Azure Striker Gunvolt 3 Review: When Kirin Met GV
I’ve literally been covering the Gunvolt series since its inception. As a longtime Mega Man fan, I was especially thankful for a game like that getting introduced in the strange period in which we got no new Mega Man titles for quite a long time. While I quickly discovered that Azure Striker Gunvolt is no Mega Man game, it’s definitely inspired by them. It just has its own style and flourishes to keep things fresh and interesting. And as someone that’s covered the series since it started in 2014, you can bet I was excited to tackle the latest entry, Azure Striker Gunvolt 3.
The Gunvolt series has been on the Switch before thanks to the Striker Pack and Luminous Avenger iX games, but Azure Striker Gunvolt 3 is the first time a mainline entry came out on Switch first. And since I grew up playing the series on my 3DS, I really love the ability to keep playing the game on my latest oversized handheld. The real question for Azure Striker Gunvolt 3, at least for me, was if it could finally bring all the great ideas introduced in the series together. Whether it could balance the amazing combat juxtaposed with a fascinating plot, and still keep me invested after all these years. This Azure Striker Gunvolt 3 review will show the answer is yes, even though I ultimately feel the game wasn’t quite able to attain the rank of the best game in the series.
Shadow Yakumo Strikes Back
The first and most exciting element of Azure Striker Gunvolt 3 is the new character of Kirin. She’s a battle priestess of the mysterious Shadow Yakumo, a group tasked with operating from the shadows and keeping an eye on the Sumeragi Group. They’re a sister organization to Sumeragi that operates on its own agenda. I wasn’t sure whether I liked Kirin at first, but over the course of the game she grew on me. Though I do find it funny that a shadowy member of a covert group is so chatty and easygoing, at least from her dialogue over the course of the game. And a quick shout out to Inti Creates for once again doing a marvelous job casting their voice actors. I only listened to the English VA, and came away very pleased with the disparate personalities on display.
At the very beginning of Azure Striker Gunvolt 3, Kirin infiltrates Sumeragi and finds something shocking – an entity called a Primal Dragon. It’s basically the next evolution of Adepts, and wields massive and untamed power. Though Sumeragi has it chained up with Glaives, it quickly breaks free after Kirin arrives. This serves as the first boss fight, and despite the power mismatch, Kirin effortlessly uses her Fetters to chain the beast and bind its power. In so doing, it’s revealed that this Primal Dragon is none other than Gunvolt himself (also known as GV)! We get a quick data dump, and it shows that at some undisclosed point, Gunvolt lost control of his Septimal powers and transformed into a Primal Dragon. Sumeragi chained him up, but not just for the good of the people. They also started selling his electrical energy to the masses, and turned a blind eye when his radiation started infecting and transforming other Adepts into powerful berserk forms.
Kirin’s goal is to clean up Sumeragi’s mess, finding and sealing the other threats just like she did Gunvolt. Oh and did I mention that in sealing him, she somehow transformed him into an adorable puppy dragon form? Yea, there are a lot of small details like this that are delightful, even if they don’t make a ton of sense. More than any of the games before it, Azure Striker Gunvolt 3 really embraces the anime storytelling style, with good and bad consequences. It also features another group that gets introduced later in the game called ATEMS, who operate from another country and pledge allegiance to a powerful Adept dictator with fiery powers. That’s not all for the plot, but I’ll let you discover the rest yourself.
The intro stage does a decent job of introducing the main mechanics, though I was surprised it left one key mechanic out. It explains how to tag foes with Kirin’s Radiant Fetters, and how the more that are attached, the more damage she inflicts with her sword. It also tells you how to do things like dash, wall jump and the like. What the intro doesn’t explain, and a key reason I spent the first hour irritated with the game, is the Arc Chain. Once you have a foe tagged, you can press a button to have Kirin dash immediately towards the foe, slashing them and dealing massive damage. You can even tag multiple foes and have her go on a teleporting frenzy of death. After an Arc Chain, Kirin hovers down relatively slowly, allowing you to keep the combo going with more attacks. I just wish the intro stage had explained this, as I mostly figured it out using the game’s How to Play section that explains the mechanics in extensive detail. But don’t get too focused on Kirin since Gunvolt can also join the fun.
Since Gunvolt is bound by Kirin’s Radiant Fetters, and thus kept from transforming again into a destructive Primal Dragon, he works a little differently than before. He can only be present on the field of battle for so long, basically until a bar depletes. Once it does, Kirin takes his place, and the bar will slowly start refilling so she can summon him again. But while he’s there, he’s capable of immense destruction. Not only can he jump an infinite number of times and hover with his flash field, but he can also now teleport to tagged foes just like Kirin! I didn’t use GV a ton in my playthrough, mostly opting to switch to him when the platforming challenges were more intense. Because as amazing as Kirin is at doling out damage, her mobility’s not great. In fact, I’d place her platforming skills somewhere between Gunvolt and Copen. She’s powerful, but only when you use her properly. That said, it’s a ton of fun to play as her, especially since she gradually learns new attack moves by defeating bosses. Combined with GV, they’re a true force of nature.
The Pulse of the Past
The new mechanic that was most exciting was the Image Pulses. Basically by collecting enough Image Chips during stages, at the end you’ll get rewarded with random Pulses that represent GV’s memory. You can then assign some to directional inputs, allowing Kirin to summon them as hard light projections that work a lot like Smash Bros.’ Assist Trophies. Most of these are former Adepts, who will either attack foes or heal Kirin and GV. You’ll also come across passive Pulses that boost your stats or increase your parameters. I found the latter much more helpful, since they could let you extend how long GV can stay on the field and even lessen the pain from Prevasion. Because yes, Prevasion is back in the game, and I’m mostly a fan of its inclusion.
Dodging Attacks Like a Champ
For those unfamiliar, Prevasion basically lets you avoid damage at the expense of a certain item quantity. In past games, Copen could use it with his Bullits, and here Kirin can use it with her Fetters, of which she has a set amount. By pressing down twice on the D-pad, you’ll refresh your Fetters, allowing you to take another hit for free.
The only downside is it will screw up your current combo. But even that’s more forgiving than in past Gunvolt games. Instead of your entire combo being trashed or downgraded, taking damage puts a lock on your combo count. The more points you have accumulated, the higher the damage you’ll need to inflict to unlock it again. That said, you can now freely use checkpoints without having to worry about your combo going to hell. And honestly, the combo is mostly for bragging rights to get a great score at the end of the stage. Besides keeping a high combo, you’ll also get rewarded for beating stages lightning fast. The highest score I got was an S+, but you can also get up to S++. That just requires a lot more patience and precision than I wanted to muster for the sake of reviewing the game.
Amazing and Dangerous Adepts
It wouldn’t be a Gunvolt game without intense boss fights, and I can say this entry delivers. In fact, I think it has some of the most challenging boss battles in the history of the series. The berserk Adepts are all tough, but later, you face the ATEMS Knights, who are even trickier. They all have interesting personalities, from berserk Adept BB, who desperately desires to be a ladies’ man, to ATEMS Knight Serpentine, a domineering witch that summons illusions from the mists to harry and confuse you. Honestly the bosses just get more and more exciting the farther you get, and, considering that this adventure is long, you can expect to earn every victory. Just keep in mind that while Kirin’s Arc Chain decimates regular enemies, it barely scrapes bosses, forcing you to play smart and attack furiously.
Dazzling Artwork and Style
Like fans have come to expect, Azure Striker Gunvolt 3 is utterly gorgeous. Inti Creates has some true artists working for them, and they managed to craft some really great characters this time around. Design-wise, my favorite is one Adept that wields both fire and ice, and who seems to be non-binary. There’s also fantastic still artwork used in the cutscenes, which are worthy of being enlarged and framed. Not to be outdone, the music and sound direction are no slouch. There are tons of upbeat and exciting tunes to keep you playing, and the voice acting is really great. Overall, this is yet another stunning adventure from a team that puts the effort into their trademark style.
Small Bumps in the Road
I mostly enjoyed my time with Azure Striker Gunvolt 3, but it had a few niggling issues that held it back. First is that, while I loved the dialogue, it got a bit distracting. Not necessarily listening to it since I was more than capable of tuning it out during combat. But because there’s something called Story Mode+, which isn’t actually a new game mode. Instead, it’s a built in feature that shows the dialogue in written form as it’s spoken during combat, and it really cluttered up the bottom of my screen. Luckily, you can modify the Story Mode+ feature, making the dialogue opaque so you can hear it but not get distracted by it.
Also, as someone that failed to get the true ending in the Luminous Avenger iX games, I was eager to get it here. While I did, that was only with the direct assistance of Inti Creates. All I can say is the way you would unlock the best ending in previous games is not how you do it here. Instead, you’ll have to pay close attention to the story, and react accordingly to unlock the true ending. Once you do, you’ll appreciate the effort and will find yourself wondering what strange new places the series will take us next.
A Worthy Evolution of a Great Series
All things considered, I really enjoyed Azure Striker Gunvolt 3. While it doesn’t quite manage to give fans a perfect experience, it’s definitely one of the best in recent history. It’s a game with an ambitious story, gorgeous art and sound design, and frenetic and exciting combat. If you’re a fan of the series, you’ll find some especially exciting elements to enjoy. But even if you aren’t, this is a game any fan of the platformer genre needs to own. It’s well worth the price of admission.
Final Verdict: 4.5/5
Available on: Nintendo Switch (reviewed), Xbox One and Series X|S; Publisher: Inti Creates; Developer: Inti Creates; Players: 1; Released: July 28, 2022; ESRB: T for Teen – Fantasy Violence, Suggestive Themes, Mild Language, Mild Blood; MSRP: $29.99
Editor’s note: The publisher provided a review copy to Hey Poor Player.