In conjunction with the Gungrave anime, a sequel to the original PS2 title was already in development as a follow-up. Gungrave: Overdose was the sequel that Gungrave should have been originally. In comparison, what was once clunky felt polished and refined. Everything was overhauled, including the menus and cutscenes. While more linear than the original, Overdose felt like I was playing through an action movie without making it feel forced.
I mentioned this when I was playing the original Gungrave for the first time but I realized that the developers became too invested in selling a product to the player. The clunky controls plus the tight corridors are meant to emulate a cool anime sequence where the hero goes in guns blazing followed by exposition. I felt that Red Entertainment wanted the player to feel invested, so they mapped a bunch of moves to various buttons so it never feels like you’re not pressing anything to contribute to the action.
This works with games like Devil May Cry and other titles, like Soulstice, that come to mind. Getting the player invested via spectacle alone won’t cut it if it feels like I have to fight the game for enjoyment rather than going with the current it’s providing me. I’m an absolute stickler for “flawed action games with way more ambition than it needs,” with some of my favorites being the Oneechanbara series. While it is a step above “beautiful girls slaying zombies like a B-Movie,”
I feel like I don’t need to be sold that Gungrave is cool. Beyond the Grave is an awesome character whose mere presence alone makes me feel like I’m playing a badass character. All the gameplay needs is to match his design and make it smooth to play instead of “How many waves of enemies and explosions can we provide to the player until the smoke and mirrors fade?”
Fortunately, Gungrave: OverDose addresses these criticisms and is largely successful with it. There are wider and open spaces to gun enemies down, the targeting system has improved tremendously, and new targets are instantly locked on upon defeating enemies. The camera is pulled back a bit, giving a much better view whenever enemies appear. Grave can also use the coffin as a shield and deflect rockets back at enemies, doubling its defenses.
These quality-of-life changes are coupled with the overall increase in movement speed. Because of this, the Run button is replaced with the melee button. The 180 turn button is also replaced as it is now possible to move the camera with the right analog stick. This fixes a lot of the previous game’s issues along with the AI. They are smarter and more prepared, some using shields and others being able to deflect bullets. Gungrave OverDose allows players to at least consider the best way to dispatch enemies without relying on mashing Square to shoot.
Gungrave Overdose takes place three years after the events of Gungrave. Following the defeat of the Millennion, a crime organization that Grave was once a part of, an older Mika is sent to investigate a deadly drug known as “Seed.” Knowing that she will need the help of Grave once more, Mika revives the gunslinger, rising from the dead once again to put a storm of bullets into whoever would endanger her.
Grave’s design is radically different compared to his original outfit, ditching the Undertaker-style hat and coat and revealing a more human side. Don’t get me wrong, he’s still as imposing as he was in the past, but he cleans up nicely with his upgraded hand cannons and armored coffin. It’s because of these upgrades that he’s able to pull off these stylish maneuvers and I can even say this costume change is symbolic.
Gungrave depicted the man formerly known as Brandon Heat, who would be betrayed by his long-time friend and sought revenge. His previous design was literally taking those who wrong him to the grave, hence the coffin and his outfit. He’s still sending people to the grave, but with his past amended, he’s a whole new person with a different outlook on his short life.
This is shown in the opening cutscene where he pets Mika on her head, showing affection to the girl he has devoted his time to protect. Grave seldom speaks, if ever, with cutscenes showing nothing but ellipses. Regardless, if something upsets him, he’ll show it through his actions. Grave speaks with his weapons and his body language and it’s something that increases his brooding yet sincere personality. A difficult character to create and take seriously, but one that Yasuhiro Nightow and Ikusabune did successfully.
Ikusabune was the main developer behind Gungrave: Overdose, having worked on the original and contributed to its game design. Red Entertainment would be a publisher this time around and would remain one within the series moving forward. While this would be the only game in the Gungrave series in which Ikusabune had total control, it proved that the series had a winning formula on its hands. Even if there were a few more dents that needed to be smoothened out, Overdose was a step in the right direction.
Unfortunately, it would be a long walk for Gungrave as most of its core staff moved on to other projects. One of the last projects that Ikusabune would work on was Project Sylpheed under the name SETA. Game Arts, the creators of the Silpheed series, served an advisory role in the development of the game. While it became a cult classic, it too wouldn’t see anything come from it.
In 2019, Gungrave would return after 15 years, not with a new game in the series, but as the Virtual Reality exclusive title Gungrave VR. Any game that is VR-exclusive is destined to fail with the crowd that it was meant for, to begin with, and Gungrave, a very niche series, was always a weird choice. For those who have played it, it’s similar to the older titles yet according to several reviews, the clunkiness didn’t transition well in VR.
The developers, Iggymob, was a fairly new South Korea-based development studio that was tasked with not just the VR version, but an entirely new Gungrave series altogether. With over 18 years since the release of Gungrave Overdose, the series would finally get a new entry in G.O.R.E. A fairly new developer with no ties to the original Gungrave yet were fans of the original titles, Iggymob had big shoes to fill from where Nightow left off with Overdose.
Kind of like how Studio Orange had big shoes to fill from where Nightow left off with Trigun. Again, if I had a nickel, I’d have two nickels. With the experience of both games under my belt, I knew I’d enter G.O.R.E with a fresh outlook from someone who hadn’t grown up with the series. It would be an interesting adventure, to say the least.