Guilty Gear has been a prominent fighting game series since 1998 when it first hit shelves. Since then, Street Fighter 4 (arguably) revived the fighting game scene in 2008, and companies like Arc System Works were confident in releasing new IP’s like Blazblue. It’s been seven years since the last Guilty Gear game released in the US, so is Guilty Gear Xrd-Sign- a triumphant return? Or does their special attack whiff, leaving them wide open for a fierce punish?
Presentation: Part of me wishes every fighting game could look this good. It’s a wonderful blend of 2-d and 3d, whereas the cell shaded 3d models look like they’re illustrated sprites. This game utilizes the Unreal Engine 3 to achieve this effect, it’s quite the testament to how versatile that engine is and how talented Team Red is when given sophisticated and flexible tools at their disposal. Speaking of, the art direction is very strong. The colors are vibrant, character designs are unique and imaginative, and the game exudes an overall highly stylized aesthetic. Additionally, the animations are silky smooth at 60fps, which means movement is very fluid. It’s impressive, and really makes you wonder why we don’t see more fighting games take on this kind of approach, but then one must realize that if they did, it would take away from what makes Guilty Gear Xrd so special.
The menu interface for non-ranked online lobbies is the only complaint I have about the visual presentation. Perhaps it’s supposed to replicate the feel of going into a real arcade and playing with a group of people. But the colors, the actual layout of the menu, and the rooms themselves are a bit overwhelming and confusing. Obviously, those who wish to delve into the experience will overlook this, but it can be both daunting and cumbersome to newcomers or people just looking to jump in.
Heavy Metal music lovers will feel right at home with this anime inspired metal soundtrack. While I can’t call myself a Metal head, the soundtrack is quite fitting for the over the top stylized and action packed action on screen. I actually like a lot of the music in this game: the intro track, Sol and Ky’s reunion, and the arcade mode ending track are my favorites. It’s both varied, and consistent in it’s use of appropriate music for each level, scenario, and super move. The voice acting is also really well done, although Sol Badguy does have a sort of “forced” voice. Still, each character has something interesting about them to make them distinct and memorable in some way, from Slayer’s scottish accent and gentleman-like demeanor, to Chipp’s arrogant attitude and obsession with being “the President”. The sound effects are also super “punchy”, with each hit reverberating different, interesting sound effects.
Gameplay: Guilty Gear Xrd is not an easy game. It’s not easy for newcomers or those who have previously played Guilty Gear games: that in itself is it’s biggest strength and weakness. People who haven’t previously invested in a Guilty Gear game have very little incentive outside of curiosity to dive into this game because there are so many nuances and details that are crucial to understanding why you’re getting your face pounded in so badly when it does actually happen.
Conversely, it is incredibly rewarding to be able to pick up on certain techniques and methods after spending time experimenting with the game. While it’s easy to pick up and button mash your way to victory against the average player, it’s very difficult to compete with anyone who has a solid understanding of the mechanics if you don’t. The difference between experienced players and noobs is fairly stark as a direct result. Even those who are fairly versed in fighting games may become frustrated with this game, due to there not being a Guilty Gear game in so long.
Characters move quickly, and the action is frantic. Again, the action on screen can be overwhelming to some but it’s poetry in motion. When you watch a high level player at work, it’s a beautiful display of seemingly deliberate and calculated strings of attacks. Characters have standard light, slash, heavy slash, and kick attacks, but also have the ability to perform a launcher called dust, which depending on your input will either knock them back or into the air for follow up attacks. Every character has super attacks, with some doing a quick combo or temporarily transforming into a stronger version of themselves. They also have the ability to enter the “instakill state”, where they can launch an attack that will automatically end the round in one hit. It’s a mechanic that always gives you a fighting chance, even against those who are blatantly destroying you. It can turn the tide of any match and really heightens the tension while adding a layer of gambling for every match. It’s very well implemented and a beautifully animated mechanic.
The game has several core modes- arcade, vs., online, M.O.M, and story. Story mode has me a bit baffled as to what the decision making process was behind it; not because it isn’t interesting or bad, but because you don’t actually play anything in it. Online is a blast, but looses some credibility because you can’t actually invite anyone into your player match session. If you want someone to join, you must first make a room, set it to “specific people”, then send the person you’re inviting a room ID that they search for. It’s needlessly complicated, and breaks apart the enjoyment you get out playing with friends.
Story: The story primarily follows the character Sol Badguy, but features many characters from previous Guilty Gear games including Ky Kiske, Sin, Chip, I-No, May, Venom, and several others. Some that are missing (in terms of playable characters) are Dizzy, Johnny, and Baiken. It really bums me out to not see an even larger cast of characters I’ve seen before return in a playable form, even if just for nostalgia sake. Yet the new characters are welcome and really interesting in their own rights. The story is a bit confusing, especially if you have no previous knowledge about the game, so I recommend doing some reading about the basic terms and elements that make the story come together. Essentially, “gears” are manmade magical creatures, and were in a war with Humans because of a particular Gear named Justice that was once a human, and has the ability to control other gears. Long story short, Justice was taken over by blind rage at the fact that Gears were considered an abomination by humans, even though their creation was against their own will.
The story is very fascinating, with several layers of depth and backstory about each character and their relationships. It even involves a sad love story, that never really gets delved into too deeply, which is a shame. It’s a missed opportunity to show some real depth in Frederick and Aria as characters. All in all, the story does an adequate job of entertaining but there were many opportunities to delve deeper. Another missed opportunity is the execution of the story mode. It is true, that while you can enter arcade mode and fight through a series of opponents with a cutscene at the beginning and end of the journey, it only serves to set up the events leading up to the actual story mode. But story mode has you literally just sitting through a series of cutscenes, compiled into an anime movie. Obviously, the game is beautiful and the production values are high, keeping the experience feeling compelling and interesting, but the fact that there is no actual gameplay has me totally confused. A possible solution to that would have been to incorporate gameplay techniques and lessons into the story mode battles in between cutscenes to somewhat replicate what happens in the actual story. It felt like a disjointed experience, but at least the story being told is interesting.
Lasting Appeal: Guilty Gear Xrd -sign- is a blast to play, but only after you get over that initial “butt whoopin” hump. It’s easy to pick up and play, but a total pain to master. In that way, it’s genius, but at the same time, it creates a very clear line of “proficiency” and “helplessness”. People who put the time in will genuinely feel a sense of reward for their efforts, but those who aren’t willing to overcome that initial hurdle will find themselves burnt out and discouraged. The game features several modes to keep you entertained, standard versus mode, and online (share play included), which means you always have someone to play with. While I found myself really drawn to this game, I will admit it’s not for everyone, so I say this with the intention of not misleading everyone into thinking it will “click” for them. The good news is that there is a free demo available on the Playstation Store!
- Top notch visuals, some of the best fighting game visuals out there
- Very deep and rewarding fighting system
- Netcode is pretty strong, complete with frame delay information
- Easy to get pummeled if you don’t have foundation of mechanics
- Many characters from the past missing
- Story mode leaves a lot to be desired, despite awesome production values
You can buy Guilty Gear Xrd -sign- here.
All Guilty Gear Xrd -sign- images copyright Aksys & Team Red