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Guilty Gear X2 #Reload

Developer: Arc System Works
Publisher: Majesco
Genre: Fighting
Players: 1-2
Similar To: Capcom vs. SNK 2: EO
Rating: Teen
Published: 09 :23 : 04
Reviewed By: Matt Warner

Overall: 9 = Must Buy

 

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Who doesn't love a good 2D fighter?

Ever since Street Fighter II made the innovative leap of allowing two players to actually fight each other as opposed to the computer, 2D fighters have had a rabid cult following. It's the genre that single-handedly kept SNK in business, has made Capcom a ridiculously large chunk of money, is the subject of more than a few movies, and, speaking personally, is the subject of lots of semi-fond memories of getting my ass kicked time and again at Marvel vs. Capcom 2.

I hung out with a group of regular 2D Fighter scenesters, and these guys got ahold of every fighter they could find and played it to death. One game that was always in and out of rotation was an import-only Dreamcast title called Guilty Gear X, which stood apart for two main reasons. One, it was by some company called Sammy, which was unusual in a field completely dominated Capcom and SNK. Two, the game was absolutely drop-dead gorgeous.

The whole crew had long since gotten used to the two big companies constantly recycling the same character sprites time and time again in the various games they put out, so we didn't really think about it a whole lot -- it's just how 2D fighters were "supposed" to look. But, when you saw Guilty Gear move, it made everything else look sort of quaint in comparison. Gone were the pixilated low-res sprites we'd been accustomed to and in their place was an entirely new cast of ridiculously well-drawn, high-res anime characters that leapt off the screen with personality. Playing a match of Guilty Gear X was like watching some ludicrous anime battle unfold, one that combined the projectile-happy speed of Dragonball Z with the blood-spurting violence of Fist of the North Star. Wrap all of it up in a super-cheesy hair-metal soundtrack, and you had probably the most distinctive, fast paced game in the crowded fighter market.












 


Surprisingly, it was also the most accessible. None of my friends save those who showed up at those basement tournaments were even remotely interested in most of my fighting games, but Guilty Gear X would still get frequent playtime by just about everyone. It wasn't a particularly balanced game, but it managed to be easy to play without seeming cheap. Despite all the eye candy, there was a fairly robust combat engine in place that held a lot of depth without actually requiring it; button mashing could produce memorable results, though a veteran would still always mop the floor with a newbie. It's just that, here, the newbie would still feel like they were getting somewhere. An important feature for winning new converts, even though the seasoned vets looked down their noses at it.

Of course, at the time we figured this game didn't have a prayer of coming to America. It too insanely Japanese in flavor to ever have a prayer stateside, particularly with the American arcade fighter market becoming more and more insular by the day. But, not too many years later, here we are. Not only has the game's sequel made it stateside for the PS2, it's defied all predictions we made back then and actually become an American Xbox release, and a remarkably thorough one at that.

If there's ever a game that will suck new people into the 2D fighter fold, it's going to be this game. Guilty Gear, the series, has always had a reputation as flash over substance, but with #Reload, that's really no longer the case. Over the course of the past few iterations, Sammy has finally gotten that magic formula down where the game is pick-up-and-play simple, but also remarkably fine-tuned once you get down to the raw math of it.

The character list is something to behold. If you're used to fireball-throwing guys in karate outfits, the roster of Guilty Gear can be a tad daunting at first glace. Not only is the character design absolutely ridiculous, their choice of weapons seems to be based solely on how cool it would look, common sense or even basic physics be damned. Pool cues, guitars, anchors, yo-yos and human hair are all in use and accounted for. It's an aesthetic that might grate on the more serious folks in the crowd, but there's extremely little that's serious here, and it's actually quite refreshing to play something that isn't so overly dramatic that it can't poke a little fun at itself. I mean, the final boss is a heavy-metal-loving exhibitionist witch. You just can't argue with that.

When the cast finally gets together and throws down, the resulting battles unfold unlike any other fighting game. Aggressiveness is not only encouraged, but actually physically enforced by the rules. Stay in a corner and block for too long, and you'll get a "Negative Penalty" which removes the entire super move gage. This, combined with the extremely freeform combo system (basically, anything can be followed with anything if it'll hit) encourages some seriously action-packed matches that are not only entertaining to watch, but almost always come right down to the wire. It's not uncommon for a dominating player to get cocky, only to suddenly find themselves eating a loss because they got careless in the face of a desperate opponent.

The playing field is leveled quite a bit by the fact that most characters have the same motions for their super moves, and almost all of them can double jump and air dash, so it doesn't take much effort to dodge attacks. Each character also has a canned launcher move that, if it hits, sends an opponent sailing into the air where they can be pummeled mercilessly until they hit the ground. A new addition to X2 is the "Burst" gauge, which is basically a tap-out feature to give you some breathing room if you're getting rushed into a corner. Only useable a few times per match, activating a Burst will interrupt any move being done to you and knock your opponent away, useful for getting out of juggles and damaging combo attacks. Just make sure you use it wisely, or you'll wish you hadn't wasted it later in the fight.

For the truly desperate (or the crazy brave), the game also retains its signature "Instant Kill" moves for each character. Before you perform it, you first have to press all the attack buttons at once to send the character into a fiery Overdrive state. Not only does this instantly tip your opponent off to what you're trying to do, but staying in Overdrive will actually drain your life at a quick pace, meaning you either have to throw the move out shortly after you signal your intention and pray that it hits, or face an almost definite loss as your character burns their own life away. If you whiff the move or it's blocked, you loose your ability to perform any super moves for the rest of the match -- a crippling handicap in this game. Hit with it, though, and no matter how much life your opponent has left, they instantly go down.

This means that even the most sure fights can go the other way in the blink of an eye. It's a pretty controversial feature, but it's also one I've always liked. It means that every match is worth fighting through to the end, since there's always that chance, however slim, that you can win it at the last second. For those who don't like the idea of getting taken down with one hit, the option to perform these moves can be disabled. With the old Dreamcast game, you just had to come to a gentleman's agreement not to use them -- which almost always got broken.

On the technical side, the Xbox package contains a pixel-perfect arcade port of the title game, though with notably less load time than the actual cabinet has. All the graphical fidelity is here, which means at any given time in the fight there are massive gouts of blood, showers of sparks, and/or gigantic fireballs flying every which way. It's quite a sight. Those who have been through the original Guilty Gear X will see a lot of familiar things, since most of the character sprites and many of the backgrounds are the same. The stages did receive some facelifts with new animations or altered backgrounds, so there are still plenty of new things to be see as well.

The music was handled in a similar matter. The ultra-cheesy metal soundtrack has been remixed a bit since the Dreamcast days, but in general, the song remains the same. If heavy guitar riffs aren't really your thing, it may start to grate on your nerves after a while since it's so pervasive. Speaking for myself, I think the music is far more appropriate for the style of game than the lounge music Capcom's been using recently. Nonetheless, a custom soundtrack option would have been a very nice addition.

The game also sports something that's been sorely lacking in home ports of 2D fighters, and that is a very comprehensive and challenging Story Mode. This consists of a series of fights similar to the single-player arcade game, but between each of these one-round battles are lengthy spoken dialogue segments between the characters. This not only goes a long way towards filling in the game's insane (yet highly entertaining) story, but adds immensely to the replay value. Each character has three separate plots than can be revealed by meeting specific criteria during a fight. These objectives can be extremely tricky to figure out sometimes -- defeat a given enemy with a time-out victory, for example -- but it's a very cool touch nonetheless.

Story mode brings up another, somewhat peripheral aspect of the game that's still worth mentioning. While all the voices are left in their native Japanese, the English text translation is surprisingly excellent. It's obvious that this was gone over by a native speaker, a rare treat indeed for the notoriously poorly- translated fighter genre. It's a small touch, but it doesn't go unappreciated. As an aside, anyone bothered by the fact that Sammy didn't bother to redo the voices really shouldn't be. Want proof? Head to the Gallery section and watch the anime intro that was made for the Japanese PS2 version of Guilty Gear X, where you can hear Ky and Sol speaking English to each other. Yikes.

That aside, there are a good number of other extras in here besides just Story Mode and the image gallery. The amusingly-titled Medal of Millionaire Mode is for the score fiends. Enemies drop medals and coins when hit, all of which are worth a different amount depending on how well you're fighting. You've also got a Survival Mode with an oddly-implemented scoring system and a Mission Mode that sets certain parameters, such as "no jumping" or "opponent can only be hurt by super moves". Inconsequential in the long run, but still a fun diversion.

The real draw here is the Xbox Live support, one of the most-anticipated features of the game prior to its release. After getting in 24 straight matches this morning (out of which I won a respectable 17) I'm happy to say that this is what fighting fans have been waiting for. A lot of people were left bitter when they shelled out for Capcom vs. SNK 2 in order to play it over Live, only to realize that Capcom had done a half-assed job implementing the feature. The lag was so bad as to sometimes render the game unplayable, and the menus were ugly and basic. Luckily, Sammy didn't make the same mistakes with #Reload.

The first thing is the attractive interface. Sammy actually had to go back and re-program these menus for the Xbox, which is something most other Japanese companies would schlepped off for the interns to do. Everything matches up with the rest of the game, and it's responsive and well thought-out. You get the usual options for a Quickmatch, an Optimatch, or the choice to make your own. Options may be toggled to disable Instant Kills and "EX" versions of characters, change the round time and match count, and pick language settings. Network conditions are announced before a match starts, and overall I found the game to be pretty accurate.

Lag is present, but it's nowhere near as bad as Capcom's first online game. Delays typically won't develop in the middle of a fight, and conditions actually seem to improve as play continues. There are obvious exceptions to this, such as when I took on Japanese opponents, but that's to be expected. For the record, all of this was done on a DSL connection, so I can only assume it gets better as the quality of your internet hookup improves. Overall, this is an excellent addition to the game, and if you've got Live, it instantly makes #Reload a must-buy.

Which, lastly, brings me to what might be the sweetest thing about this game: The $20 price tag. At less than half the price of most other games, this is a fantastic deal for such a polished final product. Back in the day, when the only way to get the game was to shell out $60 for the import Dreamcast title that was nowhere near as complete as this version, this would have seemed like the deal of a lifetime. It still does, and you should snag yourself a copy before it's gone.

Overall: 9/10
Guilty Gear X2 #Reload gives the Xbox its first truly excellent online 2D fighter. If you're a fan of the genre, run out and get this, it's as good as you hoped. Everyone else, this is one of the most accessible brawlers ever made, and at the price it is there's no reason not to check it out. It's a ton of fun.

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