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January 12, 2015

Guilty Gear Xrd is way too cool.

Hey, welcome to Cross-Up.  Hope you had some happy holidays, and here’s to another good year for all of us.

Now let’s stop talking about stupid stuff nobody cares about and move in to Guilty Gear Xrd -- because oh my God Guilty Gear Xrd is out, so let’s all shut up and talk about it.


So here’s the question that needs to be answered: is Guilty Gear Xrd the game that finally justifies the presence of the PS4?  Well…no, not really.

Don’t get me wrong.  I’m not saying that because the game is somehow inferior to previous iterations.  But hear me out on this; as much as I like the game -- and I like it a whole lot, to the point where I’m trying to make “just Xrd it” into a thing -- ultimately it’s not something I can name as a must-own for everyone everywhere.  It’s a fighting game, meaning that right off the bat its appeal gets slashed by a good 75%. 

And that appeal gets slashed again because even among fighter fans Guilty Gear is pretty niche; those who’ll only buy into Capcom’s brand might just scoff at the mere existence of the game.  To put it simply, not a lot of people are going to -- or have a reason to -- care about Xrd.  They freakin’ should, but this is reality.  Not some dream world where awesome, stylish games get the respect they deserve.

The game’s esoteric nature makes it a hard sell for anyone who isn’t already a fan, either of the franchise or the genre it cannonballs into.  But even beyond that, there are other things to keep in mind.  Not only is Xrd a game that could conceivably appear on the PS3, it IS a game on the PS3 (though apparently there are issues with the sound, AKA the ONE thing no GG game can afford to screw up).  It’s an evolved form of the franchise, sure, but is it enough to say “go out and buy a PS4 right now, kiddos!”  Not really, unless those kiddos are starved for content.

It’s a must-own for guys like me and my brother, but for everyone else?  It’s no killer app.  It hasn’t been treated as such by Sony, the only way it’ll ever gain traction is through word of mouth (and even then, to people who’ll never even consider a purchase), and even those that do take the plunge might start shaking in their jimmies at the mere mention of a system like “Roman Cancels” -- or even the fact that there are systems, period.  So as much as I want to recommend this game, doing so would be inviting any given gamer to my secret lair at the summit of an active volcano…which seems like a terrible place to have a secret lair, now that I think about it.

That all said, I’m going to go ahead and invite you to my secret lair at the summit of an active volcano anyway -- because in some ways, Xrd manages to go beyond its constraints and exist in that dream world we envision.  It’s hitting logic in the face with a Tyrant Rave -- and it’s high time I explain why.  Starting with…


You literally cannot talk about this game without talking about how good it looks.  You just can’t. 

The Best Friends Zaibatsu had a run with Xrd not too long ago, and one of them joked about Arc System Works selling their version of the Unreal Engine to others, seeing as how they did what practically no one else could.  That is, they used THE guarantor of grimy, brown and gray environments (with tons of texture pop-in, just ‘cause it loves you) and created one of the most vibrant, stylish, and unbelievable-looking games released yet.  And remember, this is coming from a company that’s barely dabbled in 3D; it’s been here and there, but one of their first full forays was Guilty Gear 2 Overture…and that had WAY more problems than just the visuals.

There was a post over on Sirlin.net the other day that takes an in-depth look at some of the mechanics behind the new visuals (definitely worth a read, IMO).  One of the things that the game does -- something that’s at the very least insanely difficult to do -- is make it look as if the models are stretching, shrinking, compressing, warping, and more.  Darkstalkers did that with its sprites, as have plenty of others; still, you don’t see that a lot with 3D models because, well, that’s just how things are.  But Xrd creates the illusion of being 2D by having its models do things that you’d think were impossible.  Not only that, but it manages to keep its characters unbelievably expressive, be it with their motions, their sounds, or even with their faces.

Seeing is believing, people.  (Pro tip: open this video in another window and watch at max settings/60FPS.  It's the only way.)


I think it’s possible to like both GG and its spiritual successor (and effective substitute) BlazBlue.  Just because we have the former in full force now doesn’t mean that BB should instantly become irrelevant, or that we should all collectively hate it.  Buuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuut I guess I have to agree with the sentiment that, yes, GG is technically better.  Slightly, but appreciably.

I’m the type who prefers the chain combo system to link-types (AKA the type seen in something like Street Fighter), because I’m of the opinion that you should be fighting the opponent, not the game.  Both GG and BB allow that, meaning that if you want to put up an offense or get some good damage, you don’t need to do it with timing that on occasion demands inputs within mere fractions of a second -- as in 1/60th of a second, in some cases.  Even so, GG has a better “feel” about it.  It feels…well, I don’t want to say “faster” than BB, but I can’t think of a better way to describe it.  It probably is.

Paradoxically, though, GG feels like a game that hits harder.  Maybe that’s because I’ve been using resident grappler Potemkin a lot recently, but there’s just something about the way each hit -- light or heavy -- connects that creates this sense of weight.  And speed, arguably; you know via countless audiovisual clues that a punch is a punch, a slash is a slash, and a lightning bolt is a lightning bolt.  And the rate at which all of that stuff gets fired off -- allowed by the ease of firing off stuff -- makes for a game where you’re always feeling something.  More often than not, it’s something heavy.


Here’s the weird thing about Xrd: even if it seems uninviting and “too hard” to play at a glance, I’m of the opinion that it’s one of the easier fighters to get into.  Relatively speaking; you won’t be a tournament-level player a week after plopping down with it, but it doesn’t even take that long to figure out how to do reasonably well. 

Like I said, when it comes to fighting games you should be fighting the opponent, not the game.  Xrd facilitates that.  If you want to do a basic combo, you’d probably be all right by pressing a couple of the face buttons and ending in your character’s special move.  Maybe a sweep.  Comparatively, a game like Persona 4 Arena has you managing two characters at once (not all the time, but enough of the time) just so you can maybe get some damage going.  There’s a level of simplicity to Xrd that makes it easier to recommend to beginners -- especially with the full-blown tutorial built almost directly into the main menu.

Even if you don’t touch that, (which I can understand, because it’s the equivalent of -- gasp! -- reading the manual), you can still intuit what you can do mid-battle.  And the reason for that is because Xrd captures the essence of what a fighting game should do.  It’s not about hundred-hit combos or a thousand Mach-speed inputs.  It’s about using your character’s tool set to overcome your opponent.  If you can do that, you stand a good chance of winning, even if you’re up against someone leagues better than you.

As you’d expect, every character has a different move set and play style.  But once you start a match with your warrior of choice, you have to ask yourself (or know beforehand the answer to) a question: “What’s the move I have that can make victory possible?”  And there are plenty of viable answers per character.  Some moves and strategies work better than others, but figuring out what to do leads to a major eureka moment that’s hard for other games -- and genres in general -- to match.

Tier lists aside, the playing field is pretty much even because of the systems everyone has access to.  In terms of offense, the biggest one is the new-and-improved Roman Cancel system.  Press three buttons (or L1 by default), and for a portion of your super meter you’ll cancel whatever action you were doing to return to a neutral state -- meaning that you can make combos out of things you otherwise couldn’t before.  Xrd makes that easier than ever, because there’s a temporary slowdown effect that lets you assess as situation and decide how to proceed from there.  Or to put it another way?  Once you Roman Cancel your way to a wide-open opponent, that’s your cue to go crazy.

Roman Cancels can be used to save you from getting punished, so it doubles as a defensive tool as well.  That said, you have others at your disposal; like BB and P4A, you’ve got the ultimate last-resort defense, the Burst -- a sort of get-off-me bubble that blows enemies away even if they’re pummeling you.  Likewise, you can spend some meter to blow off an opponent while you’re blocking, resetting the situation so you can apply pressure as well.  But the big addition to Xrd is the Blitz Shield, a parry move that -- if you time it with an enemy’s attack -- stops an enemy cold and leaves them wide open for pretty much whatever you want.

That seems like a lot to digest, I know -- but it’s really not that complicated.  The game just gives you the tools needed to maximize damage given and minimize damage taken.  (Incidentally, because a lot of those tools require percentages of your super meter, you’ll have to keep an eye on that gauge in the bottom corner.)  Using those tools, as always, is what matters most.  Here’s the thing, though: those tools are available to everyone, and easily, without issue or hassle.  That’s the clincher.  And as nuts as it may sound, it may be what helps make Xrd easier to get into.

I don’t want to pick on Street Fighter, but it really does set a perfect example.  SF4’s analogue to the Roman Cancel is the FADC (Focus Attack Dash Cancel), which also allows for offensive or defensive play.  But it’s a limited rendition of it; you can only FADC certain moves, have to actually hit an opponent -- blocking or not -- to be able to activate it, and you can only use it while on the ground.  And that’s setting aside the particulars -- the strict timing, the inputs required (two buttons pressed simultaneously while tapping the stick twice forward or backward), the meter consumption, and just considering which move you want to FADC. 

If FADCs just straight-copied Roman Cancels, then it’d probably break SF4 wide open.  That said, I vastly prefer the latter to the former, precisely because Roman Cancels fit in a game that contextually welcomes them.  What can Axl do off of a RC?  Plenty.  What can Dhalsim do off of an FADC?  Uh…there’s some stuff, but I have my doubts it’s viable in a match.  What can Potemkin do off of a RC?  Nightmarish damage.  What can T. Hawk do?  T. Hawk can’t even FADC a lot of his moves.  Dee Jay can get some stuff, but FADCs -- and the new Red Focus mechanic -- don’t really benefit him.  There are characters that can do a lot, but the tradeoff is that it (FADC or Red Focus, take your pick) widens the gulf between the haves and the have-nots.  

The mechanics of Xrd on top of the general character tool sets give everyone (more or less) what they should have by design: a fighting chance.  Desperate to get some damage with shoto-archetype Ky, who’s got a fairly predictable style?  Rush in and grab, then RC to launch them skyward for a nice combo.  Getting pressured while playing as Venom, whose best bet is to sit there and pray?  Throw up a Blitz Shield at the right moment and reverse the flow of battle.  Landed a Potemkin Buster, but it didn’t quite kill?  RC and combo off it.  Don’t want to eat an Elphelt combo?  Just Burst out of it.

You could legitimately call Xrd something like Oh, I Can: The Game, and it’s stronger because of it.  The moment you realize that you’re an active participant in any instance -- when you understand the freedom the game allows -- is the moment you appreciate every element of its design.  Landed a Greed Sever with Ky?  Don’t just stand there, idiot!  Launch them into an air combo!  End it with a Ride the Lightning!  Keep up the pressure once you touch back down, and build meter so you’re ready for anything!  Get knocked down?  No problem!  You don’t have to risk a DP on wakeup -- just blow ‘em off in the middle of their next combo!  Still got meter?  Launch a Charged Stun Edge, then RC so you can start up a two-pronged approach, AND throw off the opponent’s timing!

Man, and I haven’t even gotten to the characters.

So let’s go ahead and get to the characters.  Follow me on this magical rainbow adventure!

…Oh, wait.  We’re already 2300+ words into this thing, and the rest of the file has like 3000 more.  It seems like that happens every time I go into detail about the characters.  I should probably work on that.

Or, alternatively, I can bury my head in the sand and refuse to work on my obvious glaring weak points.  Whatever the case, let’s do another Guilty Gear post for the other stuff.  See you guys then.

Happy 3-year anniversary, Cross-Up.

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