Arc System Works' Guilty Gear X2 #Reload
finally offers Xbox gamers a 2D fighting game worth celebrating. While previous Xbox efforts have provided some entertainment, all other 2D fighting ports seemed too aged and not fitting of Xbox's massive power. GGX2
, while not an original title for Xbox, offers a solid framerate (even online), lush visuals, and an incredible amount of gameplay depth. Considering that it also retails for just $20, and it's clear that any fighting fan would do well to pick Guilty Gear
The curse of 2D fighters is that they look pretty simple on the surface. Casual gamers come to a 2D fighter expecting to get away with fireball moves and button mashing. But if you arrive at GGX2 with that same attitude, you're going to run into trouble. Sure, anyone can pick up Guilty Gear and smash some buttons and probably win a few matches, but those folks will be missing out on the hidden depths of GGX2. Since there aren't any presentation aspects that will alert the casual fan to some of Guilty Gear's more subtle complexities, the only hope is to scan the manual or read a FAQ online. For those who know the series or are willing to learn, there's a lot to master, but doing so creates a very intense fighting experience.
The HUD features four different meters. The biggest and most obvious is your health meter, which operates as you'd expect, depleting with each hit until you bottom out at zero and get KO'd. Next there's the Burst Gauge. This meter fills as you deal damage or take it throughout a match and actually carries over between rounds. The Burst gauge can be used either as a defensive combo buster that knocks your opponent backwards or as an offensive attack that not only hurts your opponent but instant fills your Tension Gauge.
Speaking of the Tension Gauge, this meter also fills as you take hits, deliver damage, and whenever you move towards your enemy. It's there to reward aggression. Tension allows for a variety of different moves including the ever-popular and eye-catching Instant Kills, tension attacks, and Roman cancels (a way of canceling any recovery time for a move and allowing for an immediate attack).
The Instant Kills are a source of contention, in a way. For all of the jousting, combos, and blocking, you can always enter Instant Kill mode and try for the one-shot win. Should you miss (and it is easy to miss or be blocked), your tension bar disappears for the rest of the round, which will severely limit your fighting options. It's a gamble, but if you are about to die, it's one you might as well take. While the Instant Kills offer up very creative endings that are actually more enjoyable than most of Mortal Kombat's fatalities, some will find them to be a bit cheap. Fortunately, you can turn to choose these off. I like Instant Kills for the single-player game, but it is a little cheap for multiplayer.
The final meter is the Guard Gauge. This meter is normally half full. As you block, the meter slowly fills and as you get hit, it decreases. The more empty the gauge, the less damage you take. This creates a strange phenomenon where the last hit of a massive combo does less than a sneaky hit you manage to get in on a heavy blocker. This is, again, to force aggressive play by punishing those who block too much.
All of these meters, along with the various different fighting opportunities they afford, make for a much more robust combat system than you may expect. I just love the complexity of the fighting system. When you battle with people who really know Guilty Gear, the fights get really epic. Doing fireballs constantly isn't going to get you anywhere against people who know how to cancel their falls, use each character's unique Dust move (which sends their opponent skyward for some devastating air combos), and maximize the strange attacks for every character. I am by no means an expert at GGX2 -- I'm probably middle-of-the road -- but I've seen two experts play one another. It's one of the most amazing things you can witness in a fighting game. There are dozens of things seemingly happening at one time. You'll see things you never knew characters could do, you'll discover moves you didn't imagine, and witness combos that will boggle your mind. Problem is, you have to become an expert first and GGX2 won't help you in that way at all, which is a shame, because some sort of smart tutorial would have been a great assist.
What really separates Guilty Gear from the rest of the crowd are the absolutely bizarre characters. It really doesn't get any stranger than this. Whether it's Bridget the yoyo-wielding male nun or May the wannabe pirate who hefts a massive anchor and sends her pet dolphin to strike from afar, each character is a very distinguishable entity. Not only do they look, speak, and act strangely, but their attacks are unlike anything I've seen in a fighting series.
Take Venom for example. Wearing a cloth mask reminiscent of Cobra commander, he brandishes a pool cue. Yes, a pool cue. Using Venom, you can generate various cue balls and send them flying at your opponent. Or you can perform a grab, encasing your victim in a giant cue ball and striking it powerfully. I love this guy. And then there's I-No, the guitar-playing witch, with short skirt, thigh-high leather boots, and pointy witch hat. She uses her axe to great effect, attacking with her music and strangling opponent's with guitar chords. There are more than 20 of these characters and they are all just as interesting (some of them even more so). And each one also has unique attacks from top to bottom, special tension moves, and Instant Kills. There's a lot to see from every character and it really doesn't feel repetitive, even after dozens of hours of play.
The basic fight animations aren't as varied as might be seen in some recent 3D fighters, but are as good as I've seen for 2D brawlers on Xbox. Hair and robes flow as you fight and the colorful sprites really pop off the screen, especially in 480p. It's too bad there's no widescreen support, but progressive scan definitely makes for a more appealing showing. There's just a lot to see during a fight as the attacks are sometimes very bizarre and not having it all fit nicely on a widescreen TV is a shame. Could this game look better on Xbox? Sure, but it definitely doesn't look like a PS2 title in any way. It's crisp, handsome, and the original designs are a big plus.
The small arenas where you do battle are also memorable. Each scene takes some aspect of a character and expands upon it. The areas are all animated and even though those animations are repetitive, it does give the backgrounds a sense of being alive, rather than just being static backdrops.
Fighting games are often very much about playing head-to-head, but Guilty Gear X2 also offers a number of different modes that can be played all by your lonesome. You have your standard modes, such as Story Mode, which offers multiple endings but tells pretty strange and generally uninteresting stories and also Arcade Mode, which pits your against a series of characters as you climb to the final boss fight. Then there are the more unique modes.
M.O.M. has you battling enemies for medals and points as you attempt to rack up the big score. You can also give a try to the 100 Missions available. Missions take specific characters and set different parameters for a fight and different rules for winning. You may need to win without having a tension meter or with just a sliver of health. It's not an easy challenge to complete, but it's there if you want to take it. I just wish the presentation wasn't so ugly for this mode. The launch menu for each mission is bland, basic, and not very well thought out. The mode is great, but the packaging, not so much. Survival is similar to the type played in other fighting games where you take on an endless string of opponents with your health replenishing only slightly between matches. The difference is, there are 1000 levels in this mode, but the levels are actually earned by fighting well and not by defeating opponents. Score a counter-attack, perform a tension attack -- these are the types of things that gain levels and also unlock the majority of hidden characters in GGX2. Survival is probably my favorite mode of all, even over online, and will keep you busy for a good long time, especially if you tackle it with every character.
There will be plenty of reason for people to play GGX2 online, thanks to zero lag or latency (at least I never experienced any in my matches) and international rankings. The only drag with online is that there are very few options. You can choose to play a three or five-round match, turn off Instant Kills, and allow for EX Mode characters (which are superior versions of the more than 20 playable characters). That's really about it. There's no replays or observation modes, no use of Xbox Live 3.0, nothing that actually builds the Xbox Live community. Yes, it's cool to fight online, but it's about as basic as possible.
One great aspect of online play -- which runs beautifully -- is that it will serve as a training ground for a whole new legion of Guilty Gear fans. With voice communication coming in clear and no lag during gameplay, you'll have the chance to ask a guy, "Wow, how do you do that?" while fighting it out. This method will slowly educate the Live masses and perhaps inspire more players to tackle the deeper aspects of GGX2 .
Amidst all of this fighting, blazing and somewhat generic heavy metal rips in the background. Hard guitar rifts and unforgiving drum beats were all the rage when I was ten and appear to still be a big deal in Japan. The characters in Guilty Gear were inspired by real-life heavy metal bands, so the music is a perfect compliment. It's actual not bad at all, it's just a tad bit tired, though I guess this series will always be forced to have such music. If you don't like the sounds, there's no custom soundtracks to fall back on. Don't worry though, it's never grating and in fact the music fits the aggressive fighting.
Every character has their own voice and various grunts, groans, and shouts for fights. Plus there's plenty of dialogue -- all voiced in Japanese. It's not easy for a non-Japanese speaker to judge the quality of Japanese dialogue, but to my gaijin ears, it sounds pretty good. Sure, there could have been more room for better presentation in the story mode with cut-scenes, but at least every line of dialogue is given a voice. I have to say that half of what they're talking about seems a bit nonsensical, but it's all just a means to more fighting anyway.
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