Review - Guilty Gear Xrd Sign
Price: £32 (approximately, will vary between PSN regional stores and costs of physical copies)
Release Date: Out Now
This review comes in two parts: the main course here and a supplementary article on Guilty Gear Xrd Sign’s Story mode that will follow later in the week. This main review is spoiler free and for optimum enjoyment, I strongly suggest you stick a metal track of your choosing on in another tab, it'll help set the tone for what is to come.
I have had a bit of a rocky relationship with Arc System Works. I enjoy their games a lot but they simultaneously frustrate me to no end with some baffling decisions in various respects: wonky character balance, bad netcode, plots that read like crap fan fiction and so forth. We’ve had our differences, suffice to say. Yet to be fair to Arc Sys they’ve had their own problems, specifically with the Guilty Gear franchise, that which put them on the fighting game map in the first place. For some time you see Guilty Gear as an intellectual property hasn’t been under their direct control, which led to the creation of Guilty Gear 2: Overture, not a bad game in its own right but not a fighting game either. That being said, whatever behind the scenes business decisions that led to Guilty Gear leaving Arc Sys’ hands have now been reversed and their prodigal franchise is back home. And with it, I feel, some strong reassurance that Arc System Works haven’t lost their way.
Guilty Gear Xrd Sign (hereafter referred to just as GG Xrd) picks up sometime after the conclusion of the events in Guilty Gear 2: Overture. For the most part, things are back to normal: Sol Badguy (yes, if you’re not familiar with the series he is indeed called Sol Badguy, although Sol Badass might be more appropriate) continues to travel the world with Sin Kiske, his protégée and the son of longtime rival Ky Kiske, while Ky himself continues to rule the kingdom of Illyria in relative peace. Then, a small girl appears and threatens to blow up the world (as you might expect). With the offer of a fat pay day of one million
World Dollars from Ky, Sol sets off with Sin in tow to defeat this new challenger,
Ramlethal Valentine, as events begin to unfold that will, as always, change the
Arc System Works have historically created 2D fighters, although to be truthful that’s not entirely accurate; BlazBlue’s various iterations were created in 3D but then translated into 2D sprites. GG Xrd however marks Arc System Works' first fully fledged 3D fighting game, even if it takes place entirely on a 2D plane as far as actual gameplay goes. Created using the Unreal 3 engine, I firstly have to remark how stunningly gorgeous this game is in nearly every respect. Given the Unreal engine’s history in AAA game development (you may insert your own Guilty Gears of War joke here) and its propagation of the brown spectrum of colour, GG Xrd stands out as a bright, colourful affair, rendered in a beautiful yet fluid anime style that brings characters old and new to life. The PS3 version sadly doesn't have the graphical fidelity of the PS4 equivalent thanks mainly to a lack of anti-aliasing, but it still looks great regardless (although if you can choose between the two then the PS4 version of GG Xrd is the one you should pick)
GG Xrd brings back a good chunk of the cast from Guilty Gear XX Accent Core +R, although inevitably some fans will be disappointed that certain characters didn’t return this time around (particularly with the prospect that they might return in future iterations or as DLC) but I’m willing to give Arc Sys a pass on this given the amount of work it must have taken to create each individual character that did return in the new engine. Newcomers include Ramlethal, the “Diva of Despair”, Elphelt, whose creation I assume was inspired by Billy Idol’s White Wedding, Bedman, who sadly makes no mention of Metallica’s Enter Sandman in his move list, the previously mentioned Sin Kiske and Leo Whitefang, the "Lion King" and writer of his own dictionary of how awesome he is. At any rate, the new additions are very welcome to the roster. Also, because GG Xrd's moveset is based mostly of off Guilty Gear XX Reload, the balance is broadly the same but unfortunately it’s not quite as even as I’d like. Millia, Zato and Ramlethal in particular can be overwhelming if played at a high level and Potemkin languishes at the bottom of the tier list. That said, as there are no pure zoning characters in GG Xrd, matchups thankfully are not often annoying cases of keep away like it can be in BlazBlue: Chronophantasma.
In terms of the actual fighting, GG Xrd plays most similarly to Guilty Gear XX Reload in terms of its system mechanics, even the universal frame data governing things like jumping across all characters is identical. Similarly, the movesets of each character are practically the same in look and frame data to their older counterparts, but there have been some revisions. Dusts now have a corner variant that wallsticks an opponent while the jumping Dust moves now automatically home in on the opponent, so Impossible Dust no longer exists but it makes them easier for new players to utilise. Force Breaks, Force Roman Cancels, Slashback and various moves introduced from Guilty Gear XX Slash onwards have been removed in favour of reverting GG Xrd to resemble the movesets offered in Guilty Gear XX Reload. There are new moves of course such as Sol’s Kudakero dive kick and Ky’s Grinder mechanic that freshen things up while still providing that back to basics feel. The biggest revision however is to the Roman Cancel system; apart from the removal of Force Roman Cancels, there are now various colours of Roman Cancel available: Yellow during a move’s startup or even in neutral for 25 Tension, a standard Red for 50 Tension during a move’s active frames or during an opponent’s hit or blockstun, and lastly the rarer Purple for cancelling a whiffed move’s recovery frames, also for 50 Tension. All varieties of Roman Cancel also now trigger a time slow effect that makes it much easier to link certain otherwise impossible combos together, but the time slow effect also serves a useful defensive purpose against things such as Elphelt’s grenades. Speaking of defensive options another new addition is Blitz Shield, a parry mechanic of sorts for the cost of 25% Tension that leaves an opponent open if you catch an attack with it. Lastly there’s DANGER TIME, which I’ve put in capitals to make it sound more awesome than it actually is, as it only happens occasionally on two attacks clashing which are rare enough occurrences as is and its benefits don’t seem that useful. All in all, if you’re familiar with Guilty Gear’s previous incarnations or BlazBlue, you’ll feel right at home in GG Xrd, but I should note that it is stricter on its input accuracy.
Oh, and one other thing: it’s now possible under certain conditions (match point, low life) to combo into Instant Kill attacks. And they’re all glorious to watch. Like, seriously, just look up videos of them on YouTube, preferably the 1080P 60 FPS versions, and you’ll know.
GG Xrd sports a couple of modes for online and offline play. Offline there’s your standard Arcade and Versus CPU/Player modes. There is also MOM mode, which is semi similar to Abyss Mode from BlazBlue: Chronophantasma or Golden Arena mode from Persona 4 Arena Ultimax in that you collect persistent bonuses to your character including the ability to gain other character’s super moves. There are no Score Attack modes or the like, but instead of that GG Xrd features the most comprehensive set of training material I’ve seen in an anime fighting game thus far. The basic Tutorial covers a plethora of things including a basic option select for throws, and the Challenge Mode continues to reach combos (but, as seemingly the norm, not optimal ones) that require a high degree of precision. Most impressively though is a “Mission” mode that teaches advanced concepts and strategies for fighting specific characters and also ranks you based on how well you can consistently perform these tasks. This suite of training features is a huge improvement over the likes of BlazBlue: Chronophantasma and Persona 4 Arena Ultimax modes and will cover a good chunk of what you need to know for high level play. And, as always, there’s a practice mode for freeform training which also handily allows you to simulate input delay for the purposes of online practice. Sadly, GG Xrd doesn’t include a listing of frame data in the game itself and lacks the hugely useful frame counter from Under Night In Birth EXE Late’s training mode, but all told it is head and shoulders above any other training program that I’ve seen in a fighting game thus far.
Online however seems a bit messy. There are lobbies much like in BlazBlue: Chronophantasma and Persona 4 Arena Ultimax, but rather than simply walking up to a cabinet and starting a match, you instead create rooms within these lobbies which people can join which seem to work like matchmaking in first person shooters of all things. You can queue for ranked matches while in the lobbies, but it all comes across as a bit confusing and honestly I prefer the simplicity of BlazBlue: Chronophantasma’s jump in and go style of lobby play. However, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the great little things that GG Xrd does with netplay, such as displaying a real time frame delay counter when playing online that actually gives you a tangible measure of your connection quality with an opponent (the 1 – 4 Bar system is still used as a general indicator) and that PS3 and PS4 owners of GG Xrd can cross play without issue, which is fantastic. Lastly I should mention the several patches that Arc System Works have released for the game to improve netplay performance which at the time of writing seem to have had a noticeable positive effect on connection quality, which is in stark contrast to BlazBlue Chronophantasma’s netcode which has always been, to be charitable, suspect at best and has not once received a patch to make it better.
Then there’s Story Mode. In a departure from other fighting game Story Modes of old, GG Xrd’s Story Mode is a hybrid between a visual novel and an animated OVA, with no fights in it at all. Yep, no fights. Not one. That’s a ballsy move, since a fighting game is about the fighting after all and given Arc System Work’s previous efforts with a “rich” story for Blazblue (in the same way you could describe pig swill as being “rich”) you’d be forgiven for being highly nervous at the prospect of circa five hours of a bullshit anime plot. But you’d be wrong; GG Xrd’s story is just an entertaining ride from start to finish and actually has a consistent internal logic to it that BlazBlue Chronophantasma never had. It also has character growth (Yes, really, a character named “Sol Badguy” undergoes a character arc) and handles the themes of friendship, family, brotherhood and relying on others better than Persona 4 Arena Ultimax did, a game whose entire backstory and context was based around those concepts but utterly failed to utilise them properly. Believe me, at the time of writing I am as stunned to be typing these words as I suspect you probably are to read them. This isn’t even mentioning the fact that GG Xrd’s visual novel moments feature fully animated portraits as opposed to flat images, complete with context specific unique animations, and there are full blown sequences animated in engine that are amazing to behold. Unfortunately the ending of the story is rushed in several respects, with the animation getting a bit janky and some script issues such as characters and injuries disappearing between shots, but all in all GG Xrd’s Story Mode was worthwhile in of itself, even disregarding the one hundred thousand World Dollar (World Dollars being the in game currency for unlockables) bonus you get for finishing it.
Finally, I’ll mention the soundtrack and other miscellaneous bits. Across its own franchises Arc System Works have always delivered excellent soundtracks and character themes, and Guilty Gear itself has several legendary tunes of note such as No Mercy and Still in the Dark. GG Xrd features a brand new score (with the exception of a condition specific Ky theme) and all of the songs are fantastic mixes of rock, metal, orchestral and even jazz. It would’ve been easy to remix or remaster the old songs for GG Xrd, and I appreciate the difficulty in trying to match the brilliance of tracks like Noontide, but I can’t help but applaud Team Red’s efforts in making a brand new soundtrack that is fresh but still feels very Guilty Gear. The Gallery mode also features a selection of music from old Guilty Gear games to unlock as tracks to use in gameplay (including the iconic Still in the Dark, don’t fear), which is really nice. Lastly, I should mention the vocal tracks on the extended OST performed by Naoki Hashimoto, who you might know as the man who yelled “DEATH COMES A RIDING ON A MIDNIGHT TRAIN”. These songs are, without exception, all brilliant slices of cheesy rock that I’ve been listening to like an addict since I first heard them. Some of the songs are used specifically in Story Mode for certain scenes and complement them fantastically, one of which, Coming Home, made me wished I smoked if only so I had a lighter handy to wave around in the air like I was listening to some demented Japanese version of Bon Jovi when it played in an inspired montage scene. If you’ve played GG Xrd, you know which scene I mean. If not, then great ready for it.
If you’ve read a few of my reviews, particularly the ones on Under Night In Birth EXE Late and Persona 4 Arena Ultimax, you’ll probably note my trend of bashing on BlazBlue Chronophantasma. The truth is, BlazBlue Chronophantasma and much of what it stands for strikes me as apathy or indifference. The incoming 2.0 revision in particular has been greeted by derision by a fair few people, myself included (Lambda’s return does not make her a new character, and Celica herself plays so little a part in terms of her actual moves it really betrays that she was always meant to be an NPC). GG Xrd, by contrast, feels fresh and far more than just a coat of paint and bandaids on the older games. The continued patches for netplay, the fact this game was available on Day 1 with a patch for English menus, subtitles and voices, the PS3/PS4 crossplay, it leaves me with an impression that Arc System Works want this game to succeed and be known to a wider audience and will continue to work on it to that end. Plus, Daisuke Ishiwatari, the game’s director, has stated (according to Wikipedia admittedly) that GG Xrd is meant to be a new start on the franchise. If so, I’d say Team Red under his lead have done a blinding job, and I’m eager to see where the series goes next both its entertaining story and great gameplay.
Who Should Buy?
- If you’re an anime fighting game fan in general, be it that you’re a Guilty Gear veteran or completely new to the franchise, I strongly recommend Xrd. It welcomes players of all skill levels to boot.
Who Should Avoid?
- Despite the comprehensive tutorial modes, Xrd still has a high learning curve and there’s a lot to master. The game’s playerbase isn’t huge either and as such you might find it difficult to meet opponents of equal skill, so if this puts you off I would hesitantly advise to avoid it.
- Shadon1010 wanted to ride on a midnight train, but the tickets were ridiculously expensive. He assumes Death must have good credit.