Discounting 2007’s Guilty Gear 2: Overture, which was hardly a Guilty Gear game, and 2006’s handheld entries Guilty Gear Judgment and Guilty Gear Dust Strikers, the last proper entry into the Guilty Gear series was more than eleven years ago with the contentious (and often frowned upon) Guilty Gear Isuka on the PlayStation 2. In fact, if we’re speaking of straight quality, Guilty Gear X2, and subsequently Guilty Gear X2 #RELOAD, was the last bastion of hope for Guilty Gear fans who loved the series, sporting the strongest soundtrack and the most solid gameplay on a home console.
Thankfully, the eight (or more) year wait is now over thanks to the coming of Guilty Gear Xrd -SIGN-.
In the six year period (2008-2014) that the BlazBlue series entered our lives, many wondered what had become of Guilty Gear. Had Arc System Works abandoned it? Was Guilty Gear 2: Overture to be the last storied entry, leaving us with what is widely considered the worst Guilty Gear anything?
With the coming of Guilty Gear Xrd, the series returns to its bombastic fighting roots, solidly resolving what the BlazBlue series had failed for many to do. Make no mistake, BlazBlue was incredibly competent in its execution, with a substantial fighting system, wicked soundtrack by Daisuke Ishiwatari, and its own brilliant cast of characters, but it lacked a certain soul (or Sol, huhuhu) that could so wholly charm hearts like the Guilty Gear games did. Maybe it was the fact that BlazBlue was less relatable in its references, calling out the Nasuverse (the TYPE-MOON universe, which contains the Fate series, Tsukihime, and others), while Guilty Gear managed a real-world connection in its endless references to musicians, bands, and their music, tickling rock fans (like yours truly), while enrapturing fighting game fanatics with its finesse in the genre.
Guilty Gear Xrd blazes through with a return to form, brilliantly utilizing Unreal Engine 3 to create the most stunning visuals any game in Arc System Works’ repertoire has ever seen. Though the game appears on both PlayStation 3 and PlayStation 4, the reality is that the PlayStation 4 version is the one true version of the game, boasting an output at 1080p and 60fps, allowing for what is undoubtedly one of the smoothest-looking fighting game experiences on the planet. It also marks the first true fighting exclusive for Sony’s new platform, largely outclassing Killer Instinct on Xbox One in terms of gameplay and accessibility. While Killer Instinct is gritty, brutal, and ultimately more reserved in its exploits, Guilty Gear Xrd is bright and powerful, allowing its rhapsodic nature to echo through its gameplay and visual performance rather than one or the other. Largely this shows the developmental vision between Eastern and Western cultures, but the aureate nature of Guilty Gear Xrd elevates this brand new fighter to something only Street Fighter IV had only meagerly touched upon.
To further Guilty Gear Xrd‘s supremacy, we again see Daisuke Ishiwatari as not only an essential illustrator, but the mastermind behind the soundtrack. Greats from The Midnight Carnival return in “Keep Yourself Alive II” and “Holy Orders (Be Just or Be Dead),” though slightly reworked to keep in line with this new incarnation. Alongside, we have several incredible vocal tracks, featuring Outrage‘s Naoki Hashimoto, with the most highlighted and celebrated in “Heavy Day,” which not only carried most of Xrd‘s promotional material, but also plays through the opening cutscene to the game. It’s surprising to hear vocal-led works by Ishiwatari when the series has mostly relied on instrumental music, but Hashimoto’s gruff voice resonates well with the material and really drives home that this is simultaneously a revival and a new beast for a new generation of gaming.
There’s another element in Hashimoto and Ishiwatari working together at play that really puts the music into overdrive. Perhaps it’s the soulful infusion of vocals working in tandem with the aggressive guitar. More than that, it’s the words emanating from Hashimoto’s voice that instill a certain serenity and inner strength in the listener, offering messages of power and self-belief that are so important in the bleak world of Guilty Gear Xrd that, in some ways, echoes our own in all its failings (though a big less apocalyptic). Whatever the case may be, music remains as integral as ever to Guilty Gear and Xrd is no different in its focus.
Outside of being a phenomenal example of both visual and audial pleasantries, Guilty Gear Xrd is a true vehicle of fighting game prowess. Having whittled down what became a massive roster to a solid 16 characters, Xrd now stands as simultaneously the most approachable and competitive title in the series, with a robust training mode that takes you from a lowly peasant to a capable opponent. Though online is still as intimidating as ever, Xrd seems to handle teaching you a bit more effectively than its predecessors. The only thing to do is to provide the game with the same respect and patience that you yourself deserve and you should be standing your ground in due time.
To further your time and understanding of the game, there lies the traditional arcade mode which leads you to Xrd‘s story mode (which is more of a visual novel in actuality) to learn more about the events of 2187, but outside of either of those is the rather difficult M.O.M. mode which will see you taking on increasingly stronger opponents in a pseudo-dungeon crawler type mode allowing you to spec your chosen character using your winnings. It’s certainly an interesting mode that forces you to “git gud” while also putting you in high-risk situations that test your understanding of the game’s mechanics and personal resolve. Needless to say, it’s quite a trial from beginning to end.
More than anything, however, Guilty Gear Xrd is exemplary in both of its executions as a revival of the series and as a fighting game on its own. It seems simple in its form, with the only playable aspects of the game in its Arcade Mode, Online Versus, and the aforementioned M.O.M. Mode without even an interactive story, but an interactive story almost seems unnecessary and would likely detract from the rich lore the team at Arc System Works have built. Focusing on the modes that matter seemed like the smartest thing and that’s exactly what happened with Xrd. Nary a flaw to be seen.
Guilty Gear Xrd -SIGN- gets…
Guilty Gear Xrd -SIGN- was developed by Arc System Works and published by Aksys Games. This title will be available on December 16th, 2014 for the PlayStation 3 for $49.99 and PlayStation 4 for $59.99, while the Limited Edition will be available on December 23rd, 2014 for the PlayStation 3 for $69.99 and the PlayStation 4 for $79.99. All versions are still available for pre-order.
This review was originally posted on Save/Continue.