Putting the band back together.
Guilty Gear has always been something special; from its unapologetically loud, rock and metal influenced soundtrack to its outlandish character design, involved story, sheer mechanical depth, and freakish sense of speed, the series has always exuded effortless style. Guilty Gear is like nothing else in the genre, which was why it was a shame when, in the mid-2000s, series creator Arc System Works announced that they had lost the rights to the series due to a rights dispute with then-publisher Sega Sammy.
Make no mistake, we got Guilty Gear games after that. Accent Core Plus remains one of the best releases the genre has ever seen and even the much (unfairly, I think) maligned Guilty Gear 2 carried on the series’ reputation for mechanical excellence. But neither one of those games felt quite like Guilty Gear. The former lacked much involvement on the part of series creator Daisuke Ishiwatari and the latter wasn’t a fighting game.
"Johnny specializes in quick, powerful sword strikes that can be powered-up with his other special moves. His combination of quickness and power, plus his ability to deal damage from even the smallest openings make him a legitimate threat."
But when the rights returned a few years ago, Arc Sys set about making the first truly new fighting game in the series since 2002’s Guilty Gear X2. The resulting game, Guilty Gear Xrd -SIGN- (hereafter simply Sign) was a rebirth for the series, a loud, firm declaration of the series’ relevance in the modern era.
Which brings us to Guilty Gear Xrd -REVELATOR- (just Revelator from now on), an updated sequel to Sign. So, what’s new? Well, a lot, actually. If Sign was a declaration of Guilty Gear’s relevance in the modern age of fighters, then Revelator is Arc Sys’s attempt to ramp up everything up to eleven, while bringing back previous elements of the series that didn’t appear in Xrd Sign.
The biggest change is the expanded roster. Revelator adds six additional fighters to Sign’s seventeen playable characters, and the cast on display is one of the most diverse in fighting games. The six are a nice mix of new characters and old friends. First is Johnny, Guilty Gear’s suave pirate leader and longtime fan favorite. Johnny specializes in quick, powerful sword strikes that can be powered-up with his other special moves. His combination of quickness and power, plus his ability to deal damage from even the smallest openings make him a legitimate threat, and some pros already believe he might be among the game’s strongest characters.
"Jam fights hand to hand, relying on speed and powerful punches and kicks. Her special moves, mostly kicks, can be temporarily charged to devastating effect by assuming different stances"
Jam Kuradoberi, bounty hunter, chef, and restaurateur also returns, more or less unchanged, from the XX series. She fights hand to hand, relying on speed and powerful punches and kicks. Her special moves, mostly kicks, can be temporarily charged to devastating effect by assuming different stances, and like Johnny, her return adds another unique moveset to an already stellar cast.
New to the party is Jack-O’, a girl who wears a Jack-o’-lantern mask and has a love of candy. She plays much like Rachel Alucard from Arc Sys’s Blazblue, and her moveset revolves around placing items on stage that summon minions who attack for her. She can give these minions direct commands with her ghostly organ, adding an air of unpredictability during matches.
Rounding out the new additions are Raven, a longtime supporting character who is playable for the first time, and Kum Haehyun. They’re initially blocked off from the main roster, but both will be available for during the first week of the game’s launch. Raven is also unlockable by spending an almost prohibitive amount of in-game currency.
"The steep learning curve might send new players running, but Guilty Gear is the rare fighter that wants to seriously teach you how to play not just itself, but fighting games in general."
Raven is a zoner, adept at traveling long distances quickly, slowing his opponents with well-placed projectiles, and jumping into long combos for big damage. He’s also an immortal with something of a Psycho Mantis-esque fetish for pain, and his playstyle reflects that. Entering his “Give it to me HERE” stance allows you to convert incoming damage into health. Absorbing damage this way also fills his excitement meter, which empowers his attacks. Last to the party is Dizzy, who was voted in by fans and will be released later, bringing the final playable total to twenty-three.
If the mechanics of the new fighters sound complicated, it’s because they are. Guilty Gear is one of the most complex fighters on the market, and presents a level of mechanical depth that’s impressive in a genre that already prides itself on being hard to master. The steep learning curve might send new players running, but Guilty Gear is the rare fighter that wants to seriously teach you how to play not just itself, but fighting games in general.
New players can start out in Stylish mode, which removes the execution barrier for combos and special moves, and enables auto blocking. You’ll take more damage playing this way, but it’s a good way for new players to get a feel for the speed of the battles and see what the characters can do.
"Mission mode also dedicates a lot of time to making sure the player masters general fighting game techniques like fuzzy guard, option selects, hit confirming, recovery, and trick throws."
The game features an in-depth tutorial, which covers everything from the various types of movement to Guilty Gear’s combo system and its defining mechanic, Roman Cancels. Cancels allow you to spend a certain amount of Tension (think Super Meter) to cancel out of any attack animation, allowing you to get out of disadvantageous situations or create custom combos. There’s also a combo mode which focuses on the moveset, combos, and techniques available to each character, and a mission mode that will teach you everything about Guilty Gear-specific mechanics like overdrives, faultless defense, instant kills, and bursts.
It also goes into detail about new mechanical additions like burst overdrives, exceptional powerful special attacks that require more resources, and blitz attacks, which convert defensive actions into more attack power. Mission mode also dedicates a lot of time to making sure the player masters general fighting game techniques like fuzzy guard, option selects, hit confirming, recovery, and trick throws. There’s even a whole section on matchups with certain characters, and their individual techniques.
You may not know what any of that means, but spend a little time in Guilty Gear’s mission mode, and you’ll emerge with a far greater understanding of both the game itself and fighting games as a whole. As a longtime player of the series, I was amazed how much I learned (and how much better I got) by spending time on those challenges. There’s even an in-game FAQ with hints on how to play the game, what challenges to tackle depending on what you’re having trouble with, and how characters work.
"Once everything comes together, Revelator is an absolute blast. Each character offers a different moveset and playstyle, and discovering what these are, and mastering them, is incredibly rewarding."
This may sound overwhelming, but it’s really not. The game never presents more than you can handle, and you can quit a challenge and come back to it whenever you’d like. It’s one of the most fully-featured and well-handled sets of teaching tools I’ve ever seen, and if you want to learn Guilty Gear’s myriad systems, it’s got everything you’ll need, no internet consultation required.
It’s worth learning these systems, because understanding them will greatly increase your enjoyment of the game. Guilty Gear rewards aggression, and most of the game revolves around your tension gauge. Almost every offensive and defensive option, from overdrives to faultless defense and Roman Cancels, rely on your tension gauge. The good news is that it’s easy to fill. All you have to do is be offensive. Run away too much, and you’ll lose it to a negative penalty.
Once everything comes together, Revelator is an absolute blast. Each character offers a different moveset and playstyle, and discovering what these are, and mastering them, is incredibly rewarding. Fights are fast, frantic, and flashy, and it’s easy to get caught up in the game’s sheer sense of momentum. Still, careful balance means things never get too crazy, and you’ll always understand what’s going on, and how you can do better.
"Revelator’s story is presented as a non-interactive series of well-directed cutscenes that progress the series’ complex story in interesting ways. It ends on a cliffhanger, but Arc Sys has promised that more content will be released for free down the road."
Most of the fun comes from the game’s online modes. Both player and ranked matches are available, and online lobbies see your oddly endearing, customizable boxheaded avatar wander around an outdoor arcade. You can also host private matches, though the game’s invite system is a little wonky, requiring passwords instead of direct invites. Once everything gets settled, however, the netcode is extremely smooth and provides an excellent experience.
Offline modes are a little more standard. There’s versus, an excellent training mode, and the aforementioned tutorial, combo, and mission modes. There’s also an arcade mode that acts as a bridge between the end of Sign’s story mode and the start of Revelator’s. Like Sign’s, Revelator’s story is presented as a non-interactive series of well-directed cutscenes that progress the series’ complex story in interesting ways. It ends on a cliffhanger, but Arc Sys has promised that more content will be released for free down the road.
For those new to the series or in need of catching up, the game provides a compendium of terms, characters, events, and even a timeline, which can be accessed individually or, cleverly, during context specific moments of the story. The yarn itself is pretty solid, never takes itself too seriously, and is sure to please series fans. The only downside this time around is that the segmented nature of the story means there’s no English voice over at the moment, not even in combat. After Sign’s solid dub, this is rather disappointing, but the translation is very good, and solid subtitle work takes most of the sting out of it.
"Sign was a visually stunning game, using 3D models and what can only be described as voodoo magic to achieve its hand animated style, and Revelator goes even further, adding dynamic lighting to special moves and ambient lighting to the stages."
M.O.M. mode – Medal of Millionaire, for the uninitiated – Sign’s survival mode/RPG returns, too. The goal is to earn medals from matches, which can be spent to increase your characters stats or buy items, like bombs, that can be used in combat. Participating in any of Revelator’s modes earns you world dollars, in-game currency that can be spent in the game’s gallery on new music tracks, artwork, alternate colors, and more. You can also spend it on Revelator’s delightful fishing mini-game, which gets you many of the same things, just at random, as well as fish, which are, ironically, useless.
Finally, I would be remiss if I didn’t touch on how good Revelator looks and sounds. Sign was a visually stunning game, using 3D models and what can only be described as voodoo magic to achieve its hand animated style, and Revelator goes even further, adding dynamic lighting to special moves and ambient lighting to the stages. The result is one of the best, if not the best, looking fighting game on the market. As for the sound design, it’s excellent. Guilty Gear’s sound mixing, from attack effects to voices, have always been clear, loud, and distinct and that trend continues here. The series famed hard rock soundtrack is, as usual, phenomenal, and Revelator’s new tracks, plus the old, unlockable tracks from previous games, make up what is easily one of the best soundtracks in fighting games.
The only real downside of Revelator is its price. While it is an excellent game, it is very much an upgraded version of Sign, even with the new story and characters, and it may be hard for people to justify the game’s cost of they own the original release. That said, however, fans of the series should be pleased with the updates and new content, and there’s never been a better time for new fans to jump in. This is one of the best fighting games around, the kind of game with serious design chops and pure, stone cold style. Games like Guilty Gear are a rarity in any age, but in today’s world of homogenized games, this level of competence and cool stands out all the more. Guilty Gear is back, and it has just one question for you: are you ready to rock?
This game was reviewed on the PlayStation 4.
Excellent fighting engine. In-depth teaching tools. Matches are fast and frantic. Lots of mechanical depth. A roster full of complex, unique characters. New story mode is well-presented. Rockin’ soundtrack. Superb visuals.
No English voice acting. May not be enough new content for those who already own Sign. Story mode isn't playable.
An excellent fighting engine, superb visuals, incredible teaching tools, and ridiculous design chops make Guilty Gear -REVELATOR- one of the best fighting games around. Those who are happy with -SIGN- may balk at the price, but everyone else, from fans to newcomers, should be more than happy with what’s on offer. If you’re ready to rock, Guilty Gear is happy to oblige.