Review by outlaw97

Reviewed: 03/22/04

A sequel that overdoses on fun and headaches

Back in 2002 Sega released Gungrave, an action title developed by Red Entertainment. Featuring character designs by Yashiro Nightow of Trigun fame, and mechanical designs by Kosuke Fujishima (Sakura Taisen), it was a shooting game that received mild success in both Japan and America. Fast forward 2 years later, and now we have a sequel in Japan, named Gungrave OD (Overdose). Overdose indeed, for Red has taken nearly every aspect of the game and expanded upon it, making for an overall well-rounded game. Unfortunately, the increased size and scope of this sequel brings forth some nasty annoyances as well.

Story:

This will be brief, as I cannot read Japanese, and have only a vague grasp of the story. It takes place a few years after the first game. Grave has been in deep sleep, until Mika Asagi, the girl that Grave swore to protect, awakens him for his new mission. Another mafia, the Corsione family, has been experimenting with SEED. I think it's something that could lead to a new form of Orcmen, the white zombie-like guys that the Syndicate from the original game used. Joining Grave are two new characters: Juji Kabane, a blind, foul-mouthed and perpetually angry swordsman, and Rocket Billy RedCadillac, a red-leather rockstar. (Really!)

As you progress through the game, the story is told through a combination of CG sequences and traditional narrative. All text is voiced, and can be skipped with the press of the start button in case you just want to shoot more things. While there is more plot than the original Gungrave, it's still ultimately just something to string the levels together. There are some references to events from the first game, but these feel more like a service to the fans, and otherwise the story stands on its own. In fact, it's my personal view that any links to the first game should be disregarded - the original Gungrave had an extremely somber, almost oppresive atmosphere. By contrast, Gungrave OD feels more mainstream, almost like a high-budget Hollywood sequel to a movie.

Graphics:

Maintaining a cel-shaded look, Gungrave OD can certainly deliver some slick graphics. There can be as many as 30 enemies on the screen at a time, and combined with explosions, gunfire everywhere, and various other pyrotechnics, there's certainly a lot happening on the screen. Which would be great, if the engine were designed to handle all that activity. It doesn't happen all too often, but slowdown DOES occur, and it can be annoying, though not to the point where it's unplayable. Another big issue is the lack of anti-aliasing - jaggies are present in full force. Lastly, there are minor tears and graphical glitches that can be seen if you look closely. Most of the time these remain as minor gripes, however - the Demolition shots themselves are handled impressively, and the theory is that you should be running and gunning so frantically that you don't have time to notice these faults.

As a quick aside, anybody who's played the original will immediately notice Grave's new outfit. He's definitely sporting a more streamlined look - I preferred his original outfit, but this new one at least gives the impression of him being faster. I like Juji's character design, but Billy's red leatheresque outfit and blonde hair give me too many Trigun flashbacks.

Gameplay:
This is where Gungrave OD receives the most improvement. Essentially, the first game consisted of you mashing the shoot button as you plowed through the levels. That concept hasn't changed in this sequel, but Red Entertainment saw fit to at least add in some new techniques for variety. Only Grave is playable in the beginning, but after you meet the other two characters, you can start a new game with them. For simplicity I will be using Grave in my explanation of gameplay, but the techniques are identical for Juji and Billy.

Grave has unlimited ammo, and can shoot in four ways. He can lock on to an enemy and target him specifically - the shots are quite slow though. If no enemy is locked on, Grave will go into a pre-animated sequence while shooting. In this mode, his bullets will autotrack to the nearest target. This mode is similar to a rapid fire mode, and is handy for clearing swarms of lesser enemies. If you interrupt this animation sequence by pressing up on the analog stick while pressing fire, he will shoot in a steady stream to whatever direction he's facing. It's more of a compromise between the two previous modes of firing. Lastly, there's the charged shot - by holding down the shoot button, Grave's guns will begin to glow. Letting them go after a certain amount of time will make him shoot energy shots for major damage. There are two levels of charging, and the highest level will result in a highly-damaging 3 shot combo.

Grave has two meters, one for his life and one for his shield. His shield will regenerate if he's not shooting or being hit. He can also use his coffin to attack close range, or deflect bullets and projectiles. As you shoot down enemies, a beat count starts, keeping a tally of how many times you shoot something consecutively - a combo. There are many objects in the environment to help raise your beat count inbetween the waves of enemies. As your beat count rises, you fill up a third meter. This is fuel for your demolition shots. These will clear a group of enemies for you, and also replenish your shield and life. When you use a demolition shot, a separate counter is kept, labeled as Jackpot. The higher your jackpot, the more life and shield you receive. Demolition shots also don't interrupt your beat count. You also have 3 types of demolition shots - one type for targeting individual enemies, a room-sweeping type to give yourself some space, and a bullet-time mode. Each type also has 3 levels, with each level requiring more meters of your demolition gauge filled. Initially, you only start out with one type of demolition shot. As you go through the levels, you're graded on your performance, and rewarded with skulls. More demolition shot types will be unlocked as you accumulate skulls, and they stay unlocked if you were to start a new game.

Thus, the game flow is almost a dance of sorts - your goal is to ultimately get the highest beat count possible. To do that, you just run forward and keep shooting. You'll often find yourself surrounded, and there's no way you can avoid being hit, so as your beat count is rising, your shield is falling. Since you have a cap on how many demolition shots you can hold, the game encourages you to use them, if for anything else as a way to replenish your shield. So shoot, shoot, demolition shot, shoot, shoot, refill the meter, demolition shot, etc. This formula doesn't change throughout the game's 9 levels, but the variety of ways you can shoot, as well as the thrill of seeing your beat count go into the 500s, is quite addicting. The bosses are also varied enough, and will force you to use all the techniques at your disposal. The camera can kill you sometimes though - if you're pinned to a corner, the camera might swing around such that you really can't see what's going on, which stinks when you're being shot at by a dozen enemies. Also, the slowdown when massive numbers of enemies are on the screen doesn't help much either, and the last boss in particular is downright ANNOYING.

The other two characters, while using the same techniques, have different strengths. Juji, being a swordsman, is more suited to close-range combat - his guns don't do that much damage, but his swords can make short work of enemies. Billy is the long range fighter of the group - his guitar sends out streams of electricity that home in on enemies, and can bounce between targets. The styles are different enough to give the game replay value, if only to see their demolition shots. Other extras that are unlockable include higher difficulty levels, stronger demolition shots, and I would assume a way to view the cinematics.

Sound:
This has to be the weakest aspect of OD. The voice acting is done well enough, but all the music from the original game and the currently-running TV show has been recycled. I think I spot one or two new tunes, but overall nothing new. Also, in-game music is used only at ''key'' moments, which means a lot of the time, you'll be walking around the levels hearing nothing. Sound effects are decent enough, although I prefer Graves bullet sounds in the original. Also, Juji and Billy's voices, while just fine in the story sequence, sound poorly recorded in-game - it's as if they used a $2 microphone.

Overall:
In short, Gungrave OD takes everything from the original and builds upon it. From more demolition shots to new characters to new gameplay techniques, it makes the original look like an alpha version by comparison. It provides for an overall solid action title. Unfortunately, the ambition to improve upon the original also yielded stereotypical problems of the genre, namely camera glitches and questional framerates.

While I posted a score of 7, it's not really a final score. Add 2 points if you're a fan of the original Gungrave or its TV show. As a Gungrave fan, I can't help but be ecstatic over how Red Entertainment gave us more of everything. Why not give it a Gungrave-fan-biased 10? Well, even as a fan, the overall feel of the game feels too different from the original. It's almost trying too hard to be cool sometimes, and makes it seem a bit cliche. The final battle, in particular, is just pure cheese.

But with that said, I'd still recommend it to any Gungrave fan. For those new to the series, expect a decent shoot-em-up that at the very least, is worth a rental.

Rating:   3.5 - Good

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