Thursday, September 26, 2019

The ApeX of 2D Action – A "Gunvolt Chronicles: Luminous Avenger iX" Review



The latest entry in the Gunvolt series is finally here, three years after the release of Azure Striker Gunvolt 2 for the Nintendo 3DS. Was it worth waiting for? Find out in Rockman's Corner review after the break!

Thanks to Inti Creates for providing a review code for Nintendo Switch.




Apparently, Yoshihisa Tsuda – the creator and director of the Gunvolt series – is having some creative difficulties coming up with Azure Striker Gunvolt 3 (among other reasons). To fill the void while we wait for the true third entry in the series, Toshiaki Tai – writer, planner and recording director of the previous Gunvolt games – took the lead to bring us Luminous Avenger iX . However, there is a catch: this is not a main game, rather, a spin-off starring by Copen; the deuteragonist of the Gunvolt Series that was playable for the first time in Azure Striker Gunvolt 2.
"In the near future, in a nation unknown... 
 Humanity has entered a new age where the majority are now “Adepts” — people who possess supernatural powers known as “Septimas”. 
 Humans who do not have Septimas, known as “Minos”, are being hunted and executed by the “Institute for the Promotion of Human Evolution ‘Sumeragi’”. 
 Among these Minos, whose everyday lives have turned into a living nightmare, there was an urban legend spoken of only in hushed tones: tales of the “Luminous Avenger iX”. 
  It was a rumor of a warrior clad in pure white armor, accompanied by the Muse of Hope, Lola, who fought for the sake of all Minos —"

That’s how the story of Luminous Avenger iX begins, but where does the game fit into the Gunvolt universe? Why is it a spin-off? I could tell you... but I won't. This is one of the main points of interest of the game and you should discover it by yourself. But let me tell you, if you are a newcomer to the franchise, you should play at least the first Gunvolt game to enjoy the story of Luminous Avenger iX to its fullest.

Personally I really enjoyed the story of Luminous Avenger iX and how it fits inside the Gunvolt timeline but obviously you didn't come here to read spoilers (I hope). That said, I'm going to tell you my two main gripes with it:

First, the mid-stage conversations and chatter during boss fights has been removed. This is something I find bittersweet because I never liked the way this was presented in previous games. Clearly it was developed with the Japanese users in mind where they can play the game and listen to voice acted dialogue in the background.  But for us in the west, without an English dub, we had to stop playing to read the subtitles. That's something that's not very practical when you are in the middle of a boss fight. However, at the same time I enjoy that extra lore this dialogues brings; it enriches the characters of the game. I think there are ways to provide that extra lore elsewhere, maybe via additional conversations when you are chilling at the base. Or, perhaps, there could be an in-game database where they can expand the world, organizations, weapons or bosses backstories. It's not all or nothing and there are certainly ways to do it right. I hope they consider alternatives in the future.

My second gripe is how they handle the character Blade. During the months leading up to Luminous Avenger iX's release, this character was surrounded in mystery (the rampant speculation by fans didn't help either). Indeed, when you play the game this character's real identity is a mystery, but at the mid-game point, the hints are so obvious that when the reveal eventually takes place, it’s pointless because you saw it coming from miles away. I think this could have been handled better.

Overall,  the characters are undeveloped regardless if they are bosses or allies, but that is the nature of the genre. Truth be told, Inti Creates usually expand the story and background of the Gunvolt games via drama CDs, which is always welcome but, sadly, they never reach western shores. So unless you find a fan-translation, you are missing a part of what makes the stories of these games so much richer than what's shown at first glance.

If you played the series up to this point and you are invested in the characters and the world setting, believe me you won't be disappointed by the twists and turns.



Basically, the gameplay remains the same from what we saw in Gunvolt 2. The bread and butter of this game is to keep Copen in mid-air, tagging enemies and keeping the combo rolling as much as possible to get the highest score possible. You tag enemies using Copen's dash (consumes one bullit) and destroy them using EX Weapons or Copen's photon laser sidearm called "Divider".

In addition to Lola's Idol and Awakened Mode, this games adds a third mode called Darkness Mode that radically changes boss fights.

The player (and by extension, the character Lola herself) gets access to this mode after you beat the early stages of the game and you can activate it at will, no special requirements like her other modes. By making her "AB Drive" go berserk, she will make Copen almost unstoppable, granting him infinite energy to use his EX Weapons and powering them up. However, there is a catch: you can only attack enemies when they are locked-on and Copen will lose HP if he is not locked-on to them.

This mode is particularly useful when fighting bosses. The amount of damage you can do to them, specifically if you are using the adequate EX Weapons, is quite large. Bosses will go down really fast and losing HP is not a big deal because you are pretty much locked-on to the them all the time. And if they hit you too much, there's not a reason of concern: you can buy an ability called "Regenerator" that will restore Copen's health to full when using an SP Skill (this replaced the old healing skill from Gunvolt 2). As an additional challenge, playing stages from start to finish using only Darkness Mode is really fun. Try it when you get the game!

Moving on from the gameplay, there are some important differences in terms of customizing Copen's abilities. In previous games, you equipped abilities (called subroutines in Gunvolt 2) by installing them into Copen's jacket. The jacket had a finite amount of memory so you couldn't equip all the subroutines at the same time; you had to be selective. The way you got subroutines was by crafting them with materials obtained by completing challenges and stages. All of that is gone. The crafting has been removed and you are not longer limited by your jacket capacity. Instead, you can equip whatever you want, whenever you want as long as you have the money to buy the abilities.

Personally I liked the old method. Crafting the subroutines and grinding for materials was fun for me, but I can see why it was removed. Some players may not be interested in spending hours grinding for rare materials... and you needed a lot of materials in Gunvolt 2.

Now, what I don't understand is why the challenges were removed. In previous games, challengers were a source for money and materials. Now with crafting gone, we don't need the materials but we still need the money. And believe me, it takes time to get money in this game, especially if you want to buy the more expensive abilities (especially the ones for the Overdrive Mode). The challenges were something more than an alternative way to get resources – they were just plain fun! You had average challenges like, "Beat a stage a number of times", "Finish a stage in less than X time" or "Get rank B, A or S" but, there were other types of challenges that were really fun and added to the longevity of the game, too. Unique challenges like, "Clear The Garden without hitting a single spike" or "Clear a mission without using your gun". All of that is gone and it's clearly a "con" for me.

This game has been built from the ground up for next gen consoles. Not only is the music and everything related to sound design great, but all of the graphics for the UI are presented in high-resolution as opposed to the Striker Pack that used low resolution assets for menus and other things. The sprites remain the same as they were before but everything runs at solid 60 fps, which is great. The game handles more effects, better animations, and little things that make it look better than the Striker Pack.

In terms of the game's content and how many hours of playtime you can expect, I can only tell you my experience. It took me 2-3 hours to beat the game and around 10 hours to get close to 100% but, I'm still playing to get the money necessary to buy all of the abilities, working on getting some S+ ranks that I missed in Story Mode, and playing around more with the Score Attack Mode. I'm not done yet after the 10 hours mark. If you are the kind of player that beats a game and moves on to the next, know that this is a short game. Otherwise, the duration is more or less the standard you'd come to expect from 2D action games.

And finally we reach the part were I get to talk about the music! This is something that has always been stellar in Inti Creates games and Luminous Avenger iX is no exception.

First we have to talk about the voice actors for Copen and Lola – they have been recast. Kosuke Masuo (as Copen) has been replaced by Yuma Uchida and Yurika Endo (as Lola) has been replaced by Mayu Mineda. Yurika Endo retired from her entertainment career in May, 2018. It was a given Lola will be voiced by a new voice actress and what an excellent choice Mayu Mineda has been. Not only is she a great seiyuu, but she excels in all of the singing she does. I pretty much love every single vocal track in this game, from "Chronicles of our Lives" to "Resonating Hearts", not to mention this game's interpretation of "Igniter". There's ten vocal tracks with great production values and catchy rhythms and the reduced vocal filters (almost to the minimum) helps you to greatly appreciate Mayu Mineda's singing.

The instrumental tracks don't fall short either. Once again, Inti Creates sound team lead by Ippo Yamada and Ryo Kawakami produced a gem of soundtrack that sounds better than ever thanks to the game running on hardware that won't heavily compress their music. I can't name any specific title tracks because the game doesn't have a sound test (why?), but some of my favorite tracks are from stages such as "Sumeragi Building 13", "Data Center Alpha" and many more that I won't name to avoid spoilers.



I can't deny I'm a little disappointed by the removal of the challenges, the simplification of how you customize Copen, and some choices made regarding the story. Beyond that, however, the game fulfilled all of my expectations and in some cases surpassed them.

For the asking price of $14.99 or 14,99€, in my humble opinion, this game is a must if you like 2D action games. Addicting combo/score driven gameplay, beautiful pixel art and a fantastic instrumental & vocal soundtrack awaits you.

If you are newcomer to the Gunvolt series, again I recommend you to start with the first Gunvolt game. Ideally you should get the Striker Pack and beat both games before you touch Luminous Avenger iX, but if you don't care that much about the story and you just want to experience the trill of one of best combo/score systems ever created, this is a great start! On the other hand, if you've been a fan from the very beginning like I'm, prepare of a roller-coaster of emotions.

A clear effort went into making this game into something special.  Luminous Avenger iX could have easily been written off as Azure Striker Gunvolt 2.5 but it's not. It's a blank canvas of endless possibilities. It's both the end and a new beginning; the job of true artisans, Luminous Avenger iX is The ApeX of 2D action.                                                           

10 comments:

  1. I like your review style and content, very detailed and organized. I will pick this up when I can.

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  2. Not sure why this is in the ROCKMAN corner, but cool.

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    Replies
    1. Well, GV has always been heavily Mega Man influenced and shares similar staff with Zero series.

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  3. I hope all these come to Steam eventually.

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    1. Only Gunvolt 2 is missing, Luminous Avenger and Gunvolt are available on Steam already.

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  4. got another a code of it to give? "wink"

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  5. Hey cool! I liked Gunvolt 1 but not enough to buy the sequel, and I'm more of a fan of this kind of fast-paced 2D action games with lots of dashing. I'll scoop this up!

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  6. I liked the gameplay and music, but the story felt hit-or-miss for me.
    It might be because I missed the memo on how much of a spinoff this was, or that key plot information is kept very close to the chest til near the end of the game, but it fell flat in areas that should have had the most foundational support. That said, after chewing over the big reveals I can't stay mad at being led along utterly confused for most of the game. Wish they could have let me dip my toes into the meat of the story a bit sooner than the last nine yards, but the ideas and visuals were hype in execution.

    And of course, the bossfights were top tier, as expected, between neat designs and creative use of septima.
    I'm a little irked at learning thru guide videos that you can walljump on the sides of the locked screen during bosses when there aren't actually walls, but that's not something to really chide for.

    In the end, okay game. A bit shorter than I'd like, and the streamlining of features and challenges makes me miss them more, but I had fun for the most part! I just... wish we didn't have to get a face full of preteen engineer-bikini-midriff at the mission hub menu... I can't be the only person disturbed by that, right?

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  7. I liked the game, and how gunvolt games play. But I gotta say, the story is damn depressing.

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