E3 2014: Guilty Gear Xrd -SIGN- Preview: Heaven or Hell, let’s rock

When it comes to fighting games, most people are plenty content with games that wow with graphical display and brutality. Those deeply involved and competitive in the fighting game community usually look for a bit more substance and technical sophistication. For genre veterans and someone like me, who has really gotten into competitive fighting in the past few years, there’s plenty of reason to be excited for the next installment of the long-absent Guilty Gear franchise, Guilty Gear Xrd -SIGN-.

Guilty Gear Xrd -SIGN- was announced at Arc System Works’ 25th anniversary festival after not having a full entry in the series for almost a decade. Arc is also known for making the BlazBlue series, similarly excellent when it comes to mechanical depth, absurdly long combos, and complex, moment-to-moment tactics. The first next-gen Guilty Gear made its appearance, playable on PS4, in Sony’s booth at E3 2014. There, I had a chance to demo it in all its visual beauty and technical glory.

As with other Guilty Gear and BlazBlue games, Xrd focuses on fast-paced, intense fighting mechanics, and a heavy metal soundtrack to get players in the mood for a brawl. Xrd in particular features 2.5D cel-shaded character models and backgrounds that, during certain moves and events, are shown to be fully rendered 3D–a first for the series. As I was taking my turn playing (I chose Sol Badguy), I was absolutely blown away by the in-game graphics. Switching between normal 2D to 3D during certain parts made it evident that Arc Systems really put some time and effort into this game, and the impact was well worth it. Instead of focusing on realism and grittiness that come with a game like Mortal Kombat, Arc Systems focused on bringing you one of the more vibrant, eye-catching games on the near horizon.

The mechanics are similar to that of the Guilty Gear X series. Many of the same mechanics from prior games are returning to this installment, including “Roman Cancels," which allow the interruption of movement, actions, and recovery actions. The cost of Roman Cancels will vary depending on certain factors. There’s also a “Blitz Shield,” which allows the player’s character to repel attacks, creating an opportunity to counterattack. There will also be three types of clashes in the game: Normal, Repel, and Danger Time, all of which are returning mechanics. A lot of changes have also occurred to the characters themselves. Time will tell if these changes improve or destabilize overall balance.

The shared mechanics from previous installments go hand-in-hand with the feeling of overall gameplay, which, from my brief time with the demo, seemed very similar to prior games in the series. Those that have played Arc System games will very easily pick up Guilty Gear Xrd -SIGN- and have little-to-no problem with the game’s reliance on precise inputs like quarter-circle-forward, half-circle-back. As for those weaned on games like Mortal Kombat and Dead or Alive… well, comparing the two is like apples to oranges. Sure, they are both fruit, but one is a bit bland next to the other’s harsh, invigorating citrus taste. In my experience, Guilty Gear gives no quarter in its demand for pure skill, resulting in a fun, rewarding experience for fighting game fans ready to tackle its mountain of mechanics. Games like Mortal Kombat, however, are just a little too easy and personally I believe are rather boring. The pinnacle of fighting game ability is responding to your opponent with precise moves and combos at a moment’s notice. Guilty Gear understands, embraces, and emphasizes this better than perhaps any fighter.

All said, serious fighting game fans have reason to be excited for Guilty Gear Xrd -SIGN-, launching on PS3 and PS4 this holiday.