Gungrave is a fairly interesting anime from 2003 that recounts the tale of two good friends, Harry MacDowell and Brandon Heat. Harry is by far the more outspoken of the two, and as they grow up they form quite a bond through the trouble they cause and the laws they break. These two live in a run-down, fictional city, where a mafia group by the name of Millenion controls everything. The anime tells of how the boys gradually get involved in this organization, climbing up the ladder, developing relationships with girls beyond the occasional fling, and making tough decisions. This definitely puts the friendship to the test, because Harry and Brandon have quite different motives and ambitions. (I donâ€™t want to spoil anything about the story, because anyone remotely interested should just check it outâ€”itâ€™s that good!)
Gungrave: Overdose takes place at some point after the 26 episode anime. Brandon is now â€œBeyond the Grave,â€ an undead killing machine that speaks even less than he did in the anime. Brandon, aka Grave, is a good person though, and when heâ€™s â€˜awakenedâ€™ by a friend named Mika, heâ€™s ready for action, carnage, and other good stuff. The storyline in Overdose revolves around a new drug thatâ€™s become very popular in the area they live in. This drug isnâ€™t just extremely powerful; it ends up destroying the user. Mika and her friend Spike (the computer guy) were sick of this, so they decided to start tracking down its creators and sending an already dead guy to blow them all to kingdom come.
Make no mistake though, Beyond the Grave isnâ€™t invulnerable just because heâ€™s deadâ€”his body can still be destroyed beyond the point of restoration, so in effect, heâ€™s like any other human, though able to withstand more bullets. The gameplay is fairly standard for a third-person shooterâ€”itâ€™s a third-person button masher. Grave doesnâ€™t rely on a whole lot of weapons, but his small selection fits the job very well. Two extremely oversized guns? Check. Some kind of grave carried on the back to be used in close combat? Check. A host of extremely powerful demolition shots? Also check. Iâ€™ll go through all three.
In ranged combat, where the players spends the majority of his or her play time, Grave runs and strafes around blowing up things as well as bad guys. To do this efficiently, the player locks onto targets using the L1 button. By standing still and just hammering the fire button, Grave begins shooting a barrage of bullets in the general direction heâ€™s facing. Grave will lock roughly onto enemies, but youâ€™ll want to take care of enemies that shoot back at you first if you use this approach. Enemies come in a few general forms: those that fire bullets, those that engage in close combat, some that shoot rockets, some that charge you carrying explosives, some thatâ€™ll both fire at you and whack you over the head if you get too close, and finally the bosses. Throughout the game, these grow in strength, but the strategies the player will use remain largely the same.
When playing the game, youâ€™ll find enemies reasonably far away from you, but they will get close and personal too, and thatâ€™s where the grave you carry on your back comes in handy. This can be swung around, causing a very good chunk of damage to whoever gets too close. This attack can also be used against rockets that are fired at you effectively sending them right back at whoever fired them, though there is a certain element of timing involved.
A nice thing about Gungrave: Overdose is that much of the environment can be blown up at any given time. This isnâ€™t just great for the sake of watching things explode; it actually serves a purpose. When you fire a shot or whack someone with the grave and the attack â€œconnects,â€ you earn what is called a beat point. These are used to fill up your demolition shot meter, which Iâ€™ll discuss later. If, for instance, you kill a group of ten bad guys, you mayâ€™ve earned 50 or even 60 points, but if you continue moving forward, shooting things around you like barrels, control panels and whatever else, you can keep the number of points going upwards. The more beat points you acquire, the more your demolition shot meter fills up, and when the meter is full you earn one demolition shot. You can have a total of five or so shots, and the farther you get the more useful these are. If you donâ€™t attack in about three seconds, however, your beat points go to zero, at which point the demolition shot meter fills up much more slowly.
So what are these mysterious demolition shots? As you mayâ€™ve guessed, theyâ€™re special attacks that are used to eliminate of a large amount of enemies. These attacks are divided into a matrix of nine cells. There are essentially three types of attack, and each of these has three levels. At level three, the attack costs three demolition points, but will pretty much clear the room regardless of whatâ€™s there. Some attacks fire extremely powerful shots at one specific area, while others fire less powerful shots over a much wider area. Youâ€™ll eventually need every kind of attack you can get your hands on.
Early in the game, you only have a very limited selection of attacks, but at the end of each level your performance is analyzed. For instance, if you finish the level with a lot of health left or used the grave against many incoming rockets you earn handy bonuses. The better you do the earlier you get new special attacks.
Itâ€™s about time I talk about the shield players have. Those that have played Halo or its sequel should feel right at home. Right by the health meter (which is difficult to replenish) is your shield, which will take the brunt of the damage. If your shield is down to about fifth of its full power, youâ€™ll want to hide for about five seconds or so, at which point the shield fills back up. If you take too many hits and the shield canâ€™t protect you anymore, your health meter will decrease. Therefore, when playing it can be smart to size up the enemy and take a few at a time so that you donâ€™t risk losing more of your health than you have to.
Boss fights are found quite often, and are for the most part diverse and interesting. As with most games, the key is to find the one vulnerable point and attack it with all your might. In Gungrave: Overdose, this may be to blow up the bossâ€™s weapons first or run behind to its less protected back. Youâ€™ll often get a few tips from your friend Mika though, so you wonâ€™t spend too long looking for the solution.
As the storyline progresses, you bump into an odd couple of guys that are just as dead as Grave. Billy, the extremely American guitar player, and Juji, the pissed off Japanese soldier, are apparently also fighting the drug lords, and eventually they join your cause. These two wonâ€™t directly help you when youâ€™re knee deep in mafia territory, but through cut scenes and dialogue sequences we hear of their exploits, so they are apparently nice to have along. Plus, when finishing the game youâ€™ll get a chance to play as one of them, should you be so inclined.
I honestly didnâ€™t expect all that much of a storyline in this game, and I feared that they had just taken a couple of interesting characters from an anime and dropped them into a standard third-person shooter, but luckily I was proven wrong. Thereâ€™s more of a storyline here than youâ€™ll find in most of the budget shooters out there, but Iâ€™d probably be left with a lot of question marks if I hadnâ€™t watched the 26 episodes, so keep that in mind.
In terms of graphics, itâ€™s better than what the low price tag suggests. The environments arenâ€™t powerfully realistic and diverse, but there is some originality and variation. Of course, the most important thing in a button masher is to have stuff to blow up, and youâ€™ll find plenty here. Modeling and texturing is decent, and so are the animations for that matter. My biggest complaint would be that it feels a lot like being a really confined area; it doesnâ€™t add to the experience when the player is moving from â€œgeneric room with five enemies and one carâ€ to â€œgeneric room with six enemies.â€ It wouldâ€™ve been nice if the player couldâ€™ve done a bit more than just run around and shoot.
Additionally, Grave will have to jump onto boxes a few times throughout the game, and thatâ€™s when you see how clumsy he really is. We mayâ€™ve been spoiled by games like the Tomb Raider and Prince of Persia series, because those featured a much more diverse selection of abilities, such as being able to climb in the environments. Itâ€™s also very easy to lose a target the player used L1 to lock onto. This can be especially frustrating when fighting a boss and things are especially hectic.
Gungrave: Overdoseâ€™s audio is up to par for a budget title. The musical selection consists of fairly low-key and slow tempo music. Heavy metal or bland hip-hop wouldâ€™ve been headache inducing, so itâ€™s nice that the developers chose relaxing music for resting between battles. Also, the voice acting isnâ€™t too bad considering itâ€™s a budget title and comes from Japan, but there are times when you can almost imagine the voice actors standing in the studio, reading lines off a sheet of paper. Some of the bosses repeat one or two phrases until youâ€™ve destroyed them, and thatâ€™s appears to be both sloppy and lazy. The sound effects, however, are well executed.
When a gamer buys a full-price action game, he or she expects quite a lot. In some cases, that money is well spent and the player has a good time, but itâ€™s easy to sometimes question whether that money couldâ€™ve been better spent elsewhere. With Gungrave: Overdose youâ€™re paying about half of that, so itâ€™ll probably be a much easier investment for some. Itâ€™s really the kind of game you can just buy on a Friday, finish over the weekend, and pick up when youâ€™re bored and want to blow things up. It also helps that players can unlock characters and other neat things. (Though I do recommend that you watch the anime first to get an idea of what Graveâ€™s motives are, but itâ€™s not an absolute necessity.)
Ultimately, although Gungrave: Overdose doesnâ€™t look or sound fantastic, and it doesnâ€™t feature the most spectacular gameplay, fans of Gungrave and/or button mashers will certainly enjoy this title.