Review: Guilty Gear X2: The Midnight Carnival (XB)

Game: Guilty Gear X2: The Midnight Carnival #RELOAD
System: Microsoft XBox
Genre: 2D Fighting
Developer: Arc System Works / Sammy
Publisher: Majesco
Release: 9/15/04

Most people look to Capcom or SNK for their 2D-fighting goodness. After all, with Street Fighter and King of Fighters being the household names that they are, it’s really hard for another gaming company to create a 2D-fighter franchise and have it succeed. As for me, however, when I need my 2D-fighting fix, I will always turn to Sammy and their Guilty Gear games. Their lightning-fast gameplay and…um… “interesting” cast of characters always keep me coming back for more.

And now we have Guilty Gear X2 #Reload, the first appearance of a Guilty Gear game on the XBox. While some of you may think it’s just a port of the PS2 game Guilty Gear X2 with added features, it actually appeared on the Japanese PS2 first. So…um…it’s a PS2 port of the game with the same name. Heh. But the US hasn’t SEEN it yet! So…um…well, there was a point in there somewhere. But that’s not important right now. What IS important is what this game contains, and if will you enjoy the contents. So, lets get right to it, then!


MODES

As soon as you turn on this game you’ll notice that there are a CRAPLOAD of modes to choose from. To start with, you have the Arcade Mode, which is pretty self-explanatory. There are ten battle to go through, each of them getting progressively more difficult. The cool thing is that you have 21 characters to go through this mode (and others, of course) with, initially. And BOY, do you have some interesting choices.

There’s the parasitic being known as Eddie, who has taken over the body of Zato-One, and has possessed it far beyond the point of Zato-One actually being alive. Then there’s the psychopathic doctor known as Faust, who is 9 feet tall, wears a paper bag over his head, and enjoys shoving his six-foot scalpel up the asses of his opponents. You could also go with Zappa, who is possessed by about 10 spirits at once, and ends up contorting his body in plenty of inhuman ways because of it. Or hey, why not Dizzy? She’s a naive three-year-old gear that contains immense power, two wings that represent Light and Darkness, and clothing that makes the Playboy bunnies envious. Or if you like to be cheap, you can stick to Sol Badguy or Ky Kiske, the game’s principle characters.

If you’ve played the original X2 on the PS2, you’ll probably remember the hidden character Robo-Ky, which pretty much served as a Ky clone with a slightly different move set. Well, in a bit of a twist, Robo-Ky has been bumped up to default-character status, and given a complete makeover to boot. He now has his own personality and contains many new, hilarious moves, including kneecap missiles and other interesting gadgets. This is about the only real character difference between the two versions.

Okay, back to the modes. Next up there’s M.O.M. Mode, or “Medal of Millionaires”. It’s like Arcade Mode in a way, except you have 20 fights, and every time you strike your opponent, medals will pop out and give you points. Health doesn’t carry over into subsequent rounds, but there is a slight chance that health items will appear instead of medals every once in a while.

Then there’s Survival Mode, which is probably the most insane survival mode I’ve ever seen in a video game. You pick your character, and start off at Level 1. As you fight opponents, your level increases. And at every 10th level, you get to face off against a “Daredevil” character, which is a more powerful version of the original characters. And the scary thing? There are 1,000 levels to go through. And considering the game’s difficulty, most of you probably won’t even break Level 50.

Now we come to Story Mode. Believe it or not, this franchise has a very deep story to it. It would take WAY to long to explain in this review, but suffice to say all the characters have reason for being where they are, and many have alliances/rivals. The Story Mode fleshes out what happens at this certain point in the Guilty Gear universe, something the Arcade Mode regrettably doesn’t do. Each character has a story, but the interesting thing is that the story will change depending on certain conditions in certain battles. 20 characters have stories, and each one has three unique paths to traverse. So you’re going to have to go through this mode at least sixty times to see all the stories. SIXTY! The only drawback is that while the character voices remained in Japanese, they were NOT translated very well. Major inconsistencies can be found between what the Japanese are saying, and what Sammy is telling us they are saying. I swear, I heard “Jesus” and “bullshit” in ENGLISH no less, and both were translated to “jeez” and “bull” respectively. Perhaps this was only to bypass the censors, but it’s still laughable.

But wait! There’s more! You also have the awesome Mission Mode to complete! This mode is tailor made for expert players, as each mission gives you certain conditions to win against, with many of them being impossibly hard. The game contains 100 missions, doubling that of the original X2. Luckily, however, the 50 added missions are much easier than the original 50, and provide beginning players a much easier learning curve to this mode. But still, you’re going to have to be VERY good in order to complete even HALF of the missions presented here.

And on top of THAT, we have Gallery Mode. Now, this isn’t much of a “real” mode per se, but this is where you can view some incredible sketches of the Guilty Gear players. But in order to get 90% of them, you’re going to need to beat Arcade Mode with every character, complete all the missions, and finish all the stories. We are talking DEDICATION here to fill out this mode completely.

And all of this doesn’t even take into account that there is XBox Live support in this thing. I’ll be covering that a bit later.

So to sum up, you have five robust, unique gameplay modes, three of which contain MASSIVE replay value, and an exclusive online mode. There is a LOT here to keep you busy, even if you’ve played the original X2 before.

Modes: 10/10


GRAPHICS

This game is easily one of the most detailed 2D fighters on the market. The characters are HUGE, and contain a mind-boggling amount of frames of animation apiece. The movements flow very well, and hardly any set of frames is recycled between different moves. For the most part, everything a character does looks fresh and unique. The graphics also look a bit crisper when compared to the PS2 games. The visuals are slightly brighter, and look a TEENY bit less jagged as well.

While offline, the graphics don’t suffer from any slowdown. None. There can be a LOT of action on screen at one time, but the graphics remain at a constant frame rate without dropping. Online is another story, as the game can hiccup every now and then with slight slowdown. I had some instances where the match slowed to a crawl for about 5 seconds, but I believe that was the result of having a bad connection with my opponent. Overall, the visuals have translated very well.

Graphics: 9/10


SOUND

All voices have been left in their original Japanese form. And each character has plenty to say. In fact, every character has a total of THREE separate voice sets that alternate in between rounds. Really, the only way to hear all the voices for a character is to go into the Sound Test and play them manually. There’s that much. The downside to this, however, is that the voices were recorded in a lower sampling rate than Guilty Gear X. This problem was present on the PS2 versions as well, but the steps weren’t taken to jazz things up on the XBox, which is a shame.

The game’s music is also very good. Not only does each character have a theme, but also there are special themes that play when same characters face off against each other, as well as special battle music for special VS matches like Sol VS Ky, and Eddie VS Millia. Again there is a downside, however, as the Japanese version of #Reload on the XBox had contained music and voices from the Korean version of the game as well, allowing you to switch between them. This option, as well as the tracks, seems to have been taken out completely for the translation. It would have been nice to switch music, especially having heard it time and again on the PS2, but such is life.

Sound: 8/10


CONTROL

Get ready to spend some serious time in Training Mode learning the controls if you’re new to the game. Each character has access to a wide variety of different techniques, and if you’re not careful, the computer will use them ALL against you. Best you practice now before you get squashed later.

Each character has a Punch, Kick, Slash, and Heavy Slash button. Each character has their own specific normal and special moves that can be performed with these face buttons. Holding R allows you to knock opponents in the air for some special midair combos known as “Dust Attacks”. The L trigger taunts your opponent. Holding forward and pressing L will perform a “respect”.

Characters also have two meters alongside their health: a special meter, and a “Burst” meter. When your Burst meter is full, you can press R any attack button to escape from a combo. As long as your special meter is half full, you can perform a super move for your character.

Then you get into the advanced stuff, such as Faultless Defense (Punch Kick), which lets you take NO damage at all, yet drains your special meter. Also, everyone can double jump (Up, Up), or Air Dash (Up, Forward) to gain an advantage. Then there are Roman Cancels, which let you cancel out of one attack, and begin another. Of course you can try and trick your opponent with a False Roman Cancel and continue the first attack instead. And then there are the Instant Kill techniques. (My personal favorite.) Hitting these babies will instantly end the match, making you the victor. But missing them will get rid of your special bar, and severely handicap you for the rest of the match.

As you can see, there is a LOT of strategy to be had here, and learning all these attacks will take some time. Unfortunately, you might have to take a little more time since you’re using an XBox controller. While the face buttons are pretty responsive, I find it hard to pull off directional moves with the D-Pad. It feels a bit sticky, as I can’t air dash as well as I could on the PS2, or most of the other complex moves. And this is a REAL handicap for me, because I’m a Chipp player, and he requires exact timing and precision to be effective. I feel as though I’m not nearly effective enough with an XBox controller.

Of course this doesn’t even take XBox Live into account. While playing on Live, it seems the controls suffer from a bit of lag. This, coupled with the stiffness mentioned above, can really hamper someone who’s jumping onto Live for the first time. But for the most part, the controls function decently, and I can pull off most of my moves without too much work.

Controls: 6/10


REPLAY VALUE

Be warned: if you buy this game to unlock stuff, be prepared to play it for a very, very, VERY long time. Most of the offline replay value comes in the form of playing Arcade, Mission, and Story modes with every character in order to unlock items, such as gallery pictures, extra character modes, and the two special hidden characters. While you CAN go about unlocking these items in different ways, this eventually starts to become a chore. You’ll definitely need some patience if you want to unlock everything.

Now this isn’t to say that this is a BAD thing. It all depends on how you view the unlocking process. If you’re one of those guys who’s good at 2D fighters, and can fulfill the conditions necessary to unlock the good stuff, you won’t see this as challenging. But if you’re someone new to the game, and haven’t learned all the special techniques yet, you’ll have a harder time of it, and get frustrated easier. Regardless, you will still be spending a while in these modes.

Now, where offline represents the “chores”, online represents the “rewards”. Replay value is infinitely extended here, as you can play people from all across the country, and perhaps even around the world if your Live connections are strong enough. You can spend hours a day beating on people you’ve never met, and never even touch the offline modes. It is that addicting.

In any case, there’s plenty here to hold your interest for a while, online and off.

Replay Value: 8/10


BALANCE

Character-wise, the game is probably the most balanced the Guilty Gear franchise has ever been. For you see, Robo-Ky was not the only character alteration. Each character has been tweaked and fiddled with from the original X2 in order to balance the game more. Top-tier characters are a little less godlike, and bottom-tier characters are a little more playable. You may not even notice the difference, but at least its there.

Difficulty-wise…hoo boy, is this game tough. And when I say tough, I mean TOUGH. Beating Ikaruga with one continue tough. Yeah, that tough. Seriously, if this is your first Guilty Gear game, you are already at a HORRIBLE disadvantage. Leaving the difficulty on Normal is pretty much giving the game permission to rip your innards out with a pitchfork, shoving them back down your throat, and repeating the process many more times.

Look at it this way: you have six different difficulty levels, ranging from Beginner to Maniac. The game on Beginner is really akin to putting most games on Normal. Then you have Easy, which really isn’t so easy. And as you progress upward…bring your blanket and wish for your mommy.

It really seems that the difficulty curve is unfairly biased towards the good players. Even the easiest difficulty is bound to give new players some problems. And it doesn’t get any more forgiving as you go up in difficulty. So newbies have to learn this game, and learn it QUICK in order to gain a foothold.

Balance: 6/10


ORIGINALITY

The originality score once again takes an unfortunate hit. The game, in all honesty, is a port. Not a port of Guilty Gear X2, but a port of #Reload for the PS2 that never made it to the states. But that IS a quasi-update to the original X2, anyway. So outside of remaking one character, balancing out the rest, and adding 50 new missions, there’s not very much that’s terribly new to the game.

BUT, if you want to look at originality from another angle…this is one of the most unique 2D fighters you’ll ever play. How many fighters do you know that contain a red-leather clad slut who fondles a guitar and takes her top off after winning matches as an end boss? Or a small boy who cross-dresses as a schoolgirl because his parents wanted a boy and girl, instead got twin boys, and raised him that way? How many games have a ton of blatant references to Freddie Mercury and Queen? Is there another game where the leader of an assassins guild is fighting a woman who can grow her hair to any size for the right to kill a parasite controlling the dead corpse of his boss to whom he’s sexually attracted? Can you name another 2D-fighter that has ONE of these things? Can you? CAN YOU?!?!?

No, I don’t think you can.

Originality: 6/10


ADDICTIVENESS

Well, as long as you have a long, arduous unlock process ahead of you, there should be SOME kind of addictiveness level to this game, right?

Exactly. The fast-paced nature of this game makes it VERY addicting for the first few hours of game time, and while it kinda levels off after that, it still retains enough for players to keep coming back. The offline modes are still pretty engaging after a while. The online mode can keep a player hooked for weeks. The combination of these modes and the battle system will definitely stop you from playing other games for the time being.

Addictiveness: 8/10


APPEAL FACTOR

On the one hand, Guilty Gear has garnered more of a cult following in the US rather than a huge fan base. After all, companies like Capcom and SNK have officially cornered the 2D-fighting market here, and have left very little room for others to just come waltzing in. Some of you might not have even heard of this series until you’ve read this review.

On the other hand, this particular Guilty Gear game is the first to contain online play. It is at the top of its class for online fighting games, if not in the top three. The characters are memorable. The fighting system is one of the most advanced I’ve seen. The online play, while having its flaws, is still a fun experience.

Oh, and it’s only $20. That’ll sway some of you penny pinchers out there, right?

Appeal Factor: 7/10


MISCELLANEOUS

Going back to the unlocks one more time, you WILL find that many of the non-picture unlocks are worth all the time you’ll spend in getting them. For one, you can acquire many different versions of all the characters. For starters, there are EX characters. They’re basically the same, except for a different move set. However, many of these move sets make these characters broken as hell. Then we have SP mode characters, which aren’t different, but have additional color costumes. But, considering which color you choose, you’ll can play as even MORE powerful characters.

First, there are the black Daredevil characters. These guys have infinite tension, which allows them to perform all their super moves, as well as Roman Cancels, on the fly. And of course, who can forget the ultra-powerful GOLD characters? All special moves are powered up, and characters contain specific special powers, such as health regain and infinite tension. Playing with these bad boys will usually piss off everyone around you, as they are the most cheap character types in the game.

And considering there are 23 total characters, you’re looking at over 80 ways to go through the various modes of play. If THAT doesn’t keep you hooked, I don’t know what will.

Miscellaneous: 9/10


THE SCORES

Modes: 10/10
Graphics: 9/10
Sound: 8/10
Controls: 6/10
Replay Value: 8/10
Balance: 6/10
Originality: 6/10
Addictiveness: 8/10
Appeal Factor: 7/10
Miscellaneous: 9/10
TOTAL: 75/100