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Azure Striker Gunvolt 3 (NS)

Azure Striker Gunvolt 3 (NS) - Review

by Christian Evans , posted on 18 August 2022 / 3,039 Views

Following a brief sojourn in the series with Copen, in the rather good spin-off Gunvolt Chronicles: Luminous Avenger iX 2 earlier this year, Gunvolt is back in the third mainline game, Azure Striker Gunvolt 3. Inti Creates has settled into a nice groove of delivering solid 2D action platforming games, with the juxtaposition of its signature ‘modern retro’ vibe, and Gunvolt 3 sits firmly in that stable. 

Set in a relatively near future Japan, humanity's evolutionary path has led to the birth of powered individuals, termed ‘Adepts’, who wield unique abilities, known as their ‘Septima’. Gunvolt (affectionately known as GV) has at this point evolved beyond any other Septima, manifesting as a Primal Dragon, but is kept in stasis by the Sumeragi Group after submitting himself to them in order to prevent harm and destruction. With the Glaive seals in place struggling to contain GV’s power, Sumeragi’s hidden counterpart — Shadow Yakumo — is forced to act, sending battle priestess Kirin to infiltrate the facility holding this dangerous power. Thanks to Kirin’s Septima — Radiant Fetters — GV’s septimal powers are kept under control, and reverting to more manageable forms, he agrees to join the Bureau of Dragon Saviours to help respond to any further threats.

As Gunvolt 3’s opening blurb suggests, the narrative is a little burdened with techno-babble and, at times, wends along the McGuffin path, such as during the ‘Binding Braids’ section, which can serve to give the story a functional feel occasionally. However, there are plenty of good moments that tie into the action nicely, such as the hectic mid-air missile level. There's also lots to like about the cast of characters, who have a good deal of charm, especially the new protagonist Kirin. The voice acting highlights this; it's generally good and fits the tone of the game, and a mechanic that increases bonds in-between missions also adds nice character moments, even if there are occasional missteps with dialogue, such as the now very passé declaration that ‘this is not a game, it’s real life’. 
While narratively Gunvolt 3 is decent enough, the gameplay is the real meat and drink of any Inti Creates game, and it really shines here. Kirin is your main, with intermittent use of GV (when called upon) for a limited time when the requisite bars are filled out. The pair play very differently, which adds a freshness to levels, combined with a strategic element to when you should unleash GV — who himself is over-powered — especially when gunning for Kudos points and high scores. It’s also a really nice compromise, regarding difficulty accessibility, for any player having problems traversing certain sections with Kirin. 

 The real joy, though, is when the player becomes accustomed to using Kirin’s abilities. With a set of thrown charged talismans, Kirin can tag enemies and certain objects, which serves two purposes: firstly, to stack damage potential; secondly, to allow her to ‘Arc Chain’, which teleports Kirin to the talisman's location, initiating a devastating sword attack. Each successful Arc Chain grants an extra jump, allowing Kirin to stay in the air for as long as you can tag something on screen, which in turn allows you to access difficult to reach areas, and is often necessary to traverse those deadly level drops. It highlights how tight the controls are, and how accomplished the level design is, with intuitively placed patterns of enemies and talisman interactive elements that become more apparent the more you play. It’s really great fun to unleash various Arc Chain combos and zip about the screen like Nightcrawler in the Whitehouse, building up your Kudos score. 

The benefit of Kudos scoring is in fact twofold: during the level, Lumen appears (or stays if you can obtain the points before her song finishes) every thousand points, using her ‘Idol’ songs to support Kirin and GV via stat buffs, plus with the power of Anthem she can awaken GV to continue the fight should Kirin fall in battle; at stage end, a high-score is awarded based primarily on converted Kudos points, plus other factors such as completed time, which awards passive ‘Image Pulses’ from the Gunvolt universe.

 Each stage reward operates like a Gacha, so replaying missions with higher scores increases the odds of winning a better Image Pulse, of which a limited number can be active at any one time, buffing up your stats and abilities, such as more health or 20% less cooldown time on skill Image Pulses. Top high-scores also reward new Lumen songs to select; they're brilliant, boppy, lively tunes. The general music is good anyway, but there’s something about smashing through a stage to a J-Pop styled ‘won’ tune from Lumen that accentuates the whole experience. Given the main game can be finished in several hours, these elements add quite a lot to the ‘replayability’ factor, on top of the post-game options.
Generally, the whole presentation of Gunvolt 3 is really good; the aforementioned music is bolstered by snappy transitions and some lovely pixel artwork throughout. With the near future Japan setting, I was a little concerned that levels would become samey, but that really isn’t the case. There's plenty of variety, and lots of nice details, giving most stages their own stamp (be it an oil refinery or bonsai garden) without relying on the usual elemental change-ups.

Azure Striker Gunvolt 3 is arguably the best the series has offered up so far, harbouring fun, tight gameplay that’s at its best when you’re transfixed by a wonderfully kinetic Kirin Arc Chain display on screen. A really nice overall style is accentuated by lovely pixel art, and some great tunes, with the only slight detraction being occasional narrative hiccups. Gunvolt fans should be delighted with this entry, and new players should discover a very enjoyable experience. Heartily recommended. 

VGChartz Verdict


This review is based on a digital copy of Azure Striker Gunvolt 3 for the NS, provided by the publisher.

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Rob5VGC (on 18 August 2022)

I expected no lower than 8.

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