Gungrave started its life as an ambitious video game/anime designed to create a brand-new franchise. Despite having the mind behind Trigun powering it amongst other anime alumni it didn’t quite turn out to be the powerhouse expected. Over a decade later, it’s time for the man formerly known as Brandon Heat to rise from Beyond The Grave once more in Gungrave G.O.R.E.
Dead Men Tell No Tales
Gungrave G.O.R.E follows on from the previous two games. While easily played as a self-contained story, the game comes with a handy “History” tab which retells the story of Gungrave and Gungrave Overdose. This should help newcomers figure out why you’ve got a coffin strapped to your back and what the heck SEED is.
Beyond the Grave and the El Archangel group led by resident Waifu Mika have taken the fight to Scumland after a resurgence of the body and mind altering drug SEED is once again ravaging the land.
While Mika and her team are sneaking their way to the suspected SEED factory, Beyond the Grave is led through the front door by his very vocal “operator” Quartz. The operator is the one who will help El Archangel defeat the mysterious Raven Clan who seem to be leading the distribution.
The story is mostly window dressing. While touted as the “Finalization of the SEED saga”, I doubt many people expected this game to come to fruition, never mind filling holes they didn’t know were there.
Grave is still a man of few words. When not in a cutscene, the story is mostly presented via Quartz screaming it at you.
Because it’s a Gungrave title, you’ve once again got a “hit list” of the most powerful crime bosses, this time working under the Raven Claw moniker. You’ve got the Ninja, the mysterious old man, the deceptively beautiful woman, and the large man with a robot arm. It’s not original, but it hits that classic anime cliche spot well.
As a whole the story is fine. It’s fairly standalone with only a few nods to previous games. The history section will get you up to speed, but it mostly boils down to SEED bad, Grave good.
Gungrave G.O.R.E is a third-person shooter. Much like its prequels, it forgoes the “cover mechanics” that were so rampant in the PS3/360 generation and takes a more John Woo approach to its style. Beyond The Grave is a walking tank and tanks don’t hide from bullets; they go right into them and through whatever is shooting.
Gungrave to its credit has always been about walking forward and shooting. It doesn’t have time for stealth sections and sniping. No, it just wants you to travel across stages ranging between 10 and 20 minutes, hammering the trigger button until the world around you is in ruins with a river of blood down the middle of it.
One press of the trigger fires 4 shots. You’ll soon learn the rhythm to successfully firing continuous shots without crippling your finger. If you stand still and shoot, Grave will dance around and fire more at the expense of movement.
For a more powerful ranged attack, you have your Devastating shots. These are your special moves, usually working to clear areas and replenish health: more on that later
The coffin on your back acts as your melee. Stand still and hit the button to get an AOE attack that also deflects rockets. Press a direction with it and you’ll perform a combo string. Sadly neither really do enough damage for the longest time, and the lack of feedback and stun states on the enemies mean you really need to know when you can get up close. Grave also carries a chain that can drag enemies to you so you can use them as a shield or kill them quickly with a slam or blasting them in the air.
You also have a dodge button that clumsily flings Grave in the desired direction with a lot more weight and less i-frames than in previous titles.
Among the Living
You’ll be making Beyond the Grave walking straight through the rain of bullets. Fortunately, he has a shield that can take a lot of damage before it starts to actually hurt you. If you don’t take damage for a while it starts to replenish, but you can speed this up by performing an execution on stunned enemies which are highlighted and play a “dizzy” sound effect. You can walk up and perform the kill, drag them to you with the chain, or hold the chain button to dash toward them and do the job.
As I mentioned earlier, your Devastating Shots replenish health too. Between the Shield and the Health system, you have somewhat of a deadly ballet of knowing which enemies are easily stunned and keeping on top of your health with staggered use of the Devastating Shots.
Nail in the Coffin
Gungrave G.O.R.E is a surprisingly long affair. I say this with prior experience of the previous 2 titles, which just about touched the 5-hour mark if you combined the two. The first game only clocked in at shy of 2 hours even on the first play.
I know what you’re thinking, “Dunk, isn’t more better?!” In some cases that would be true, but Gungrave G.O.R.E has more padding than a push-up bra and its flavor is so spread out it may as well be Ready Salted crisps at some points.
Initially, Gungrave is quite an appealing, score-driven shooting gallery. You’ll get funneled into arenas and have a jolly good time. Unfortunately, the game shows all its tricks very early on and doesn’t really do a whole lot to keep the experience fresh.
You’ll get the gist from the first hour. From there on, it’s the same situations, along the same looking stages. Every now and again the game teases you with a new enemy type or new visual style, but it reverts to form so quickly you’ll get whiplash.
On occasion, you’ll play as a different character. While one of the other characters just plays like Grave with less moves, another character is a melee-focused one. The latter has a mind-numbing amount of platforming to do, in a game clearly not designed with Marioesque antics in mind.
What this all causes is a rather plain meal of a game. The odd stage feels good, but for over half of the rather bloated playtime, it’s routine and repetitive. This is something that the original games had, but with their shorter playtimes, you didn’t feel it quite as bad.
The early stages pan out, which will see you steamroll through the enemies with reckless abandon. It isn’t too far into the story that the difficulty starts to ramp up. On top of that, there are quite a few spikes where the difficulty skyrockets, before falling down into the familiar rhythm you’re used to.
Boss fights are bullet sponges, and only a couple are fun to fight. One in fact has such an irritating instant kill move that it took close to an hour to beat and resulted in me cheesing the i-frames from a Devastating Shot just to skip it. Not an ideal show of skill.
Time to Die
The bloat is so bad within the game that I falsely felt I’d finished it at least twice and was ready to throw in the towel at around the last third. By that point, I’d seen everything the game had offered and none of it was appealing to me anymore.
The campaign is projected at around 14+ hours and while I didn’t time it, I feel like that is fairly accurate. All I know is it exhausted me and the thought of fully playing through again on hard isn’t appealing to me at all. With three difficulty modes to thunder through, you’ll find Gungrave G.O.R.E takes a ton of time to fully complete if you can be bothered to.
This lack of desire to replay is completely juxtaposed from the original two which I’ve played through countless times, including recently in preparation for this review.
Points Make Prizes
Gungrave G.O.R.E features two systems that the scoring system uses to award you points at the end of the stage. The scoring system is more important here than some shooters, as it allows you to get upgrades and new moves.
BEAT is how much damage you cause to your enemies and the world surrounding you. ART is how many executions, kills from Devastating Shots, and stylish kills from your chain you get.
You need to balance the above to gain a high score at the end of the stage. Health and time are factored in as well.
The Corpse Looks So Peaceful
Visually, Gungrave G.O.R.E is barely within the standards put out on the XBox 360/PlayStation 3, never mind the current generation. While not an issue as such, the art direction doesn’t do the title any favors when it comes to convincing anyone that it’s got “heart” either.
While the original titles featured cel-shaded and 3D anime style, G.O.R.E has more of a “Mobile Game” art direction. It feels like assets were pulled from just about everywhere for an over-the-top, edge-lord character who can walk through and shoot everything.
Grave has such an understated look compared to his previous style and manages to look like a sore thumb in some of the stages to a worrying degree. The Vietnam section of the game especially looks like someone just threw in a “Jungle warfare” asset pack and called it a day.
The characters all look insanely rubbery and plastic. Animations aren’t quite as fluid as they should be either. It presents as AAA on a budget and comes off worse than you’d think. The models and world are at odds with each other to such a degree at points that it doesn’t even begin to touch that “AA charm” that was prevalent throughout the PS2 era.
Gungrave G.O.R.E has the choice of an English or a Japanese Dub. While the Japanese Dub sounds fine, the English dub isn’t going to win any awards in any department. It’s serviceable at best and horrendously phoned in at its worst. One character later on in the game actually takes the cake for the worst voice acting I’ve heard since the PlayStation 1 days!
Quartz especially as your “navigator” never shuts up. It’s so irritating having her scream the same lines over and over again, even more so if you’re playing on PlayStation as she also shouts through your controller.
The soundtrack is a bit of a mixed bag. When it’s leaning into more jazzy experimental sounds, the music is quite good. Unfortunately, the main battle music which is played on a near-continuous loop is painfully generic. This is also the case for a lot of the stage’s music. It’s certainly not one that’ll be making my playlist anytime soon.
I needed to love Gungrave G.O.R.E. It’s exactly my kind of thing as a sequel to two of my favorite “AA” titles from the PS2 era. Full of shooting and over-the-top anime action scenes, this game was penned to be my niche experience of the year.
Unfortunately, it lacks the soul of the previous games. Instead, it has been padded out to an unenjoyable slog, where the endearing jank because egregious and the simple yet engaging gameplay is spread that thin it reaches new levels of repetition and annoyance.
Fans of Gungrave will find enjoyment here. It just needs to be in small doses. Otherwise, the realization that this is kind of a cheap, soulless cash-in kicks in too quickly and you’re left wishing the series hadn’t been resurrected.
WAIT FOR SALE ON GUNGRAVE G.O.R.E.
Many thanks go to Plaion for a PlayStation 5 review code for this title.
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