Guilty Gear Xrd -SIGN- ReviewKurt Horsting
The Guilty Gear franchise is one of those series where I'm surprised that so many fans of the fighting game genre haven't even heard of it. To me, it would be like a survival horror fan not hearing about Silent Hill or shooter fan who's never played Doom. Regardless, the four updates to GGXX series(#Reload, Slash, AC and AC+R), the creation of the Blazblue franchise, and the joint creation Persona 4 Arena, it was about time for Arc System Works to bring a game that has been in demand for over a decade. A true sequel to Guilty Gear XX. And Xrd -SIGN- is more than a worthy successor to the franchise and is simply one of the best fighting games I have ever played.
The gameplay is fast paced, complemented by deep mechanics that always leave you with options and tools that empowers the smart and experienced with ways around any situation opponent can throw at you. The visuals are some of the most stunning and beautiful I have seen and simple the best use cel-shading in gaming to date. I still sometimes forget after a long round that these are 3d models and not hand drawn sprites. Even the animation of the characters try to emulate 2D techniques to make the anime style really pop out. The music is perfect, the character theme's feel like a musical personification of the personalities of the cast and bring the right energy to every fight. A very serious contender for soundtrack of the year. The player training in this game some of the best ways to teach actual fighting game fundamentals I have seen since Skullgirls. There just so many amazing things to this game.
For those out of the loop and intrigued by my gushing, a little description of the franchise. Guilty Gear is a 2D fighting game, and like every 2D fighting game since Street Fighter 2, your goal is to hit your opponent until they run out of life or have more life than them at the end of each round. Best out of 3 rounds wins the game. While not revolutionary by any standards, Guilty Gear separates itself by putting in as much craziness as possible. To put it bluntly, if an anime got knocked up by an 80's death metal band and if that child was a fighting game, Guilty Gear would be that game.
Each character is full of personally and has so many crazy tools feels like your entire approach to the game changes with every character. From Potemkins defense based methodical grappling, to Chipp's lighting fast mobility and teleports, to Venom's set-up zoning game, there is a character for every play style you can think of, or even play styles you didn't know existed. Did you ever want to save your special moves and call yourself from the past and have your past version play back that attack while still attacking your opponent? If that last sentence made sense to you there's Bedman. He's also a catatonic evil genius crucified to a demonic robot whose center is a bed frame.
Even though the cast in its current state is varied and diverse, it does seem rather thin compared to other Guilty Gears. Absences like Testament, Baiken, Bridget, Zappa and many others instantly make me feel like things there should be more. It's worse when Johnny and Dizzy are shown in the story cutscenes, but not available to be played.
The great hidden genius behind Guilty Gear's design is that there is a series of sub mechanics and universal tools that keeps all of this craziness from breaking the game into an unplayable mess. Instead of making option A beats option B, they made each choice have a series of strengths and weaknesses so you have to constantly be thinking strategically. While in a game like MK9, the breaker would always get you out of a combo; a burst is a more interesting mechanic because if the opponent reads your desperation to escape a combo, he can bait that burst by blocking or throwing and punish you. So instead of "I'm in a combo, so I burst to escape", you have "I can burst to escape, but is he baiting it?" which that sense of doubt and forcing you to study your opponent changes every action in the game into a constant series mind games which is what makes fighting games so compelling.
Thankfully, the in-game tutorial will teach you everything in the game. And I mean everything. There are two 50 part tutorials and 30+ character combo challenges per character to try and explain how this game works. It even teaches fundamentals like spacing, how to block mixups, matchup specific advice, and option-selects. For a vet this is a fun exercise and a way to learn the new mechanics and characters in a non-hostile environment, but I can see where this is just simply overwhelming to anyone just trying to pick up the game. It gets a lot right but its fatal flaw is that it's implemented too academically instead of being a part of playing the game in general. Like Portal is 90% tutorial and it felt like you were playing a game instead of learning how portal works. But Xrd's tutorials feel like you're doing homework. It's a great teacher, but if you're not into the material I don't see how people are going to stick around for the lecture. I still overwhelmingly recommend going through it just because of how much and how effective its teaching methods are.
The single player content aside from the expansive tutorial is rather lacking. The new M.O.M. mode gets old fast and the A.I. is rather pathetic. There is a story, and I don't mean a story mode. The story is told in this visual book style super-cutscene that is pretty much only of interest to fans of the lore and the visual style. Its like the story and gameplay where going through a divorce and your stuck visiting each separately. At least gameplay is the parent with custody in this tortured metaphor. Its not bad, but it feels like a waste.
The multiplayer is very good when its is working which has been the majority of the time even with a wireless connection. Even though the lobby system is a bit clunky, it has an arcade vibe to it where people can use their portrait like a quarter to show their place in line. It takes a bit to get started, but It feels closer to emulating a Japanese arcade rather than just press start and go. You also have to choose your character ahead of time, which is another thing that feels more accommodating to a Japanese audience then to an American one where we would like the freedom of picking whoever we want all the time instead of a character being a personification of yourself. The thing that matters is the netcode, and its good. And that fact alone put it above the competition.
A quick reminder to save yourself from removing your own ears, switch the vocals to Japanese. Not that I'm against English dubs, but this is some of the worst I have heard in a long time.
Even with my complaints, if it wasn't so early into the next gen's life cycle, I would say this is a contender for best fighting game of the console generation. And most of my complaints are that I want more of this game. There a few bells and whistles and other unnecessary bits hanging off, but it's like having the Mona Lisa in a chipped frame. It the painting you're going to look at. The combination of amazing visuals, amazing soundtrack and to be one of the most complex, deep and rewarding fighting game systems is too much for my mind to handle. So, what are you waiting for? Get this game and Get Ready to Rock!
Disclosure: We are provided copies of games from the game companies for some games that we review.