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Review: Guilty Gear Xrd -REVELATOR- (PS3)

Guilty Gear Xrd -REVELATOR- continues to refine the new 3D take on Arc System Works’s bombastic fighting game franchise.

Guilty Gear Xrd -REVELATOR- (PS3)
Score: 10/10

Platform: PS3, PS4
Release Date: 6/7/2016* (USA)
Developed by Arc System Works, Team RED
Published by Aksys

Despite popular impressions from the fighting game community, Guilty Gear Xrd -REVELATOR- is a complete stand-alone sequel to 2014’s Guilty Gear Xrd -SIGN-, equipped with six new characters, alternate stage designs, a revamped online lobby system and enhanced visual effects in the PS4 version. As with its predecessor, the overall plot is given through individual stories within the traditional Arcade Mode- renamed “Episode”- and the larger Story Mode; once again, the primary Story Mode is a lengthy movie featuring lavish in-engine cutscenes.

A preemptive warning to new players, Guilty Gear Xrd -REVELATOR- may possess the most complicated plot of the entire franchise. The roughly 5-hour movie may come off as a convoluted mess for those who haven’t invested in the Glossary and Episode/Arcade Mode for each character; there are numerous sub-plots woven into the Story, which may lead new players into a world of confusion.

For the extreme sake of simplicity, the following synopsis has been arranged to better reflect the roles of each character in the lengthy Story Mode that follows after the combined Episode plots. Key characters are categorized as such:

  • Team Sol: Sol Badguy, Sin Kiske, Ramlethal Valentine
  • The Politicians: Ky Kiske, Leo Whitefang, Chipp Zanuff, Potempkin [and Gabriel]
  • Team Japan: Johnny, May, Faust
  • The Assassins Guild: Slayer, Milia Rage, Venom, Zato-ONE
  • The Time Travelers: I-No and Axl Low
  • Team That Man: That Man, Raven, Jack-O
  • Team Universal Will: Bedman, Ariels

-REVELATOR- picks up shortly after the cliffhanger ending of -SIGN-; the Conclave and Justice have been defeated, Team Sol stopped Elphelt’s true activation, Team Japan are investigating a lethal disease targeting Japanese individuals around the world, and a new Sanctus Maximus Populi (Guilty Gear‘s “Pope” of Illyria) has been appointed.

Guilty Gear Xrd -REVELATOR- Story Mode Screenshot 1

The plot resumes with Team Sol searching for Elphelt after her sudden disappearance at the end of -SIGN-. Their travels lead them to That Man’s associates Raven and Jack-O, a prototype Valentine unit containing most of Aria’s memories before her unwilling transformation into the original Justice. Despite her presumed destruction in the previous game, Jack-O reveals she is the key towards preventing Justice’s return. The Politicians collectively investigate rumors of the Universal Will and its potential arrival on Earth; a creation of “the Original” who sealed magic away within the Backyard (a magic dimension inside a physical book, acting as the source code of the universe), the Universal Will was a god-robot driven mad by the idea of achieving an “Absolute World” barren of humanity. Ky Kiske, Leo Whitefang, Chipp Zanuff, Potempkin and Gabriel also catch wind of multiple large-scale explosions and seismic activity across Japan and the Kingdom of Illyria, caused by massive Gear creatures who explode on-contact.

Johnny and May travel to Japan to enlist the help of legendary “Tuner” Kum Haehyun/Jonryoku in hopes of finding a cure to the Japanese viral outbreak. An accomplished descendant of a clan of Tuners, Kum Haehyun/Jonyroku is able to visualize and manipulate the Ki of others through metaphysical “strings”. While Haehyun/Jonyroku is unable to cure May and the other members of a Japanese colony, Faust’s research finds that infected individuals will morph into Gears when the virus fully matures, drawing an unsettling link between the virus and sudden Gear resurgence across Japan and Illyria.

Apart from the Politicians and their own investigations into the presence of the Universal Will, The Assassins Guild pursues Bedman solely out of revenge and pride. Venom’s personal endeavors lead the Assassins Guild to discover that Bedman was collaborating with the Universal Will itself to establish the previously mentioned Absolute World. Bedman previously trapped Elphelt and That Man within his nightmare dimension, however both managed to escape. Realizing the two factions have a common enemy, the Assassins Guild integrates into the army of Illyria.

Guilty Gear Xrd -REVELATOR- Story Mode Screenshot 2

Upon escaping Bedman’s dream realm, That Man reunites with Raven and Jack-O, and is reluctantly summoned by Ky Kiske along with Team Sol. That Man’s team confirms the presence of the Universal Will on Earth, revealed to be none other than Ariels- the newly appointed Sanctus Maximus Populi of Illyria. Ariels directly confronts Ky and Leo, revealing her complex plan to establish her beloved Absolute World:

Despite its pure hatred towards humans- of which Ariels refers to as “redundancies”- the Universal Will took the form of a human in order to manipulate her way into the position of Sanctus Maximus Populi and gain the absolute trust of Illyria; she tricked Bedman into using his abilities to remove the largest threat towards the plan- That Man himself- and capture Elphelt; since the four Valentine units are based off Aria’s likeness and memories, the Universal Will planned on forcefully merging Elphelt with Justice (again, formerly Aria), granting it control over all other Gears; combined with the viral outbreak- also the will of Ariels- the Universal Will would have control over a walking army of destructive creatures capable of anihillating humanity.

Combined with some outside help from one of the Time Travelers, the Assassins Guild, Team Japan, the remaining Politicians and a surprise handful of Guilty Gear legacy cameos, Team Sol, Ky Kiske and Team That Man hatch an elaborate plan to attack Ariels and Bedman head-on, rescue Elphelt and merge Jack-O with Justice in her place.

Guilty Gear Xrd -REVELATOR- Story Mode Screenshot 3

Again, please note that this isn’t an exact chronological synopsys of the plot, as the events have been moderately rearranged to better reflect the character affiliations and conflict between factions. The Story Mode itself is an entertaining spectacle, especially for hardcore fans of the Guilty Gear franchise due to multiple cameos (i.e. Zappa, Dizzy, Baiken and Robo-Ky) and subplots that finally explain the abilities of certain characters, but even with the brief recap of Xrd -SIGN- at the beginning, new players may find themselves easily lost within the first hour.

If players get bored from the lengthy Story Mode, Guilty Gear Xrd -REVELATOR- has a plethora of game modes to choose from, though initially difficult to find on the main menu. Unlike previous installments, -REVELATOR- categorizes its gameplay modes into multiple subcategories. From the “Battle” icon on the main menu, the primary game modes are separated into “Online”, “Arcade” and “Dojo”: The shell of the Online Mode keeps the familiar server options from -SIGN-, however online lobbies have been completely revamped into a 3rd-person free-roaming environment, complete with arcade cabinets for Player, Ranked and M.O.M. Matches, and a pond where players can fish for M.O.M. and Gallery items; Arcade contains the Arcade Mode- renamed “Episode”- equipped with character-specific story elements, the offline Versus Mode, and the updated M.O.M. “Medal of Millionaires” RPG mode where characters are given items to use during each match; apart from the free-form Training Mode, Dojo contains a new mini-game themed Tutorial, Combo Mode combo-training for each character, and the Mission Mode for learning advanced tactics. Many of the additional Gallery items can be obtained through PSN, however players can still purchase additional character colors, music, announcers and other custom features through Guilty Gear Xrd‘s “World Dollars”; as with its predecessor, World Dollars can be obtained by completing various activities throughout -REVELATOR-.

Guilty Gear Xrd -REVELATOR- Tutorial Mini-Game

Though some fans were disappointed with the smaller roster of characters, Guilty Gear Xrd -REVELATOR- adds another six characters into the mix, though three of which are DLC. Outside of some damage-balancing and hitbox adjustments, gameplay mechanics are relatively unchanged. Continuing the traditional control scheme of the 2D games, the Xrd titles still use five dedicated attack buttons- Punch (P), Kick (K), Slash (S), Heavy Slash (HS) and Dust (D); special attacks can be performed with a complimenting directional input, akin to Street Fighter, BlazBlue and The King of Fighters. Nearly every action will increase the “Tensio”n gauge, or Guilty Gear‘s version of the traditional “Super” meter, as long as the player is on the offensive; players will receive a “Negative Penalty”, depleting the entire Tension gauge if they perform too many back-dashes or go a certain period of time without attacking. The additional Burst mechanic received an upgrade, as not only can players use the Burst attack to repel pressure and refill the Tension gauge, but the Burst gauge can be sacrificed alongside Tension for enhanced special moves.

For defensive options, players can perform a standard block, or activate two shields of varying properties; both techniques require Tension to use, however the Blitz Shield (P+K) will nullify any damage when active, while the Reject barrier (S+HS) can repel attacks. Despite their Tension usage, attacks intercepted by the Reject barrier and Blitz Shield are not applied to the “R.I.S.C” meter beneath each player’s health bar; if too many attacks are intercepted with a standard block, the R.I.S.C. meter will eventually fill, resulting in a Guard-Break and a potential Stun state.

Guilty Gear Xrd -REVELATOR- Gameplay Screenshot 1

One of Guilty Gear Xrd‘s defining mechanics, the “Roman Cancel” system remains unchanged from -SIGN-. If players have enough Tension, players can activate a Roman Cancel by pressing P+K+S; depending on the timing, attacks can be feigned with a Yellow Roman Cancel, or cancelled and chained into another attack with a Red Roman Cancel. If an attack completely misses, players can activate a Purple Roman Cancel to either block or evade before their opponent sees an opening to counter-attack.

To say Guilty Gear Xrd -REVELATOR- is a complicated fighting game would be an understatement, thanks to its robust level of mechanics.  Fortunately -REVELATOR- adds a new “Stylish Mode” control scheme designed specifically for beginners and players who wish to perform fancy combos without the demanding input execution. Many of the attacks remain the same while using Stylish Mode, however the alternate control scheme lets players use single-button inputs to perform special moves and Overdrive attacks.

2014’s Guilty Gear Xrd -SIGN- marked a drastic change for the long-running franchise from Ark System Works. Disregarding the 360-exclusive spin-off Guilty Gear 2: Overture, the series previously featured 2D hand-drawn character sprites, stages and story elements. Though its core gameplay is still intact, Guilty Gear Xrd -SIGN- was the first 3D title in the core series, built using a heavily modified version of Unreal Engine 3. A Guilty Gear Xrd presentation at GDC 2014 revealed that Arc System Works worked under the mantra “Kill everything 3D”; in order to emulate the 2D visuals of the original games, the development team essentially “broke” Unreal’s lighting mechanics and hand-posed character models for every frame of animation.

While Guilty Gear Xrd -REVELATOR- continues to uphold the astonishing 3D-2D visual illusion of -SIGN-, the PS4 version is marginally superior to the PS3 release. The last-gen version- as beautiful as it may be- runs at a solid 30fps at 720p, versus the PS4’s 60fps at 1080p. The PS3 version also lacks the real-time adaptive combat lighting found in its current-gen counterpart; an incredibly subtle feature, energy-based and elemental attacks act as independent light sources, illuminating parts of the stage and character in real-time. This is most noticeable on stages with shade, as character models will darken when standing underneath solid objects. Both versions possess the new match intro camera-pan; it’s nothing to get overly excited about, but prior to each match, the camera tracks in from the top of the stage, cementing the idea that yes, Guilty Gear Xrd -REVELATOR- is still a 3D fighting game.

Guilty Gear Xrd -REVELATOR- Gameplay Screenshot 2

Complimenting the bombastic nature of its gameplay, the Guilty Gear saga is best known for the wild and loud rock and roll soundtrack backing every fight. The energy of the soundtrack bleeds into the game design and visual aesthetic of the series, with the most obvious nods to the genre being I-No’s weapon of choice (a semi-hollow body guitar), Axl Low (a blatant reference to Axl Rose of Guns N’ Roses), and an early character-bio for Sol Badguy noting that his real name is “Frederick”, with Queen mentioned as his favorite band- a nod to Queen lead singer Freddie Mercury. General Director Daisuke Ishiwatari returns as the composer for -REVELATOR-; the title reuses the soundtrack from -SIGN-, however several new tracks have been added, masterfully representing the new characters and stages of the game.

Guilty Gear Xrd -REVELATOR- Jack-O And I-No Episode Opening

The story is bound to go over many heads, however the entertaining theatrics are sure to please veterans of the franchise. Stylish Mode has the potential to bring new players into the series without breaking the balance between casual and competitive gameplay. It’s still missing characters featured in the penultimate chapter of the 2D games, but Guilty Gear Xrd -REVELATOR- currently stands as the ultimate Guilty Gear experience.

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