Reviewed: February 24, 2003
Reviewed by: Mark Smith
Whoever said 2D fighting games were dead is about to eat their words. Guilty Gear X2 has only been out for a few weeks and is already taking the PS2 gaming community by storm, soon to be putting a blanket of dust on those copies of DOA and Tekken on your software shelf.
X2 is just the latest release of a long lineage of Guilty Gear games that has spanned coin-op, Dreamcast, and the PS2. Iím almost ashamed to admit this is my first experience with the Guilty Gear series, especially now that I have taken a bite of the forbidden fruit and realize the error of my ways. Honestly, I donít have a lot of experience with any of the 2D fighting games aside from a few tokens spent on Mortal Kombat back in the 80ís. My first real involvement-turned-addiction with fighting games was with the original Tekken game on the PS1 way back when.
Since that time Iíve been hopelessly hooked on every DOA, Tekken, Soul Calibur, and even the latest Mortal Kombat titles as theyíre released. When Guilty Gear first crossed my desk I actually thought it was an RPG. Both the front cover and the screenshots resemble an adventure game more than a fighter, but after reading the description and learning it was actually a fighting game I settled down for what has now become a three-week addiction with no end in sight. Help me!
Guilty Gear X2 may not offer all the technical savvy that youíll find in the latest high-tech 3D fighters, but this game oozes a style all its own. If Tekken is the equivalent of Reboot then Guilty Gear X2 is the equivalent of South Park - primitive, but cool as hell.
Arc System Works has apparently examined every other fighting game currently available, taken the best parts of those games and combined them to create the ultimate fighting game. You start off with the traditional offering of game modes including Training, Practice, Arcade, Survival, Story, and M.O.M. mode; a one-fall competition that rewards you with medals.
Most of these are self-explanatory, especially if you have ever played another fighting game. The story mode is incredibly deep and each character has a unique plot that intertwines with the other fighters. You get to see the overall story develop as you play each character and learn a little bit more, often from a different perspective. The story mode is where you will unlock new fighters, movies, artwork, and other goodies you can enjoy later in the Gallery section.
Guilty Gear X2 is a serious fighting game for serious fighters. If you thought MKDA was too tough then GGX2 will send you running into the streets screaming. With more than 20 fighters and countless fighting moves, combos, and special attacks to master, X2 is going to provide the ultimate fighting challenge.
Controls are simple with the face buttons being used for your basic commands such as kicking, punching, heavy and normal slashing, with the R1 for Dust and the R2 button used for Taunts or Respect. The analog stick or D-pad controls your fighter allowing them to jump, crouch, and guard. You can even do an ear-popping double-jump that will launch you to the top of the screen. Itís all very standard issue stuff and is even friendly for those who simply like to mash the buttons and see what happens.
But button mashers beware! You will never get to appreciate the complexity or richness of the fighting system this game has to offer unless you actually learn the moves. Most of the truly insane moves are reserved for those with the patience to learn complicated combos or directional patterns. To pull off I-Noís Ultimate Fortissimo move you are going to have to jump then press seven different directions on the D-pad before pressing the triangle. Good luck executing this or any of the hundreds of other advanced moves by randomly mashing buttons.
One nice control enhancement is the new Dust button (R1) that allows you to launch opponents into the air and hopefully initiate a lengthy series of combos or at least juggle them around for a bit. Many of the more complicated moves take some serious finessing of the controller. Itís much more than L-R-R-L+ Triangle. Many of the moves require you to roll your thumb in a circular motion around the D-pad to initiate a powerful strike that can be further comboíd into something even more devastating.
Your fighters all have a Burst gage that slowly fills during combat and can be used to execute some of the most powerful and deadly moves in the game. You can even break out of a combo right in the middle of it if your burst meter suddenly fills and you want to switch into a Burst move. There are so many moves and combos that it was nice to see many of the characters use similar, if not identical, movement patterns with maybe only the final button changing to execute a super move. This allows you to have a good basic knowledge of many of the special moves for all the characters after only learning one or two.
The manual does a great job of giving you enough special moves to get started as well as a few overdrive attacks and the Instant Kill move for each character. Even so, there will be times when you are fighting and your character will spin off into some exotic combo and youíll be yelling, ĎHow in the hell did I do that?Ē
In a world where 3D graphics have reached the point where you can hardly tell CG from reality, itís refreshing to see a game that returns to the old-school world of 2D, and does it so well it actually surpasses the visual splendor of those 3D fighters.
By keeping everything 2D Guilty Gear X2 is able to create stunning painted backgrounds that look like they were stolen right from an adventure game. Iím not sure if these backgrounds were computer generated or conventionally painted then scanned in, but either way they look simply amazing. To keep things alive there is plenty of ambient background animation and nice little environmental touches that you wonít have time to really appreciate until you are able to sit back and watch somebody else play the game.
The characters are all original and totally insane thanks to the genius of famed character designer, Daisuke Ishiwatari. Iíve never seen such bizarre creations in my life and even more spectacular is how these unique personalities translate into each characterís library of moves and abilities. If you are playing Faust, the surgeon with a sack over his head, your primary weapon is a giant scalpel that you use in a variety of creative ways or can even morph into a baseball bat to hit your opponent ďout of the parkĒ. I-No is definitely one of my favorites, sporting a living witches hat (think Harry Potter), and an electric guitar that delivers all sorts of unique and musically themed attacks. Her victory guitar solo is right out of Bill and Tedís Excellent Adventure.
The framerate is astonishingly smooth and the entire game comes off like a living comic book or animated TV series. The characters are all animated smoothly and transition into their various super-moves and instant kill attacks with seamless movement. There are all sorts of wild and crazy special effects that surprised me, not only because they were 2D animated sprites, but more so because they are actually flashier than those found in the more modern 3D fighters. And yes, there is blood, gallons of it splashing with every big hit, but it's all done in a comical style that manages to maintain the Teen rating. Words and not even screenshots can begin to describe this game in motion. You really have to play it to appreciate all the subtle details that are in place.
And finally, I have to offer kudos on one of the best presentations of any fighting game ever. It all starts with a killer opening movie then moves into the clever fighter selection wheel. As you pick your characters you are given a beautiful rendering of that character. The between-fight cutscenes that carry the story are quite clever and keep swapping between a full-color foreground portrait of the person talking with a grayscale image of the listener in the background. As they continue to talk the portraits keep sliding back and forth between the foreground and background and shifting from color to black and white. Itís so simple and yet so very effective.
Whoa! Where did this soundtrack come from and can I buy it on a CD? This music rocks! Literally, the soundtrack is some of the best hard rock tunes Iíve heard in a long time, with upbeat instrumentals that fit the theme and pacing of the game. Each character has their own theme that blends into the overall mix. Itís just a superior soundtrack.
Sound effects are just as crazy as the visuals with wild sounds that fit perfectly with the onscreen action. It all mixes in nicely with the unique vocalizations and taunts for each of the fighters. The cutscenes are all presented with their original Japanese voice actors so you will have to read the subtitles, but I wouldnít have it any other way. A lot of the dialog is pretty silly stuff, but itís easier to forgive when itís spoken by some high-pitched female or baritone male Japanese actor. Iíve never heard an English dub that did the original presentation justice, so Sammy Studios made a very wise decision to not tamper with perfection.
With so many characters and so many game modes, Guilty Gear X2 offers the ultimate in fighting gameplay for both the solo gamer and those who wish to take part in the two player exhibition matches. Itís incredibly deep in both story and gameplay.
Guilty Gear X2 has consumed every free moment of my time for the past three weeks. Iíve easily logged 30+ hours in both single and multiplayer matches and have yet to complete everyoneísí story mode or master all of the overdrive or instant kill combos.
With all of the gameplay modes and the robust two-player versus mode this game is one of the first fighters with a truly infinite lifespan. There is simply so much to see and do in X2 that this game will be stuck in your PS2 for months to come.
Guilty Gear X2 redefines the fighter genre with a 2D fighter that literally stomps everything else that would hope to compete with it including the latest in 3D fighters. Proving that style and substance is always better than flashy graphics, then going ahead and adding the flashy graphics just to add insult to injury, Arc System Works has created the absolute best fighting game you can get on your PS2 to date.
There are plenty of other fighting games about to release for the PS2 but they are going to have their work cut out for them if they ever hope to compete with this hard rocking, hard hitting, and highly addictive fighter. Run, donít walk, to your nearest retailer and make Guilty Gear X2 a permanent addition to your videogame library.