Everyone strives to find their niche, the one thing that they can do incredibly well. Maybe you’re really good at building furniture, or the go-to person to cook up a perfect steak. Sure, there’s a lot of other things you may enjoy doing, but there’s the one particular thing that makes you stand out.
For the studio Inti Creates, that would be crafting action platformers. Specifically, those in the vein of the Mega Man series.
I mean, it’s really no surprise. The studio cut their teeth working directly on the Mega Man franchise, creating both the Mega Man Zero and ZX subseries, both of which are loved by much of the fanbase. Following their work on that, as well as Mega Man 9 and 10, Inti Creates decided to craft a franchise to truly call their own: Gunvolt.
The studio released the initial game in the series, Azure Striker Gunvolt, back in 2014, and the series has since gone on to become one of their flagships, receiving two base entries and multiple spin-offs.
The title we’re looking at today is the newest spin-off in the franchise, focusing on a major side-character from the base series and bringing him to the forefront.
Developed and published by Inti Creates, Gunvolt Chronicles: Luminous Avenger iX was released on September 26th, 2019, for PS4, Xbox One, Switch, and PC via Steam. The Switch version was played for this review.
Gunvolt Chronicles takes place in the same world established by Azure Striker Gunvolt. Some time into the future, select humans have developed supernatural powers known as “Septimas,” and these humans have come to be known as “Adepts.” By the time this game starts, Adepts are now the majority of the population. Those without Septimas have been labeled as “Minos,” and are currently being hunted down and killed for being seen as inferior to the Adepts.
Enter our hero Copen, whose deeds of assisting Minos have earned him the name Luminous Avenger iX amongst them. Things kick off when Copen comes across a young Minos girl in hiding, taking care of a number of children and trying to keep them alive.
Gunvolt Chronicles is positioned as a new entry point to the series. There’s definitely some callbacks to earlier games here and there, but nothing that really feels like it requires you to know the previous games…that is, until the game’s finale.
Of the mainline games, I’ve only played the original Azure Striker Gunvolt. I haven’t had the chance to play the second entry, where I believe the character of Copen really gets fleshed out. Unfortunately, a number of story beats near the end game had me totally lost. I don’t want to mention specifics as they are definitely spoilers, but there are a number of character and event references that went right over my head, and likely make playing the original Gunvolt titles required reading to truly enjoy the story here.
Despite that, the core story here is actually fairly simple, making it easy to overlook the occasional confusion from some late-game callbacks. It’s nothing too deep, and it occasionally feels very…well…anime, but it’s an enjoyable excuse to keep playing.
Gliding Through the Skies
Gunvolt Chronicles is an action platformer at its heart but, like Azure Striker Gunvolt, it introduces a bit of a twist in its gameplay. The core of the game revolves around Copen’s ability to dash in mid-air. You can check out our PAX West write-up for the basic rundown of the gameplay, but to sum it up: dash into enemies to target them and hit them for big damage, and get a better score by trying to never touch the ground.
Azure Striker Gunvolt 2 introduced this style of gameplay for Copen, but this release puts it front and center. The stages are smartly designed for this style of movement, placing enemies right near your expected dash path for you to attack and funneling you into tunnels and hallways with some well-placed traps and challenges to overcome.
Of course, if you could just dash and fly around stages all you wanted, there wouldn’t be much of a challenge, would there? Copen’s dash is limited by the three “Bullits” he carries; dashing in mid-air consumes one, and if you run out you have to land and reload. Dashing into an enemy or bouncing off a wall instantly reloads a Bullit, though, so it is possible to pull off a massive combo and never touch the ground if you have the skill (or have memorized a level).
With how well the stages are designed around Copen’s movement, they are relatively easy to sprint through; I only ever managed to lose a life once during a stage, and that was by accidentally dashing into a pit. The real meat (and challenge) of the game is in the boss battles.
Much like other games of its ilk, each stage in Gunvolt Chronicles is capped off by a boss whose weapon you can steal at the end of it. Each fight presented a notable challenge, having to nail down patterns and tells to survive each phase. Every boss also pulls off a desperation move once they hit the final third of their life bar, usually some kind of flashy screen-filling attack that adds some excellent visual spectacle to the each battle.
I do have to say, though, that even with the somewhat challenging bosses, Gunvolt Chronicles is a rather easy game overall. There are two functions that make it so: “Prevasion,” which allows Copen to automatically dodge a hit at the cost of two Bullits, and “Anthem,” which randomly activates when Copen dies, reviving him and powering him up. Anthem is what helped me through a number of bosses, actually. Luckily, for those seeking a challenge, both of these functions can be turned off in the menu.
The game is also quite short. I managed to get to the final boss in just over two hours (how long it took to beat said boss is another story). This is mitigated a bit by the fact that Gunvolt Chronicles is as much about score chasing as it is about completing a story. You earn a rank at the end of every stage, encouraging you to run them repeatedly to increase your combos and strive for a perfect rank.
Big Boss Big Boom
Gunvolt Chronicles is the first game in the series developed for a HD consoles, and it really does show. The environments and character art are wonderfully detailed, screen space is used better (dialogue no longer covers half the screen like in Azure Striker Gunvolt), and everything runs buttery smooth. I found it a bit of an odd choice to have the character sprites still be so pixelated, but it didn’t take long to get used to.
The game also includes a surprising amount of voice acting, something that one doesn’t normally see in games like this. All of it is in the original Japanese, and it is often hammy and over-dramatic, but it fits the game and its characters well.
Rebound to the Top
I honestly had a blast playing through Gunvolt Chronicles. The acrobatic gameplay and creative boss fights were a joy to experience, and the story wasn’t too shabby either. My only major complaint is that I wish there was more content here.
I’m not really a score-chasing kind of gamer (outside of rhythm games), so I won’t be getting that extra mileage out of the game repeating stages for the best rank. The game is budget priced at $14.99 at the time of writing, which may still be a bit steep for such a short game.
Despite that complaint, Gunvolt Chronicles is just simply a fun game to play, and is very much worth your time. I would recommend playing the baseline Azure Striker Gunvolt games first if you care at all about the world and lore that’s expanded on here, though.
Review copy provided by Inti Creates for Switch. Screenshots taken by reviewer.