The announcement of Gunvolt Chronicles: Luminous Avenger iX 2 came as a surprise to many. With Gunvolt’s 3rd numbered entry touted for Summer of this year, many assumed that Luminous Avenger was a one-and-done. Yet here we are, with yet another high-flying, high-speed adventure starring Copen and Lola. As the 4th Gunvolt game overall, one wonders: what does this game do to differentiate itself from its predecessors? The answer is actually quite a lot.
A Whole New World
The Luminous Avenger iX titles take place in an alternate timeline from the numbered Gunvolt games, with iX 2 taking place not long after the first Luminous Avenger game. This game gets the ball rolling immediately, with protagonist Copen and companions Kohaku and Lola having been whisked away to an alternate world. In this new world they find themselves in, humans seem to have gone extinct, and robots rule in their place. With their only lead in getting back home being a lone tower, they set out to climb it and uncover its mysteries. Along the way, they naturally run into some roadblocks and new bad guys to take down.
What’s interesting about this story is that it’s got basically nothing to do with the previous Luminous Avenger game, or even any Gunvolt game for that matter. There is no conflict between humans and the super-powered beings called Adepts like in every previous game, and there aren’t any returning characters besides the main cast. So while there are a few things about the story you won’t be in the know on, you can rest easy and enjoy the narrative if this happens to be your first game.
Being so divorced from the other storylines has resulted in a generally more interesting plot this time around. Since it’s a one-and-done story, characters start and complete their respective arcs by the time the credits roll. It also meant there was new lore and worldbuilding ideas to play around with. It’s not much, which is only natural for a game with such a short runtime, but I did enjoy it for what it was. As is the standard for Gunvolt, the over-the-top dialogue and striking character personalities meant that everyone made what little time they had count.
Breaking the Mold
Like in previous Gunvolt games, the game takes on a structure akin to its spiritual predecessor: the Mega Man Zero series. You’ll dash, shoot, and slash your way through a series of levels each housing an especially tough boss at the end. It’s somewhat more linear than previous games, and you don’t have as much liberty in what order you challenge them in, but this is for the better. Each level is very carefully considered around the player’s abilities, rewarding those who play skillfully and thoughtfully apply the bonus weapons you obtain from the bosses. It’s typically very logical stuff, like using a fire weapon to burn down some overgrown ivy. Though there will be times when the game asks you to think more critically, making puzzle-solving feel all the more gratifying.
The big difference between Luminous Avenger iX 2 and its predecessor comes down to the player character himself: Copen. In the previous game, Copen was as free as a bird and could fly around the map at high speeds as he pleased. Here? Not so, Copen is actually firmly on the ground for the majority of it. It feels a little bit unwieldy at first, but Inti Creates did an excellent job in managing to rebalance Copen for what is ultimately a more thoughtfully crafted platforming action game than its predecessor. Let’s break down some of the exact changes.
In Luminous Avenger iX 2, you have two distinct modes of play that you’ll swap between. You’ll start in the standard Break-Shift mode, wherein you have to carefully cut and shoot your way through enemies to rack up points. If you’re familiar with the Mega Man Zero series (also developed by Inti Creates), then you’ll feel right at home with Copen’s new melee weapon: the Razor Wheel. You can hack away at enemies that stand in your way with quick, but carefully timed slash attacks that can be powered up with shop upgrades.
Once you’ve racked up enough points by collecting items and destroying enemies with style, you’ll enter the Overdrive mode, something far more familiar to fans of Copen. Here, all the shackles on your dashing and air-dashing are released and you can fly wherever you wish. Carefully lock onto multiple enemies in a row and watch as your score skyrockets in an attempt to grab that coveted Grade X rating at the end of a level. It’s a very old-school, arcade-like euphoria that Inti Creates has proven time and time again to be the masters of delivering.
Back on the Grind
Between levels, you’ll have access to mission control. Here, you can pick which levels you want to do next, chat up the supporting cast, or buy upgrades and game-altering abilities. Upgrades can be bought using a currency dropped from defeated enemies and scattered throughout levels. It’s unfortunately my least favorite part about this game, as the amount of currency you need to buy certain upgrades is a bit too high at times. Thankfully, the overall gameplay loop is fun enough to smooth over this frustration somewhat. Upgrades can include expanding Copen’s baseline abilities, getting more health, having more airtime while in Overdrive, and so on. You can also buy things that make the game much harder if you’re into that sort of thing.
When you’re not looking for new ways to shred your enemies up, you can have many chats with the supporting characters like in previous Gunvolt games. These chats are oftentimes amusing spats that have little to do with the ongoing story, but they serve to humanize and give more insight into the lives of the main characters. Some conversations also give more context as to the happenings of the characters between the first Luminous Avenger game and this one, so it’s worth checking out for that alone. If you’re struggling with stages or having difficulty finding the collectibles spread throughout, characters will even occasionally exposit dialogue about obtainable weapons that you may find handy.
Art of War
You would be hard-pressed to find a company as experienced as Inti Creates when it comes to detailed pixel art, even still, Luminous Avenger iX 2 sets a new standard for them. It’s easily their best-looking game to date, thanks to a combo of detailed, yet expressive and easy-to-read sprite work and vivid effects’ work to sell the impact of each attack. Inti Creates once again harkens back to Mega Man Zero, with each enemy having a special death animation for when you slice them in half. It’s very cathartic stuff and makes learning the ins and outs of the game all the more satisfying.
You also have some especially great character designs and CG artwork from longtime series artist Yoshitaka Hatakeyama. Everyone looks incredibly vibrant and expressive, with personalities that are easy to gauge just at a glance. The bosses are especially noteworthy, with each of them having distinct silhouettes and shapes while also following a similar enough motif for them to feel connected.
The star of the show has got to be the game’s background drawings, however. They are gorgeous to the point where I found myself getting distracted just looking into them. Since Luminous Avenger iX 2 has a much more alien setting than what is typical of Gunvolt, the developers were able to make some truly creative and out-there locales, and it shows in the backgrounds. The use of poppy, vivid colors, and abstract setpieces immediately makes this game stand from the pack when compared to its contemporaries.
Sounds to Shoot To
Accompanying good visual design is good audio design. Luminous Avenger iX 2’s soundscape is great, with attacks, movement, and so on carrying a great sense of weight and realism to them. Couple that with the game’s great use of rumble, and you have an experience that feels very textured and tactile. Each screen shake, explosion, wall jump, airdash, and so on; you feel, and it never gets old.
Alongside this is a soundtrack consisting primarily of the stuff you would expect from Gunvolt. You’ve got rocking synthetic tunes set to fit the atmosphere of each location you find yourself in, as well as some more relaxed, chilled songs when the action dies down. When you activate Overdrive in gameplay, you’ll be rewarded with a suite of infectiously catchy J-Pop tunes sung by Lola’s Japanese voice actress, Mineda Mayu. There’s a surprisingly high number of songs, too, and they’re all quite good. I can see myself listening to them on their own pretty frequently.
Outside of music and sound design, there’s also an extensive amount of voice acting. As per usual, the Japanese voice actors do a great job in selling the over-the-top spectacle that the characters often put on display. But voice acting is nothing new for Gunvolt, at least, not in Japanese. What is new is that for the first time, a Gunvolt game has been fully dubbed in English. This is also the first time an Inti Creates published game has seen an English dub (though not their first produced, that would be Mega Man ZX Advent), and they knocked it out of the park. From the incredibly natural voice direction to the great casting choices, I thoroughly enjoyed my time listening to the English audio of this game. Special props must go to Cassandra Lee Morris, voice actress of the fan-favorite Lola. She captures her tomboyish witticisms perfectly.
Gunvolt Chronicles: Luminous Avenger iX 2 doesn’t just fly, it soars. Its new mechanics, setting, English voice track, and visuals were not done for the sake of merely experimenting. These elements evolve the series and push it to heights it hadn’t yet seen until now. Among the pantheon of Inti Creates’ platforming hits, Luminous Avenger iX 2 stands tall and proud from the pack.
GUNVOLT CHRONICLES: LUMINOUS AVENGER IX 2 IS HIGHLY RECOMMENDED
Many thanks go to Inti Creates for a Nintendo Switch review code for this title.
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A hobbyist who took up the pen to write about their favorite pastime: games. While a lover of many genres, Isaiah Parker specializes in Platformers, RPGs, and competitive multiplayer titles. The easiest way into his heart is to have great core gameplay mechanics. Self-proclaimed world’s biggest Sonic fan. Follow him @ZinogreVolt