Friday, June 11, 2021

Guilty Gear Xrd Rev 2

I didn’t have too much experience with the output of Arc System works, but I did look forward to, and subsequently play, Dragon Ball FighterZ. I really enjoyed its style and presentation, so I decided to try a title that I heard was similar, Guilty Gear Xrd Rev 2, which I later learned was an update to Guilty Gear Xrd -REVELATOR- that got a PS4-exclusive physical release. It took me a while to get around to actually playing it, but I’m glad I did, since the flair and presentation kept me hooked like with FighterZ. However, beneath it all, I felt like I missed something.

The Story Mode begins by explaining the backstory. At the end of the 20th Century, mankind discovers a limitless energy source they called “Magic”. It isn’t long before Magic is militarized to create Gears, artificial magic creatures. The first Gear, Justice, leads a Gear uprising against humanity, resulting in a series of wars over the next century known as the “Crusades”. In the 22nd Century, mankind forms an elite unit, the “Holy Order”, who works together with an independent Gear, Sol Badguy, to defeat Justice. Peace spreads throughout the world until a girl named Valentine declares war. Mankind is once again threatened with extinction, but the combined efforts of Ky Kiske, the First King of Illyria, and Sol Badguy thwart Valentine’s plans.

During the events of Guilty Gear Xrd -SIGN-, Ramlethal Valentine declares war on humanity at the same time a massive object known as the Cradle appears. With help from Elphelt, Sol Badguy captures Ramlethal, but the Cradle is still running rampant, with Illyria unsuccessfully attempting to stop it. Zato-1 figures out that the enemy, the Conclave, plans to resurrect Justice, the original Gear; Sin Kiske, Ky’s son, gets Ramlethal to come out of her shell and she tells everyone where the Cradle is headed. A resurrected Justice is then defeated by Sol, only for Elphelt Valentine to awaken. Sol manages to restore Elphelt’s mind through battle, only for her to be taken away by “Mother”. When she disappears, Sol and Ramlethal resolve to get her back, no matter what it takes.

Xrd Rev 2 presents its story in a purely cinematic fashion, meaning that unlike other modern fighting game stories, the player doesn’t participate in any actual combat. I’ll admit I was disappointed at first since it was five hours of cutscenes, but it turned out not to be the worst approach since the story plays out like an anime, complete with breaks in the middle of each of the nine chapters, that more organically works in every character compared to, say, Injustice 2. As much as the Story Mode tries to get players up to speed, I felt like I was walking into a story already in progress and it took me a while to get into it, not helped by the slow burn from all the setup at the beginning. It’s not until much later in that there are any action scenes, which by then I wished were sprinkled in a little more. Though I was able to sort of piece things together towards the end, it took a long time for the terminology to be explained and I realized I was supposed to play Xrd Rev -SIGN- to fully understand what exactly was going on, as there’s only so much a summary or the GG World function can do.

The Story Mode is five hours of cutscenes.

Despite my confusion over the story, however, I have to commend it for having a world and lore that feels very well thought out. Besides, it would be hypocritical of me to consider my confusion a serious complaint, since I’ve defended Kingdom Hearts III expecting a player to have played every game before it.

Once you complete the story, you gain access to After Stories, which follow certain characters after the events of the main story while also baiting for a sequel, likely the upcoming Guilty Gear -STRIVE-. Of note is After Story C, which not only goes the full anime route by including eyecatches at the halfway point, but also manages to center drama around pudding, of all things, and has an outlandish ending that still has a lot of loose ends. I’d hope that -STRIVE- will at least try to follow up on it.

Of course, some additional story material is also found in the Episode Mode, aka Arcade ladders, with each Episode explaining what each character was up to a few days before the start of Xrd Rev 2’s story. These helped tremendously with filling in some of the gaps while also giving me a better idea of the game’s unique cast, who all feel like they have some history with each other. As I played through all 25 Episodes, I realized I should’ve played them before sitting through Story, which I would recommend to anyone wanting to play this game.

Xrd Rev 2 has fast-paced gameplay that rewards the player for understanding the game’s mechanics and knowing how best to use each of the 25 characters, including building and expending Tension to pull off more powerful moves. Despite this, the game does its best to make itself accessible, with mechanics and move lists that aren’t overly complicated, as well as one of the best tutorials I’ve ever seen in the genre. You play through a series of minigames that makes sure you understand basic moves and combos, as well as the game’s unique Roman Cancel function that allows you to expend Tension to extend your combos even further. Beyond that, you can also play through quick tutorials to practice each character’s moves and get the timing down and even get advice and practice for approaching specific matchups. For players who want to know the characters and systems at a deeper level, the tutorials are an amazing resource.

A glimpse at the in-depth tutorial.

As I played around with the entire roster, I gradually felt a greater sense that, unlike some other fighting game I’ve played, each character had a truly unique playstyle with special moves that stood out from one another while also perfectly suiting each character. These range from Chip Zanuff’s lightning quick ninja attacks and Leo Whitefang’s energy waves to Venom’s control over magic billiard balls, Bedman’s ability to replay attacks and Faust’s more cartoonish powers. A surprising mechanic for me was also the Instant Kill, a high risk move that sacrifices the ability to build Tension for a chance at defeating your opponent in one hit. It can be hard to land and it’s best to combo into it, but it’s incredibly satisfying to pull off and watch the resulting cutscene, followed by the “Destroyed” announcement. One small detail I appreciated regarding Dizzy’s Instant Kill is that to remain in-character with her refusal to kill anyone, her “Destroyed” is replaced with an indication her opponent “Surrendered”.

As you play through the different game modes, you also earn World Dollars, which you can spend on items from the Gallery, including alternate colors, Elphelt’s costume from Xrd -SIGN- or voice and music tracks. You can also buy items to customize your player ID, of which there are too many. An alternate method to unlocking items is by gambling away World Dollars through the fishing minigame, also accessible in multiplayer lobbies, which can also give you avatar parts and customization options for the Digital Figure Mode. At some point you’ll have to work harder to grind for World Dollars depending on what you want to unlock, which you can do through the mission-based M.O.M. Mode or participating in fights.

Notably, this game has a very strong Heavy Metal vibe. Everything from the UI to the character designs to the music, composed by series director Daisuke Ishiwatari, evokes this feeling, which gives the game a cohesive identity and keeps the player engaged. It also helps that the game is filled to the brim with music references, which shows a clear passion from the developers.

Guilty Gear's characters are unique and memorable.

One of the best aspects of Xrd Rev 2 is the visuals, which manage to effortlessly evoke old school arcade games while also allowing for highly expressive animations. At times it feels like a living anime, which I consider a compliment considering how plenty of other anime-style games don’t have the same level of expressiveness as actual anime. I also found the character designs visually striking and memorable, their appearance matching their personalities and histories well. Just to use the two characters added to Xrd Rev 2 as examples, Answer is a ninja who uses business cards as weapons and fights one-handed from being constantly on the phone, while Baiken is a Japanese samurai with one arm and eye who hides weapons, including a chained hook and a cannon, in the sleeve where her other arm would be. The Digital Figure Mode gives a good opportunity to fully absorb each character’s design, especially the writing on most of their clothing, which is pretty easy to miss otherwise.

Xrd Rev 2 perfectly captures the feeling of old-school fighting games.

Though there are no stage interactions, the environments are still great to look at. Each arena stands out visually and the attention to detail helps give them character. These include the presence of a sheriff who later cheers on the fight in the Neo Newyork stage and the downright hauntingly beautiful Japan stage that acknowledges the absence of an entire country.

From my entire playthrough, I only had two issues with the visuals. A more minor one is that due to the lack of frame interpolation, in the game’s effort at mimicking 2D sprite art from older fighting games, walk cycles look a little awkward during the Story Mode. By contrast, a bigger issue is that during the Episodes, there are stretches of dialogue with white subtitles text slapped on top of the screen. Depending on what else is onscreen, these are sometimes hard to read, not helped by some bits going by faster than others.

One immediately apparent aspect of this game is the lack of an English dub. I got used to the subtitled Japanese audio after a while, but I’ll admit I was disappointed that I didn’t have the option, considering I usually choose English audio when given the chance and that I came off of Dragon Ball FighterZ, which had a dub. That said, the announcer does speak in English and has a lot of enthusiasm when delivering their lines. As an added bonus, some of these lines also play through the DualShock 4’s built-in speaker.

I’ll also go on record saying that Xrd Rev 2 has one of the best soundtracks I’ve heard in a fighting game, courtesy of Daisuke Ishiwatari. Befitting the Heavy Metal atmosphere, many songs have fast and intricate guitar work, including the character select theme, “Fizz”, but the character themes also display a deeper understanding of composition to match the emotions and personalities of the characters. For instance, Elphelt and Ramlethal’s themes, “Marionette” and “Diva of Despair” respectively, have a tragic undertone that emphasize their uncertain humanity and hint at the fates that befall them. Different instrumentations and genres are also mixed in for a great deal of variety that keeps the music feeling fresh. For instance, Baiken’s theme, “Rokumon”, incorporates her Japanese heritage through a combination of Metal riffs and Japanese instruments while also expertly controlling the tempo accordingly. This is one of those game soundtracks I’d really like to have on CD to listen to whenever I want, provided I could get it at a reasonable price.

If you’re looking for a flashy and well-animated fighting game that happens to have well-crafted lore and unique characters, a killer soundtrack and one of the best tutorials in the entire genre, then Guilty Gear Xrd Rev 2 is for you. Newcomers can easily get into it, with access to the proper tools to improve, while genre veterans will find something unique that greatly rewards their commitment to fully exploring the game’s systems. It’s the best of both worlds and is hard not to recommend.

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