Luminous Avenger iX 2 and the difficulty problem

Inti Creates' latest action game takes a cavalier approach to challenge

You know, the Gunvolt series has never been especially about challenge. Some of you are probably already raising a finger to object, and I see you, and you're valid. Yes, they're very difficult in terms of attack patterns and demands. However, a straight clear? Pretty easy. The "prevasion" mechanic made it simplicity itself. When you took a hit, you'd expend energy "prevading" it, but not take damage as long as you weren't attacking at the same time. If your energy hit zero, you'd become vulnerable while it refilled, but it could be recharged at any time by double-tapping "down" on the D-pad. Progress was relatively trivial.

Of course, the focus was on scoring - killing enemies gets you "Kudos", but taking a hit - even with prevasion - reduces said Kudos to 0. Reach 1000 and you get a healthy glow and a new vocal J-Pop song. Ample reward, methinks. But high-level Gunvolt play requires intense dedication. Those bosses have some brutally difficult attacks to avoid, like Mega Man Zero boss fights on steroids.

Luminous Avenger iX 2, starring series breakout character Copen, makes this situation even more front-loaded. Rather than utilise the prevasion system, he's simply able to refill his health to full at any time, in any situation. This is an interesting take on things because it reframes the difficulty or lack of it as entirely within your control. Taking a hit, here, is taking a hit. It cannot be negated or taken back, only compensated for. This creates a very different game feel, rather akin to credit-feeding on old arcade games via MAME. It's like... you succeeded, yes, but you had to heal, what, six times? It's a very interesting system that I found provoked thought on the whole nature of difficulty discourse - which you have to admit is rife, especially with the recent release of Elden Ring.

Allowing the player to heal at any time, infinitely, is a very interesting choice; as noted, it puts the onus on the player to not use it, rather than seeking external tools/trainers to make the choice to cheat. It's not an accessibility feature, so to speak, but it can act as one. The point is by making the health restoration manually triggered rather than automatic, the agency given to the player condemns them to being their own judge in the ultimately trivial matter of whether they're playing the game properly.

The rest of the game? Mm, it's good, but a bizarre mechanical change rather spoiled it for me. In the original Luminous Avenger iX, Copen could remain airborne by air-dashing and locking onto enemies multiple times. In this game, you can only do this once and then have to land to reset the function. This makes things notably less dynamic, and though the levels are plainly designed around this limitation, it's still a little disappointing and feels like a step back.

Still, it's good stuff otherwise. Gorgeous to look at, the usual cool boss fights and utterly redundant story, complete with unsettling waifu-bait character designs that yammer on at one another constantly to zero effect. But I'm being too negative. This is a good and commited old-school platform blaster/slasher/dasher, and if you liked the first one you'll like this. Now hurry up and release Gunvolt 3.