I was never particularly crazy about the Gunvolt character’s gameplay. Using tag markers to lock on to enemies and then holding a button until they died was just kind of boring to me. Things improved considerably with the second game, which introduced a character that spent his time quickly slamming into enemies instead. I was even more enthused when Azure Striker Gunvolt 3‘s announcement revealed that it would feature another new protagonist. This time, however, they had a sword. Inti Creates made the Mega Man Zero games, which are easily some of my favorite 2D action platformers, so my hopes were high.
Enter Kirin. Suffice to say, while she does have a sword and she does use it in a way that’s somewhat reminiscent of Zero, Azure Striker Gunvolt 3 flips the script and refocuses the general gameplay loop. Anyone who wasn’t fond of Copen zooming his way through stages before probably isn’t all that jazzed about how things are now. But as someone who absolutely loves impossibly fast action, I think the game is one of the fastest, most furious action games in existence. I initially beat it in about three hours and 45 minutes, but that time was spent just annihilating everything in my path with gusto.
Instead of following up on the dangling plot threads from the last game, Azure Striker Gunvolt 3 pivots. Gunvolt has transformed into something called a Primal Dragon, so the Shadow Yakumo organization sends a battle priestess named Kirin to use her fetters to weaken our hero. Gunvolt’s form allows radiation to seep out that’s started turning other Adepts into Primal Dragons, so Kirin returns him to something resembling sanity. Oh, but he’s also some kind of dog thing now for some reason. Then Adepts from another country show up to start stealing the bindings that are keeping Primal Dragons and bay and it’s up to Kirin to stop their plans.
Stop the eight guys again
It’s kind of astonishing that Inti Creates decided to make a Gunvolt game where the titular character isn’t the protagonist. But he’s very much around, mind you. As Kirin fights, the Fetters Gauge increases. Once it hits 100%, Gunvolt can change back into his normal form and you can play as him until he runs out of energy. He plays the same as he did before, for the most part. In theory, anyway. Using his prevasion and attacking enemies uses up the gauge faster, but he still tags enemies and shocks them.
The biggest change is what happens after Kirin and Gunvolt tag enemies. As long as an enemy is tagged even a single time, either character will instantly warp to them with the press of a button. The more times you tag them, the more damage this warp attack will do. Much like its predecessors, Azure Striker Gunvolt 3 goes out of its way to keep you from dying, as the intended “difficulty” here is to get high scores. But warping completely changes the way you go about this in some major ways.
In order to get the highest scores, you’ll want to chain these warp attacks and use them to kill enemies without touching the ground. Granted, this isn’t new for the series, but it feels so different that it may as well be. Gunvolt can double jump, but Kirin gains another jump every time she warps to an enemy. When played as intended, Azure Striker Gunvolt 3 sees you absolutely tearing through levels by warping from enemy to enemy. It’s hectic and undeniably exhilarating. It takes a bit of practice at first but it soon becomes second nature. Sure, I initially wanted something more like Mega Man Zero at first, but I’m all for this gameplay loop.
Dash and slash
The structure here is the same as it’s ever been. You have a prologue and you do four levels with a new Adept boss each (the first four are Primal Dragons this time around). Then there’s an interlude, four more Adept stages, and then the trek through the enemy fortress followed by the last boss fights. Kirin continually learns new sword abilities as you defeat bosses. Even without taking the warp shenanigans into account, her moveset is flashy, varied, and pretty impressive. Of course, you can run around and hit enemies with your sword with only warping when absolutely necessary and the game will play just fine that way.
Kirin has a regular ground combo, a rising attack, a mid-air attack, an upward mid-air attack, and a downward slash. You’ll do more damage to enemies with talismans attached to them when using the sword, but it does enough damage that you can take them out reasonably quickly just by wailing on them. The swordplay doesn’t equal Mega Man Zero‘s or anything, but it’s still responsive and enjoyable. Instead of the tracer dart things Gunvolt uses, Kirin has eight talismans. The more talismans you slap an enemy with, the more damage your attacks will do.
There are a great many other options too. Kirin has four types of special attacks she can pull off depending on how full the gauge is. You can also equip four active image pulses and four passive ones. These are random drops you get from beating the stages. Active ones are usually attacks or healing skills that you can use on cooldown. Passive ones grant special bonuses, such as increasing damage, giving you a higher max Fetters Gauge, or increasing how much experience Kirin gains. Gain enough and Kirin levels up, granting her more health and additional passive slots.
Bow down before the master
Once you make it to the end of each stage, you’ll fight a boss. Boss battles don’t feel as different from past games as the stages do. You can still warp slash the bosses, but I honestly prefer to just hit them with Kirin’s sword. Bosses have three health chunks and a variety of moves. They’re fun to fight and these battles really do a great job of illustrating just how good the regular combat feels. Warps are still extremely useful when it comes to escaping certain enemy attacks and are the only way you’ll get through without taking damage.
This leads me to the biggest issue that Azure Striker Gunvolt 3, as well as its processors, has. Due to the aforementioned emphasis on scoring, Inti Creates has once again gone out of its way to make it hard for you to fail. I don’t recall actually dying even once during my playthrough on the standard difficulty. Not only can you heal with image pulses, but you can switch to Gunvolt when things get dicey and he’ll often make short work of bosses due to how blatantly overpowered he is. He can even do a body slam move to any enemy with three tags in them, including bosses.
But the biggest problem is Anthem. When Kirin dies, there’s a high chance for her to immediately switch places with an even more overpowered Gunvolt. As far as I can tell, this form is invincible and never runs out. Meaning that, regardless of how bad you are at Azure Striker Gunvolt 3, all you need to do is trigger an Anthem and your victory against most tough bosses is assured. Some previous games allowed you to turn this feature off, but this game sadly doesn’t. This is a shame because I’d really like to play a legitimately challenging version of this game.
Once you beat the final boss and get the true ending, hard and merciless difficulties are selectable. Even on merciless, though, Azure Striker Gunvolt 3 just isn’t all that challenging due to the above options. Sure, you can unequip all of your image pulses, but the second an Anthem triggers, you’ll just steamroll the opposition. There is an additional DLC mode you can unlock that requires you to play through all the levels as Gunvolt while the Fetters Gauge is ticking down, but Kirin doesn’t appear to have anything that will push players that don’t care about getting high ranks.
It’s really unfortunate. Just like previous games, I never had to practice bosses to learn their patterns in order to best them. Even on merciless, you can be pretty careless during the levels and still make it through many of them without issue. Granted, this is an issue that mostly affects all the games in this series, but Luminous Avenger Ix 2 pretty much solved this with a hard mode that actually had some oomph to it. I really hope something like this is added for Azure Striker Gunvolt 3.
Don’t get me wrong, this game is highly entertaining and I’m having a good time replaying levels by warping through them at light speed. The level design itself gets the job done, the controls are excellent, and the combat is addicting unless you simply don’t care for warping. As for the port, it includes the 120 fps option we saw on Xbox recently, but windowed resolutions only go up to 1080p and the fullscreen option (which is really borderless) appears to only be 720p, which is rather vexing. Still, Azure Striker Gunvolt 3 is one hell of an action game as long as you don’t mind the disappointing lack of challenge.