Anime come in many forms. Some are hyper-violent philosophical nonsense (Akira – yes fanboys, it’s gone royally stupid by the end), some are emotionally powerful dramas (Grave of the Fireflies) and some are character-based action comedy-dramas (Cowboy Bebop and Outlaw Star). Anime have so many elements and frequently covers such a wide-range of emotions and topics, it’s not surprising to come across an example or two that are just so far out there that it boggles the mind. Such is to be expected from a medium wherein characters routinely hold weaponry that’s roughly five times their size, cool though it may be.
Gungrave: Overdose features more far-out weapons and examples of mind-blowing anime ass-kickery than I’ve seen in a long while. The basic story of the game, a sequel to 2002’s Gungrave, features a highly addictive drug called Seed that infects then mutates people. A girl named Mika tried to stop it last time with the help of a resurrected killer named Beyond The Grave, a Deadman who wields a pair of mean guns and has a coffin strapped to his back. Grave keeps his artillery in the coffin and can also use the coffin as a melee weapon. I’ll admit that watching a guy with a coffin strapped to his back dispensing an immeasurable amount of destruction is strange. What kept me coming back to it again and again (other than my deadline) was just how much fun I was having.
Grave, Mika and their assistant Spike (a tow-headed super genius kid) are after the person who is spreading Seed far and wide. Along the way, they come across another Deadman named Juji Kabane who carries a guitar that’s possessed by the spirit of a rocker named, get this, Rocketbilly Redcadillac. Let me say that again: This is a game in which a character’s name is actually Rocketbilly Redcadillac. So other than that, how’s the rest of the game?
Were I grading on visuals alone, Gungrave: Overdose would fail right off the chart. The graphics looks flat-out awful during gameplay, the heroes and villains all look like they’re one step removed from sprite-based, and the levels are flat and boring with no sense of personality. The lone segment where I was satisfied with a level’s visuals was when I was blasting apart a gangster’s mansion. Shooting up a library and watching books fly everywhere became an oddly compelling mini-game in itself, but the remainder of the missions lacked a similar amount of flair. Were I asked how best to describe the looks of the levels, I’d use adjectives like bland, washed-out, and boring.
The plus side to the gameplay is the fact that if you see something then you can blow it up. Everything that moves is worth shooting, and if it’s stationary then it’s worth shooting too. The rampant explosions are all beautiful, but the game seems to walk a fine line between cell shading and actual computer animation so it’s frequently difficult to judge whether something is poorly animated or badly rendered. Either way, this game sports a mountain of ugly you have to scale just to enjoy it.
The strange mutants never lack for variety, and whenever someone changes into a large mutant, which then becomes a boss fight, the creature is based on whatever the person did in life. For example, a boss character that specializes in swords gets changed into a giant hand with several metal legs stretching out of it. It’s difficult to explain just how bizarre several of the creatures are, but they’re well rendered and well designed so it’s fun to see what else the designers will throw at you.
I really enjoyed the sound effects in Gungrave: Overdose. It’s good that the sounds of gunfire are as cool as they are, because there seem to be only three sound effects used throughout the game: Gunfire, explosions, and incoming rockets. That being said, when you consider just how many gunshots and explosions there are in the game (I lost count around three billion) any variety would have been appreciated. On the flip side, the developers never mislead anyone that this game would be anything other than blasting anything that moves, so I can’t really fault them for false advertising in that regard.
The vocal work ranges from okay to pretty good. All of the characters have their own distinct voices and personalities which shine through in spite of a half-baked script. A lot of the lines are groaners, badly written or worded (or both), or are things no one outside of an anime would realistically say. Then again, in the real world we wouldn’t be squaring off against an eight-foot-tall Deadman with a 300-lbs. gun that looks like it’s about 15-ft long. Billy really did start to grate on my nerves after a few chapters, but the game was short enough that I could handle it. In between missions, there’s a mini briefing where the characters are only shown in portraits while they talk. The sound effects of people getting angry or sad or happy in these vignettes are pretty funny the first two times you hear them, but after that they start to get old. The fun is watching how the portraits interact with one another, and how emotions are expressed. This is one of those elements where you just have to see it to really do it justice.
The controls in Gungrave: Overdose are really simple to use, but since the game boils down to arcade-style button-mashing in every board. The L1 button targets opponents and the R1 button jumps from target to target. You fire using the square button, and when you’re playing as Grave that’s about the only button you need to know about. The faster you hit it, the faster he shoots and this comes in really handy when surrounded by roughly 50 enemies. Hitting the jump button (X by default) and the directional stick will cause you to leap to the side, and that is a move you will use again and again and again. The good news is that you can re-map all the keys to suit your style of play, so you don’t need to feel obligated to use the default control scheme.
You’ll also use the L2 button again and again because doing will spin your character 180-degrees, and this is really handy when pinned against a wall. The camera is controlled, in theory, by the right thumbstick, but moving the stick will only slightly adjust it. For the most part, the camera is acceptable but if you move in close to a wall then it’s over. The camera routinely gets stuck on walls, and with enemies pinning you to the wall it’s an impossible situation to get out of. Be careful when fighting in enclosed spaces and this isn’t too much of an issue.
As far as defensive moves go, pulling down on the left thumbstick and hitting the circle button will plant the coffin in front of you. It’s nice for Grave to have a bullet-proof coffin at times; it proves its usefulness quite a bit. After everyone in a room is dead, then hitting R2 will strike a cool pose. Yup, there’s a Vogue button in Gungrave: Overdose.
I hate it when games tout cool features on the back of the box, yet tend to leave out vital details. The game box for Gungrave: Overdose states clearly that you can choose one of three characters, yet neglects to mention you have to beat the game as the main character, Beyond The Grave, first. I only mention this because as I went though the game, it became increasingly obvious that some of the missions must have been tailored to another character. But in at the end of the day I would have to say I enjoyed Gungrave: Overdose quite a bit.
There are plenty of moments where I sat back satisfied at the amount of punishment that I’d dealt out, and a few others where I felt like I was fighting just for the sake of trying to get through a mission. For example, there’s a series of missions early on through a car garage that I wanted to replay as soon as I’d finished them. There was so much devastation handed out that I wanted to get back to it immediately. The maps were well laid out, the enemies came at me in just the right amount of waves so between ass-kickings I was able to breathe, and the amount of destruction was downright apocalyptic in size.
On the other side of the coin, late in the game I was trying to complete a series of jumps while fighting off a horde of machinegun-wielding nutjobs. I kept missing the jumps though because I wasn’t in the right place when I jumped. As a consequence of missing a jump, I’d fall into a small pit and have to make my way back to the start and try it again. What was waiting for me in the pit were a bunch of suicidal guys who would explode as soon as they hit me. Naturally, they were also crawling thus making it ten times more difficult to shoot them. Running through that particular gauntlet for close to an hour left me within a hair’s breadth of hurling my controller through the TV.
The following is a spoiler for a plot point in the game, so if you want to go in blind on this then please skip to the next paragraph but it’s something that needs to be said to the developers. From an aesthetic point of view, when a character makes a sacrifice then make sure said character does not suddenly show back up later in the game and everyone continues on their way. If a sacrifice must occur, usually that character is in fact not dead already, therefore the sacrifice means the character will die and not be seen again. If the character shows back up later, then any drama that was intended in the first place is completely lost. Thank you for your attention to this matter.
There are a few things worth unlocking in Gungrave: Overdose, most notably the extra characters of Billy and Kabane. Both have very different play styles and the amount of destruction they can wreak is pretty awe inspiring. Billy’s electric guitar attack is a lot of fun for a crowd pleaser, and Kubane’s melee attack is a ton of fun. He’s carry dual gunblades similar to Squall from Final Fantasy VIII, only with Kubane the melee attack is where the action and the fun is. It’s good that he can at least shoot, but you will absolutely want to close the distance between you and your enemies for some fun.
This one is very entertaining at times, extremely frustrating in others, but well worth checking out at your local rental house. From what I understand, the final price tag is under $20 so if that’s true I’d go so far as to say it’s worth a purchase. There are also some jaw-dropping moments of Grave completely owning certain bosses late in the game. My favorite had to be when you defeat an enemy that’s dressed like a mummy. It’s a strange fight, but the cinematic afterwards is so cool that words don’t do it justice.