North American cover art
Gungrave (ガングレイヴ Gangureivu ) is a PlayStation 2 third-person shooter video game developed by Red Entertainment and published by Sega. The game debuted on July 17, 2002 in Japan, September 16, 2002 in North America and November 29, 2002 in the United Kingdom. Gungrave follows its main character through a variety of stages on a path of revenge.
While the game play received moderate reviews, Gungrave's acclaim comes from the character designs provided by series creator Yasuhiro Nightow (Trigun) and mechanical designs provided by Kōsuke Fujishima (Oh My Goddess! series, You're Under Arrest series, Sakura Wars series). Both artist's respective styles helped give the game a distinct feel, which (along with fan support) helped Gungrave translate from a video game to an anime series.
As a third-person shooter, Gungrave focuses entirely on combat and forgoes the puzzle solving aspects of some of its forebears. The player advances through hallway-like stages, but has a free range of motion in these areas. The player confronts wave after wave of fighters en route to an end-level boss. Combat varies between gunplay with enemies at a distance and simple melee combat at close range, and the game rates the amount of flair the player uses to destroy everyone and every thing in sight.
Beyond the Grave is equipped with a damage-absorbing energy shield that can absorb a large amount of damage in addition to his life bar. This shield appears as a blue bar alongside Beyond the Grave's life bar in the game's heads-up display. When the shield is fully depleted, the player is highly vulnerable and further damage reduces the character's health level rapidly. However, the shield will recharge fully if no damage is sustained for a brief period of time.
By performing well during stages, the player can unlock special attacks such as machine guns or rockets launched from the coffin on Beyond the Grave's back. These can be used by charging the beat meter which is represented by a skull on the top left corner of the game's heads-up display. To build the beat meter, Beyond the Grave must perform combos sometimes numbering in hundreds of hits (destroying enemies or practically anything in the game environment). Strategy is required in setting up combos that are as long and devastating as possible, which helps to carry on the over-the-top action of the game.
Stages and some important events within stages are separated by anime cut-scenes featuring art by Nightow. This is where the game's story takes place. Characters are expanded on and the player is given back story that is not obvious through gameplay alone.
Cerberus — Beyond the Grave's twin handguns, named for the three-headed hound of Hades. Grave has an unlimited amount of ammo with these, and never has to reload. If the player allows Grave to stand still during a fight, he will begin to target and shoot every available target on screen without looking.
Coffin —Beyond the Grave carries a tremendous (though technically small, as it is not the size to hold a body) metal coffin on his back which contains a variety of weapons that can be only used as special attacks. Grave can also use the coffin to strike nearby enemies, and if timed correctly deflect projectiles fired from a distance, destroying the enemy that fired them. The manner in which Grave carries and uses the coffin bears a strong resemblance to the cross carried by the wandering priest Wolfwood in Nightow's manga series, Trigun. It is also directly inspired by the 1966 movie Django in which the main character carries a coffin with a Gatling gun inside. The Coffin contains all of the same weapons as the trio of Mariachi in Desperado, which Grave (at the beginning of each mission) retrieves his handguns from like El, has a missile launcher (in which he strikes the same pose when firing as the Quino) and the Gatling/machine gun that Campa held.
Demolition Shots — Special attacks performed using the coffin that consume levels from the Beat Meter. They can help the player get through sticky situations. These attacks exemplify the over-the-top style for which the creators are known. There are four offensive techniques in all, along with the option of regaining health using the beat meter. The first offensive technique is available at the start of the game, and the other three are unlockable through good performance during stages.
Graveyard Special — Starting with Bob Poundmax in stage three, when a boss is near death, the skull at the top of the screen begins to glow and the player is given the option to perform a special fatality demolition shot. These usually break away from the fight for a special animation of Grave launching an extravagant attack. This consumes a demolition shot and can be performed only against a boss's final form. Each successive use of these techniques performs a different attack which build off the previous one.
The game takes place in an unknown city that is controlled by the Millennion organization. The city is overrun by crime and a mysterious drug known as seed. The story follows Grave as he sets out on a course for revenge against the man who killed him, his former best friend and colleague from Millenion, Harry Macdowell.
Stages in the game are presented as missions issued by Dr. T, and follow Grave as he hunts down the boss of that stage. Settings include a bar, a lab, the subway, and even a traditional Japanese dojo set atop a sky scraper. These environments are complemented or contrasted by the urban environment that surrounds them.
The game opens with the young girl dragging an oversized attaché case toward a warehouse with difficulty. "Bloody" Harry Macdowell has just carried out a coup against Big Daddy, the leader of the Millennion organization, and his daughter Mika needs to find someone that can protect her and stop Harry's mad plans. The occupants of this warehouse include a kindly looking old doctor, and a man with a notable scar on his face. Mika arrives, and the man with the scar claims the contents of the case: two massive handguns. That man is revealed to be the game's title character Grave, and now that he is armed he can start his mission.
Gungrave first approaches its stages as a series of missions issued by Dr. T, first to gather information on the current makeup of Millennion from a low-level street gang, and next destroying a research facility that creates Harry's undead soldiers. In the third stage, while attempting to pump information from an informant, Grave comes into contact with the leadership of the Millenion organization—once friends and allies that he now faces as enemies. Each have used the research Harry supported to give themselves inhuman powers. From here on, Grave is hounded by each member as he makes his way to Harry's tower at the heart of the city.
As the player progresses, the game uses anime cutscenes to reflect on the history of young Brandon and Harry, gradually bringing the pair's back story into focus. Close friends, the two had both become lieutenants in the Millennion organization, working directly under Big Daddy, the group's leader. Brandon shared a bond with Big Daddy and some flashbacks show the two sharing more of a father-son relationship. Brandon even let Big Daddy marry the woman he loved so that she could find a better life, but the two remained close. Not content with the power he had been given, Harry asked Brandon to help him kill Big Daddy so that he could take over. When Brandon refused, Harry shot his friend in the left eye, killing him. Fifteen years later, Harry carried out his coup. His actions as leader inspired Dr. T to revive Brandon who was the only person capable of stopping Harry. Dr. T's connection to all of this is not made clear, but he often makes comments that indicate some connection to Brandon's former life.
Grave picks apart the leadership of Millennion to make his way to Harry. At the top of the tower that Harry uses as a headquarters, it is revealed that Big Daddy still lives in the form of a twisted monster. Harry forces Grave to fight his creation, and following the final battle, Harry accepts his defeat graciously and allows his friend to kill him.
With Harry defeated, Mika's protection becomes Grave's only concern, and the two ride off into the sunset together.
Gungrave sports a colorful cast of characters, each designed by Nightow.
Formerly Brandon Heat, Grave was once a high ranking and trusted member of the Millennion leadership. Gungrave opens shortly after his resurrection, fifteen years after his death. Throughout the game Grave's past is told through the use of flashbacks in the form of anime cutscenes as Grave recovers his memories. Grave is a silent protagonist, receiving his mission and carrying it out without a word. As a result of his transformation into an undead soldier, his body must be sustained by periodic blood tranfusions or else he becomes weak and his body will collapse.
Grave has an important trait that makes him stand out from other models of Deadmen from his generation: he possesses a sense of self and will of his own. He also retains a small portion of his memories as a human, which he regains over the span of the game.
Brandon entered the organization with his friend Harry and both shared a strong bond from their childhood. While a member of Millennion, Brandon also shared a bond with Big Daddy, looking up to him as a father. Eventually, Brandon was forced to choose between supporting Harry in a coup or protecting the group's leader; he is killed for deciding not to side with his friend.
Dr. T - Voiced by: Motomu Kiyokawa
The kindly yet enigmatic Dr. T is Grave's main source of support throughout the game. He both provides Grave with information that he acquires through his own channels and provides Grave with treatments that sustains his body. The doctor has a connection to Brandon from his time in Millennion and has his own reasons for wanting to see the group see its end. The doctor's connection is that he was the lead researcher for Harry's undead soldier program. During the intermission sequences, the player can choose to let Dr. T talk and provide some information about the upcoming stage and reflect on the past until his death while Grave is in the middle of a blood transfusion.
Mika Asagi - Voiced by: Tomoko Kawakami
The thirteen-year-old daughter of Grave's former love, Maria and Big Daddy . Mika seeks out Grave for protection after her parents' deaths and provides Grave with his guns so that he can set out. During the intermission sequences of the game, the player can choose to let Mika talk about current events and things that her mother told her about Brandon and Millennion. After the death of Dr. T, Mika picks up where he left off and attempts to support Grave over a two way radio.
Mika trusts Grave completely, regarding him as the only family she has left.
Over the course of the game it comes to light as to why this girl is someone precious and important to Grave—a promise between Maria and him (when he was still Brandon) to look after and protect her child, one of the few memories Grave retains of his past life.
Maria Asagi - Voiced by: Kikuko Inoue
Maria was Brandon's sweetheart when they were young. She is also Mika's mother. After his entrance into Millennion, Brandon rejected her so that she would go to Big Daddy and be provided for. The two still remained close, and she took care of the Cerberus after Brandon's murder. She told her daughter that if there was ever a grave situation where her life was in danger, she should seek out the man that can use them for protection. The game opens after her death.
Bob Poundmax - Voiced by: Chafurin
This extremely heavy-set and boorish man is the first member of the Millennion leadership to challenge Grave. His first reaction to seeing Grave is to berate him for the ingratitude he now shows towards the group he once dedicated his life to (ignoring that this is also how he met his demise). In his second form, Bob resembles Baron Vladimir Harkonnen from the original 1984 Dune film.
Balladbird Lee Voiced by: Masaya Onosaka
Grave's second opponent, Lee is responsible for killing Dr. T and kidnapping Mika in order to lure Grave into a trap. His primary concern seems to be avenging Bob Poundmax. Initially, Lee appears to be an Asian male wearing clothes that are Manchu Qipao in style. His overkill mode resembles the Violator from Todd McFarlane's Spawn.
Bear Walken - Voiced by: Ryūzaburō Ōtomo
Grave's third opponent, Bear Walken, resides in a dojo built on the roof of an office building. Bear is an older man and solidly built. After Grave reaches the top, the serene atmosphere belies the fight that is to come. He transforms into his first attack form and levels everything on the rooftop immediately after greeting Grave.
Bunji Kugashira - Voiced by: Fumihiko Tachiki
Once Grave's student and trusted friend, Bunji became Harry's second-in-command in Grave's absence. Bunji is extremely similar to Grave, right down to fighting style. He wants nothing more than to duel with his rival. Physically, he bears a passing resemblance to Nicholas D. Wolfwood. Bunji does not transform into Overkill Mode like the three bosses before him, but does not need to (it's said that he is always in overkill mode, just that his body doesn't change).
Big Daddy - Voiced by: Iemasa Kayumi
Once the leader of Millennion, Gungrave starts shortly after the coup that ended his reign. Big Daddy is shown scarcely through cut scenes, but it is apparent that he was close to Brandon. He helped to raise Maria, and the two were eventually wed. In a cutscene, he says that he has achieved all that he had ever wanted to, and now wants to enjoy his success with his wife and unborn daughter.
While Gungrave was given moderate ratings due in most part to its short length and minimal replay value, the anime stylings of creators Yasuhiro Nightow (of Trigun fame) and Kōsuke Fujishima (of Oh My Goddess! and You're Under Arrest fame) gave the game a very distinct and unique look and feel that impressed many critics.
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