Guilty Gear has always been a mystery to me. While I love throwing Hadokens, battling the Mishima Zaibatsu, and finishing off opponents with Fatalities, I've only viewed this fighting game universe from afar, never really jumping in. Guilty Gear Xrd (which, for the curious, is pronounced "Ex Ard") does everything it can to bring in sheltered fighting fans like myself while also maintaining the complexity and strategy that made longtime fans swoon to begin with. It's a wonderful return to form for the Guilty Gear name and a game that will make every type of fighter happy (except maybe BlazBlue fans).
As a relative newcomer, the first thing I did was head straight to the Tutorial, which is one of the most detailed and thorough explanations of a game I've ever encountered. I suppose a Guilty Gear tutorial has to be packed considering how many different parts there are to the fighting system. While things like attacks, jumps, crouches, dashes, and dodges are all fighting standards, other mechanics like bursts, Dead Angle Attacks, and the robust canceling system required some study. Thankfully the tutorial does a wonderful job explaining not only how to perform this moves but also why they're important. I felt like a Guilty Gear scholar when I was finished, but I soon found out the tutorial is merely grade school.
Once the basics are down it's time to learn a character, and each face on the selection screen has a tutorial of its own in the form of Challenges. These challenges teach each character's special moves and best combos, giving me a proper strategic foundation for whoever I chose. No amount of tutorials could really prepare me for the weirdness of the Guilty Gear regulars. Sol Badguy seems like a normal antihero type, but characters like Zato=1 and his demon companion Eddie, Faust with the bag on his head, and Bedman, the guy laying in a possessed mechanical bed, really threw me through a loop. Whoever thought these people up must be the life of the party everywhere he or she goes, because these creation are awesomely bonkers.
Eventually I had to actually play the game and not just teach it to myself, and luckily the main action is a lot of fun. As I mentioned above these characters are all crazy creations, and as such I was never sure what to expect from the AI during a match. This unpredictability kept me coming back for more, as I wanted to know what would be thrown at me next. Playing online is simple, too, though players like me who haven't played Guilty Gear before may want to stay away for the time being. It can get ugly fast.
Guilty Gear Xrd -SIGN- has plenty of modes to choose from right from the start, and the game even has courtesy to lead me on a proper path to fully enjoy it. It recommends that I play the Arcade mode first, learn the story of the Arcade mode, then play the actual Story mode that takes place after the Arcade mode's story. Yeah, that should sound confusing, but what it means is there are two separate stories to behold here--one taking place right after the other--meaning that this fighting game wants to keep me around for a while. Hey, I enjoy fighting each round and learning more by the minute, so why not learn what's going on the world at the same time?
Perhaps the most impressive thing about this game is its beautifully drawn 2D graphics style that aren't actually 2D graphics. The game runs at a full 1080p, 60 frames-per-second pace, but Aksys purposely limited the character models and backgrounds to look like a classic 2D fighter. This makes for certain camera angles that were never possible before, like the diagonal up look before a character chases a launched opponent or the super move animations that come before the attacked is launched. The best way to experience the full potential of this new graphics style is with the Instant Kill moves--one-shot victory moves that fill the screen with insanity. The way the characters move and the visuals that accompany it are a weird yet awesome hybrid of 2D and 3D that I've never seen before, and it makes me wish other fighting games had thought of this approach too. I know other longtime series have announced their next ventures, but this would be the perfect way to approach a HD remake or something like that... hint hint.
Guilty Gear had taken a backseat to Blazblue for a while, but now Sol Badguy and his motley crew have retaken the reins in a big way. Guilty Gear Xrd -SIGN-, weird name and all, is a fantastic fighter that does an incredible job of teaching new players the ropes while keeping things interesting for the normal crowd. I love fighters that take this approach, as it can only mean more people playing fighters and my favorite genre can continue to grow and blossom. Aksys has done some great things with this new Guilty Gear, and anyone who's ever enjoyed a one-on-one fighting game should give this game a shot.
This review was completed with a digital copy of Guilty Gear Xrd -SIGN- provided by the publisher for PlayStation 4.