is called Astrasphere in English, but a Japanese voice clearly says Lightning Sphere, which is a bit jarring.
There’s another feature of the core gameplay that really personifies the hyper tone and is one of my favorite moments from it. If Gunvolt happens to die, there is chance that Lumen will use Anthem to revive you, accompanied by J-Pop music and blue flames around Gunvolt. In the process, your life is refilled and you have unlimited EP to pelt enemies with as you please. The first time it happened left me speechless, as would any situation where you are revived by the power of J-Pop.
There are also other mechanics that support Azure Striker Gunvolt’s gameplay. Some of these I liked, such as the Kudos system and talking with Joule. With the Kudos system, you gain points based on the damage you deal without taking any yourself. Once you reach 1,000 points, one of Lumen’s vocal songs starts playing, which motivated me to try and play my best to hear them all. Talking with Joule back at your apartment increases your bond with her, making it more likely that Lumen will use Anthem. This also adds a bit of flavor text to Gunvolt and Joule’s relationship.
One of the other mechanics I didn’t like all that much, the merchant system, allows you to synthesize and sell items. It just feels unnecessary because your basic moveset works well and synthesizing equipment takes a while since collecting materials is a random pick-a-card game at the end of each level.
There are aspects of the equipment system I do like, namely the weapon dart variations and the Skills you obtain by getting EXP and leveling up. I feel like this is all the game really needs. You can equip additional support gear, but I found it usefulness limited in my playtime.
For one thing, the only interesting gear I saw allows for double jumps and air dashes. I won’t knock it since it does add variety to movement, but I never used them and didn’t enjoy the game any less. In addition, the Prevasion ability you start off with is the most useful if you don’t care about Kudos resetting. Basically, you can evade any attack when not using Flashfield at the cost of EP, which can be recharged easily, making you practically invincible. You could say it’s Easy Mode, but it is useful in the first runthrough of more difficult levels. It still may have been better suited as a toggle, though.
In the end, what kind of Japanese action-platformer would Azure Striker Gunvolt be if it didn’t have boss fights. In terms of the gameplay, they’re really where it’s at since level enemies and even mid bosses don’t hold a candle to them.
In its layout, the game changes up the Megaman staple “fight all eight bosses, then fight again in a boss rush before facing the final baddie” format. It still has a similar structure, but I enjoyed that it wasn’t just trying to ape Megaman that way considering the team that has been behind it.
As for why the bosses are working for The Sumeragi Group, the company makes use of elements called Swords to control their psychic outbursts so they can lead normal lives. When needed, the Swords allow the Swordsmen to weaponize as bosses. This opens the floodgates for design, both visually and mechanically.
Each boss has their opening dialogue with Gunvolt that gives you some background, then pulls out the Sword and transforms in the style you would expect. My favorite boss design has to be Elise. Her panicked demeanor when you first meet her is followed by the realization that she has multiple personalities, which is reflected in her weaponized form having two bodies.
In the boss fights themselves, each boss has three stages, with new attack patterns added each stage. The structure gives you time to find the pattern and counter it. Sometimes, attack look impossible to dodge, but time will help make clear the perfect movement technique to evade. The personalities of the bosses established up front also shine through their attacks. The is especially true for Skills, which are triggered in the final stage of the boss. These Skills can range from revives to energy beams to screen-filling, shoot-em-up assaults.
I enjoyed my time with Azure Striker Gunvolt. The minor story hiccups and seemingly unnecessary merchant system are my only major criticisms. Even so, the rest of the game shines bright in the style of its combat and world. Its structure and shorter length may turn some away, but that same structure encourages replayability and higher score ranks, and that’s the reason why I think it’s worth continuing to play.