Reviews

Review: Guilty Gear Xrd -SIGN- (PS3)

The next evolution in the Guilty Gear saga is finally here. With a new visual style, updated mechanics and a robust story, Guilty Gear Xrd is the game fans have been waiting to play for nearly a decade.

Guilty Gear Xrd -SIGN- (PS3)
Score: 9/10

Platform: PS3, PS4
Release Date: 12/16/2014* (USA)
Developed by Arc System Works, Team RED
Published by Aksys

After years of multi-platform updates, the next evolution of the Guilty Gear franchise is finally available. With a new engine and a robust set of new mechanics, Guilty Gear Xrd is the next chapter that fans has been wanting for years.

The overall plot falls shortly after the events of Guilty Gear 2: Overture, with the main emphasis resting on Sol Badguy, Ki Kiske and Sin Kiske. After the original Valentine’s defeat at the hands of Sol, a new Valentine rises and declares war upon the entire world. After the Arcade Mode is completed and players begin the Story Mode, it’s revealed that the new Valentine “Ramlethal” has destroyed Japan using the power of the Cradle. In order to subdue her, a reluctant Sol, Ki and Sin release Elphelt, a third Valentine unit with the power to suppress Ramlethal when in close-range. It’s eventually revealed that Ramlethal was simply an instrument of The Conclave, a secret group with the intention of eradicating humanity by using The Cradle, in order to start a new world under their control.

In order to gain the full story experience, players need to complete every character’s Arcade Mode, and then begin the Story Mode. Depending on whose Arcade Mode is completed, each character is either searching for the new Valentine, recuperating from the events of Overture, or is on their own mission that will intertwine with another character as a minor story thread; Sol’s Arcade Mode reveals him chasing down a bounty on the new Valentine, while Faust and Millia Rage’s modes have them both hunting down the newly resurrected Zato-1 (or “Zato-ONE”, formerly “Eddie”). What may be a confusing- if not jarring change of pace, the actual Story Mode takes the form of a visual novel; there’s absolutely no gameplay elements- it’s a 6 hr. visual novel with in-engine and anime cinematics.

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The core gameplay of the Guilty Gear franchise remains intact, however Arc System Works and Team RED have made an incredible amount of system and character-level changes to the formula. Perhaps the most obvious changes can be found with Xrd’s use of the “Roman Cancel”. The Roman Cancel is a technique used to “cancel” or stop the animation of an attack- preferably a Special or an Overdrive. In doing so, players can then launch another Special move, or attempt to land another combo. A similar, though more complicated, mechanic can be found in Street Fighter IV, with the Focus Attack-into-Dash Cancel (commonly notated as “FADC”). While each one is executed the same, there are now three timing-dependent variations of the RC- Red, Yellow and Purple:

If the player’s Tension Gauge is 50% or Higher, he/she can Roman Cancel by simultaneously pressing Punch-Kick-Slash. If this is done immediately after an attack connects with the opposing character, a Red RC will occur, which will slow down time and allow for otherwise impossible combo-strings to be executed; a Yellow RC will activate if the player decides to cancel right after performing an attack- this is typically used as a feign; if the player decides to Roman Cancel out of an attack that fails to connect, or is entirely botched, a Purple RC will occur, which provides the least amount of safety after performing the technique.

Depending on the conditions, a Burst can result in either a “Gold Burst” or a “Blue Burst”; if the player uses their Burst while next to their opponent, the Burst radius will be yellow- resulting in both an opponent knock-back and a full Tension Gauge; a Blue Burst is the result of “whiffing” the ability by not connecting it with the opposing character, resulting in the complete depletion of the Tension Gauge. A new feature to Xrd, the R.I.S.C. Gauge beneath each character’s health-bar acts as a guard-break meter; as the R.I.S.C. Gauge fills up, it becomes easier to guard-break and stun opponents.

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With its robust collection of system-level mechanics, Guilty Gear Xrd can certainly pose as a challenge to new players; a lengthy tutorial helps lessen the blow, with 50 lessons that walk players through the entire catalog of techniques, from basic movement, to “Gatling Combos”, into “Option-Selects” and finally “Instant Kills”. Once players have a basic understanding of the mechanics, they can take their skills into the Challenge Mode, where each character is given a ladder of combos to execute.

Veterans of the series can put their prior character-knowledge to good use, however some moves have been altered or simplified since the release of Accent Core +; Sol Badguy’s “Fafnir” has been changed from HCF+D (half-circle-forward+Dust) to HCF+HS (half-circle-forward+heavy slash); I-No’s “Chemical Love” attacks have been simplified to just QCB+K/S (quarter-circle-back+kick/slash).

GGXrd may lack the Survival Mode from previous games, but M.O.M. remains intact, with some variations. The new M.O.M. Mode takes players through various matches, each with its own rules and stipulations. After each stage is completed, the player can use medals earned during the match to purchase stat upgrades and new abilities. Like the previous M.O.M. Modes and the missing Survival Mode, only a small amount of health is regained after each stage.

The online gameplay has been expanded upon, with the new Lobby feature. Players can enter one of several regions across the world, and participate in a 64-person lobby. Once inside, players can move their avatars around an arena, where they can interact with others, or create custom rooms. Each room has the option of being either Public or Private, and can play host to various match types; the host can set the room to feature Ranked Matches, or even matches using M.O.M. data.

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[Author’s Note: The online community is currently facing polarized experiences with the online features. Depending on where the information comes from, the online experience is depicted as either fantastic, or horrendous. Of the matches that I’ve played, I only encountered problems with two- against a player in Japan, and one in California. In regards to the match against the Japanese player, the frame delay spiked to 13 before the match was dropped entirely; the California match held at a 7 frame delay. It’s worth mentioning that the amount of players within a lobby- not necessarily the room- seemed to affect the matches that followed thereafter. Matches held within my own region- in sparsely populated lobbies- performed better than those with a full list of players. These ranged from absolutely no delay, to a maximum delay of 4 frames. Until a patch or an update is distributed, it seems like the optimal way to participate online is to find a moderately populated lobby close to your own region.]

Regardless of the mode that the player participates in, he/she will receive World Dollars upon completing matches and stages. World Dollars are the in-game currency used to unlock various items in the Gallery. While some items can be unlocked through PSN as paid-DLC, World Dollars can be spent on artwork, character-specific announcer voices, music, or voice-samples used in various cutscenes and Instant-Kills. The first DLC character- Sin- can also be purchased in-game, though he is currently the most expensive item, at 200,000WD. Alternatively, he can be purchased through PSN for $2.49.

Guilty Gear Xrd -SIGN- is the first installment in the main series to favor 3D models and environments over the traditional hand-drawn 2D approach of the older titles. Developed using Unreal Engine, each of the character models and stages are colored and shaded in such a way that everything looks like high-definition sprites. It’s crafted in such a devilish way, that players may forget that this is technically a 3D game, until the camera pivots during the Overdrive and match-based cinematics. The switch from sprites to 3D models allows for characters to convey emotions better; many characters-with an emphasis on I-No, May and Elphelt- have extremely animated facial expressions, a feature not present in the previous 2D games.

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Both the Story Mode and Arcade Mode use both in-engine cinematics and brief anime sequences for cutscenes; it becomes very difficult to distinguish between the two styles. Unreal Engine and its developer-based variations are notorious for having textures with delayed-rendering, occasionally failing to render altogether. This isn’t the case with Xrd, as the visuals remain solid from the moment each character makes their bombastic stage entrance, to the final 360° spin at the end of the match.

The essence of Guilty Gear lives in the Rock genre; if the obvious designs of Axl and I-No weren’t enough, the soundtrack is sure to deliver the message. Composed by Daisuke Ishiwatari, Xrd’s soundtrack is just as raw and intense as ever, with each character having his or her own rock anthem. While some songs contain subtle musical references to past themes, each character has brand new theme not heard in the previous titles. The musical selections are matched perfectly with their characters; Potemkin’s theme is heavy with undertones of a militaristic anthem, while Sol Badguy’s theme is hard and bombastic, reflecting the fire-based rush-down style of his move-set. The Story Mode contains a few extra vocal tracks and rock-ballads that feel strangely at home among the more insane instrumental pieces.

A wide collection of songs and character themes from the Guilty Gear catalog can be purchased in the Gallery, for use in other gameplay modes; almost every game in the franchise is represented, including Guilty Gear Isuka, Overture, and even the original Guilty Gear.

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Guilty Gear Xrd -SIGN- is a triumphant evolution of the series; it takes the core gameplay that fans loved, and expands upon it without diluting the elements that made it unique to begin with. While some of their executions have been simplified for new players, the advanced tactics remain present, allowing for veterans to continue developing new strategies for a new crowd of players. The comparatively small roster may be disappointing to some, but with the inclusion of three DLC characters, and the Story Mode hinting at the return of more familiar faces, it’s possible that the roster will expand over the course of 2015.

By shifting the visuals from hand-drawn art to Unreal Engine-developed models, Xrd provides a much-needed high-definition push for the franchise. Both versions are outstanding to view, with the PS4 version featuring a display output of 1080p (the PS3 version is in 720p). The online gameplay is finicky for some, with some players reporting dropped matches and incredible amounts of lag, however the new Lobby feature gives fans an alternate way to socialize and connect with each other without leaving the game. Guilty Gear Xrd -SIGN- is a must-buy for fans of the series, and players who wish to experience a fast-paced, loud and unique fighting game.

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