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Guilty Gear Xrd -SIGN- PS4 Review: Let's Rock (Again)

Arc System Works' classic series makes its 3D animated return on PlayStation platforms.

Review by Mike Williams, .

If you've only been a fighting game fan over the past console generation, you may not know what Guilty Gear is. The fighting series was the first breakout hit of Japanese studio Arc System Works, with entries spanning from the late PlayStation era through the PlayStation 2's reign. When the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 came around, Arc System Works upped their game and created BlazBlue, a high-resolution hand-drawn 2d fighter that built upon what the studio had learned with Guilty Gear. Outside of Guilty Gear 2: Overture, a Dynasty Warriors-style action strategy game, Guilty Gear fans have had to find solace in re-releases and BlazBlue for the entire seventh console generation.

These aren't bullshots. Every shot in this review (except the Elphelt art) is taken directly from my PlayStation 4.

Guilty Gear Xrd is what happens when you use current technology to emulate past experiences. To prevent from cannibalizing the success of BlazBlue, Arc System Works tried to re-envision Guilty Gear in a different manner. (The first re-envisioning was Overture.) What the studio came up with is an Unreal Engine 3-powered 3D fighter, that plays like and mimics a hand-drawn 2D fighter. Guilty Gear Xrd is intended to please classic Guilty Gear fans, reach out to new players, and provide enough visual impact to make Guilty Gear a major name in the fighting game community again.

Arc System Works has largely succeeded.

To whit, without the Unreal Engine 3 title card, I wouldn't have believed this was an Unreal Engine 3 game. Most of the game plays out on the 2D plane and it looks gorgeous in motion (1080p, 60 fps if we're getting technical). The characters animate fluidly and there's enough stretch and skew in their movements to make you think you're playing a hand-drawn game. Arc System Works wanted to show off its work though, so Dust launching attacks, Overdrive specials, and match finishers rotate the camera to show the action in a 3D perspective. It's a cool effect, but used sparingly so that it doesn't ruin the flow of a match. There's some odd animation lag in the character introductions at the beginning of each match, but for the most part the 3D/2D illusion works.

Moving to 3D is more economical on Arc System Works' part, allowing them to build characters without drawing every single frame of animation. The shift allows them to get away with things like Xrd's Story mode, which is 5 hours of animated cutscenes explaining the plot. That's right, the Story mode has no fighting whatsoever, unlike the studio's previous work in Persona 4 Arena. You start each episode up and just watch the fully-voiced story pass by. It's something the studio probably couldn't do if it had to hand-animate the entire thing, but here it allows those who care to get deeper into the game's world without putting their fighting skills to the test.

The excellent visuals are complemented by the absolutely amazing hard rock soundtrack. From the moment the opening theme, Heavy Day, kicks off, you know you're in for something special. Just like previous Guilty Gear titles, the music is a high point and almost worth admission on its own. Guilty Gear creator Daisuke Ishiwatari is also the game's composer; he retains the unique sound that he's had since the very first Guilty Gear title in 1998. (Voice work fans will be happy to know that there's an option to switch between Japanese and English voice tracks. This extends to matches and cutscenes, unlike Persona 4 Arena's option.)

Character-wise, this shift from 2D to 3D predicated a slight restart, so the roster is smaller. Returning characters include Sol Badguy, Ky Kiske, Millia Rage, May, Chipp Zanuff, Potemkin, Venom, Axl Low, I-No, Faust, Slayer, and Zato-1. Millia and Potemkin feature the most drastic character design changes, while the rest are slight and simple translations of their previous 2D looks. In addition to the old cast, Arc System adds the emotionless villain Ramlethal Valentine and the odd Bedman to the initially-playable cast. Sin Kiske returns from Overture as an unlockable character, and Japanese fans have already received the game's two DLC characters, Elphelt Valentine and Leo Whitefang.

The roster itself is a bit lean, but it's a first outing, so that's to be forgiven. I'm looking forward to seeing what follows Xrd, if only to see the roster fill out a bit more.

The character designs in Guilty Gear have always stood out as rougher and more outlandish than those in BlazBlue. The latter title tends towards designs that are more streamlined and more fanservice-y; they play better with certain audiences in Japan. The Valentine sisters, Ramlethal and Elphelt, feel like Arc System Works' attempt bridge the divide and pull the BlazBlue audience into Guilty Gear. Elphelt in particular is feels like creator Daisuke Ishiwatari went in search of the otaku heart; the personality and mannerisms, the dress, the bunny ears, and the boob window all scream "moe" from the rooftops. (Elphelt is also one of the more annoying online matchups, as her gun and grenade combo gives her great control of the battlefield. She's also free until January 5, 2015.)

Elphelt seems aimed at a specific audience.

The entire roster does cater to a number of different playstyles. Rushdown fans will stick with series mainstay Sol Badguy, while a character like Chipp is a highly-mobile glass cannon. Billiards-playing assassin Venom is all about the setup. New fighter Bedman is literally a comatose dude nailed to a robotic bed; he plays long-range, but also has the ability to dash in all eight directions. There's something for every fighting fan and certain Dust attacks stretch each character's style farther, though not as far as Persona 4 Arena's Personas.

Guilty Gear Xrd is a return to form for the series, but it isn't as technically demanding on the high-end as previous Guilty Gear games. Again, Arc System wants this title to act as an introduction to the series for new players. It's streamlined, while still featuring basic chain combos, double jumps, Super jumps, air dashes, and air recovery techs. Buffered inputs for combos are now a feature and the Roman Cancel, letting players cancel out of special attacks, is easier to implement and understand. (Combining both features lets you pull off some interesting moves.) It doesn't hold your hand on the low-end as much as Persona 4 Arena Ultimax did, but there is a tutorial mode and a host of challenges for each character to get you up to speed.

M.O.M. is your requisite RPG-style mode.

The rest of the Guilty Gear Xrd is padded out with M.O.M., an RPG-style mode allowing you to take characters through a hex-grid filled with unique encounters, and the Gallery, where you spend in-game currency to unlock new art, music, cutscenes, and Sin Kiske.

Then there's the online mode, which stands as the game's primary misstep. Like BlazBlue and Persona 4 Arena Ultimax, online play requires you to enter online lobbies. The problem is Guilty Gear Xrd's online feels like a step backwards. The avatars are gone, replaced with pictorial cursors. Getting into a match requires going into a region, picking a room within that region, hoping there's rooms set up within that region to play in, and then hoping there's a open cabinet that you can play on. There's far too many steps just to participate in a single match. Guilty Gear Xrd's online lacks the efficiency of previous titles and is a far cry from the simple matchmaking options found in Ultra Street Fighter IV . Once you've found a match, it is much easier to play your opponent again, but the rest brings down the whole experience.

The online system can be annoying when you just want to play.

When it comes to netcode, I generally played within a frame delay of 4-9 frames. Some have reported worse, but today's launch also offers up a patch to improve the netcode for those players. I did however run into a few online error messages like "Could not find a room" or "Host is not responding". It wasn't frequent, but it did happen enough that I feel it should be noted in the review.

For a game that's intended to bring in new players, it's also quite hard for new players to find places to improve on online. I found many rooms listed as "Training" but they weren't functionally different from regular rooms. If you're really new to Guilty Gear, you're better off honing your skills offline first.

It's a shame, because with a better online system, Guilty Gear Xrd could've been the best of the best. As it stands, the title is a great first step for Guilty Gear and a wonderful return for a series I had thought was lost. If you're a Guilty Gear fan, welcome back. If you're not, Guilty Gear Xrd is definitely worth checking out to see if this is your jam.

Yeah, no clue what's going on in that outfit.

The Nitty Gritty

  • Visuals: 3D models that look like hand-drawn art. You won't find such a distinct visual style in any other fighting game.
  • Sound: Once again, Ishiwatari's soundtrack is hard rock magic. This is a soundtrack worth buying.
  • Interface: It's well-designed and does what it needs to do.
  • Lasting appeal: Once you've played through arcade mode, watched the story, completed the challenges, and unlocked everything in the gallery, there's still online play.

Guilty Gear Xrd -SIGN- is a triumphant return for a fighting series that stayed in hiding for an entire generation. Arc System Works has laid a visual salvo with 3D models that animate like 2D art. Combined with the amazing soundtrack and technical gameplay, Xrd is a great fighter. The only thing that holds it back is an obtuse online match system and a relatively lean roster. If you're a guilty Gear fan, it's definitely worth a purchase.

4.5 /5

Guilty Gear Xrd -SIGN- PS4 Review: Let's Rock (Again) Mike Williams Arc System Works' classic series makes its 3D animated return on PlayStation platforms. 2014-12-16T23:00:00-05:00 4.5 5

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Comments 18

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  • Avatar for Ralek #1 Ralek 3 years ago
    Looks yaw dropping. thats for sure, and sounds like an overall great game, but despite many tries I just can't get into the genre :-/ Maybe they'll build a 2D-sidescroller in the same vein someday ...
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  • Avatar for brionfoulke91 #2 brionfoulke91 3 years ago
    This game looks amazing! Definitely THE new fighting game to have.
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  • Avatar for SigurdVolsung #3 SigurdVolsung 3 years ago
    I love this game so much already, and I don't even have my PS4 fight stick yet. That will make me love it even more. I can't wait for Evo next year, GG returns to the big stage.
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  • Avatar for Elliot-Gay #4 Elliot-Gay 3 years ago
    As far as big jumps to a new generation go (AKA ditching old legacy sprites etc), Xrd has a pretty solid starting cast, all things considered. I mean hell, the first version of BlazBlue only had twelve characters! Hahahaha.

    I think Arc can get away with this simply because each character plays to remarkably different from one another, complete with their own systems to keep track of.

    I also think making the story mode a super crazy season of anime essentially is a good move. If you're into it, it's a fun watch with great music and a strong JP voice cast. If not? Go do the other stuff!

    The netcode here in Japan has been pretty ok, but I'm hoping they keep working on it. Arc netplay is typically a cut above the rest and this should be no different.

    Overall a really strong return for Guilty Gear. Great review!
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  • Avatar for VotesForCows #5 VotesForCows 3 years ago
    This looks wonderful - I loved GG on the PS2, but never had anybody to play with back then. I have to say, this review has thrown all though of Street Fighter 5 out the window for me. I had no idea this game was coming!

    Also - glad to hear the music is still as good. It was spectacular in previous games.
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  • Avatar for VotesForCows #6 VotesForCows 3 years ago
    Christ on a bike, there's no EU release date!
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  • Avatar for link6616 #7 link6616 3 years ago
    @VotesForCows Don't wait, buy a copy from the US now and go to dustloop to find EU players. If you do wait, you'll get it about a week before the next edition is announced based on tradition.
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  • Avatar for VotesForCows #8 VotesForCows 3 years ago
    @link6616 I might just do that - that's how I got Demon's Souls long before it was released over here!
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  • Avatar for Monkey-Tamer #9 Monkey-Tamer 3 years ago
    I'm not concerned with only having a few fighters compared to USF4's bloated cast. I remember being fine with eight characters when SF2 came to the SNES. I'm just hoping this game eventually comes to PC. I'm not buying a pair of new fighsticks.
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  • Avatar for docexe #10 docexe 3 years ago
    That’s cell-shading took to a completely new degree. Looks really awesome.
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  • Avatar for aaronpinsley40 #11 aaronpinsley40 3 years ago
    @Ralek Check out Hard Corps Uprising, it's the same dev making a Contra sequel.
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  • Avatar for twopenny #12 twopenny 3 years ago
    Ugh! I'm so, so bad at fighting games, but this looks so, so good; maybe it's time to jump in...
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  • Avatar for secularsage #13 secularsage 3 years ago
    WOW, this game looks good. I'm on the fence on whether or not to splurge now or wait for the inevitable PSN sale since I'm still playing through a backlog of other games from this year. As much as I love classic Guilty Gear games, I'm pretty rusty and would need awhile to rebuild my skills.

    It makes you wonder if the next Persona fighting game can transition to full 3D. That would allow Arc System Works to work in additional Personas since sprites wouldn't be required and have fun with some of the canon issues (the P4 cast using their original Personas instead of their ultimate forms, Yu not being able to use the wild card for other personas, etc).

    They could build a whole side game around Yu fighting for cards and fusing different cards to customize the player with various Persona powers. That'd make an incredible follow-up to Ultimax, which is already a pretty amazing fighter.

    I can also see a lot of potential for this engine with BlazBlue, particularly in the storytelling department. It might also make the games easy to release on PC and to mod since they're using the Unreal Engine.

    Arc System Works really has something here.
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  • Avatar for FuzzyDuck #14 FuzzyDuck 3 years ago
    @VotesForCows

    I'm patiently waiting for this to pop through my letterbox as I've ordered it from Canada but live in Ireland, so hoping to find a few more EU based players!
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  • Avatar for VotesForCows #15 VotesForCows 3 years ago
    @FuzzyDuck Where did you order it from? A lot of places don't deliver to the EU. Cool profile pic by the way!
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  • Avatar for FuzzyDuck #16 FuzzyDuck 3 years ago
    @VotesForCows

    Thanks! (I changed it last night over on Eurogamer!).

    Videogame Plus in Canada, it's actually cheaper to buy it from there than to buy the game in the shops here (if it had an EU release). There's a few of us on the forum on Eurogamer waiting to have this delivered!Edited December 2014 by FuzzyDuck
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  • Avatar for tenderbrew #17 tenderbrew 3 years ago
    I would love to play this but not for 60 bucks. Unfortunately I'll wait until it drops. Have too much to play right now anyway, but it looks awesome.
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  • Avatar for CamisMan #18 CamisMan 2 years ago
    I'm still playing through a backlog of other games from this year. As much as I love classic Guilty Gear games, I'm pretty rusty and would need awhile to rebuild my skills. It makes you wonder if the tudo sobre playstation 4 next Persona fighting game can transition to full 3D. That would allow Arc System Works to work in additional Personas since sprites wouldn't be required and tudo sobre playstation 4 have fun with some of the canon issues. They could build a whole side game around Yu fighting for cards and fusing different cards to customize the player with various Persona powers.
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