Arc System Works’ fighting game series Guilty Gear is one of many game franchises (many fighting game franchises for that matter) that I’ve always admired from a distance. The only other game in the series I’ve played is Guilty Gear XX #Reload on Xbox, which was a solid fighting game, but I played it a bit past its time since it was through the Xbox 360’s digital download service. Guilty Gear Xrd, the most recent addition to the series, came out in Feburary of 2014, but was just recently released on PC through Steam, so this seems like as good a time as any to give my thoughts on the game as well as the series as a whole (without having to call it a retro review).
I’ll say this to start: I can’t understand the story at all. Before anyone gets mad at me, I’m not actually going to count that against the game, since if there’s one thing I’ve learned about fighting games, it’s that you don’t play them for the story. Compared to other Arc Sys fighting games, though, Xrd handles its story as what is essentially a really long cutscene with its own mode, as opposed to the series of fights interspersed with dialogue segments in games like Blazblue or Persona 4 Arena. I can’t decide if separating the story from the game proper is brilliant or stupid, but again, it doesn’t really matter in this case. The story is, as far as I can tell, some cat-eared lady by the name of Ramlethal Valentine goes on public access and declares war on the entire world without any real justification. Fearing her next move, all the big names of Guilty Gear are in a race across the world to punch Ramlethal in the face and stop whatever it is she plans on doing. With a few omissions, most of the Guilty Gear main cast has returned, including noble knight/king Ky Kiske, fiery bounty hunter Sol Badguy, reality-bending doctor Faust, and the eternal bane of my existence, I-no, to name a few. Some new fighters have also joined in on the mayhem, including the overly-passionate sniper Elphelt Valentine and the slumbering Bedman.
Despite a smaller cast of characters compared to other big name fighters like Street Fighter, Xrd does a fantastic job of balancing them, giving every character unique strengths, weaknesses, and playstyles. As to be expected of an Arc Sys game, there are quite a few systems in play, and the sheer amount of mechanics can seem a bit daunting at a glance, especially to newbies. However, the game does provide a tutorial mode that actually did a very effective job of teaching me the inputs for both normal commands and special mechanics and the best times and places to use them, which I appreciated since A: I’m honestly not that good at fighting games and can use all the help I can get, and B: Guilty Gear games, from what I’ve experienced and heard, have a bit of a steep learning curve and are not very friendly to new players.
Aside from the advanced mechanics like Roman Cancels and Perfect Guard, the game plays how you would expect a modern fighting game to. Every character has four basic attacks: punch, kick, slash, and hard slash, as well as a dust attack for launching. These can be mixed and matched to create combos, and mixed with stick inputs for special moves and overdrive attacks for more damage and pressure on the opponent. One new notable feature is Hell Fire, indicated by the life bar flashing when it gets low, which powers up your overdrive attacks, allowing for some truly monumental comebacks. Rounds tend to be quick and concise, a good thing in fighting games, and while button mashing may work sometimes against AI opponents, you’ll need to learn the deeper mechanics to beat real players in online matches.
Guilty Gear is renowned for its bottomless style, and it’s easy to see why. While the characters may wear some bizarre clothing, the models are beautifully rendered in 3D, though you may not notice at first, since the characters stand and move in a way that makes them look 2D. In this way, it’s all the more striking when an overdrive occurs and the perspective tilts to show off more of the models. The soundtrack is loaded with guitar power ballads that really get your blood boiling, and I even recognized some remixed tracks from Guilty Gear XX.
Guilty Gear Xrd, even with its confusing story and steep learning curve, is the quintessential fighting game: it looks great, it plays great, it sounds great. I wouldn’t mind a bigger cast of characters, but if that came at the cost of good balancing, then it’s something I think can do without. Now I’m just hoping the upcoming -Revelator- update makes it to PC a little closer to the console release this time.