Azure Striker Gunvolt is the latest title from Mega Man Zero developer Inti Creates. Backed with the help of game designer Keiji Inafune, how well does this action title stand up against its spiritual predecessors?
Azure Striker Gunvolt (3DS)
Platform: Nintendo 3DS
Release Date: 8/29/2014 (USA)
Developed by Inti Creates
Published by Inti Creates
Announced earlier this year, Azure Striker Gunvolt is the first international Nintendo 3DS title from Inti Creates, the same studio behind the Mega Man Zero saga, and the Japanese-exclusive Gal Gun/Galgun for PS3. Gunvolt‘s plot rests on the shoulders of social and political unrest. The population is split between humans and Adepts, with the latter possessing psychic abilities. Using fear as a catalyst, the Sumeragi Group conglomerate rises to power with the promise of sheltering Adepts within supervised facilites where they are free to practice their abilities. The unfortunate reality is that these psychics are being thrown into concentration camps and labratories, where they are subject to torture and unethical experimentation. QUILL was created as an armed liberation force with the intent of freeing Adepts from Sumeragi’s control. QUILL sent one of their own top-ranking psychics- the “Azure Striker” Gunvolt- on a mission to kill one of Sumeragi’s Adepts, only to find that the targer was just a young girl, Joule. Her power manifests itself as Lumen, a muse with the power to control and heal other Adepts with her songs. Rather than kill Joule, Gunvolt saves her from Sumeragi’s control, only to find himself ejected from QUILL. Gunvolt, with the help of close friends inside QUILL, begins his own “freelance” raid against the Sumeragi Group and their own league of powerful Adepts.
The plot is told entirely through text-based interaction between characters, and between Gunvolt and the player via his own thoughts. This method of delivering the story works as a whole, but a surprising amount of typos (possibly localization errors) and a casual use of unexplained in-world slang (i.e. “What the gack?!”) can make certain conversations very hard to follow. While the player gets a thorough sense of Gunvolt’s personality and motives, the rest of the world is left untouched: Many of the supporting characters only exist to advance the plot, or bridge the gap between the menu screens and actual gameplay. The only detailed information about QUILL comes from Gunvolt when he wants the player to hear it; the core motivation behind the Sumeragi Group’s actions isn’t explained until the final moments of the game; none of Sumeragi’s Adepts are fleshed-out, despite each one having unique and elaborate character designs…The player is only given the bare essentials that establish the world of Azure Striker Gunvolt, and nothing else.
Players will immediately recognize the visual similarities between Gunvolt and Mega Man Zero in both environmental design and character sprites. However, the similarties between the two only go so far as visual design; Gunvolt is a completely different breed of action title. Gunvolt’s handgun isn’t used as a primary offensive weapon, but rather a way to mark enemies and destructable objects on-screen. When the player shoots an enemy, a color-coded retcile will appear- either blue, yellow or red, depicting how many times the enemy has been shot. Once it has been marked, Gunvolt can damage them using his psychic ability, Flashfield, or “Azure Striker”. Nicknamed the Azure Striker for its blue aura and electrical effects, the Flashfield will shoot lightning at up to five previously tagged enemies and objects; its power depends on what color each marker is, with red-marked items taking the most damage. Gunvolt’s psychic technique can also be used to open doors, redirect some projectiles, and slow his descent when falling from ledges. Flashfield operates on cool-down using an EP (“electrical power”) gauge; if Gunvolt’s EP is completely depleted, he will overheat, and cannot use any electric-based techniques for a brief durasion. Players can manually recharge the EP meter by double-tapping Down on the D-pad, or by using one of several psychic abilities obtained later on in the game.
Between each mission, Gunvolt will return back to his apartment where the player can customize their weapons and upgrades, save the game, choose the next stage, and talk to Joule. By talking to Joule between each stage, Gunvolt will “become closer to her”, which affects how often her ability activates within the game: Joule’s psychic manifestation- Lumen- can revive Gunvolt with her “Anthem” ability; while it happens very rarely, when the player dies, Lumen will sing “Reincarnation” which will not only revive Gunvolt with the ability to infinitely jump, but equip him with an infinite EP meter. Gunvolt can also give gems to Joule, which are hidden within each stage. Only by finding all of the gems will the player unlock the “true ending” and the real final mission.
Over the course of the 2-4 hour game, Gunvolt will obtain various other psychic abilities; not all of these come from the Sumeragi Adepts, as some are given to the player once he/she reaches a certain level. Apart from the Flashfield, Gunvolt can equip up to four other abilities, which can be activated by tapping their icons on the 3DS touch screen. These abilities range from screen-clearing chains, to a powerful single-direction sword strike, to regenerating health and EP. Upgrades and modifications can be made to both Gunvolt and his weapon by crafting parts salvaged from fallen enemies. Alternate ways of gathering parts exist by playing the “Bonus Chance” card-flipping game after each stage, where the player can earn more turns by finding medals within each stage. Challenges can also be activated before entering a stage; completing the requirements for each Challenge results in more parts, more currency or new psychic abilities; there is no penalty for failing Challenges.
As mentioned before, Azure Striker Gunvolt‘s visual style is reminiscent of past Inti Creates series Mega Man Zero. However, where the post-Mega Man X saga focused on Reploids and Mavericks, Gunvolt’s primary antagonists are essentially just superhumans- humans with the ability to transform themselves via psychic powers. Even in their alternate forms, Sumeragi’s Adepts still retain human elements to them, unlike the robotic animals of the Mega Man X and Mega Man Zero titles: Viper is given a scornful expression and a very short temper- his psychic abilities allow him to create explosions and manifest bombs from thermal energy; Stratos was a handsome individual who has since become addicted to a drug that robbed him of his charming appearance- his ability allows him to unleash a swarm of insects that consume anything in their path; Elise is a weak-willed captive of Sumeragi, tortured in an attempt to control her ability to revive fallen soldiers- her anger and rage manifest into a stronger second copy of herself, and both versions of Elise will revive each other at will in combat. Unfortunately, the Adepts and their ties with the Sumeragi Group are never explained within the game, but on the official Gunvolt website.
While the 3D effect is present, it’s primary use is to add depth to the environments, emphasizing both the action in the foreground and any industrial or social activities happening in the background. The music itself is a call-back to classic side-scrolling action games, especially those from the SNES and Game Boy Advance eras. Most of the tracks have an impending sense of dread, reflecting the difficulty of each stage, while the music is much softer and “innocent” whenever Gunvolt is having a conversation with Joule and/or Lumen. While only a handful are present, Lumen’s songs all have vocals sung in their original Japanese; being a pop-star herself, Lumen’s songs are heavily based on Japanese pop-music.
Azure Striker Gunvolt is a competent 3DS digital title, and a worthy spiritual successor to the Mega Man Zero series. Calling this a Mega Man clone doesn’t do Gunvolt justice, as it brings several new gameplay elements to the genre, and features a stronger emphasis on creating chain-combos as opposed to the traditional run-and-gun formula. The characters, conflict and world are established but the overall story suffers from lackluster plot-development. Azure Striker Gunvolt will be most enjoyed by fans of side-scrolling action games; Gunvolt is entertaining in terms of gameplay, but those who are looking for a rich narrative may be left disappointed with their experience.