With Azure Striker Gunvolt 3 announced back in June 2020, all eyes were set on the return of Inti Creates' flagship series. Fans were eager to know more about the title. And sure enough, Bitsummit 2021 delivered a sneak peak at the game's development and a tentative release date.
Little did we know, however, that Inti Creates had an ace up their sleeve: the return of the Luminous Avenger iX! Almost five months have passed since the game was first announced; today, I'm here to pass judgement on Copen and Lola's latest adventure.
You can read Rockman's Corner spoiler-free review after the break!
Following the ending of the first game, the world is at peace. Our hero Copen is deep into researching a rifle-shaped processing unit that suddenly appeared in his hands one day. The unit materials and construction are not of this world. Its labeled "Blaster Rifle."
While Copen is working on this mysterious piece of tech, a wormhole appears before him, Lola and Kohaku. The wormhole sucks the trio inside. When they emerge on the other end, they find themselves in an unfamiliar place —a desert world.
Our heroes are welcomed by a female robot called "Null" who offers to help and guide them. Several month later, they head towards a giant tower called "Grave Pillar" —a place said to be teeming with knowledge about this world. It may be their only chance to find a way back to their world.
This is how the story of Gunvolt Chronicles: Luminous Avenger iX 2 begins...
Coming from the twists and turns of the first game, my expectations were high. Sadly, the game didn't live up to those expectations... but it certainly delivered a solid story. When everything was said and done, the plot felt like a "monster of the week" episode of a TV show, but not devoid of an interesting narrative.
The mythology behind the "workers", the "Grave Pillar", and why this world has become a barren land are interesting. Even though the identity of the "Creator" it was a little predictable.
One of the things I really liked about the story was Null. She was a surprisingly well-written, likable character with an interesting background. Her conversations with Copen, Lola and Kohaku inside the "base of operations" are top-notch and quite funny.
On the other end of the spectrum, we have "Ypsilon". Unfortunately, he's a total waste of a character that doesn't go as deep as the ideas we speculated about in the months leading up to the game's release because his resemblance to Copen.
It's difficult to talk further without spoilers because some of my thoughts are closely tied to key story and ending moments.
Full disclosure I was unable to unlock the true ending because the lack of time and how demanding it is to meet the conditions required to unlock it. Nevertheless, that won't change my overall opinion of the story.
The bread and butter of Copen's gameplay remains the "Bullit Dash" System. It allows Copen to lock onto enemies one after another in mid-air at the cost of one "Bullit". In Luminous Avenger iX 2, the system has been overhauled.
In Luminous Avenger iX 2 you can only perform one "Bullit Dash" onto enemies in mid-air and in order to do it again you have to land in the ground. This opposes the previous game where you could start performing combos from the get-go.
To enter in a state where you can lock onto enemies in mid-air repeatedly like the first game, you have to enter "Overdrive" mode by accumulating 1000 Kudos. This means you have to spend time building your kudos meter in the early phases of a stage.
Once you are in "Overdrive" mode, you can "Bullit Dash" repeatedly... bu there is a catch. A time limit gauge will start depleting after you lock onto the first enemy. In order to keep the "Bullit Dash" momentum going, you have to refill the gauge by locking onto another enemy or bounce off terrain. While it may sound complicated, it's really not. And in no time it will feel second nature. At the core, though, it's not that different from the first game's system.
Now, the biggest change is that no matter how many times you get hit, your Kudos meter won't reset to zero. In the previous game, players could chose between three different styles: Cautious (Kudos will reset after three hits), Fearless (Kudos will reset after one hit but the pay off is that you will get a big score bonus at the end of the stage) and Gutless (Kudos won't rest no matter how many time the enemies hit you). Luminous Avenger iX 2's system is permanently set to Gutless style with the other options gone from the game's most basic customization (more on that later)
Basically, as long as you don't touch a checkpoint and don't use Lola's new healing skill (which grants infinite healing), your Kudos meter will never reset to zero. This results in a more lenient system.
The other new feature introduce is the "Break-Shift" system. It brings melee combat to the series for the first time. Copen wields a "Razor Wheel" that can chain up to three close-range combat attacks.
The "Razor Wheel" has a few tricks to take advantage of. You can hold the attack button to make the wheel spin which both damages enemies and repels certain attacks. It can also be used to destroy objects that block your path. Mastering close-combat is vital while you build your way to trigger "Overdrive" mode as it nets 30 Kudos per kill.
The game also has a new move called "Recoil Dash" that can send enemies flying, break their guard or destroy and push objects. It's a neat addition.
In the lead-up to the game's release, this new take on the Kudos System has caused some controversy among long time fans of the series and it's totally justified
While the first game's Kudos System had its own merits and challenges, the development team opted to make iX 2 more user friendly. A testament of this is not only the fact that your Kudos will never reset to zero (unless you heal or touch a checkpoint) but the substitute of the "Prevasion" ability from previous games is now "Hyper Guard". It's a purchasable ability that literally makes you invincible (1 HP damage) as long as you are standing still on the ground at no cost.
If you pair that with other abilities -- "Auto-Recovery" or "Icarus Wings" for example -- you are an unstoppable Kudos machine. We can argue that you're not forced to buy these abilities, but removing the "risk and reward" factor from the game's default settings, let alone the freedom to choose a Kudos System that best fits your play style, is a step back in my opinion.
You can purchase an ability called "Limit Break" that will increase the damage of the wheel during "Overdrive" but your Kudos will be reduced to zero if you take damage. That's neither here nor there. It's Gutless Style or Fearless Style, there is no middle ground.
As far as I am concerned, the three Kudos styles were perfect; striking a balance between fun and challenging. There was something for everyone. You want to take it easy, you got it. You want a balanced experience that's fun but also challenging? You go it. You want an extremely challenging experience? No problem; you got that too.
The "Razor Wheel" is an interesting concept and it can be fun to use when you get the ability that allows you to fire the wheel at the end of a melee combo but at the same time, I can't help to feel it's a undercooked gimmick and it becomes totally useless when you enter "Overdrive" mode.
Nevertheless, when I came to terms with what the game is trying to do, the game was more or less enjoyable. Attempting to get rank X in a few stages can be challenging with this new Kudos System, too.
As per tradition, every time you defeat a boss, you get an EX Weapon. I thoroughly enjoyed the EX Weapons selection even more than the ones from the first game. What's more? A fan-favorite weapon from the first game is back and you can use it from the get go: Anchor Nexus. It replaces Copen's air dash with a homing tackle attack.
The EX weapons are not only useful to defeat the "Gravekeepers" but they are vital if you want to collect all the emblems in the game even more than in the first game.
When it comes to customizing Copen's abilities, the game has 21 purchasable abilities. Seven of them are intended to be used exclusively in "Overdrive" mode.
To name a few, "Boomerazor" will allow the wheel to be fired on Copen's 3rd combo attack. That's very useful to kill two enemies in a row and cash 60 Kudos. There's also "Quick Charge" which shortens the time it takes to charge the EX Weapon Doomsday Charge or "Grounded Marking" which gives you the ability to lock-on to enemies you collide with during a grounded dash.
Some abilities to be used in "Overdrive" mode include "Ikarus Wings" (enables infinite Bullit Dashes), "ApeX Drive" (increases skill damage during Overdrive) and "Infinite Trigger" (reduces EX Weapon energy consumption to 0 during Overdrive).
You can't talk about the Gunvolt series without vocal tracks... and this game is no different from its predecessors.
Mayu Mineda is back as Lola's voice actress. Once again, she does a fantastic job with her energetic and vibrant singing style.
The vocal tracks are fun to listen outside the game but they really come to life when you're in the middle of a high scoring run. Some of my favorites tunes are "Purification" and "Command Prompt". But as a whole, I think I still prefer the vocal tracks from the first game. It's hard to top "Luminous Promise" or "Countdown: 3-2-1-0" to name a few. There's a good selection of vocal themes nonetheless.
Where the game lives up to the hype is in the BGM tracks spearheaded by the legendary Ippo Yamada, Ryo Kawakami and other composers. The quality of Inti Creates soundtracks is unquestionable. And once again they've done a top-notch job.
Finally, I should mention that Luminous Avenger iX 2 is the first game in the Gunvolt Series to feature English voice acting. Overall, I think the cast selection is pretty good. It took some time to get used to Copen's voice, and I think Brigade and Ypsilon are the weakest. But if having English voice acting helps the game to sell more, ain't nobody to complain.
I took me around 6 hours to complete the story, post-game stages, get all the emblems, and replay all the stages to improve both my rank and grab additional EC to buy abilities. It's pretty much standard length for a Gunvolt game. If you want to just finish the story, you can do so in less than 3 hours.
The replayability here always comes from trying to get the highest rank in all stages and trying to beat you or your friends' scores. That said, this game falls short when it comes to extra content.
The special missions and score attack mode from the first game are not present as far as I can tell. The only optional content the game offers are individual fights against all bosses, a boss rush stage and a hard mode.
Now, that's fine and all, but the game's digital version price tag went up by $10. Obviously, the production cost budget went up due the inclusion of animated cutscenes for special skills (they are really cool) and English Voice acting. However, for 10 extra dollars, I think it's reasonable to expect a little more post-game content.
I don't think it's too much to ask for the game (and all Gunvolt games) to have a proper sound test mode with the full soundtrack or a gallery mode with artwork, concept art and unused design. After all, it's not like fans in the west have any means to get a localized version of the Gunvolt artbook, or the guide included with the Japanese special edition.
While I liked the game to a certain extend, it does leave me with a bittersweet taste. The game is clearly a step back from the previous entry, not only in terms of story but also the vocal tracks, the technically-inferior Kudos System, and a generally less challenging experience in my opinion.
When you give players the freedom to chose the Kudos System that fits their playing style, and then take that away from them in the next game, I can't help but label that as a disappointing.
Of course, this game is not without merits. There's some great sprite work not only for the bosses but also in the stages with some of the most visually striking work Inti Creates has ever done. The EX weapons are fun to use, the boss fights are great, and the soundtrack is excellent.
Make no mistake, this is a good 2D action game with high production values; beautifully crafted in many ways. Your enjoyment is down to what kind of player you are and the expectations you carry if you're a longtime Gunvolt fan.
As for me, I will continue playing it and trying to get the most of what the game has to offer. I will, however, hope that they don't follow this path when Azure Striker Gunvolt 3 debuts this summer.
Thanks to Inti Creates for providing a review code for Nintendo Switch.