Seven years ago, Gravity Rush dropped on the PlayStation Vita and immediately became a standout exclusive of the system. Although it wasn’t a smash hit sales wise, it quickly gained a cult following. While much of this cult enjoyed it, I loved it so much that I not only consider it my favourite Vita game, but one of my favourite games period. Today, I explain why. Full spoilers for Gravity Rush and Gravity Rush 2 to follow.
I’m first going to cover the story. I’m doing this because, in a lot of reviews of the game I’ve seen, many people criticise the story, which is baffling to me as I think the story is fantastic. On the surface, Gravity Rush’s story does seem very simple. Amnesiac girl wakes up. Realises she has superpowers. Saves the day. I thought the same on launch because, while I enjoyed the game for a while, I stopped playing it around half way through because it just wasn’t holding my attention.
My mind was changed two years later when I stumbled on a forum post on Gamefaqs. This post was one explaining Gravity Rush’s world, including the character backstories, physics and overall narrative and writing. I found it fascinating how in depth and brilliant it all was, and I immediately returned to the game to give it a second chance. This time around it clicked and, when it was all said and done, I realised how special this game was, a fact that was enforced when I played through it again via its PS4 remaster.
The storytelling is so brilliant because, while it does have that deceptively simple story on the surface, digging deeper reveals a lot of details that drastically enhance everything that happens. Tons of lore, backstory and foreshadowing is chronicled through dialogue that make every character so likable and give everything that happens so much more weight. The more you dig into it, the more you realise just how much time and thought was put into it. Every character has an intriguing story. Every location, even those irrelevant to the main plot, has a history.
This is especially apparent by the abundance of foreshadowing mentioned previously. The story is one they’ve had planned out since 2010 (as shown by the concept art of characters from that time), and as such they were able to drop hint after hint to the player about what is to come, which works so well because it allows them to build mystery and anticipation on the first playthrough, and exciting revelations on subsequent playthroughs as you can see how everything ties together.
For example, early in the game you talk to someone who tells you about a rumoured school bus that fell off of the world with numerous students in. Hours later, you go down the world pillar and discover this bus and its students, students that would go on to play a notable role in the story and Raven’s character growth. Furthermore, the foreshadowing even extends to Gravity Rush 2. For example, the opening line has Kat recall that “there’s another way”. She doesn’t remember what it means and it’s not mentioned for the rest of the game. Fast forward to the end of Gravity Rush 2 and the rising death, a concept that is mentioned throughout both games, remains as the sole problem the characters face, in part because they don’t know how to stop it. Then, Kat remembers that line from way back at the start of the first game – “there’s another way” – and the sequel’s story is wrapped up because of it. It’s outstanding writing that makes multiple playthroughs rewarding, while also working in-game as it ties into the “everything is destined” theme covered multiple times throughout both games.
It rewards players that pay attention. Moreover, it treats the world as as much of a character as the characters. All of this comes together to create a universe that feels deep, fascinating and likable.
Said world is brought to life with a stunning stylistic flare. Visually, the game is gorgeous. It opts for a cel shaded meets anime style that is as beautiful as it is unique. Be it on the Vita or PS4, the world pops with vibrant colours and lush looking environments that make the player feel at home and immersed. Even areas you wouldn’t think would carry this over do. For example, Endestria, the industrial zone of Hekseville, features a nice green sky and a visual fidelity that pops, while somehow still maintaining the grittiness an industrial zone should have. This carries over to the characters, which also have distinct shapes and colours that make each one stand out from one another, while also still having a unified aesthetic thanks to the great world building (e.g. people dress fancier in the Pleasure Quarter than they do in Auldnoir as it’s the area residents go to for nightlife and entertainment).
Gravity Rush also features awesome visuals in the cutscene department. The game features scenes told entirely through a comic book like structure, which is another superb design choice that adds even more personality to the already lovable formula.
Its stylistic flare is added to via its sound design. Gravity Rush features one of my favourite soundtracks of all time. The relaxing orchestral score of Auldnoir. The upbeat, “big city” vibe of Vendecentre. The absolute banger that is Pleasure Quarter’s tune. Whatever the hell the electronic drug trip tracks that the rift planes have are. The soundtrack has an eclectic mixture of instruments and genres that makes it an absolute joy to listen to at all times, and it nails every style, be it fast, relaxed or rock infused, to create a collection of compositions that is simply impeccable from top to bottom.
This superb sound design carries over to the voice acting. Gravity Rush’s voice acting is interesting in that it doesn’t feature full voice acting, but rather occasional sound bytes to accompany gestures or dialogue, like a lot of Nintendo’s franchises in a way. It’s an excellent choice that adds even more charm and personality to the experience – it’s weird, jarring but ultimately something that becomes really enduring, and I’m glad they continued it in the sequel.
And then, of course, there’s the gameplay. As you’d expect, Gravity Rush’s unique premise leads to unique gameplay, namely that entailing you manipulating gravity to fly across the sky, walk up walks, lift objects and more. It’s as fun as it sounds and it, combined with the previously mentioned visual and aural design, makes even just the act of messing around in the open world so damn fun. I’ve spent hours just falling around Hekseville because of it, and when it’s put into action it’s even better.
Unfortunately, the game doesn’t take full advantage of this in the missions, and it’s really my only qualm with the game. See, my favourite thing to do in this game is explore with this fun movement and physics system, yet a lot of missions decide to focus on combat instead. The combat is pretty enjoyable, but it’s undoubtedly the weak link of an otherwise flawless outing. The main attack is the ingeniously named gravity kick, which is often cumbersome to use because there’s so many times where it misses when it should have hit. It’s the most powerful normal attack in the game so it needs some sort of balancing mechanic like this, but it regularly feels like an annoyance rather than a consequence of you messing up.
You can also attack via regular ground strikes and the gravity slide. These are much more fun to use, which is unfortunate because they’re much weaker than the gravity kick. As such, the combat is either effective but annoying, or weak but fun, and the fact that the game’s campaign leans more on this versus the thoroughly awesome exploration is a shame. As I said though, it is still very fun, and for every one annoying kick miss is ten really satisfying takedowns.
And that’s not to say the game doesn’t incorporate its explorative strengths anyway, as many missions revolve around Kat’s various, fun to use movement options. The rift planes are especially fantastic, as they’re a perfect mix of platforming, exploration and combat. Moreover, these rift planes reward the player for exploration via large amounts of gems and secret, rare Nevi that give you a trophy and, well, large amounts of gems.
As mentioned previously, the game also features an open world where you’ll be doing a lot of exploring anyway, something the developers were clearly aware of because, well, Hekseville is outstanding. Each of its districts are brought to life in vivid and immersive ways, and even just the act of walking around them are a joyous experience. NPCs bustle. Trains move from station to station. You can tell they spent hours upon hours on the world, as every time I load up the game I find something new I never found before. A cool landmark I didn’t know existed. An intricately designed alleyway and staircase. Interactive items like elevators and trams. Again, you’re rewarded for exploration, and it’s without a doubt Gravity Rush’s greatest gameplay element.
Overall, I consider Gravity Rush a masterpiece. From its story to its design to its exploration, Gravity Rush is a masterclass. Its world is rich, its characters are likable and its gameplay is a pure joy to experience. If you’ve never given this game a chance then please do so, because I believe so many of its fantastic aspects were overlooked and, consequently, it never got the amount of love it deserves. It’s not just a standout of the Vita or PS4’s library, it’s one of my favourite games of the generation period.
So what do you think of Gravity Rush? Did this review help shine a new light on this game in a way that that Gamefaqs post did for me all those years ago? Let me know in the comments or via my Twitter profile @JoshBSocial.