Hey, did you know I really like this game? I do. And you should too, because it’s so freakin’ great. So let’s talk about why while I fight my hardest to avoid choking to death on my unbridled joy.
I’m gonna need something to keep my throat clear. Like a longsword.
Also, I need to learn how to swallow swords.
Full disclosure: I haven’t played with or fought against every character in this game, so I can’t say with 100% accuracy how “good” they are or what sort of juice they have. Frankly, there’s a pretty strong argument that I don’t know anything about the characters I DO use. But let’s set that reality check aside. Here are my impressions on a handful of the game’s fighters.
Ready? Here we go!
Ky: He was the first character I ever tried in the franchise, so it goes without saying that I’m pretty fond of him. He feels approximately the same as he did in earlier iterations, except he gained a couple of things (compared to other cast members, who lost some tools). He got a new move that lets him attack at close range and set a glyph on the field; shoot a projectile into it, and it’ll get powered up into a stronger, faster form. Neat stuff for sure.
Still, the core of my strategy is to go for a knockdown and fire off a Charged Stun Edge; while the opponent’s getting up, they have to sit there and deal with the projectile while I’m free to keep up my offense. Between his usual moves and the system mechanics, Ky’s got some simple but effective combos. Definitely recommended for beginners.
Axl: He’s in a weird place where he hasn’t changed enough to be completely different, but he did change enough to make knowledge of him from previous iterations borderline obsolete. Some of his air moves are gone, but his new bag of tricks helps fortify him as one of THE premiere zoners of the cast. Still, I’ve always felt like Axl is the sort of character who can fight at close and long range, and that hasn’t changed here.
For whatever reason, ArcSys decided it would be cool to give Axl a DP -- meaning that he invalidates most zoners’ weakness by having a dedicated get-off-me move (that you can combo into with a RC!). At long range, Axl’s got a special stance that lets him throw his chains out to reach full-screen -- and then some -- and combo into those hits six times in a row for surprisingly ridiculous damage. Couple that with his unique counter, his unblockable move, beyond respectable power, and his chains in general, and you’ve got a legitimate threat.
Venom: He’s probably the hardest character to use out of my personal stable, but damned if he’s not fun to play. A huge part of his game plan revolves around setting up billiard balls and launching them with his attacks; you can use those balls in plenty of ways, from long-range offense to landing a surprise attack on an opponent who thinks he’s got a clear shot. I’m not 100% sure about how well he does without his setups. There are probably plenty of players who know the ins and outs, but I’m betting there are characters much better at a blistering offense.
Going from version to version, Venom lost his Dubious Curve, a move that knocked an opponent down and set a powered-up ball on the field. It sounds like a major loss (and for me it is, because landing a Dubious Curve felt so good), but in exchange he got QV, a move that blows enemies back while summoning a ball…and if you hold the button, the ball will go from normal to massive. Venom’s powered-up balls do major damage, but it’s worth noting that there aren’t a lot of characters that can match his chip damage.
Also, he can get a free super off of a normal throw while generating space. So there’s that.
Potemkin: I didn’t really play Potemkin in the past, so I decided to fix that with this iteration -- which might be to my detriment, because I’ve heard he’s significantly worse than before. Could’ve fooled me, though; grapplers in general have an uphill battle to fight, so any weaknesses Potemkin has are shared by pretty much all of his big brawler brethren. Still, he’s got the tools to take the fight to his opponents instead of getting locked down on the other side of the screen and scraping up his last will and testament. Case in point: he can score a free knockdown on any grounded opponent, and start his approach. Or, with this new game, he can go for a YOLO dive and close the gap that way (with a RC making it a mostly-safe “get in there” move).
Probably the most important tool in his arsenal -- besides his command grab, which has sickening range -- is his Hammer Fall. He’ll charge forward and mash his fists together, preferably with an opponent between them; the secret benefit to this move is that it’s got armor, meaning that Po can take a hit before getting knocked out if it. Used properly, there’s no better move to start gaining momentum on an opponent, especially since it can start a couple of his combos (with RC, but AFAIK meterless if you’re in the corner). Beyond that, his massive size gives a lot of his attacks some dangerously-long range…though weirdly enough, sometimes the size of his body means he overlaps an opponent, making it hard to see what they’re doing. It’s a rare event, but it did happen a couple of times. Regardless, he’s a cool character…independent of his ability to shave 50% of his opponent’s life in one combo.
Slayer: A dangerous character, without question. Once Slayer gets going, he’s very hard to stop; his combos and attacks are such that there are gaps in his offense in theory, but in practice? Even if it looks like he’s just doing single hits, in reality he’s chaining them together in such a way that he’ll A) leave you forced to block his pressure, or B) pile on the damage with what feels like an endless combo. As expected of a dandy vampire…assuming that’s what dandy vampires are known for.
One of Slayer’s most notable properties is that, instead of having a run like everyone else, dashing with him has him “teleport” a short distance. In other words, he can easily get in front of or behind you if you’re not careful, and land a grab that puts you in a bad place. Apparently though, his dash is weaker than it was in the past; Slayer could practically ignore projectiles and attacks in other iterations, but this time he can’t just phase through them. (Not reliably, at least -- if at all.) Couple that with the better part of his move set, and it gives Slayer a slight but notable weakness: even if his dashes and attacks can help him clear distance VERY quickly, he does the majority of his approaching in a linear fashion. In other words, competent zoning can completely ruin his day.
Ramlethal: The franchise’s newest boss character…although compared to someone like KoF XI’s Magaki, she’s pretty tame. (In Arcade Mode, she’s only cheap because she generates meter constantly and spams her supers.) I’d think that she’s a dangerous character for plenty of reasons, but she’s not so powerful as to be unbeatable. Her main gimmick is the ability to set her giant swords out in the field, kind of like how Venom sets up his billiard balls -- but the key difference is that her swords cover HUGE range with a single sweep. Potentially, she can lock down a character like Potemkin fairly easily…and arguably, she can do that to a big part of the cast.
Like the others, she’s plenty competent at close range too; I was on the receiving end so I don’t know the inputs for her attacks, but either way some of her potential combo strings have an overhead mixed in. In other words? You’d better be ready to block high and low attacks, or else you’re risking a big combo buffet. Her supers are no joke either. She’s got a quick one where she rushes and mauls you, but I consider her other two much more dangerous; one of them links her swords together and sends them spinning through the screen, while the other just has her firing a MASSIVE laser. The chip damage is real with that one.
Sin: Well, if you needed proof that GG Overture is canon, here it is. In any case, Sin has the potential to be a real problem character. He’s pretty much this game’s version of Hakumen, meaning that his special moves do ridiculous damage and are unbelievably useful -- only unlike Hakumen, he’s got greater mobility, even greater range, and he pretty much starts a match ready to unload instead of having to wait for his meter to fill up. Sin hits like a damn freight train if you give him the chance, and his array of high and low moves mean that one misread move can lead to you taking a nasty hit.
Still, Sin has an EXTREMELY fatal flaw: in order to use his special moves without impunity (punishes aside), he has to keep himself fed. Each time he uses a move, he takes energy out of his unique meter; if you keep trying to use special moves while it’s empty, Sin will double over and clutch his empty stomach, leaving him wide open for an attack of the opponent’s choosing. He can tag a food-eating special move to the end of some of his attacks, and in the worst case scenario you can RC with him to take him out of a doubled-over state. That said, it seems as if the key to ruining Sin’s day is to keep the pressure on; he can’t eat if you’re on top of him, putting him in a bad spot. I guess it’s only natural for him to be inferior to his father (King) Ky in every way…
Elphelt: In the absence of his main man Johnny, she’s my brother’s character of choice -- which is strange considering his usual preference for characters in fighters. Beyond the on-the-nose Guns and Roses motif she put on display, it was hard to know just what sort of moves Elphelt would have to offer when announced; now that I’ve fought against her in plenty of matches, I know what she’s all about: a nigh-relentless offense. I’d wager that an Elphelt who wants to be in your face WILL be in your face, thanks to a suite of blisteringly-fast attacks and get-in-there moves. The crux of her game plan is in her grenades; once she tosses it, your first instinct is to stop attacking and block…which is just what the Elphelt player wants so she can hit you with a high-low mixup and start up a nasty combo.
Elphelt’s greatest strength is also her greatest weakness; outside of those high and low attacks of hers, she pretty much needs to use her grenade shenanigans to get started. Unfortunately (for the Elphelt player), tossing a grenade is a two-step process where she has to pull the pin, then toss it before it blows -- either on her if she waits too long, or if she takes a hit. So basically, if you get aggressive before she can toss that grenade, you can completely thwart your opponent’s offense -- and that’s even easier than it sounds, because one good attack while she’s readying a grenade is enough to stop her cold. It’s worth noting that she has some extra stances with her guns (a sniper stance and a shotgun stance), but I get the feeling that they’re not essential to her game plan…and dealt with fairly easily, damage potential aside. That said, she’s got a move where she pulls out a pistol that has surprising speed, range, and power. Don’t get hit by it, ever.
MUSIC? MUSIC?! MUSIC!! MUSIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIC!!!!
I’d be a damn fool if I didn’t take some time out to talk about the music. And I will -- but first, there are some things I want to bring up. See, it was pretty much a given that the soundtrack would be amazing, but the question on my mind -- and plenty of others, I’d bet -- was “All right, so what are these guys going to sound like in English?” As I’ve said, I’m one of those strange and terrible people that actually like the dubs of anime/video games, so a part of me was looking forward to hearing guys like Axl and ladies like Millia in my native tongue.
As it turns out, the voices are…a mixed bag, to say the least. Chalk it up to listening to the Japanese voices for so long, but a lot of these voices leave me scratching my head. JP Axl has a high-ish voice and sounds like a goofball, while the US version has him (voiced by Liam O’Brien, of all people) sounding like a smug Englishman…even though Axl is American. (The wiki says he’s from England, but I swear he’s American, and even in Xrd he references Houston.) Weirdly, JP Venom has a cool, deep voice, while his US counterpart makes him sound like he’s fifteen.
Tara Platt does solid work as Millia, but for whatever reason she doubles-down as the voice of I-no. US Slayer sounds like Sean Connery, which I can’t decide is awesome or stupid. Sam Riegel’s a perfect fit for the noble Ky, and Faust is glorious, but in stark contrast? Sol, the main character of the game, is borderline unacceptable. I can understand them not being able to get Troy Baker back, but cripes. US Sol sounds like a forty-year-old trying to sound like a ten-year-old who’s trying to sound like a forty-year-old.
But let’s put that unpleasantness behind us and talk about the music…is what I’d like to say, but I can’t do that without a hefty caveat. As much as I’d like to continuously link to the songs on YouTube, the latest tracks have probably been taken down again. ArcSys is pretty protective of their music, I suppose, so your best bet for listening to the songs is to search for/through a playlist on SoundCloud. I’m worried that even that might not last.
For what it’s worth, though? As I explained to a friend a while back, Daisuke Ishiwatari’s songs are such that they have absolutely no need for lyrics. Not one word needs to be said for the song to do what it should do (besides get the player hyped): tell you in three to four minutes’ time exactly who this character is and what they’re about. Force, grace, style, menace, innocence, will, sass, all those things and more can be perceived by song’s end -- and because of that, they perfectly complement each character. Hell, if you’re having trouble deciding which character you’re going to use, I’d recommend listening to their songs first. Couldn’t hurt.
So I hope you’ve got your playlist ready. I’m gonna do a likety-split run-through of each character’s song.
Sol: Tough as all hell, with enough power to break your bones. I think the character it belongs to is a bastard (memories of Riot Stamps are flaring up), but this song is just too cool to shrug off.
Sol (Dragon Install): Yeah…this is probably why Ishiwatari songs don’t have lyrics. Also, I hear “RATED RRRRRRRRR!” instead of anything else.
Ky: A song that says “time to get serious!” Has some heroic beats to it, but there’s a sense of weight to it that makes me imagine some sort of struggle. Very fitting for a warrior king.
Ky (damaged): Holy Orders III returns! Everything about it screams “divine judgment”. ‘Nuff said.
May: Playful as all get out; weirdly, it makes me think of one of two things: a magical girl anime, or Wave Race. All told, they’re both fairly appropriate.
Millia: Lots of fast notes, which you’d expect from one of the game’s fastest characters. Despite that, it still maintains an air of class; given that she’s wearing pants now (or tights, at least), you’d expect no less from Miss Rage. Man, if only I had the reflexes to play her…
Zato-1/Eddie: Menacing as shit -- which is really the only way you could have a theme song for a character that once occupied a tier slot of his own. Really gets the bloodlust flowing.
Potemkin: The theme song that convinced me that I HAD to use Po in this version. Sick intro followed by a heavy advance, but not without some lighter parts that both fit his character and make for miles of smiles. And, you know, sound pretty sweet.
Chipp: Fast like his previous theme, but oddly enough, it’s a lot more mellow. Not as loud, I suppose; either way, it’s a song that says “leaping into action!” And as a corollary, “try and catch me!”
Faust: He’s one of the canon’s goofiest characters, but his themes have never tried to match that. Still, that’s not a fault; this song makes it sound like a big man strutting his way through town, and he doesn’t care WHAT others think. He’s got butts to poke, damn it!
Axl: The perfect theme for a (wannabe (but ostensibly)) cool guy. It’s a song all about the guy taking things at his pace -- which is just what the franchise’s premiere zoner would prefer to do, I’d bet. Side note: his sprite in earlier games tapped his foot to the beat of the song, so I don’t know if that’s back here.
Venom: A strange song, if you ask me. I wasn’t into it at first because of some of its melodies, but the more I listened to it, the more I realized, “Yeah, this is Venom.” Mysterious and bewildering, but always ready to take you by surprise once it’s all set up.
Slayer: Castlevania? Naw, man. It’s all about the DANDY-vania!
I-no: The ultimate bad girl theme, without question; just listening to it is tantamount to having a cold-hearted woman have you caught with your pants down by everyone who by law should love and respect you. That’s an oddly-specific scenario, but expect no less form Xrd’s soundtrack.
Bedman: I haven’t played this character very much, but good GOD is this theme amazing. It really does feel like there’s a monster coming after you, AND you’re fighting your last desperate fight in the middle of a dream. Or nightmare, more appropriately.
Ramlethal: For a final boss theme, it’s decidedly low-key. To be fair, the character the theme belongs to isn’t typically the most expressive, so that’s to be expected. It’s still not the strongest song in the soundtrack, but even then it’s plenty of steps above the norm.
Sin: The name of his theme is “Just Do It”, which is about as apt as it gets. The chords and general sound make it feel like something decades old -- yet paradoxically, Sin is probably no older than five. Whatever the case, it’s a cool song with lots of energy and spirit.
Elphelt: So I guess the “Valentines” are a thing in the GG canon. Huh. Well, her theme comes close to sharing a leitmotif with Ramlethal (and Overture’s…er, Valentine), but ends up becoming its own thing before long. And what an awesome thing it is; despite the character being the embodiment of waifu material, her theme is overflowing with both power and passion. Much appreciated.
Leo: I’m at a loss as to how to describe how manly this song is -- what with its full-blown anthem thrown into the mix -- so I’ll just toss up some of the guy’s quotes. Ahem.
These royal blades are ten times stronger than any other! My strength is ten times that of any other man! Since I feel generous, I’ll DOUBLE their multiplied power, for 200 times the force!
Grave crimes deserve…? (Grave punishment!)
Petty crime deserves… (Grave punishment!)
Yes! And only I may pardon!
MANLY AND COOL. But then again, you could say that about the game in general. So I will. This game is manly and cool, and if nothing else I hope you’ll at least check out some of the matches floating around YouTube. They’re a real treat, and you can see what real world warriors can do with the tools at their disposal.
So, I think it’s about time for me to wrap this post up. Thanks for reading, and here’s to the triumphant return of the hardest-rocking franchise in fighting game history.
Next week? Something significantly less manly.
This is gonna need some explanation…