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Guilty Gear Xrd -SIGN- Review: Reclaiming the Throne
Last generation, Ark System Works struck gold with the enormous success of Blazblue. Not only had it become a must-have in the homes of hardcore fighting game fans everywhere, but it became a staple in the biggest fighting game tournaments in the world. Since its 2008 release we’ve seen numerous expansions—often masquerading as sequels—keeping the game fresh enough to preserve its relevance in the community. Despite all these additions, the brand has grown stale recently, lacking any sort of innovation or mechanic to make any waves. Arc System Works has never been a developer to play by the rules. Instead of creating a sequel to Blazblue, why not think a little outside the box? How about we revitalize the franchise’s spiritual predecessor instead? In May 2013, fighting fans rejoiced as they announced Guilty Gear’s return.
Reviewing fighting games is a difficult task. I’m not asking you to have sympathy for me by any means, but hear me out. What I want from a fighting game is vastly different to that of a person who doesn’t play fighting games on a more casual level. For instance, fans of Persona 4 Arena, also developed by Ark System Works, praised the game for its easy-to-learn, difficult-to-master mechanics. While I could agree with that, it struck me as a game that rewarded button-mashing and compensated for those less skilled. You will not find that here. Guilty Gear Xrd goes back to the unforgiving sentiment of its predecessors: learn to play or get out. I understand that this elitist mentality is what turns a lot of people off from fighting games in the first place. Inaccessibility has been a hindrance to the genre’s success since its inception, and few titles have toed the line of accessibility and hardcore appeal. Guilty Gear Xrd is what it is: a hardcore fighter for hardcore fighting fans. As a hardcore fighter, it is an absolute masterpiece.
Guilty Gear fans will feel right at home from the moment they pick up the controller peripheral of their choice. The battles are fluid and fast-paced, and the over ten-year-old mechanics have aged to perfection. Cancels, counters, and instant kills are all here and work just as you would expect them to. The speed of the game is turned up to 11, bringing the chaos on screen to an all-time high and breaking the skin on my left thumb without apology. I was skeptical when I heard that this installment of the franchise was going to adopt 3D models rather than hand-drawn 2D models, but all my worries have been washed away. The graphics are absolutely stunning. I’ve grown out of touch with anime over the last few years so the art style doesn’t do it for me like it used to, but the way that Arc System Works has managed to preserve the 2D styling while running a 3D engine is absolutely brilliant and deserves great praise.
Guilty Gear Xrd boasts a roster of 17 characters (14 initial characters, one in-game unlockable, two DLC). While that may not seem like an expansive roster, character variation is through the roof. No character plays the same, and with some you feel like you’re playing a completely different game than your opponent. This is the genius behind what makes Guilty Gear Xrd really tick. Compared to other fighters, Guilty Gear is far more favorable to players who play more offensive than defensive, and asserting your will on the flow of the match is your quickest way to victory. Finding your character that best fits your play-style is a game in itself, and Guilty Gear Xrd does a great job with giving you an expansive tutorial mode to help make that decision a lot easier.
The various game modes are nothing out of the ordinary. There is an arcade mode, a challenge mode, and a pretty neat mode called “M.O.M.” In this mode you’re presented with specific challenges in battle, often restricting your character from certain abilities. It’s a fun deviation from the norm of fighting games, and although a bit unpolished, it deserves a look. One thing that does not deserve a look is the story mode. For the purposes of this review I went through the story mode to completion. If there is one thing I do in this review beyond convincing you to play this game, it is to deter you away from playing the story mode. The story itself is complete nonsense, the voice acting is an inconsistent mess, and the story mode is just that: story. No gameplay, just talking and the occasional cutscene. If you’re a trophy hoarder or just want to get through the story in order to get a big pile of in-game currency, take this advice: start the story, mute your television, change text settings to “instant,” press X repeatedly for an hour. That being said, I never go into fighting games looking for any sort of engagement with the character or the story, and it looks like Ark System Works has treated the story with the same attitude.
Guilty Gear Xrd -SIGN- is everything you would want from this long dormant franchise. It offers a surplus of frenetic action, blinding speed, and relentless chaos. If you decide to plunge yourself deep into a rabbit hole of the game’s mechanics, you’ll find that the depth of the characters and variety of ways to approach gameplay can keep your fingers occupied for a long time. Guilty Gear Xrd is what it is: a fighting game for fighting game fans. If you don’t like fighting games, I suggest staying far away. If you do like fighting games, you’ll have no problem losing sleep honing your skills and battling online against others just like you. If you’re unsure about fighting games and have never really taken the plunge, why don’t you give it a shot? You’ll be hard-pressed to find a better title the genre has to offer.
Guilty Gear Xrd -SIGN- was reviewed using a retail copy of the game on PlayStation 4.