Guilty Gear Xrd Rev 2
Sony PlayStation 4Also available on PC and Sony PlayStation 3
For any newcomer to the series, Guilty Gear Xrd Rev 2 will feel rather like the wacky cousin to its more renowned beat-em-up rivals. The style of the series has always aimed for being more ludicrous or flamboyant than Tekken or Street Fighter. There’s a very tall man wearing a paper bag over his head, for example. But, bizarre as it may be, there is no denying that this game continues the series’ record for stylishness. There may well be issues regarding the substance, though.
Flashy, fluid and fun, Guilty Gear Xrd Rev 2 is a strange beast. It adds an update to last year’s Guilty Gear Xrd Revelator, continuing on the story (which we’ll get to later), making adjustments to fighter balance and movesets, and adding a couple more characters in the form of returning favourite, Baiken, and Answer, a trap-laying PA constantly on a magical Bluetooth headset. It maintains the fantastic visual style and zippy animation of the whole Guilty Gear Xrd series, making each fight a lightning quick, eye-popping spectacle of pyrotechnics. The conversion of the traditional 2D graphics into cel-shaded 2.5D still impresses and it really is a joy to watch some moves unfold.
The visuals maintain the strong anime flavour of the series, which may not be for everyone but the style has certainly been executed well. Each character is most definitely unique and their personality absolutely leaps out not simply through design but through animation and mannerisms as well, be it Jam Kuradoberi’s little Bruce Lee-esque jog as she warms up for a fight or Sin’s ravenous wolfing down of meat after landing a huge hit. The whole game looks like a blast and these little touches of character absolutely give Guilty Gear Xrd Rev 2 that visual edge above a lot of the other beat-em-ups out there. It isn’t entirely without fault. There are a few eye-rolling character designs and the bizarre anime physics of women’s bodies strikes again, but nothing really grates or offends and the result is a very attractive and colourful fighting game.
Underneath all the flashy covering is a very extensive fighting system. Against Tekken and Street Fighter’s encyclopaedic list of moves and combos for each character, Guilty Gear is much more dependent on speed and dexterity to execute lethal combos. The system works on attacks based around the use of five buttons: Kick, Punch, Slash, Heavy Slash and Dust - which is often the base for the heavy special attacks - combined with different directional controls for different moves. Success in each bout depends on accurate use of the right combination of standard attacks, rather than simply landing the biggest hits. There are some big hitters in each character’s arsenal but these end up being fairly ineffective without supporting them with a decent combo or two. This turns what appears quite a simple game on the surface into a very technical challenge. As such, it has a particularly steep learning curve. Going up against an experienced player online too soon can easily see you become a spectator as the blows rain down at a scary volume and speed. Button mashing just will not cut it.
This news might not be the most attractive for newcomers to Guilty Gear but the game does provide a brightly lit pathway along the steep road of progression. For the slow of thumb, there is the Stylish fighting mode, for use in all the online and battle modes. Players can use this to just jump into the action, with combos being the work of blindly stabbing buttons and defensive blocking merely requiring you to stop attacking. It’s a great starting point but will only take you so far in an otherwise tricky game. But, if there is one thing that really helps Guilty Gear Xrd Rev 2 stand out, it is the Dojo - a thorough and comprehensive set of tutorials and training modes available to guide players from button mashing to free-flowing expert fighters. After a set of basic introduction tutorials to guide you through movement and basic combat, several further modes will see you wear down your fingers flinging fighters over huge obstacles and traps, checking off the list of combos and special moves for each character and mastering solutions to likely problems you will encounter facing other players. The game even offers solutions to the biggest strengths of each individual character. It is a fantastic resource for new players, as well as seasoned veterans needing to take their game further. Even after just a few successful courses, you’ll start finding any switch back to Stylish mode a bit shameful and unfulfilling.
For the most part, these guides are fantastically helpful. The Combo guides in particular provide a perfect introduction to getting started with each character in the Technical fighting mode. There’s a visual showing you the best timing of button inputs for each move and combo, though this gets lost to a separate menu option - running alongside a demo of the combo - as you move from the special moves to the combos. This feels like an inconvenience but, practically, it helps you get used to watching the action on screen to get the timings right. You can then progress onto the Missions, which build up your in-fight decision making and tactics. You are provided with an obstacle and advised on the best way of countering it. This involves working on timings for getting special moves into an attack or dealing with airborne characters and attacks. This is where the training really begins to ramp up, and there’s not much in the way of advice. Get through them, however, and you’ll be ready to take on anything.
As useful as the training is, it wouldn’t mean much without a decent set of modes to try out all these skills. As is usual for most beat-em-ups, Guilty Gear Xrd Rev 2 gives a short story for each of the twenty-five playable characters, chaining a set of eight contests together with a brief insight into what the character has been doing between Sign and Revelator. These Episodes really showcase the variety in the roster. You have the usual entry level characters Sol Badguy (yes, really) and Ky Kiske, who offer an average mix of power and speed to give new players the basics for the game. Beyond these, however, you have a huge range of fighting and character styles to experiment with. Baiken is built around hitting on the counter attack, Elphelt is built to keep players at bay and pick them off with guns and Zato-1 wields a dark power that he can send out to deal damage. You also get a range of personal insights from Millia Rage’s pathway to finding new purpose in the Assassin’s Guild to paper bag headed Dr Faust’s dance with the law whilst working on a diagnosis for an epidemic plaguing the people of Japan. Stories play out through a mix of full 3D cutscenes and tableaus played out with figure animations in the fight engines. These are well built and entertaining, even if they do rely on the fairly traditional tactic of randomising your opponents with the exception of a few chosen contests at the end of each pathway.
They do disappoint a little in terms of offering opportunities to practice. The difficulty level increases as you progress, based on your performance in the previous fight. Start taking out opponents in rapid speed without taking a hit and you’ll see your challenge being quickly increased. But if you lose on a higher difficulty you are instantly knocked back down a peg which robs you of the chance to overcome the difficult hurdle. Holding off on toning down the challenge would have helped on the mission to improvement, and is a strange instance of hand-holding in an otherwise challenging progression course. You also quickly find that, whilst a range of different voice lines play out over each victory cutscene, the actual scene is the same each time, crossing from the Episodes to simple one off fights both offline and online. A few different varieties would have helped build characters even further and, considering the extent of the Story Mode, could easily have been done.
But then there’s the Story Mode. It continues on from Guilty Gear Xrd Sign, and follows in the footsteps of many an anime gone before. It is an interesting and thoughtful thriller exploring themes of existentialism and individual purpose, moral problems and the problems of black and white thinking for world leaders. It showcases a world challenged by technological and magical advances, where powerful and mysterious figures loom in the shadows and influence world events towards some greater and secretive purpose. It is somewhat unevenly paced, often overly wordy and it tries to cram in every one of the twenty-five playable characters plus a number of others, which ends up far too much for it to handle. There are also some animation issues along the way which kept grating as the story went by. It is hard to concentrate on serious drama when the character is moonwalking across the floor with their mouth wide open like a fan-made Team Fortress 2 film.
And there is entirely no gameplay. At all. Zero. For over six hours. Essentially, it is roughly two series worth of an elaborate anime series created in a game engine and, weirdly, structured like a normal game. Each episode ends with a prompt to save. There are cutscenes, clearly animated in higher quality in a separate engine and without the text boxes that exist in the rest of the game. The extension to the story from Revalator added by Rev 2 is just tacked on. The story simply ends, credits rolling, halfway through and you have to go all the way into the chapter menu to start it up again. Considering the tight, fluid gameplay in the rest of the game, this comes across as rushed and lazy. The whole thing is odd and out of place and feels like wasted energy that could have been spent on making a story you could actually play along with.
Not that the game lacks for gameplay. Beyond the basic battles, character episodes and training modes, there is plenty to keep you engaged. Once you are comfortable with the combat, you can challenge yourself in the Guilty Gear series’ regular M.O.M. mode. This is a survival mode with touches of RPG where you collect medals and items in order to bulk up a chosen character, leveling up by defeating a certain number of special enemies. You have the option to take your character online to challenge others. It is a strange survival mode, as there is little real punishment for defeat other than not collecting any loot. But it provides a good opportunity to practice caution and more defensive tactics that will fare you well online, in both this mode and the normal mode.
There are also a number of options for fighting online. Choose between taking on opponents for ranking, joining a public lobby for a more relaxed sparring session or setting up a private lobby for taking on friends not able to join you on the sofa. The lobbies are very attractive, offering a place to chat, as well as finding a decent fight. Your little customisable avatar - like a very simple Sackboy from Little Big Planet - wanders around a little plaza filled with arcade machines where you can set up or join fights with other players. Gameplay online is very smooth. There is little to differentiate an online fight from an offline fight, save for the counter indicating the regularly low amount of frames of delay the fight is experiencing. Unfortunately, going online feels a bit like stepping into a ghost town. With plenty of lobbies available in regions all around the world, it is far too noticeable that, outside of the Tokyo region, there was nobody around. Ranked matches fare little better, and match-ups would eventually throw out previous opponents, if anyone. With the game being out for some time now, this is a concern, and your journeys online could soon prove entirely pointless, leaving you to find mates to bring round if you want to try your hand against a human opponent. Luckily, whilst in the lobby it is a simple process to enter any of the offline modes, as well as turning your hand to fishing in the pond for items that are used to customise your avatar and game experience from colour options for characters to character voices that can be set for making game announcements. You can also collect components of figures, which you can assemble and position and take snapshots of in the gallery, if that takes your fancy. There is no real challenge with fishing. You just pay an amount of money, wait a while and then your avatar does a little dance and drags up either a single item or ten depending on the amount you pay. The amount of items will keep you busy fishing for a long old while but it’s unlikely to keep your interest for long.
This is a very solid, very fun beat-em-up with a unique style and some great characters. The challenge may be steep but it does all it can to help you get to the top. It does everything asked of a beat-em-up and offers some good options alongside the main game to shake up the challenge if you get stuck in a rut. It is just such a shame that the story mode is so disappointing. Nobody likes it when a story takes control from gamers and this is a game that has a huge amount of content where you are doing nothing but sitting there. This feels like a big missed opportunity in an otherwise excellent experience.