A couple of years ago, Inti Creates put out Gunvolt Chronicles: Luminous Avenger iX—an interesting spinoff featuring one of the most popular characters from the Azure Striker Gunvolt series. It may have been a bit on the short side, but Copen’s inaugural adventure in a starring role showed that his unique take on the series gameplay could comfortably stand on its own if given the chance. Now, while we’re still waiting for Gunvolt 3, we have Gunvolt Chronicles: Luminous Avenger iX 2 to help tide us over and it’s… well, it’s more of the same. That is to say, it’s still a thoroughly enjoyable and excellently produced action platformer, but you’ll probably be finished with it by the end of your lunch break.
The story of iX 2 picks up shortly after its predecessor's ending, with Copen focused on uncovering the origins of a mysterious old blaster rifle he’s recently discovered. During his research, a wormhole suddenly opens that transports Copen and his crew to a mysterious sandy wasteland in another world, populated by decaying robots called Workers. After meeting a Worker named Null, Copen and the gang make their way to the Grave Pillar—a towering steel structure in the desert which allegedly holds the secret to restoring life to this strange world they’re in. Of course, they can’t get through the Grave Pillar without some interesting battles, and they’re thus tasked with overcoming the six Gravekeepers of the tower to take their keys and find out what awaits them at the top of the pillar.
As you may have guessed, iX 2’s narrative makes less and less sense the more you think about it, but it’s forgivable given that it’s hardly the focus of this release. If you’re at all familiar with the ongoing lore of the Gunvolt series, you’ll certainly get more out of this entry than a newcomer, though the narrative is perfectly fine even if this is your first entry. One interesting new development here is the inclusion of a proper English dub, which walks that fine line between quality and cheese. The script here certainly won’t win any awards, but the cast turns in a solid performance all around, delivering their lines with just the right amount of gusto and charisma. And if it feels too weird to you to hear Lola bantering with you in your native tongue, the Japanese voice cast can still be easily triggered through the options menu.
Gameplay follows on from the previous game, which in turn built on Copen’s initial campaign in Azure Striker Gunvolt 2. Copen has a simple three-hit combo he can use to dispatch enemies up close, but his main attack involves a quick air dash into opponents. If the dash connects, he locks on to the enemy, and you can then simply hold down the attack button and watch as he fires off a barrage of homing attacks that melt the enemy down. Most enemies can be easily dispatched with this method, with the only real holdouts being the thrilling boss fights at the end of each stage. In true Mega Man tradition, each of these bosses has a unique weapon that Copen will receive after beating them, and these weapons each are super effective against one other boss.
One notable break from Copen’s previous control style is how his signature dash attack has been somewhat nerfed. You can now only dash once mid-air before you have to touch back down to instantly recharge it. However, this can be circumvented if you can get Copen into Overdrive mode, which acts as a powered up state he enters when you get over 1000 Kudos. Kudos are points you acquire from killing enemies and they’re instrumental in building your level score, but the catch is that you can only ‘bank’ them every time you touch a checkpoint or heal.
Banking your Kudos, however, also ensures that you’ll never go into Overdrive and thus won’t be as effective or fast when dispatching enemies, so there’s a nice risk/reward system at play here. Hold onto your Kudos and you get to play as an overpowered Copen who basically never has to touch the ground, but if you die you have to start the whole level over again and you lose all your Kudos. Bank the Kudos every chance you get and you’re sure to see the level through with no problem, but your score at the end will only be middling at best.
In practice, iX 2 thus feels something like a supercharged modern take on the original concept of the Mega Man Zero games for GBA. The goal isn’t to beat each level, but to master them. You’re given a rank at the end of each stage based on your speed and effectiveness, and getting that coveted ‘X’ rank will take quite a bit of memorization and skill to pull off. In this way, iX 2 proves itself to be an addictive and highly replayable experience, as repeat attempts slowly reveal how precisely laid out every enemy, wall, and platform are for each level. In some respects, you could almost say that iX 2 is rather like a rhythm game in how it dares you to pull off a perfect performance through deft timing and careful play.
If your skills are rusty and you need a little more help getting through levels, there’s a helpful upgrade system in place to make things easier over time. Not only does Copen level up after every few kills—granting him extra health and SP for his special weapons—but there’s a full list of unlockable skills you can grab using currency dropped from enemies. These do things like shoring up Copen’s defensive abilities or allowing him to lock onto enemies with just a ground dash, and while none of them make him feel too overpowered, some of these abilities can be what separates a decent run from an X run. At any rate, they add a nice feeling of forward progression to an otherwise anemic experience.
That’s perhaps the biggest sticking point of iX 2—its length. This is a game that you can beat in an afternoon if you’re taking it slow. A typical level will take you maybe 10 minutes to run on your first attempt, and half of that (or less) on subsequent tries once you understand enemy and hazard placements. Now, the main draw of iX 2 is repeatedly playing levels until you’ve attained the highest score and it is quite compelling from this perspective, but even with that in mind, we don’t see this release taking you any longer than 10 hours to clear everything. To some that may not matter; just be aware that you’ll be done with this game almost as soon as you start it.
As for its presentation, iX 2 follows on nicely from its predecessors in both its visuals and sound. Environment backgrounds are wonderfully detailed, while the spritework and animation remains consistently excellent. As you may expect, the boss fights are the real showcases of the visual direction here, with their overall designs and special attacks leaving quite an impression. All this is wrapped in a voice cast that’s great in Japanese or English, and a soundtrack that provides all the futuristic and high-energy tempo needed to push you through those speedruns of each level.
Gunvolt Chronicles: Luminous Avenger iX 2 is far from a groundbreaking game, but it certainly is an enjoyable one. The tightly designed levels and snappy controls make for a thoroughly enjoyable action side-scrolling experience, though this comes with the major caveat that the whole experience is really only a few hours long and it's very much more of the same. At any rate, we’d give this one a strong recommendation to any fans of the Gunvolt series or run-and-gun games in general; there may not be much of it, but Gunvolt Chronicles: Luminous Avenger iX 2 absolutely nails what it sets out to do.