It’s been too long without a Guilty Gear game; way too long. And no, Blazblue doesn’t count. Nothing could quite capture the charm of a poorly translated anime fighting game quite like Guilty Gear. Even though the same exact developers were on both games, players still cried out for a new installment. With Guilty Gear Xrd -SIGN-, Arc System Works heard our cries, and the wait was well worth it.
Xrd is never short on reminders that this isn’t Hooked On Phighters; it’s not going to hold your hand and teach you the ins and outs of a fighting game. Despite a detailed tutorial, much of the depth is left to be discovered, leaving you to figure out effective combos, special move setups and what the heck these characters are shouting when they attack. This leaves a lot of room for exploration, unlike fighting games with a set-in stone list of combos. Keep exploring, and the depth of Xrd seems unlimited.
None of this is new to Guilty Gear, and returning players will find themselves right at home with a steep difficulty curve and a familiar roster of characters. Each character is uniquely interesting, both in how they’re drawn and how they develop. A amalgamation of individually interesting characters, however, does not an interesting story make. If there is an Achilles heel in Xrd, it’s that they spent any time at all trying to make a compelling story.
Granted, fighting games can have an interesting story. Mortal Kombat (2011) showed us that, going beyond a simple arcade mode with an ending for each character. Arc Systems decided they wanted to take that leap as well, even though they have a traditional arcade mode. After beating the arcade, you can enter the story mode. Get ready for an action-packed cinematic experience … that goes chapters (and perhaps the entire way) without any actual fighting. Your controller may vibrate, the characters may get into heated arguments where the developers could have easily shoehorned in a fight with no complaints, but you won’t fight.
In place of actual gameplay, the developers decided that an inane, hard-to-follow story would be best, complete with still-life images where characters dramatically shift across the screen while talking. Topping it off is atrocious voice acting, not the least of which is that of Sol Badguy, whose lines are read with the gruff of Michael Chiklis in Fantastic Four with even less talent.
None of this would be a huge problem if Arc Systems didn’t insist on making it a huge part of the game. Each character has a different arcade ending that leads in to the bloated mammoth of a story mode that easily wins the title of most boring feature in a fighting game ever. So if you want to beat the arcade with every character, your payoff is that you may understand the plot points slightly better, and you won’t care about them any more.
Fortunately, this aspect is easy to ignore when going toe-to-toe with a rival or the challenging CPU players. The depth of the characters insures that players can find one they like. There’s a woman who fights with her hair (no, not that one), one who uses an anchor and various sea creatures, and a man who strategically places and uses billiard balls. Take your pick.
Where Blazblue reached too far for character gimmicks, Guilty Gear Xrd -SIGN- knew exactly when to keep things simple. Trying to learn some of the more complicated characters in Blazblue was like banging your spinning head against a brick wall. Xrd knows that it’s hard enough without further complicating things with too many special fighting styles. A roster of only fifteen playable characters might be keeping things too simple, especially when fan favorites such as Johnny are left completely off (Xrd already has one paid DLC character *eye roll*).
The online play runs sweet as a nut, and can be a firm tug back into the cold reality that, while your special spamming with Chip Zanuff was good enough to beat your roommate, a lot of players out there make you look like absolute water trash (all this purely hypothetical, of course). Back to the servers, even playing out of the immediate area only produced an unnoticeable 4 or 5 frame lag, at worst. It’s nice to see a game that rolls out in style and preparation.
Guilty Gear Xrd includes an option to increase the frame rate at the expense of graphics, which is an essential competitive feature for fighting games like this. I haven’t played many fighting games where a fightstick was completely necessary for even the most casual encounters. Xrd simply doesn’t respond as intuitively to the controller direction keys, and, since most special attacks are initiated by half circles, the DualShock just doesn’t do the trick.
Guilty Gear Xrd is back to its challenging but entertaining roots, managing to be a happy medium between casual fighters like Mortal Kombat and longtime competitive titles like Street Fighter. It’s not without it’s plot-related flaws, the result of misplaced ambition, assuredly, but Xrd enters the generation as the go-to change-of-pace fighter that’s nearly impossible to put down once you get started. Thanks to a solid understanding of core fighting game mechanics, Guilty Gear Xrd -SIGN- is the installment fans have been waiting for.