Guilty Gear Xrd has been a long time coming for fans of the series. The last major installment released over six years ago, with developer Arc System Works focusing on series like Blazblue and Persona 4 Arena in the interim. There have been rapid advancements in fighting games since the last Guilty Gear, both in terms of technology and popularity. Now that Xrd is finally here, how does it fit into the new generation of fighting games?
For starters, Xrd looks amazing. The 2D emulation through 3D models works flawlessly, allowing for both an accurate translation of the old art style as well as some cool modern touches like dynamic camera angles for launcher moves and super attacks. Despite many of the characters animations being near-perfectly recreated, they all seem to be oozing with even more personality than before thanks to small touches on their 3D models. Ideally, I think every other previously 2D fighting game should be taking notes here, because Xrd has really done something special.
Most of the popular fighting game series have introduced changes in order to better fill the gap between novice and expert players, but not Xrd. Everything you might remember from Accent Core (or one of its revisions) is present and accounted for, from Roman Cancels to Dust launchers. No extra revenge meters or auto combos here, this is Guilty Gear through and through. While I don’t necessarily think Guilty Gear has the highest bar of entry to newcomers, it does give you a lot of options to wrap your head around, so if you’re not an Arcsys veteran you may want to approach this game with caution.
That’s not to say newer players are going to be thrown to the wolves, though. Like the other ArcSys fighters, Xrd has a detailed tutorial and combo challenge mode to introduce the game’s mechanics, and even goes one step further with a Mission mode. These missions set up scenarios that you need to perform a very specific action in, like say hitting your opponent with an anti-air attack and comboing off of it. I like this mode a lot, as it introduces people to how playing a fighting game actually works rather than just giving you an interactive instructive manual.
As someone who is familiar with these games, from a purely gameplay perspective the only thing that bothers me about Xrd is how safe it feels. There’s no question that the visuals are amazing and the new soundtrack rocks, but those are superficial changes. Comparing Xrd to its predecessor, Accent Core Plus, they’re extremely similar games in terms of play and mechanics. There’s a couple of new characters in Xrd, sure (and I’m a big fan of Bedman in particular), but the vast majority of the cast is returning which makes the entire game a bit too familiar. Right now, I’m fine with that simply because it’s been so long between games, but I hope the next installment changes things up a little more.
What may also be a challenge for newcomers to get into is the story mode. The Guilty Gear series is now over fifteen years old and has established some pretty formidable lore, and Xrd expects you to be familiar with a lot of it. Even if you do know most of the backstory, you’ll want to play through the Arcade mode first as homework, as it serves as a direct prequel to the events of the story mode. Thankfully there is a Library mode with entries on virtually every aspect of the Guilty Gear universe to help get you caught up, but be aware that there’s a lot of required reading to really get a grip on the game’s events.
A major change from previous ArcSys stories comes from the complete removal of gameplay. Now things progress much more like a movie, with the only player input coming from saving the game inbetween chapters. This seemed to be the direction ArcSys was going in with Blazblue: Chrono Phantasma earlier this year, which also featured a reduced amount of fights, but it still had them during the game’s pivotal moments. In contrast, Xrd has nothing, which makes some of the more important events feel a little limp.
Aside from the removal of fights, though, this is probably the highest quality story that’s ever been in an ArcSys game. The cutscenes are dynamic, the characters are all as eccentric as ever, and the overall series’ story gets pushed forward in interesting directions. There are a lot of well-done scenes backed by excellent tracks performed series creator Daisuke Ishiwatari that end up being surprisingly emotional. It’s not some masterpiece of video game writing by any means, but it’s a fun and engaging enough tale that kept me interested until the end.
The final pillar of the Xrd experience is the online play, and unfortunately I’ve got some bad news on that front. Basically all of the options from the Persona 4 Arena and Blazblue games return, but done in a much messier fashion. Now you have to pick a lobby before you do anything, and then search for matches from there, and it’s not really clear how to get to certain modes anymore. The layout just feels unintuitive, which is really surprising considering this hasn’t really ever been a problem for ArcSys games before.
Similarly, the netcode itself also feels a bit messy. In what’s both a great idea and unfortunate highlight of the problem, Xrd displays the amount of frame delay at the top of the screen while playing. Most of the matches I played online suffered some pretty heavy frame delay that felt awful to play. Granted online experiences may vary, but it felt so unnatural that I actually went back and played some Persona 4 Ultimax to compare the two, and Persona worked just fine. I’m not really sure what went wrong with the online play this time around, but it’s really disappointing since I’m used to much higher quality from ArcSys.
I’m a little more mixed on Xrd than I thought I would be overall. It looks great, plays great, and sounds great, and for a lot of people that’s likely enough. Compared to its colleagues, though, Xrd is probably ArcSys’s weakest package in quite a while. It feels like the bare minimum of what a new Guilty Gear game should be, which, granted, is a higher standard than I’d consider for most fighting games, but it also means that it’s missing the “oomph” to truly make this feel like the triumphant return of the series. I hope that the next installment can build upon Xrd a little more meaningfully, or at the very least can fix the netcode.
Food for Thought:
1.Unfortunately, PS3 sticks do not work with the PS4 version of the game, which is definitely a tragedy. I’m hoping that doesn’t become the standard, because fight sticks are expensive! If the small team behind Skullgirls can figure out how to make PS3 sticks work, why can’t the big guys?
2. I love looking at all of the facial expressions when characters get hit by different attacks. Not just the main playable ones either, as special characters like the dolphins May summons can also have some goofy reactions.
3. One of the more unexpected entries in the library mode is of developer Arc System Works itself, where the meaning of the company name is revealed. I couldn’t even find that on their Wikipedia article!
Correction: A previous version of this article stated that the random words you can pick to create your own online title weren’t translated. They actually have been translated; you just need to scroll all the way past the Japanese ones to get to them.