Action Platformer Review

Azure Striker Gunvolt 3 – Review

It’s been six years since the last numbered Gunvolt title, but things have certainly kept busy with the Gunvolt Chronicles spin-offs that had been steadily moving the series forward in its place. But now, Inti Creates returns once again with Azure Striker Gunvolt 3, promising an evolved blend of compelling narrative and action platforming that first put the series on the map.

Flash Forward

Taking place an unspecified number of years after the second game, Azure Striker Gunvolt 3 immediately thrusts the player into a new conflict that threatens to plunge the world into chaos. Adepts, a group of superpowered humans with unique powers, are steadily being transformed into new threats called Primal Dragons. A new group of baddies is also working from the shadows, using the chaos brought about by the Primal Dragons to advance their own agenda. At the center of all this discord are the titular Gunvolt and a new character, Kirin.

Azure Striker Gunvolt 3 - Dog Transformation

For all intents and purposes, Kirin is the game’s main focus. Out of all the new elements of the story, she was who I was most interested in seeing thanks to her having a wildly different, more positive and perkier demeanor than past protagonists. Unfortunately, she’s also the one who ended up disappointing me the most and is synonymous with nearly every writing issue the game has. Compared to past protagonists Gunvolt and Copen, you never really get a sense of who Kirin is at her core. You’re vaguely told what her ideals are, but never why Kirin herself believes in any of it. She comes off less as a person and more like a loose collection of character traits strung together by the whims of the narrative. As a result, she lacks meaningful friction with anyone in the story, turning what was once a story predicated on interesting, character-testing conflicts into one-note good vs. evil fodder with no personality or flair of its own.

Making this all the worse is the overall lack of care put into following up on the stories of the first two games. Gunvolt 1 and 2 revolved around heavy topics such as xenophobia and prejudice, which played part in shaping the battles between regular humans and the superpowered Adepts. Nearly every major conflict in those games helped to explore these themes, and by the end of the second game, it was left up in the air whether the needless bloodshed would truly come to an end or not. Gunvolt 3 does not make any attempt to meaningfully follow this up whatsoever. If a plot thread isn’t unceremoniously resolved offscreen, then it’s forgotten about entirely. The few times that past events are brought up, the story is scant on details and it never feels like the emotional core is moved due to a lack of reaction from the characters.

All of this is to say that Gunvolt 3’s narrative is unsatisfactory on almost every level. As a follow-up to the first two games, it almost feels like it has no interest in expanding the plots established in them. When taken as its own story, it leaves a lot to be desired due to Kirin’s lack of character and being an ultimately generic doomsday plot. By the end credits, I was left detached and uninvested in where the story went and where it may be headed in the future. The stories of this series have never been perfect, but Gunvolt 3 was the first time it outright bored me.

Jump, Shoot, Shock, and Slash

The core appeal of Gunvolt’s gameplay remains much the same as previous titles. You’ll run through an assortment of levels, platforming and fighting your way through hordes of enemies and traps. With each enemy defeated, you’ll rack up ‘kudos’, points that will contribute to your score and ranking at the end of a level. While perfectly serviceable as a standard platforming game, the real meat of Gunvolt’s gameplay lies in its endlessly enjoyable, arcade-like grind in increasing your score and going for the long sought-after S++ Rank.

Azure Striker Gunvolt 3 - Jumping

Azure Striker Gunvolt 3’s approach to this tried and true formula is an eclectic blend of nearly every past game in the series, and even some DNA from Inti Creates’ Mega Man Zero. Kirin is your main playable character, and she’ll dash, jump, wall jump, and slash with her blade as you would expect. What truly sets her apart is her ‘Radiant Fetters’, projectiles that you can throw in any direction. While you won’t damage or destroy enemies with these fetters, you’ll ‘tag’ them, strengthening Kirin’s melee attacks and allowing her to perform an ‘Arc Chain.’ Arc Chains instantly warp and destroy any tagged enemies, allowing you to bypass platforming challenges and destroy multiple enemies at once. The key to racking up combos and high scores is not touching the ground and chaining between enemies and objects. Once you’ve got a good grasp on the mechanics, you’ll practically fly through levels at breakneck speeds.

You’ll additionally gain skills after each main stage that bolster Kirin’s immediate arsenal of moves. They can range from a rising slash attack to a spin attack that sends you hurdling downwards. Though these skills are fun to use in their own right, they also break combos since most of them require that you touch the ground to use. If you’re playing optimally, the only times you’ll really get to apply these skills is during boss battles. So while Kirin is fun to play, playing her optimally lacks the freedom and creativity you’d see in high-level play from the previous games.

Azure Striker Gunvolt 3 - S Rank

Aside from Kirin, you’ll also be able to play as Gunvolt once you’ve hit certain thresholds within a level. He plays somewhat similarly to how he did in the first two outings, but has received numerous new attacks and buffs. Like Kirin, he can ‘tag’ an enemy and warp to them to destroy them, but he can also airdash, jump infinitely, and use his ‘Flashfield’ to shield himself and dish damage at the same time. He’s essentially a super mode for when struggling players are in a pinch and doesn’t rack up nearly as many Kudos as Kirin. Gunvolt is so souped up that he ironically loops back around to not being very fun to use anymore. With so man y abilities at his disposal, he effectively ignores the game’s rules and is brainless to play as a result. Worse still is that he’s functionally a non-entity in the Hard Mode variations of stages since he’s much harder, if not impossible to switch to. It gives the impression that the title character was an afterthought, rather than a core component of gameplay.

Gacha Memories

New to this game are Image Pulses, fake projections of characters derived from Gunvolt’s memories who give you different benefits. In each stage, you’ll find Image Chips scattered about, which will turn into random Image Pulses once cleared. These can come in two types: Skill Pulses and Passive Pulses. Skill Pulses are activated at the flick of the right analog stick and can range from things such as special attacks to healing. Passive Pulses can change the nature of how you play, some let you do things such as hanging on walls, others lower maximum HP in exchange for more Kudos. It’s essentially a repurposed version of the Shop and Upgrade system in previous games.


Where this new system completely flounders is the “random” element I mentioned earlier. Image Pulse essentially plays like a free-to-play gacha game. Looking for a specific upgrade or skill that will give you the edge, or do you want to try a specific strategy against a boss fight? Better hope that you pull the right Image Pulse, because you’ll be out of luck otherwise. There’s no way to exchange some of these Pulses for the ones you actually want, either. You’re more than likely going to be playing these stages many times over until you get the specific Pulse you want, or until the Pity mechanic kicks in. 

Many of these Pulses are superfluous and functionally identical, making getting the ones you might truly need all the more frustrating. Bafflingly, this includes staple boss weaknesses, making guessing which ones work against which an exercise in tedium and trial-and-error. Some Image Pulses also cannot be obtained outright until Hard and Merciless versions of stages are unlocked, further bloating playtime.

It’s not enough to just luck out on the gacha and obtain which ones you need, either. You have to upgrade them with credits earned from stages or duplicate Pulses. Many upgrades can get outrageously expensive, too, so you may have to repeat stages just to have enough money to make these Pulses useful to begin with. All told, Image Pulses make Gunvolt 3 by far the grindiest game in the series, and there are no tangible benefits to this system aside from shallow fanservice.

Songs of the Muse

Much like the gameplay, Gunvolt 3’s music is a strong blend of many styles familiar to past Inti Creates games. You have your techno, your chiptune-like arrangements straight out of Blaster Master Zero, and even some piano flourishes to help sell the melancholy nature of the story. There’s also a wide range of songs from Lumen, the story’s AI idol companion. Once you reach a certain threshold of points, she’ll sing a number of J-Pop songs to keep you hyped and carve a warpath through a stage. These songs will even change depending on just how well you do, becoming more and more hopeful the higher your score goes. It makes going for a high rank in a stage just that much more fun, and never gets old.

On the other end of the audio spectrum is the game’s English dub, marking the first time a numbered Gunvolt game has received one. To put it shortly, this dub is of commendable quality, and everyone involved gives an incredible performance. Special props must go to Sean Chiplock, the voice of Gunvolt. He faultlessly captures the melancholy, yet steadfast nature of the titular hero. Some of the line reads he gives during the latter stages of the story can only rightly be described as outright chilling.

Azure Striker Gunvolt 3 - Conversation

The English dub also solves an issue with the series that has existed since the first game. The text boxes for mid-stage dialogue take up an outrageous amount of screen space. Understanding the story and enjoying the midstage conversations means that you’ll actively be compromising your play since frequent text will obstruct potential oncoming hazards and enemies. With the dub, text boxes can be disabled while still allowing you to enjoy the story at the same time. 

Art and Animation

Inti Creates once again flexes their artistic muscles to deliver a gorgeous sprite-based game that they’ve consistently proven to be the masters of making. Azure Striker Gunvolt 3 looks just as amazing as their previous work on Luminous Avenger iX 2. Detailed, colorful, and easy-to-read sprites pepper some incredible-looking backgrounds that set the mood of each stage about as well as you might hope. The stages themselves can also vary quite a lot, leaving a much stronger impression than the personalityless ones from Gunvolts 1 and 2. Stages can range from running through a shopping district on a snowy Christmas night, to hopping across boats and cargo amidst the treacherous waves of a stormy sea.

Character design is also par for the course for Gunvolt, and I mean that in a good way. They’re the sorts of bubbly, over-the-top designs you would come to expect from Yoshitaka Hatakeyama. Character designs have tons of awesome little flourishes that tell stories by themselves, and boss designs look appropriately menacing. Alongside artwork for portraits, there’s also a variety of CGs to help move the story along. Some of the expressions in these CGs, combined with the aforementioned voicework, truly make these characters feel alive for brief moments.

There is one area where the game’s visual identity can get in the way of enjoying it, and that’s with the UI. While you can turn off dialogue boxes, what you can’t turn off are the garish synth waves that crowd the corners of the screen when you’re playing well. It’s exceptionally easy to drop a combo late into a level because the UI obstructs your screen too much.


Azure Striker Gunvolt 3 is a game that wants to evolve the series, but is founded on the flawed principle of trying to fix what wasn’t broken to begin with. For each improvement it makes, there is a new problem present that holds it back from ever reaching its fullest potential. This game was a long time coming, which is why it’s disappointing for me to say that the wait wasn’t entirely worth it.


Platforms: Nintendo Switch, XBox | PC Announced for Winter 2022

If you would like to see more platformers, you may be interested in our review of Gunvolt Chronicles: Luminous Avenger iX 2 or Metroid Dread.

Many thanks go to Inti Creates for a Nintendo Switch review code for this title.

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