Guilty Gear X2 #Reload
If the United Kingdom still had arcades worth visiting and reality was only slightly different to what it is now, you’d more than likely find what can only be described as its most hardcore contingent crowded round a fighting game coin-op – be it Street Fighter 3 Third Strike or Virtua Fighter 4: Final Tuned, exhibiting a mastery of each character down to the minutiae of how many frames of animation a particular move has. Only the very best games can boast such fervour from fans because it requires not only that the game boasts a frighteningly deep combat system, but is also accessible and above all, fun. But UK arcades on the whole aren’t worth visiting and with Guilty Gear X2 #Reload on PS2 and a good arcade stick, there’s very little reason to lament if you can find yourself a crew of like-minded gamers.
For anyone that’s spent even five minutes on the end of a joypad playing Street Fighter, Guilty Gear is immensely fun – even a rudimentary command of each fighter can cause the screen to erupt in all manner of explosions emanating from sword tips, fists and assorted bodily orifices – character design is quirky to say the least. Scratch that, it’s positively scandalous. While fans of the likes of Ryu, Ken or Terry Bogard will find solace with the flaming-sword-wielding, spikey-haired, improbably-named Sol- Badguy, Axl Rose clone Axl Low or Chip Zanuff, the rest of the cast takes such a turn for the random, straight out of leftfield and totally disturbing that it’s impossible to play the game straight laced. May summons Dolphins to attack, Zappa – a reanimated, thong-wearing corpse spews ghoulish entities to attack including a phantom attack dog, and Faust, the paperbag- wearing fool attacks by turning into a tree, when he isn’t spinning helicopter style around the screen or pogoing up and down on his giant scalpel. Players used to counting frames of animation will just have to go with the flow.
And that’s fine because Guilty Gear X isn’t about combos a la King Of Fighters or Street Fighter, which doesn’t mean that elongated strings of slashes, punches and incendiary attacks can’t be chained together (hell, the Dust attack’s main purpose is to propel opponents into the air for sick move linkage), it’s just that combos don’t inflict much damage. Instead there’s a whole other world of advanced techniques to get to grips with: Fortress Defences, Dead Angle Attacks, Roman Cancels, False Roman Cancels and instant kills. Fortress Defence is an aggressive form of blocking utilising the new Burst Meter that drives foes back and prevents you from taking damage, Dead Angle Attacks function as universal counter attacks for turning the tide of battle, Roman Cancels enable instant recovery from special moves, while instant kills facilitate the blatantly obvious. And to think that most people think it’s the exquisite graphics that garner Guilty Gear lavish praise.
Instant kills are a particularly intriguing gambit – pressing all four attack buttons turns the Tension gauge into the Instant Kill Gauge, which slowly declines, the idea being to perform the character-specific Instant Kill move and finish off your opponent. If an opening can’t be found in an opponent’s defences the player’s health is slowly eaten away once the IK gauge has diminished which can create wonderfully tense bouts where both combatants are potentially a second or two away from losing the round, either from feeling the pain of an opponent’s Instant Kill move or expiring from a failed gambit.
Then there are those exquisite graphics to take into account. Not only are the characters startlingly high resolution, banishing the thought of the increasingly harsh-on-the-eyeballs Street Fighter and King Of Fighters sprites, they’re painstakingly animated – as they must be to facilitate such off-the-wall manoeuvres. Fighters might wield swords and other traditional weapons, but more often than NEVERENDING STORY… not they’ll transform into anything from rocket launchers to strange apparitions. In fact the whole universe that Guilty Gear is set in is more than slightly macabre – stage backgrounds filled with gloomy Japanese spirits marching in a line, a hamlet of elves or a giant ogre holding up a bridge. Characters are no less sinister – Slayer, entering fights sucking the blood from the neck of woman; Dizzy might have angel wings but that’s in stark contrast to the hideous appendages she beats opponents with. In fact the overall aesthetic is highly reminiscent of the Hayao Miyazaki films Spirited Away and Princess Mononoke – steeped with haunting imagery. Even the choice of a Heavy Metal soundtrack of the most fruity variety complements the aesthetic and action perfectly – even if it will be to the chagrin of anyone self-important enough to deem such music detestable.
Guilty Gear X2 #Reload is eccentric and unpredictable and eerily beautiful, but above all worryingly deep enough for anyone that’s ever played a fighting game at an arcade in a ‘crew’ and instantly gratifying enough for even the most blasé fighting game fan.