Full Review: Kick their ass! And it's actually good ass-kicking this time around!
The original Gungrave, developed by RED Entertainment and published by Sega, was cursed by two things ? the ridiculous ease of the game, and the short playtime. Seeing that these are two issues that come to be very important in gaming, it was the dealbreaker, especially for a $50 game. However, credit must be given to Gungrave Overdose: whatever was wrong with the original, it has been rectified. Sure, it's still a fairly mindless shooter at heart, but the increased difficulty, longer playtime, multiple characters, and outstanding presentation really makes this game a marked improvement over its predecessor. Even better, publisher Mastiff (Sega didn't see fit to take publishing reigns), a relatively new publisher in the US, made the decision to sell GGOD at the rock-bottom price of $14.99. While that low price usually means trash, that's just not the case here ? if you're looking for a great pure old-school shooter with actual replay and slick anime presentation, Gungrave Overdose is a surprisingly fun game that's well worth its price tag ? and this time, it probably could have sold for $50.
Gungrave Overdose's story picks up not far from where the original left off. As usual, you play as Grave, an undead ass-kicker who carries a casket around along with his guns that have no ammunition limit. In this case, Grave and his friends are on the case of the Corsione family, a new group of organized gangsters again trying to unleash Seed (a dangerous narcotic) on the world. But its not just Grave this time ? you also have two ?friends' that become playable characters; Kabane, a blind swordsman who uses a ?Gunblade" (somebody decided Squall was worth emulating??), and Rocketbilly Redcadillac, a ghost who attacks with lightning that emits from his guitar (between this and reviewing Katamari Damacy & Shadow Hearts II, I think I've met the ?weird games' quota for 2004). They all have the same story of sorts, but things happen in slightly different ways. For a pure action game, the story actually is coherent and useful to the game with plenty of twists and turns, and is very well-presented in terms of animated cutscenes and old-school RPG-esque ?panel' cutscenes.
Overdose isn't completely different from its predecessor ? it plays roughly the same. In short, it has the ?if it moves, kill it' philosophy, with little in-between. Environments are completely destructible and you get hordes upon hordes upon hordes of enemies to blast the crap out of. There are times when it's a seemingly endless string of baddies to shoot, and when you're getting attacked from all angles it can get hectic and intense, especially since they actually put up a fight this time around. There's some strategy, like the Halo-ish recharging shield, though in this case there's no health pickups lying around, so you actually do have to see if you can hide and recover the shield ? not particularly easy when you're surrounded and being mercilessly attacked. You can shootdodge if needed, or jump to higher areas, but that's really about it aside from the Demolition shots you unlock. Demolition shots are charged by acquiring ?beats' like the first Gungrave ? beats in this case are consecutive hits without too much interruption. As you progress, you unlock level 2 and 3 Demolition shots, which need multiple charges to execute. Switching between them is easy when using the d-pad, and each have different uses; your first Demolition shot will clear out everything straight ahead, but the 2nd one will have Grave spin around in circles and clear out everything even close to him. There's a certain feel of really wanting to use them once they're totally charged, but boss battles are the best places to use the shots, of course.
Because the game is more challenging, it actually is worth playing because you'll feel accomplished, not feel like you slept through it. The other good thing is it's actually longer. While 9 stages may seem like a little bit, the game will take about 6 hours to beat, which isn't bad for an action game of this vein. Add in the 2 extra characters, and you have 18 hours of shooting action, which is quite a bit for a $15 game (and if this was 1994 it would be one hell of a popular arcade game). It does get somewhat repetitive after a while, but the game is tough enough that you'll enjoy it. If you liked the first one, you'll be in love with Gungrave Overdose, which is the best thing you can say. And even if you didn't like it, or at least liked the concept, it's worth giving a 2nd shot, because it's exactly what a sequel should be in terms of taking what was wrong and making it right.
Adding to the quality of Gungrave Overdose is the visual presentation. Well-done anime scenes tell much of the tale, and the panel-based cutscenes between the main characters is interesting, though slightly old-school (similar to Front Mission 4, but a bit better). The in-game visuals are colorfully cel-shaded, a trend that seems to be vanishing recently. It's got a steady framerate and never bogs down so the action always keeps up. On the other side, the enemy designs are repetitive in an old-school way, which is either good or bad depending on your perspective. But overall, there's a slick, polished feel to this game, in both artistic style and presentation. It doesn't look all that different from the original game, but it really is a well-done game in this regard.
The audio is pretty good as well. Though there's like a half-dozen voice actors for dozens of characters, they all perform pretty well and provide decent dubs for the anime, even if you can tell who's doing the same voices (it's amusing to hear a discussion between two characters voiced by the same person). There's supposedly music that plays during the stages, but I'll have to take the word of RED and Mastiff, considering how friggin' loud the action gets. Seriously, other than the sound of guns and other weapons, everything is completely drowned out aside from the occasional moments where nothing's going on and you can hear the typically Japanese soundtrack.