Guilty Gear Xrd Sign
Normally, when we say that a set of screenshots isn’t a fair representation of a game, we mean it as a negative. Here, it’s the highest of praise. Believe it or not, this is a 3D game you’re looking at, the characters not hand-drawn 2D, but posed 3D models, animated at 15fps to preserve the feel of the 2D Guilty Gears. To developer Arc System Works, it is a more efficient way of working; to the player, it makes for the most visually spectacular fighting game in history. Each round ends with the camera unhooking from its side-on mounting and showing the killing blow from an optimal angle. Spend half your Tension gauge on an Overdrive move and the action zooms in tight on your character for a split second before pulling back out to show its effect. Guilty Gear Xrd does in realtime what its forebears did with cinematics. At times it is less a fighting game and more a playable anime.
The cast certainly play their part in the latter. The character-select screen is an identity parade of fantastical weirdos: May fights with dolphins, Venom with billiard balls, while Faust is a disfigured doctor with a paper bag over his head who disappears from the screen then emerges from a magical door that he opens into the back of your head. Bedman is, aptly, a young man strapped to a transformable mechanical bed who flings boomerang bombs and whose win quotes run into dozens of words. And like any self-respecting niche anime, around them there’s a bonkers, time-hopping story that is as good as impenetrable.
The same could be said for the systems. This is something of which Arc is clearly conscious, and which it has sought to remedy with a generous tutorial that, across 50 stages, walks you through Guilty Gear Xrd’s every component. There’s tremendous complexity in this five-button system, with extravagant air combos, tricksy cancels and perfectly timed counters. But there is plenty here for newcomers too. The Gatling Combination is a four-hit chain combo available to every character in the game, while a rechargeable two-button combo breaker lets you escape dire situations.
When the tutorial’s done, Challenge mode walks you through a character’s combo potential. Mission mode patiently explains the many little meta-strategies specific to Guilty Gear and applicable to the genre in general. This has been done before, but rarely in such depth or with such elegance: an insistence that you follow each instruction multiple times ensures the lesson sinks in, while a wry, witty script carries you through the tougher parts. When the action proper starts, the pace of it all means you’ll quickly forget most of what you’ve learned, but it’s a generous, and muchneeded, primer to a game in a series that, despite the familiarity of its genre, has long played by its own rules.
This generosity extends to the singleplayer too, though Arc isn’t afraid to fall back on hackneyed genre convention from time to time. We thought we were past the point of complaining about unfair final bosses in Arcade modes, but Ramlethal’s unblockable Overdrive, and the spinning sword attack that steals a third of a life bar in chip damage if blocked, are a bit much by normal standards. Thankfully, there’s a much kinder, and immeasurably smarter, singleplayer distraction in M.O.M. mode, in which you fight your way across a hex board battling opponents with little stat buffs and nerfs, levelling up as you go. Along the way, you’ll collect medals, a currency to spend on stat boosts, equippable perk-like accessories, and skills – bombs, poison mists or lightning bolts, which substantially change the way a character is played. Your health bar carries over from match to match, but a loss doesn’t mean game over, just a stutter for your streak bonus. It’s a thoughtful, nonpunitive take on fighting-game singleplayer, and another example of Arc paying careful consideration to the needs of players of every taste and skill level, offering longevity to those who prefer to stay offline.
Yet those who do venture to the Network setting are in for something truly special. Online, you’re asked to join a 64-player lobby, chosen by region to minimise latency, which you’ll automatically enter whenever you load up the online component in the future. Each lobby is split into eight rooms of eight players; here, instead of the standard winner-stays-on format – where a loss means going to the back of a 20-minute queue – there are four stations of two back-to-back cabinets. You can all queue up at the same station, or break off in twos and threes; you can choose to spectate matches rather than wait your turn, sizing up the competition before throwing down your metaphorical ¥200. Grouping players together like this has meant that, even before EU release, we’ve developed rivalries with other UK players. There’s already a sizeable European player-base, thanks in no small part to crossplatform play between PS3 and PS4. It’s a wonderfully well-thought-out approach to online fighting.
We are 14 months into a generation in which so many developers have seemingly decided that what they most want to make are visually upgraded versions of 360 and PS3 games. Arc System Works, however, has clearly thought about what the phrase ‘next generation’ means for fighting games. Xrd is an outrageously pretty game on PS4, but along with that comes a novel take on the fighting-game singleplayer, a new genre standard for online multiplayer, as well as a best-in-class set of tutorials and challenges. Guilty Gear, like the anime that influences it, is an acquired taste, and a niche pursuit. Yet for all its complexity, it is uncommonly welcoming. The result is a game that has raised our expectations for the coming generation of fighting games, and set Arc’s peers a high bar that will take some beating.
Arc System Works has clearly thought about what the phrase ‘next generation’ means for fighting games