It’s a rare feat to see something that rose to prominence in the wild west of weird bullshit that was the late Dreamcast/early PS2 era (birthplace of Rez, God Hand and of course, Katamari Damacy) survive and thrive in our current dark age of overall mainstream sameness and malaise. When it comes to things seemingly engineered specifically to alienate and discomfort your average GameStop customer (and, let’s face it, employee) , they don’t get more perfect than Guilty Gear, ARC System Works’ heavy metal flavored, finger twistingly technical, Japanese 2D anime fighting dynasty. Guilty Gear sat out most to the 7th console gen without a fresh installment due to a tug of war between dueling one-time publishers Sammy and Sega over the IP, necessitating the creation of not-as-good-but-still-worthwhile sister series Blazblue, but when that legal “dust” (no pun intended) settled in 2014 GG exploded back onto the scene with the incredibly innovative and well received Guilty Gear Xrd -Sign-.
That Sony exclusive return to form had all the hard hitting tenets of what made Guilty Gear XX an instant cult classic, the fast paced gameplay, 80’s metal soundtrack and off the wall character designs were gloriously present and satisfyingly complete in a way that weird offshoots Guilty Gear Isuka and Guilty Gear 2: Overture failed to provide, but the biggest and most shocking surprise was the way the game handled the series’ trademark 2D graphics. One of GG’s main selling points throughout the years was its high resolution character sprites and butter smooth animation that put even the mightiest of high genre watermarks Street Fighter III and Garou: Mark of the Wolves to shame, but 2D games with such high production values tend to be A. really expensive to produce and B. not terribly popular (see the continued lukewarm reception from both mainstream media and fighting game diehards of the previously mentioned, lushly hand animated BlazBlue). ARC’s solution? Move the series into 3D, though until the camera pans around the lovingly rendered character models and backgrounds, you’d never know. These were seriously the most jaw-droppingly convincing cel-shaded graphics ever achieved, earning high review marks and “best of the year” recognition even from typically anime-phobic outlets like Giant Bomb and Destructoid.
Fighting game fans knew that wasn’t the end though, with as solid as possible a bedrock foundation available they awaited the inevitable update, the Champion Edition or Second Impact to Sign’s Vanilla Street Fighter II, and after nearly two long years it’s finally here. Guilty Gear Xrd -Revelator- dropped earlier this month on PS4 and PS3 and it’s a revelation indeed, piling on even more of the series’ trademark fighting action, hard rock riffs and goofball personality on top of the original Sign’s initial excellence.
ARC doesn’t waste their time fixing what isn’t broken, fans expecting a Super Street Fighter IV-esque complete overhaul of the front end and UI will be disappointed but Sign’s presentation was pretty slick to begin with so that type of reinvention wasn’t necessary. Character additions are the hallmark of any good fighting update and here is where Revelator shines brightest. In addition to usual suspects like Sol, I-No, Chipp, May and (personal hero) Faust, among others, Sign DLC fighters Elphelt, Sin and Leo come standard this time out, and are joined by Guilty Gear 2 Overture alum Raven, a sort of Vega-esque blade wielding narcissist, who, true to his namesake, possesses avian transformation abilities, and triumphantly returning fan favorites, rushdown queen Jam and mixup master Johnny.
Dizzy, having won a Japanese fan poll over Baiken and Bridget, is also set to be added at a later date as free DLC. Jam was always a favorite of mine in the GGXX days and I’m happy to report that she feels great in Xrd’s weightier and more tactile system, and her light hearted kung fu cook persona takes full advantage of the new series’ high tech presentation, busting out screen filling specials and supers unimaginable within the old 2D GG framework, and hilariously whipping up a fried rice dish upon victory that looks good enough to eat. Brand new fighters join the fray as well, Kum Haehyun, living up to GG’s oddball reputation, is a hulking, grizzled “old master” not unlike Street Fighter’s Gouken or Tekken’s Jinpachi, except that he isn’t at all, actually, secretly being a mech suit being piloted by a young female ninja. Never change, Guilty Gear. Last but not least is Halloween masked schizophrenic sister of Elphlet and Ramlethal, Jack-O, who battles utilizing a variety of sinister drones. She and her Servbot-esque companions also happen to top line the game’s fantastic new tutorial mode.
On the gameplay front, the great work done in Sign to transfer GG’s lightning fast 2D fisticuffs seamlessly into the 3rd dimension carries over to Revelator flawlessly. This is probably the best feeling GG yet, though that’s probably thanks to my Hori Fighting Commander 4 (love fighting games to an almost unhealthy degree but I was never a stick guy, sorry), where even historically finicky maneuvers like Sol’s half circle backward plus forward and heavy slash Tyrant Rave come out like clockwork every time, inputs as a whole feeling better and more reliable than they ever did on either the PS2 or Xbox360/PS3 Mad Catz Pads. The trailblazing graphics engine also returns, now even more impressive thanks to a slightly more active camera. Gameplay and graphics meld into an amazing presentation that’s absolutely polished beyond belief, with nary a framerate hiccup, tearing issue or hint of slowdown to be seen no matter how blindingly chaotic the onscreen action gets. The new fighters and stages expertly mesh into the game’s heavy metal steampunk anime milieu, as does the soundtrack, always a high point of any Guilty Gear title, which adopts some metalcore-ish elements (With vocals and everything!) into the usual 70’s arena rock meets NWOBHM attack, but loses none of its J-metal butt rock magic.
The only shortcoming, is a slight lack of gameplay modes. Though nowhere near as anemic as current genre whipping boy Street Fighter V, the lack of options here does sting just a little. GGXR’s story mode again makes the mistake of being a completely non interactive experience. Yes it’s rendered with the in game engine, looks really cool and features excellent voice acting in both English and Japanese, but in the end it’s just a movie to watch, and one I doubt I’ll ever finish when I could be, y’know, actually playing this (or any other) game.
A short arcade mode is available for each character, featuring great ending (and sometimes intro) cutscenes, again, high production values across the board, and there’s an incredibly deep suite of tutorials, trials and mission modes to help players both new and old learn and master the game’s many quirks and intricacies. Most of my time was spent in MOM mode though, a survival hybrid with RPG elements were characters can be leveled up under a variety of categories and pitted against increasingly difficult standard and boss characters with similar buffs and nerfs. Online options are par for the course, the few games I was able to jump into running smoothly enough, and still featuring the excellent option of cross play between PS3 and PS4, with lobbies buoyed (no pun intended) by a surprisingly engrossing fishing mini game where in game currency earned from playing this and other modes can be spent to hunt for character art, alternate costume colors and (best of all) classic music tracks from the series’ history.
In the end, it’s hard for me to be subjective about a new Guilty Gear, a series that I was borderline obsessed with in my early 20’s. And even though I fully support and whole heartedly enjoy Blazblue and Persona 4 Arena, there’s no substitute for the real thing. Guilty Gear Xrd -Revelator- takes everything that made the early installments an otaku phenomenon and adds an incredible layer of high tech, current gen polish while losing none of the series’ off the wall charisma in the process. What more can you ask for?