Anime fighting games! I love ’em! I play every single one of the damn things! I’m not especially great at them despite this, but it’s still a good time. Naturally, when a new one comes out, I’ve got to get my hands on the bleeding edge of hotness, and thank goodness I didn’t have to wait that long. That hotness is now Guilty Gear Xrd -Sign-, the latest addition to the venerated Guilty Gear series of animated fist-punchers with awkwardly weird naming schemes. On that last bit, I’m bound by the Game Journalist’s Code to say something trite about the game’s title; it sure does earn those hyphens!
I normally don’t talk about presentation until toward the end of a review, because gameplay is the most important thing and graphics don’t matt…hahaha I can’t even finish that sentence, I’m sorry. In this case, it merits top billing because, Sweet Jeebus, this game is pretty. No surprise, Arc System Works was going for an old-school anime look with XRD and nailed it on the head, particularly during the battle intros, super moves and finishers. Unlike previous games in the series, characters are 3D models that are animated and cel-shaded to look like sprites come to life. This allows for extremely impressive and cinematic camera pans throughout the fight. Really, it makes more sense when you see it in motion; this is probably the best-looking fighter out there.
An aside on presentation is that this is, to my recollection, the first fighting game in the series where the characters are dubbed by default. I don’t mind dubs, but you might, so fortunately the option to switch to the original Japanese voices is available. Character vocals generally sound fine, well, except for Ky, whose maddeningly posh accent and lines are bound to drive you nuts. Given how that fits the character, maybe it’s exactly what the devs had in mind.
As for the cast, it consists almost entirely of series staples like Ky Kiske, Sol Badguy, Milia Rage and so on. Each is represented pretty much as you’ve come to expect them from other Guilty Gear games. There’s a few newcomers as well; Bedman, who pilots a killer contraption that puts a new spin on the word “deathbed;” Sin, Ky’s son from Guilty Gear 2 Overture, a bizarre Warriors/RTS spinoff that nobody played; final boss Ramletherl who wields a set of telepathically-controlled greatswords; and Elphelt, Ramletherl’s sister who fights in a wedding dress that somehow contains a full arsenal of firearms. As always, Guilty Gear isn’t the most inviting series for newbies, so if you plan on picking up one of the new characters you’ll probably want to spend some time in training mode.
Gameplay is what you’d expect from the series despite the new graphical engine. If you’re not familiar with Guilty Gear, the closest comparison can be found in sister series BlazBlue. It’s an anime-styled fighting game with a super meter, fatality moves and all manner of advanced techniques to get a handle on. The pacing in Guilty Gear tends to feel a little more slow and deliberate than BlazBlue, but it certainly doesn’t plod like the Street Fighter series. Unlike many modern anime fighter series, Guilty Gear is pretty execution-heavy and Xrd is no exception, so it helps to have a little familiarity with how fighting games work if you want to do well.
So you’re going to be beating the crap out of each other. You probably figured that. There’s the usual spread of modes to facilitate the beatings, including your story mode, your versus mode and your online play. At the time of this writing we were unable to test the online features, but if BlazBlue is any indication it’ll run smooth as butter. Incidentally, it also wasn’t possible to test PS4 Share Play connectivity, as in a move that’s certainly valuable for the consumer and not just a slapdash form of DRM it’s not possible to stream or share games before their release date. Anyway, it’s probably good.
As always, it’s hard to argue with a fighting game from Arc System Works if you’ve got some friends who are into the genre. If you don’t, well, I can’t say I’m a fan of playing these sort of things against the CPU, but the option is there if you’re into it or connectivity is an issue, so go nuts. Gameplay aside, this is almost certainly the prettiest and most gloriously beautiful fighting game I’ve ever seen, and matched with a solid fighting system Guilty Gear Xrd -Sign- is quality punching goodness, so don’t pass it up if fisticuffs are what you’re after.