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Charting the growth of the Gunvolt franchise through the lens of localization

Localization editor Andrew Singleton gives us a few behind-the-scenes stories about how the series has changed over the years.

Paul Cecchini

December 2, 2022

8 Min Read
A gameplay screenshot from Luminous Avenger iX 2

Inti Creates has come a long way since first being commissioned to develop the Mega Man Zero games for Capcom in the early 2000s. After over a decade of making titles for other companies, it decided to venture into the uncharted waters of self-publishing–taking a few cues from genres it  was already familiar with.

The result was 2014's Azure Striker Gunvolt, a 2D action platformer about a boy with electricity powers fighting against a corrupt corporation seeking to eliminate adept, superpowered humans who they claim pose a threat to humanity's survival. Fast forward to 2022, and the Gunvolt franchise has grown significantly. This year alone has seen the release of two titles—spin-off Gunvolt Chronicles: Luminous Avenger iX 2 and  mainline entry Azure Striker Gunvolt 3.

While the Gunvolt series was already two games deep by the time Andrew Singleton came aboard as a localization specialist, helping to translate the titles for English-speaking gamers, he still heard plenty of stories from his work partner and eventual predecessor, Matt Papa.

Lost in translation

For instance, when Inti Creates released the original Azure Striker Gunvolt for the Nintendo 3DS in 2014, the dev team was so small that they didn't have an in-house localization department. Instead, they leaned on the talents of popular localization company 8-4. The initial English release, however, received a mixed response from players. The Japanese voices were removed, as well as most in-game text between characters during level gameplay, which, Singleton states, is one of the series' main selling points in Japan. 

Some liberties were taken with dialogue as well, such as the inclusion of made-up slang that didn't sit well with many players. One of Papa's first goals after being hired was to patch the Japanese voices and in-level banter back into the game and create a new, more accurate English translation that could be toggled on and off. "This was definitely a popular move with the fans who wanted the full Gunvolt story," says Singleton. "To this day, we try to respect the wishes of the story-driven fans who want access to the full content."

The game's success naturally led to a sequel shortly after—Azure Striker Gunvolt 2. Gunvolt's gameplay remained relatively unchanged. The big shakeup was the addition of Copen, Gunvolt's rival from the first game, as a playable character. His story occasionally intersected with Gunvolt's, eventually leading to a tumultuous showdown between the duo at the game's climax. It was a difficult balancing act, having Copen look and play similarly enough to Gunvolt to feel familiar to players, yet being different enough for his gameplay to stand on its own. 

Whereas Gunvolt would "tag" enemies with his gun, then unleash arcs of electricity that would hone in on his enemies, Copen had to physically ram into an enemy to tag them before launching off a flurry of laser rounds. His jet-based movement led to a more fluid playstyle; he could hover in the air after a shot, chaining together enemies one after another without ever touching the ground. This alternate gameplay proved so popular that Inti Creates would eventually give Copen his own solo title several years later.

A screenshot from Luminous Avenger iX 2

Luminous Avenger iX 2

Thankfully, since the response to Copen's gameplay had been positive, players were immediately receptive to the idea of a spin-off that dished out more of what they'd previously enjoyed–but on a larger scale.

"I do think it makes a lot of sense, looking back," says Singleton. "Inti Creates is a very creator-focused company; we make the games our creators want to make. And those creators like to take on new challenges and try new ideas. I think Gunvolt fans could immediately see the appeal of a Copen game considering how popular his gameplay proved to be in Gunvolt 2. Fans were happy to see the gameplay given room to breathe with an entire dedicated game The challenge proved to be creating a game that also appealed to new players, despite being a spin-off."

Inti Creates pulled it off. The gameplay was already solid, and the story, while referencing certain narrative elements from the original Gunvolt, stood on its own without requiring new players to pick up the first two games (while hopefully piquing their interest about what came before).

Trying new ideas, however, can be risky, and sometimes things don't come together intended. That proved to be the case with the sequel, Luminous Avenger iX 2, in which Copen's combat style is more grounded and focused on melee attacks than air traversal and chaining together combos. "Gameplay-wise, Inti does make some controversial decisions from time to time," Singleton admits. "iX 2 changing Copen's ping-pong style of gameplay was a big one. As someone on the creators' side, it's easy for me to understand that the designers wanted to explore new avenues for the design, but whether that comes across to players is another matter entirely."

Full English

iX 2 marked Singleton's debut on the Gunvolt franchise, doubling the total number of localization devs at the studio (from one to two). Singleton would generally handle the bulk of the translation, writing English from the original Japanese script. Then, Papa would edit the script for tone, readability, and errors.

With the growth of the localization team came a brand-new opportunity: recording English voice acting for the first time in the history of the franchise. This came about, in part, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. "Prior to 2020, most English voice acting was done in studios," says Singleton. "As a company with offices only in Japan, when we looked into flying out to the USA to record English voices, it would have been quite expensive. But in 2020, many voice talents got set up to record remotely, which works out much better for us. We're a small company with an even smaller English staff, so it was still a challenge, but I cannot overstate how happy I was with the result."

English voice acting presented fresh challenges. "Without English voices, we have the luxury of last-minute changes, but you can't change a line once the voice acting is done," says Singleton.

"Our in-house localization staff has never been more than two people, so you can imagine we had to wear many hats when it came to recording English voices. We have no English-speaking sound engineers, so checking to make sure everything sounds ok after their work is done falls to us." Thankfully, the team had the talents of voice actress Diana Garnet at their disposal, with Garnet taking charge of casting, directing, and even portraying main character Lumen in Gunvolt 3. "It helped immensely having someone with experience guiding us along the process," adds Singleton.

A screenshot from Gunvolt 3

Gunvolt 3

Gunvolt's newest adventure, released in late July, introduces another new playable character: Kirin. Like Gunvolt, she can tag enemies before warping over to them and cutting them down. She can also engage in close-range melee combat with her katana, another series first.

"The creative staff here is always looking to innovate the classic 2D action gameplay we're known for," says Singleton, "and I think Kirin is one of the best examples of that. It's just so satisfying warping around a stage, tearing through enemies while trying not to touch the ground."

At first glance, it might seem that newcomer Kirin is drawing the limelight away from Gunvolt himself. She's front and center on promotional art and is given the lion's share of gameplay, relegating Gunvolt to a sort of "limit break" character that players can access after filling a meter. His basic gameplay is still there but amped up to 11 due to his powers growing exponentially between the second and third games. The story still focuses on his struggles, so in a narrative sense, he remains the star.

"I like that Gunvolt's character arc now has him as essentially an unstoppable force, and switching to him to wreak havoc on enemies is incredibly cathartic," says Singleton. "I think it works as an expression of the character as well as fun gameplay. It is a bit of a departure from previous games, but I hope fans enjoy it nonetheless."

Reception for Gunvolt 3 has been positive. With two games released this year, it's interesting to look back and see how far the franchise, and Inti Creates as a company, has come.

"I'm always in awe of how Gunvolt has become a tent pole of Inti Creates," says Singleton. "The company existed for so long mostly doing work-for-hire without any wholly-owned original games... and then along comes Gunvolt and changes everything. We owe a lot to Gunvolt, and give it plenty of love in return. Personally, I'm more excited than ever about the series."

As for where Gunvolt could go next, Singleton is open to taking inspiration from other genres. "I'm personally a big fan of card games, so my dream Gunvolt game would be a digital TCG where you can collect cards of all the bosses," says Singleton, who has since taken over Papa's position since his departure from the company earlier this year. "If they ever let me design a game, [that is]"

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