|System: PS4*, PS3|
|Dev: Arc System Works|
|Pub: Aksys Games|
|Release: December 16, 2014|
|Screen Resolution: 480p-1080p||Blood, Language, Suggestive Themes, Use of Tobacco, Violence|
by Angelo M. D'Argenio
Guilty Gear is back, baby, and it is more awesome than ever. If you were one of the jaded fighting game pros who looked back on the wonderful days of Guilty Gear Accent Core and thought “man, BlazBlue and Persona 4 Arena are fun, but they just aren’t Guilty Gear,” then your day has finally come. Guilty Gear Xrd -Sign- is, for all intents and purposes, a traditional Guilty Gear style game updated for current-gen consoles. Old combos and strategies still work. Old mechanics will seem familiar to pros. Crazy match swings filled with combos that take off tons of life are still the norm, and to top it all off, it’s all done to an incredible speed metal soundtrack. This is everything, I repeat, EVERYTHING, a fighting gamer from the original Guilty Gear era wants, and I hope that all fighting games follow suit.
I usually start by commenting on mechanics, systems, modes, and such, rarely commenting on graphics. It’s my personal philosophy that graphics are secondary to a good gameplay experience, especially in a fighting game. But this needs to be said: holy hell, this game is pretty!
This is the best looking fighting game on the market - bar none. It uses 3D models on a 2D plane, just like Street Fighter does, but you’d never know! The characters look like moving 2D anime characters! Everything looks like it comes out of some sort of stylized anime fight. Character faces are crisp and clear and change based on whether they are getting hit or attacking or even as the momentum of the match swings. The camera moves dynamically around as characters perform super moves, complete with speed lines, Japanese onomatopoeia, and more. Even launching an opponent with a “dust” attack and jump canceling it produces an awesome DBZ style “leap off the ground” cinematic with the camera below your character as they take to the air. It’s amazing and it really needs to be seen running in full 1080p 60fps to be believed.
What’s really awesome about this hyper stylized anime fight is that it never slows down! In games like the Naruto franchise, which is known for over the top anime craziness, action is always slow and shallow, with button mashing combos that ever so often take a sideline to horrendously extended super moves. That’s not the case in Guilty Gear Xrd. Each of these “anime sequences” are no longer than super moves and jump cancels were in previous Guilty Gear games. Everything is timed perfectly to make the fight still feel like a fast paced anime air-dasher 2D fighting game fight, while still making the camera work and animation so dynamic that it looks like you are watching a pre-drawn anime. It’s still mind blowing that all of this comes from the in-game graphics engine!
The sound design in this game is also awesome. The rocking (and I mean that literally) soundtrack really gets you in the mood to fight. However, the best parts of the sound design are the way the music changes. Land an instant kill? The background music changes. Go into an install super? The background music changes.
Voice design is similarly amazing, with characters commenting on what’s happening in the match as they get hit, rather than simply rehashing the same grunt over and over again. This is most noticeable in instant kills where both characters banter back and forth with each other as one unleashes his most powerful technique. The English voice acting that we have seen so far is… OK, but I’d stick to the Japanese voices with subtitles here.
I could go on and on about how amazing this game looks, from stage design and the way it responds to your attacks, to the brilliant U.I. elements, to the magnificently done sequences in story mode, and more, but if I do I won’t have any space to talk about actual fighting game mechanics. So just trust me, this game looks and sounds amazing.
As far as mechanics go, you are basically playing in the old Guilty Gear system with a few updates. Unfortunately, this does mean that the game doesn’t take it easy on you. There are no auto combos here to help ease you into the mechanics. Heck, the game even purposefully uses some anachronistic mechanics, like “forward+heavy=throw” just to make the game feel like older Guilty Gear titles.
The basics of the game are a five button system, punch, kick, slash, heavy slash, and dust. Each attack button has its own uses and properties which vary from character to character, but in general punches are fast and have very short range. Kicks are slightly slower, have longer range, and hit low when crouching. Slashes are good “jack of all trades” attacks that have decent range and decent speed and tend to have disjointed hitboxes. Heavy Slashes are slow and powerful attacks that are good when used in combos, jumping in, anti-airing, and so forth. Finally, Dust is your slowest attack with special properties of being an overhead and a launcher when standing, and a sweep when crouching, making it good for mix-ups and wakeup opportunity.
On top of all that, you have the normal special and super move system that utilizes quarter circles, dragon punch motions, and the like. Guilty Gear does not hold anything back when it comes to execution as well. Once again, we see anachronistic things like double quarter circles, half circles, pretzel motions, half circle back to forward motions, and more in this game. Guilty Gear Xrd just tells you to learn its mechanics and stop whining.
Then, on top of all of that there is the Gatling combo system, three different types of roman cancels, two different types of bursts, tons of different meter mechanics, faultless defense, parrying, instant blocking, teching and tech chasing, clashing, danger time clashing, guard breaking, negative penalty, instant kills, instant instant kills (yes those are really a thing), and a TON of other systems to take advantage of. In short, Guilty Gear Xrd is complicated! Usually when people say a fighting game is complicated they are just complaining about having to learn it all, but no. No, this game is really, really, complicated.
But this complication allows for some truly amazing exchanges during matches. Say you dash at your opponent and try to attack him with a standing heavy attack. But wait, he instant blocks you and has enough time to try and attack back. But you, seeing this, roman cancel your attack and input a parry, leaving him open, but then after you start attacking he bursts to prevent your combo, but you bait that burst by using an invincible super, and since his guard meter was filled you get a counter hit and do a ton of damage! It’s these fast and frantic exchanges that make the game a delight to both play and watch, causing crowds to get up and erupt with cheering whenever something insane happens.
Of course, the game doesn’t just tell you to go at it without teaching you how to take advantage of all of these systems. It has one of the best tutorials I have seen so far, going as far as to teach you about throw option selects, which is something most people don’t even know exists! (Throw option selects are when you enter an attack and a throw at the same time so that if your throw whiffs you get a different attack instead.) It also goes over good ways to train you to do difficult motions and how to get the right timing for simple combos, as well as when to take advantage of openings in the opponent’s attack patterns. It’s not quite as good as the Skullgirls tutorial, as it doesn’t quite touch on mix-up and wakeup game, but it is still quite good.
Moving on from there, the game has a magnificent challenge mode that walks you through every character’s moves and some basic combos that are really practical in matches. The later challenges get quite difficult, but if you can pull them off you will have seriously honed your execution. However, even getting halfway through will get you in fighting shape.
There is also a mission mode which focuses less on combos and more on utilizing each character’s unique set of tools in the right circumstances in a match situation. This is something very new and is honestly just great, as it covers topics like hit-confirming and roman cancel combos and all sorts of stuff that you should know before you start playing but probably don’t.
Now here’s a thing that most people will hate to hear but PLAY THE TUTORIAL, MISSION, AND CHALLENGE MODES! If you are new to the game and you don’t do this, going into each match just mashing, you will lose and you will lose horribly. Like I said before Guilty Gear Xrd is complicated, and without knowledge of how the game works you are going to get frustrated. Usually, I take off points for lack of accessibility, but the game is just so good when you understand everything, it’s hard to do so. So just play the damn tutorial, ok?