Gearing up for the future of the fighting genre
Back in the day?by which, I suppose, I mean the 2000s?I never really paid a lot of attention to Guilty Gear. I knew a handful of things about the series, was familiar with some of its characters and its strange obsession with dust, but Arc System Works was always ?that other Japanese 2D fighting game developer who isn?t Capcom or SNK.? To this day, I could probably count on one hand the amount of hours I?ve sunk into Guilty Gear as a whole. Instead, I?m far more familiar with Arc?s follow-up franchise?BlazBlue?or even their side project with Atlus, Persona 4 Arena.
Guilty Gear Xrd Sign forced me to finally take notice of the series that made Arc famous in fighting-game circles, however. I?ve written numerous times before here on EGM about the game?s visuals, but even now, I could still talk for days about what the dev team has accomplished. In no uncertain terms, this is the most impressive?and important?fighting game I?ve even seen (or played) when it comes to the graphics on display. Just a few years ago, I would?ve sworn that it would never be possible to create 3D character models that could actually mimic the look of 2D sprites, but that?s exactly what Arc has done using Unreal Engine 3. Every time I play a match or see a character?s pre-fight intro, my brain still wants to believe that what I?m witnessing is hand-drawn cel animation.
As someone who once though this kind of fighting game would be dead as the economics of sprites began to make less and less sense, I can?t emphasize enough how much seeing a game like this means to me on an emotional level. When Guilty Gear Xrd Sign was first announced, I cursed Arc System Works for what I saw as their abandonment of the years and years of 2D fighting game tradition that existed up until that point. Now, I understand: They?re trying to save it.
Of course, even the most beautiful and technically jaw-dropping fighting game in the world would be nothing without the game part of that equation being up to snuff. Even with a few weeks under my belt, I?m still coming into almost all of this for the first time. Thus, my point of entry was Guilty Gear Xrd Sign?s training mode, which seems tailor-made for a player like me, running through all that the game?s fighting engine has to offer in a humorous but detailed way. I?ll be honest, I felt more than a little overwhelmed, as Roman Cancels and Psych Bursts and R.I.S.C. Levels and Blitz Shields and Negative Penalties were thrown at me one after another. (If you?re sitting here confused as to what all of that means, then you?ll know how I first felt.)
Even after being told that things have been more streamlined versus previous iterations in the series, there?s still so much to take in with Guilty Gear Xrd Sign. The key, I think, is understanding that you don?t have to utilize or even comprehend it all at first. Arc knows how to make a competent fighting game at this point, so even if you don?t stray far from the basics that are shared across most titles in the genre, there?s still a lot to have fun with here. Fights are exciting?even at lower skill levels?and everything just feels so wonderfully tuned and polished. The game?s also very playable on a standard DualShock 4, though once you start to really dig into the complexities of the game?s abilities, you?ll probably be ready (and wanting) to upgrade to a joystick. Plus, you really have to appreciate Arc?s talent for thinking up characters with fighting styles that genuinely feel different from one another. Even without BlazBlue?s fighter-specific Drive abilities, everyone from Sol Badguy to Millia Rage to Elphelt stand out from their competitors.
Guilty Gear Xrd Sign finds this great balance between being newbie friendly and hardcore satisfying, leading me to wonder if I?ll have better long-term chances for being competitive here versus BlazBlue?a series I enjoy, but one which I tend to find a bit too chaotic and frenzied for my tastes. Guilty Gear isn?t slow or boring by any means, just more deliberate and tactical?the Street Fighter IV to Marvel vs. Capcom 3, perhaps. (Cue longtime players of both series telling me how wrong I am.)
Arc?s typically known for cramming content into their fighting-game releases, but the overall package for Guilty Gear Xrd Sign is the one place that I feel things aren?t quite up to snuff. I can?t ever imagine purchasing any offerings in this genre for their single-player portions?fighting against CPU opponents is the worst use you could find for the effort developers put into these games?but if you are one of those kinds of players, the solo choices are somewhat lacking. Arc?s teams usually do a great job of crafting story modes that blend rich narrative with character-specific fights, but here, that mode has shifted into what amounts to one gigantic cutscene, with no fights or even basic interaction to be found. I mean, it?s interesting, but it?s not what you?d be expecting after what?s been done before in BlazBlue or Persona 4 Arena. You also have Arcade mode, the boardgame-like M.O.M. mode (aka ?Medal of Millionaires,? where you pick a character and then level their stats by travelling across a grid, fighting the opponents located in those spaces), and various challenges and missions in the Practice area. Really, though, it feels like there should be something more offered here given the studio?s past efforts.
For me, what really matters is multiplayer, and Guilty Gear Xrd Sign is absolutely competent?if not a little underachieving?in that regard. Jumping online, you?ll pick your world and local region, and then hop into lobbies that support up to 64 players. Matchmaking breaks down to rooms where four arcade cabinets are present, and players can sit down at an open seat, get into the queue for a particular machine, or sit back and watch the fights taking place on one of those four virtual cabinets. It all accomplishes what it needs to, and so far, I?ve had nothing but positive experiences from the game?s netcode when facing off against people here on the West coast.
It?s just, I guess I miss the personalities of BlazBlue and Persona 4 Arena?s lobby interfaces, where you picked characters and then walked around areas that represented digital arcades. Compared to those, Xrd Sign?s matchmaking interface feels utilitarian and cold, which I find a shame. I?d also love to see Arc ape some of the ideas that have cropped up in other fighting games in recent years, such as training modes that can be played together with friends online or replay sections that offer more that just saving your personal matches for local playback.
The one area where I won?t chastise Guilty Gear Xrd Sign is its character roster. We?ve become a bit spoiled over time by crazy-large selections of fighters in various games, so the 14 standard choices (plus three unlockable/DLC options) may feel sparse for some?especially those longtime fans wondering where in the world their missing mains are. Reboots of franchises have to start somewhere, though, and I think many don?t appreciate just how labor intensive this new Guilty Gear is for the folks at Arc. Because everything now runs off 3D polygonal character models instead of sprites, there?s an assumption that it?s far easier and quicker to beef up the roster?an assumption that isn?t true. To accomplish the sprites-that-aren?t-sprites look the game sports, the dev team hand-tweaks every frame for every character, morphing, moving, or modifying elements like mouths, limbs, or articles of clothing to look just right. Making these characters takes time, and so, too, will getting the new generation of Guilty Gear?s roster selection back to previous sizes.
With that in mind?and the burnout some have no doubt faced from having to purchase the numerous iterations of BlazBlue that have come out over the past six years?your first inclination may be to skip out on Guilty Gear Xrd Sign for now, and instead revisit the idea of catching up with the series a year or two down the road. I understand that sentiment, but if that?s your plan, then you?ll be missing out on a really great fighting game that?s ready and waiting for you today. While it?s not yet everything it can and will be in the future, Guilty Gear Xrd Sign is still an enjoyable, well-crafted, and at times utterly mind-blowing new chapter in the long history of fighting games?one in which I think longtime players and newcomers alike will find a lot to love.
|Developer: Arc System Works ? Publisher: Aksys Games ? ESRB: T – Teen ? Release Date: 12.16.2014|
Even though you know the new era of Guilty Gear will be better a sequel or two from now, this first step into the future of the franchise is absolutely worth checking out for both longtime fans and newcomers alike.
|The Good||A well-crafted fighting game with stunning visuals and great support for the online community thanks to cross-platform play.|
|The Bad||The overall package doesn?t feel as robust as Arc?s usual efforts.|
|The Ugly||Every other fighting game for me now.|
|Guilty Gear Xrd Sign is available on the PlayStation 4 and PlayStation 3. Primary version reviewed was for PS4. Review code was provided by Aksys Games for the benefit of this review.|