The MoeGamer Awards are a series of “alternative” awards that I’ve devised in collaboration with the community as an excuse to celebrate the games, experiences and fanbases that have left a particular impression on me in 2018. Find out more and leave a suggestion here!
This award was suggested by megaapple18.
“Best Girl” is something I think about quite often. I mean, obviously Nepgear will always be my one true waifu, but that’s not to say I can’t have a personal favourite girl from among an individual game’s cast.
“Best Boy”, however; that’s something I tend to need to think a bit more about. As a heterosexual male, the red-blooded “attraction” factor is much less than it is with female characters — though there have been exceptions to this rule; I’d happily jump into bed with Urabe from Sweet Fuse, for example. We’re all a little bit gay. R-right?
Ahem. Anyway. While physical attractiveness is by no means the only aspect that draws me to particular female characters — the regular Waifu Wednesday column should be evidence enough of that — it can be an effective means of grabbing my initial attention, while the boys will have to work a bit harder to win me over in the first place.
So with that in mind, then, who was my Best Boy of 2018?
And the winner is…
For all my protestations above, there were actually a number of good candidates for this award this year, each of whom interested and intrigued me in different ways. Looking back over the year’s articles and features, one particular electric zappy boi jumped out at me and made me think “hmm, yes, he was good, wasn’t he?” and thus… well, here we are.
Gunvolt is the star of Inti Creates’ Azure Striker Gunvolt series, a pair of exciting, beautifully crafted 16 bit-style platform action games that blend Inti’s trademark technical gameplay with an extremely well-crafted narrative universe and ongoing story. “Superhero”-style stories are not always my thing, but the Gunvolt series’ dark but witty twist on the genre grabbed my attention and then kept hold until I’d seen it through to the bitter end. And yes, I mean bitter; if there’s one thing you should probably know about the Gunvolt series going in, it’s that very few people get to enjoy a legitimately happy ending.
This is one of the things that kept me playing, to be honest; while the gameplay was extremely solid and satisfying — particularly when coupled with the absolutely gorgeous pixel art and awesome music — the one thing I really appreciated over and above similar games that were actually from the 16-bit era was the amount of effort that had been put into the narrative, setting, themes and characterisation.
A big part of the appeal was Gunvolt himself. While his appearance might lead you to believe that he’s your typical Cloud Strife-style taciturn hero who just does things because he’s obliged to and doesn’t really give a shit about anything, he’s actually a very enjoyable character to spend time with. His banter with Lumen is a particular highlight of the two games, but even when he’s engaging in a mission by himself, his extremely dry — at times acidic — sense of humour really makes him a memorable character, and one you come to care about.
It may be a cliché to describe a character from a Japanese video game as having a “strong sense of justice”, but it’s really true in Gunvolt’s case. In the first level of the original game, we see him sent on an assassination mission, only to discover that his target is a young girl (Joule) who appears to harbour some sort of virtual idol (Lumen) within herself. Unwilling to snuff out the life of someone who has done nothing wrong — his mission was more a preventative measure to ensure Lumen’s considerable power wouldn’t fall into the wrong hands — he amicably departs from the organisation he had been a part of in favour of keeping Joule and Lumen safe.
As the game progresses, Gunvolt, who we can safely assume has been a bit of a “lone wolf” for most of his existence despite being part of a quasi-military organisation, starts to open up a bit, and comes to trust Joule in particular. It’s heartwarming to see this young hero having an opportunity to express himself and get to know someone around his own age; as a player, you want to see Gunvolt’s relationship develop with Joule and Lumen because it helps you get to know him as much as it does the girls.
Gunvolt’s humour and wit is perhaps most apparent in the second game, where he has, not to spoil anything, taken more than a few emotional hard knocks. His in-mission dialogue with Lumen in particular shows us a young man who is not doing what he does in an attempt to impress people, but instead to help the people he cares for. And while his words are sometimes tinged with bitterness and acidity for what has come before, he is able to take most things in his stride — even when confronted with a cast of villains as peculiar as his superpowered foes in Azure Striker Gunvolt 2, who are just as likely to bombard him with Internet slang and questionable Engrish rapping as they are to hurl manifestations of Septimal energy at him.
In addition to all of the above, I’ve gotta admit… he’s just a good looking dude, too, with a distinctive sense of style and an appealing athleticism about him, both in the more “traditional” 2D artwork seen in the story scenes and his low-resolution pixel art incarnations during the games themselves. He proceeds on his way with determination and confidence but never crosses that line into unappealing cocky arrogance; to me, he represents an ideal to aspire to rather than something to envy. While his powers give him capabilities we can only dream of, he has enough in the way of convincing, believable and relatable flaws about him to make him far more than just an avatar for the player; he’s an excellent character that I hope we see more of in the future.
Plus he has nice abs and can charge your phone just by looking at it. I’m sold.
More about Azure Striker Gunvolt
More about Azure Striker Gunvolt 2
More about Inti Creates
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