Heaven or Hell, rock again
I’ve spent many late nights with Guilty Gear. Week-long tournaments, money-matches between friends; it was the perfect series to play around with, and one of my most competitive. But as time went on, the franchise started to get a little stale. We saw the same exact character models, the same movesets, and not much in terms of innovation.
Guilty Gear Xrd changes that significantly with a complete overhaul of the visual style on top of everything that made Guilty Gear so great in the first place.
Guilty Gear Xrd -SIGN- (PS3, PS4 [reviewed])
Developer: Arc System Works Team Red
Publisher: Aksys Games
Released: December 16, 2014
MSRP: $49.99 (PS3), $59.99 (PS4)
Whether you’re jumping in for the first time or you want to dust some of that rust off, Xrd has a comprehensive (and funny) tutorial mode. As a six-button fighter (four for attacks), picking up Guilty Gear is easy — there’s a punch, kick, slash, and heavy slash button, as well as throws, air dashes, and cancels. Easy, right? Well, at first!
Eventually you’ll work into the core mechanics of the game, which involve dust attacks (launchers), the intricate combo system (including easy-to-use beginner Gatling combos), Roman Canceling, and a lot more. Some of the advanced techniques include variations of the canceling system, including Purple Romans, which work as anti-whiff recovery in case you’re expecting a big punish.
Then there’s the Gold Psych burst move that grants maximum tension gauge (super) when used correctly, and the Blue Psych, which is basically a combo-breaker of sorts. Instant Blocks work as a “just defense” mechanism, Faultness Defense is a nuanced pushback counter, and the Blitz Shield blocks one hit of your choice with a Dragon Ball Z-esque power-up frame of sorts. The best part about Blitzing is that you can do it back and forth, which can get comical if you hit it off just right.
This is all on top of the core principle of the game — aggression is king. In order to keep your Tension up, you need to constantly rush down your opponent and actually get in the thick of it. Turtling for too long will deplete your gauge, which is used for nearly every major ability including supers. It gives Guilty Gear a unique feel where even zoning has to be more aggressive, and it’s all the better for it.
With Xrd, the entire graphical style has been overhauled. The game looks insanely detailed by way of 3D cel-shaded animation, even though it looks and feels like a 2D fighter. Everything from Dust Attacks to Overdrives (supers) also have a cinematic feel to them, and insta-kills feel like they’re ripped directly out of an anime. At one point I couldn’t tell a custscene apart from the in-game animation, which is crazy. For reference, it runs at 720p on PS3, but glorious 1080p on the PS4.
To add to the upgraded sense of style, the new soundtrack (although a bit small), is worthy of its place in the series. Characters like Chipp have a new dimension to them stylistically, to the point where it feels like I’m meeting them for the first time. Seeing Venom open up his pool cue is just as awesome as it was years ago, and nuances like Sol’s Dragon Install modifying his physical state and his Tyrant Rave animation are nice touches. I also love the Potemkin and Millia revamps more than the old models. Oh, and Slayer’s haikus are back.
Speaking of the cast, you’ll find everything from the arcade version, and 17 fighters in all if you include the two DLC characters (one of which is free for a limited time). The console version adds Sin Kiske, boss Ramlethal Valentine, and the DLC-specific Elphelt and Leo Whitfang. The newcomers in the mix are extremely welcome, as Ram has the ability to manipulate two swords separately, and Bedman can recall past versions of himself to enact abilities he has used previously.
Existing characters also have plenty of fun gimmicks to differentiate themselves, like Zato using Eddie as a summon/minion of sorts. All in all you’ll find the following: Faust, Millia, Sol, Ky, May, Chipp, Potemkin, Slayer, I-No, Axl, Ramlethal, Venom, Zato-1, Bedman, and Sin pre-DLC. Sadly, a number of classic characters are missing like Jam, Baiken, and Johnny. It stings — and unlocking Sin by grinding for tons of points is a massive pain — but the new cast fits right in.
You’ll have a bit more to chew on in terms of a story as well, as each character has at least an intro, mid-movie, and ending in Arcade mode. Though the dub is quite serviceable and features a cast that treads the perfect line between serious and cheese, you can simply switch to Japanese voices in the options menu. Default dual-audio? Yes, please.
The visuals once again are employed perfectly in the main story as it deals with yet another “world ending” scenario, intertwining the entire cast in one giant plot. There’s plenty of single-player goodness to enjoy here as you see the events unfold through multiple sets of eyes, and there’s even a full “story” mode that serves as a miniature movie to wrap this particular plotline up. It should really appeal to fans of the series and anime fans in general, though the fact that it’s not playable feels like a misstep (yep, it’s all automatic). There’s also an objective challenge mode for every character, a linked mission mode, and the survival-esque Medal of Millionaire (M.O.M.) returns.
The online modes are fairly robust, with gigantic 64-player lobbies, reserve slots, “winner stays” settings, room passwords, the ability to “quarter up,” track records, and the option to train while you wait. You can tweak nearly every option, including individual round settings and spectator options. There can be four battles going on in each lobby, leading to some intense matches going on simultaneously. Cross-Play between the PS3 and PS4 is the cherry on top.
The netcode itself is running smoothly as tested at launch (12/16). The system is server-based, and you can access a number of regions like North America and Asia. Lobbies vary, as Japan is completely maxed with multiple 64-person lobbies, but some North American regions only have a few full rooms. Once you’re rocking, though, the good times keep on rolling. You can even queue up a ranked match and do any other activity in the game while waiting.
Guilty Gear is still one of the most badass fighting franchises out there, and Xrd -Sign- honors that legacy. It looks breathtaking, the action is constant and in-your-face, and although the roster is smaller than I’d like, there is a lot of variation to be found once you start digging into the game.
[This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]