I’ve played quite a few fighting games throughout the years – The original Street Fighter with its now legendary sequel, and Mortal Kombat with its buckets of blood immediately come to mind. Of course, these all relied on stereotypical conventions of the fighting game. Plenty of kicks, punches and combos that inevitably resulted in stunned opponents. Effective, but terribly boring. That’s why the off-kilter, “creative” fighters have always been a continual source of amusement for me. ClayFighter, Darkstalkers -- fighters that don’t take themselves too seriously, yet have solid enough controls and engaging gameplay to keep players interested. The Guilty Gear series falls into this mold gleefully, with its anime-influenced characters, storylines and weapons. Where else can you find some one getting attacked with a shadow or a yo-yo? Well, Sammy and Arc System Works have just released Guilty Gear X2, one of the most solid fighters released in recent history.
X2’s story seems pulled directly from an anime series or movie. For those of you not familiar with Guilty Gear, here’s a quick recap: In the future, humanity manages to obtain unlimited energy sources through the harnessing of magic. Instead of peaceful means, this energy is unfortunately channeled into destructive means, leading to the creation of Gears; biological weapons of immense power. Initially subservient to military orders, Gears began to rebel against their masters and stage open revolts. Inevitably, wars broke out between humans and Gears over control of the world. During the First War, the humans won because of the banishment of Justice, leader of the rebel Gears. However, shortly after this exile, a new, more powerful rogue Gear surfaced that threatened to accomplish the task that Justice failed. Creating a massive worldwide hunt for this threat, a massive bounty was placed on this Gear’s head. X2 takes place after this hunt, during a tense time where the final battle between humans and Gears might occur.
In the process of tying up loose plotlines from the first two games, X2 has brought back some characters while still introducing four new personas to the game. Guilty Gear has always had very creative designs for its fighters, and X2 is no exception. Drawing upon its anime roots, the designers have packed some of the wildest ideas into this game. Where else will you find transvestites, six-foot-scalpel wielding doctors, vampires and heavy metal guitar riff playing witches as playable characters? In all, over 20 combatants are playable, each with their own special moves, attacks, and parries, as well as a weapon.
You can experience each character’s tale through the game’s numerous modes. Performing successfully in each mode unlocks different secrets like photo galleries, concept drawings and other bonuses. Like most fighters, there’s the standard training mode to get you up to speed on a character’s moves against a dummy, versus CPU and two player modes that puts you in a round against a computer controlled or human opponents, and an arcade mode that sends characters around the world on a randomly assigned course of mayhem. The typical Survival mode has actually been cloned in some ways, with its doppelganger being called M.O.M. mode (no explanation as to why it’s called that). Just like other games, you fight against a never-ending stream of enemies, trying to see how long you can last. However, Survival mode provides random levels of difficulty and challenges while barely replenishing your health after each round. In M.O.M., powerful attacks or combos release items from your enemies that increase your score and life bar. Mission mode places certain conditions on a fight, such as removing your ability to use special attacks or preventing you from jumping. Finally, there’s Story mode, which attempts to wrap up some of the loose ends from the previous titles in the series.
Graphically, X2 looks like it was ripped directly from anime. We’re talking bright, sharp detail throughout the entire game. If you’re fortunate enough to have a TV that can perform progressive scanning displays, the game truly stands out. Characters are meticulously drawn, which adds to the appeal of the close-ups on their faces during story modes and selection screens. These characters are also packed with animation, from the most basic punch and kick to numerous victory animations. Even the portraits of each character next to their life bars will mirror the attacks that their larger counterparts are performing in battle. Backgrounds are just as nicely penciled, with tons of background action constantly trying to catch your eye. It’s not uncommon to lose a match because of something that you’ve been staring at in the background instead of watching your opponent--not surprising when your settings range from the deck of a ship to a large crypt to the bowels of Hell itself. While the game runs at a consistent 60 frames per second, ensuring no slowdown, there are moments in which flashes of light from the background or from strong attacks can actually obscure your vision, making it a little difficult to detect and block other attacks.
The sound - more specifically, the soundtrack - is very well done, providing a pulsing backdrop to much of the action. Evoking the style and attitude of an anime, and ranging from pounding beats to laidback tunes to heavy metal guitar solos, the music will definitely pump your adrenaline. Add to that good vocal acting, and you’ve got a cohesive fighting experience. Holding to the import-like feel of the game, most of the dialogue is presented in Japanese (with the exception of the intro and outro of a match, which is in English). This may sound like a nitpicky comment, but I would’ve preferred the option to choose all Japanese or all English during play.
Minor sound preference aside, however, gameplay is extremely tight. While each character has a simple punch, kick, and two versions of a weapon attack, the fighting system is deceptively deep. Like other recent brawlers, X2 has power gauges that are slowly built up over time during each round. However, the Burst gauge allows you to perform fierce counter attacks that can quickly turn the tide of a losing fight, while the Tension gauge augments your character’s damage, allowing them to unleash power strikes. Indeed, X2 features some of the strongest attacks yet seen in a fighting game. I said it in the preview and I’ll say it again, I thought I was seeing things until I witnessed a 90 hit combo used against me by the computer. Add to that Gatling Combos, Roman Cancels, Overdrive Attacks and some of the other battle affecting maneuvers (not counting each character’s attacks), and you’ll see that this fighting game has much more strategy involved than straight button mashing. Case in point are the instant kill maneuvers, which can leave your character vulnerable to enemy attacks while you input the controller commands, but crush your opponent if they connect.
Simply put, Guilty Gear X2 is the kind of fighter that you want in your game collection. A deep fighting game with loads of strategy involved, tons of game modes and memorable characters, this game showcases two of the fundamental tenets of the genre: addictive, fast-paced action and solid controls. Even better, the wacky humor and subject matter combines with gorgeous graphics and engaging music to create an enjoyable experience. If you’ve ever thrown a fireball, juggled an opponent with an attack combo or performed a fatality, you should definitely give Guilty Gear X2 a chance.