July 28, 2022
After a 6 year of absence while we explored another world, Azure Striker GUNVOLT 3 has finally made its grand flashy entrance onto the scene, and thankfully it was well worth the watt. Let’s charge right in, shall we?
Azure Striker GUNVOLT 3 is the latest in a series of high-speed, 2D action games and it starts us off with a few surprises right from level one. First off, we’re now controlling a duo of characters, as the series’ historical protagonist Gunvolt is joined by newcomer Kirin. And if that weren’t enough, the last two games took place… decades ago!?
The gameplay here will feel familiar to those who’ve been following the series, but there’s been quite an evolution in just how speedy and powerful you can become with practice. Kirin is a primarily close-up character, think Zero from Mega Man X if that helps, who thrives on getting in close and unleashing combos on foes. What really sets her apart and allows her to thrive in groups is her talismans, which allow you to tag several foes and then warp straight to them, often KOing them in the process. Mastering this ability can have you zipping around like a ninja who never touches the ground and it’s incredibly satisfying to pull off. With enough time, you’ll go from learning a stage to destroying it!
As for good ol’ Gunvolt, he has become your tag-in partner for when you either need a helping hand or just want to flex on the enemy, having become a purposefully overcharged powerhouse that can rip through foes like the DoomSlayer on a weekend getaway. He has a mix of old and new abilities that make you nigh-unstoppable, the catch is that you need to accumulate the energy to use him whilst playing as Kirin, so you can’t simply swap out and let loose willy-nilly. You may miss him being the solo star, but every time you summon him it’s an absolute blast.
A big new feature for GUNVOLT 3 is the Image Pulses, which are these pink collectibles throughout every level that relate to Gunvolt’s memories. Every Pulse actually unlocks a new perk that you can assign to your duo, such as earning extra experience or even summoning helpers for new attacks, so there’s a lot of room for experimentation. Many of them can even be updated with the credits you collect, so if you find ones you like, then invest!
Also returning for series veterans is the Kudos system, which is essentially a scoring mechanic that encourages you to keep up your combos and momentum. If you’re doing well enough to score over 1000, you’ll summon the classic character Lumen to sing for you! Unlike previous titles, you don’t lose your kudos when being hit; instead, your kudos will be locked behind a small “paywall” which you repay by doing more damage. By continuing to play well, you can go on to earn thousands of points, maintaining Lumen’s song and perhaps even changing it to something new.
Between the game’s scoring system, the multitude of ways in which you can approach each stage, and the Image Pulses, both collecting and experimenting, this game has an ENORMOUS amount of replay value. This only grows once you unlock the game’s true ending, which I of course won’t spoil here. What I will say though is that upon completion, the replayability is essentially tripled for you, which honestly floored me once I figured out how to do it. Well worth the trouble for those curious.
For those hoping to see more of the plot threads of GUNVOLT 2, you may be slightly disappointed. The time-skip between titles has given 3 a bit of a clean slate, not necessarily to the point of a soft-reboot, but don’t expect the likes of Copen or Lola to show up. For that, you may instead want to look into Gunvolt Chronicles: Luminous Avenger iX 2.
We have a new cast here in a new future, and between the cutscenes and optional chats you can have, they can be a really endearing group. Even the villains this time around are rather compelling, to the point where I came to understand their motivations and didn’t see them as simply “the bad guys.” Also, I cannot back this up with anything official, but a certain character’s portrait and voice had me suspecting he may be a trans man. No special mention of gender is explicitly given, but since the game takes place in the future and due to some of the implications made, it may be a case of invisible representation. Very nice to see if true!
Presentation-wise, Azure Striker GUNVOLT 3 is an Inti Creates game, so of course it looks good. The game showcases a blend of impeccably drawn pixel art and gorgeous anime-style visuals, two aesthetics that you’d think would clash but manage to work incredibly well together thanks to the work put in by the sprite artists. Every animation and background looks absolutely fantastic and really show how experienced the company is with their craft.
The same has to be said for the game’s music too. You have your energetic and punchy stage themes of course, but the game also knows when to slow it down, to make things more emotional and poignant. Points all around to the sound team.
Another big round of kudos has to go to the voice actors, as we have a full English voice cast that did a great job. Every voice feels like a really solid match for the character, and the rapport between the Dragon Saviours comes across as genuine, which is a nice touch. The same can be said for the villains too, with each delivering a performance that is interesting to listen to and gets you more invested in the fight. It’s definitely a welcome addition.
“Mastering (tagging)… is incredibly satisfying to pull off. With enough time, you’ll go from learning a stage to destroying it!”
What’s less welcome is the default Story Mode + settings. Story Mode + basically has the characters speaking about what’s going on as you progress through the levels, often providing new tidbits of lore or advice about how to proceed. These are nice to have for the most part, but I would absolutely recommend going into the settings for them and turning down the visibility of the portraits for the characters as they speak, because by default they WILL block off a big chunk of the screen that can lead to you taking some cheap shots, especially during boss fights.
This is by no means a game ruiner, as it can be adjusted to your liking, but it can certainly spoil your mood if you aren’t aware of it before it happens, so keep it in mind!
That being said, Azure Striker GUNVOLT 3 is an absolute blast to play through, a nigh-flawless action title that’s all about keeping up your flow, kicking ass, and having fun, all to some lovely visual spectacle and vibrant J-Pop that incentivizes you to get better and better the more you play. Fans of the last 2 games can rest easy that Gunvolt spent those 6 years charging up for a whole new level of assault and battery, cos this game is lit! …I’ll see myself out.
- Excellent game feel and flow
- Expertly crafted pixel art and music
- Huge amount of replay value
- Story Mode + can be obstructive
Azure Striker GUNVOLT 3 manages to close out the trilogy by upping the ante in all the right ways, introducing new mechanics to keep things fresh whilst re-imagining and building upon what made fans love the series in the first place. A true work of art that blends a retro aesthetic with today’s capabilities, this feels like the culmination of Inti Creates’ many years of work and has been well worth the wait since its predecessor was released back in 2016. If this is the last GUNVOLT title, then we can at least rest comfortably in the knowledge that the Azure Striker went out with the big blue bang he deserved.