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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.