Review: Guilty Gear Isuka (PS2)

Game: Guilty Gear Isuka
System: Sony Playstation 2
Genre: 2D-Fighting / Side-Scrolling Adventure
Developer: Arc System Works
Publisher: Sammy
Release: 11/03/04

Once again, I must say that Sammy’s Guilty Gear franchise is miles above most other 2D fighters of its kind. It’s lightning-quick speed and addictive gameplay makes me look at other fighters and say things like “Wow! A turtle can move faster than Ryu’s Hadoken fireball!” This series has grabbed me since its first PS2 release in America, and has refused to let me go.

Guilty Gear Isuka is the latest in this series, and decides to change things up A LOT with new, innovative gameplay. How does this work out? Read on to find out!


STORY/MODES

The Guilty Gear series has a very interesting back story, spanning over one hundred years leading up to the times of GGX and GGX2. However, this particular game is more of a “side-game” than a direct sequel to the last one. Therefore, it doesn’t follow the canon storyline, and there is no “Story Mode” to speak of.

And speaking of modes, we’re talking about a completely different set of modes than what was found in GGX2. First, we have “Arcade Mode”. Don’t let the name fool you, though. Arcade Mode this time is a unique hybrid of GGX2’s “Arcade” and “Survival” modes. You start by creating a “profile” in a mode I’ll discuss later. Once in Arcade Mode, your job is to fight every single opponent the game gives you. And like the Survival modes of previous games, you’re able to gain levels as you progress. You start out at Level 1, and go forward from there. Every 20 levels to begin with (ten levels after you reach 50), you will fight in “daredevil” matches, where you fight two opponents at once. Yes, two at once. More on that later.

Quickly focusing on the characters, all the default characters from GGX2 are present once again, as well as three new characters for America. First there is the #Reload version of Robo-Ky, which is Robo-Ky from the last game given a huge make-over. While he has already appeared on the XBox, he’s still new for PS2 owners to try out. Next up is A.B.A., a sickly girl who uses a gigantic key (with a mind of its own) to fight with, as well as to support herself. She has two move sets, and can alternate between them when she uses “blood packs”. Finally there’s Robo-Ky MKII, another Robo-Ky variant, but I’ll focus on him later.

Once you reach Level 99 (and every 50 levels afterwards), you’re challenged by the game’s main boss: Leopaldon. For those who are familiar with the game’s “traditional” cast of characters, and think that things can’t get any weirder than they already are, SURPRISE! Leopaldon is this HUGE organic mech-like thing controlled by a thin dude and a gigantic dog. He takes up half the screen, and can only be damaged by smacking around his upper body. Oh, and he has this nasty habit of pulling of mega-damaging Tension attacks every three seconds. Ladies and gentlemen, we now have the very definition for cheapness in gaming. So good luck in defeating him!

Anyway, the maximum level to achieve here is 1,000, and every 50 levels, you can adjust which level you start in thanks to the options menu. Now this is going to take QUITE awhile for you to reach the end. Luckily, considering the games layout, you and a partner can act as a tag-team in Arcade Mode and kick ass together. This puts an upwards of four players on the screen at one time. FOUR! Unfortunately, you can only save one profile to a memory card at one time. So in order for two players to tag-team AND use profiles, Player 2 will need to load his profile into memory through his/her own memory card in the second slot. That’s a bit disheartening, to be sure.

The next “main” mode is something brand new to the series, and something incredibly cool as well: “GG Boost Mode”. Remember the old classic side-scrolling beat-em-up games like Streets of Rage and Final Fight? Well, that’s what this mode is. You pick your favorite Guilty Gear fighter, and you slug it out against hoards of random thugs, collecting special items and health along the way. It’s definitely a new experience, and allows for even MORE characters to be present on the screen at once. It’s a bit harder to control your character, given its new environment, but it’s still a cool diversion from the normal fighting aspect.

The final “main” mode you can go through is the “RKII Factory”. Remember when I mentioned the new character “Robo-Ky MKII”? Well, he gets his own mode! Basically, a scientist recovers one of the many “Robo-Ky” robots that have fallen in battle, and modifies him. This model can be customized with a large selection of moves from other characters in the game, making him the “Emeral” of GGI. Now in order to obtain these moves, you’ll need to buy them with points obtained through “Scramble”. This is just RKII’s version of Boost Mode, but he can gain points to buy moves and upgrades.

There is a large amount of customization going into RKII. You can give him new moves, adjust his statistics to better suit you, buy upgrade kits to increase his overall statistics, modify his moves through FRC and YRC kits, and even change his color around. In other words, you take a balanced fighter and make him totally broken. Ain’t it wonderful?

The other modes are pretty much staples of the game. Versus and Training modes return, and act just as they did in the last game. Also, there’s a new “Color Edit” mode, where you can adjust the color costumes of each character. In fact, you can save one edit PER character. But outside of these and the three main modes…there’s not much else to do. Granted these modes are engrossing, but whatever happened to the Story Mode? Or Mission Mode? And there’s no Gallery Mode where you can save pictures! So while we gain some very excellent modes, we also have to give up some excellent modes in the process.

Story/Modes: 8/10


GRAPHICS

Allow me to utter the following six words, which will make your jaws collectively drop:

Four characters. One screen. No slowdown.

Gentlemen, look, and behold! A four player fighting game, complete with NO SLOWDOWN WHATSOEVER! Sure, we’ve seen some half-assed attempts to have more than players in a fighting game. Street Fighter Alpha 3 tried it with the fabled “two-on-one” battles, but it wasn’t truly “four-player”. Marvel VS Capcom tried it as well by having each team of two controlled by two people, but the amount of time both fighters could be on the screen at the same time was HORRIBLY limited. But this game…this game is the FIRST 2D GAME to have four players independently fighting each other, and it looks GLORIOUS when in action.

There have been no changes to the character sprites. Each character is the same size as before, and animate just as well. The characters also exist on two different planes: the foreground and the background. In the foreground, the characters are bright and easily distinguishable. When they shift to the background, the sprites shrink and dull a little bit, providing a nice shadow effect. The backgrounds the characters fight in are also incredibly bright and beautiful to behold. (Although Leap in a red polka dot bikini is simply disturbing. Don’t worry, you’ll see it eventually.)

I’d give this category a perfect score if it weren’t for the fact that a ton of character animations are missing from the game. For example, characters no longer have multiple intro/win animations; now they are restricted to one a piece. Taunt animations are gone, albeit an exception where the programmers managed to work Chipp Zanuff’s “shuriken” taunt as an actual special move. Instant Kills are missing completely, and their sprites to go along with them. Lots of the little things that made previous games so wild and disturbing have vanished without a trace. Also interesting is the fact that the number of in-game backgrounds limited. Characters now have to SHARE backgrounds as opposed to having their own unique stages (in most cases).

But hey, we all have to make sacrifices if we want to have four-player matches on our PS2, right?

Graphics: 9/10


SOUND

Unlike the limitations in the Graphics category, all game sounds return en mass. Each character once again contains THREE COMPLETE SETS of voice clips, and they will alternate in between matches. Although they are good in quality, cramming all these voice clips onto the disc means that they’ve been recorded in low quality. In fact, outside of the new characters introduced, all voices have been lifted off of GGX2 and transplanted onto here. I’m not saying its a BAD thing, but voices were much clearer in games like the original GGX. I would have liked to hear sound rates of the same quality, but again, sacrifices have to be made.

Game music, however, remains as crisp and clear as before. And there are plenty of new tracks to listen to, several of which are exclusive to GG Boost Mode, giving it its own unique experience. I must say I was impressed with the music in this version, especially the end theme. Definitely enjoyable.

Sound: 8/10


GAMEPLAY & CONTROLS

Welcome to the area that has been greatly overhauled to accommodate four-player support. Even if you’ve played the Guilty Gear series before, there are plenty of new things you’ll have to get used to…such as the fact that you no longer automatically face your opponent.

Considering the multi-player environment, you’ll have to turn MANUALLY in order to face your opponent(s). This is assigned to the R1 button, and actually makes a lot of sense. When you are fighting more than one person, you can choose which opponent to face and fight, rather than having automatic turning create a brand new set of hassles. Sure it takes a little bit to get used to, but after a while, the function will become second nature.

Normal attacks, special moves, and Tension attacks are still performed exactly the same way. Bursts, on the other hand, can now only be performed by pressing all four attack buttons. It’s easier to perform now, and thankfully so given the environment.

There are some other attacks that have been added in order to expand the multiplayer aspects. Each character now has a “back attack”, which can be performed when you are facing away from your opponent. Also, as stated earlier, characters can fight in either the foreground, or the background of any stage. As such, your fighter can move between them freely, knock their opponents into the alternate plane, or shift planes with an attack. This adds yet more depth to this already deep fighter.

One thing that I noticed was the complete lack of analogue stick support, as you can only use the D-pad. Players used to the analogue stick might be disappointed in this fact.

GG Boost Mode also has some modified controls in order to make the transition from “fighting game” to “action game” more fluid. There is now a “Jump” button thanks to L1, as the directional pad only moves you around the playing field. Also, R1 is a “Boost” button, allowing you to move quicker on the field.

Overall, the gameplay additions are very cool, and provide some excellent innovation to a genre that hardly sees it. The only thing I see missing is a decent “one-on-one” mode that plays like previous titles. Even if you are only fighting one other person, the controls remain the same. It’s a loss, yes, but a loss I can live with.

Gameplay & Controls: 9/10


REPLAY VALUE

There may only be three “main” modes to take advantage of, but each one offers a LOT for you to do. Arcade Mode’s “survival” aspects will keep you playing until you reach Level 1,000. The GG Boost Mode is a completely new experience, and going through it with multiple characters is simply fun. RKII Factory will probably take up most of your time, however. There are near limitless methods you can use to customize your Robo-Ky Mark II, and you’ll going through Scramble OVER and OVER again in order to get the points needed. But outside of these modes, there is little else outside of VS matches and VS Computer-type matches. This value is increased if you have a steady stream of human players to play against.

Replay Value: 7/10


BALANCE

Everyone whose played the Guilty Gear series knows how incredible the difficulty can get. It’s one of the most, if not THE most, difficult 2D fighter on the market today. This game is no exception.

There are five difficulty settings in the Options menus, but don’t let the names fool you. “Beginner” is more akin to what “Normal” is in other games of this genre. “Easy” is a bit harder, but not by much. The default “Normal” setting will probably make new players throw their controllers down in frustration after two or three rounds. The AI can get very cheap, very quick. Especially considering the new format.

Now, I will say that that the new Arcade Mode offers a better balance in terms of difficulty. (Depending on what its set to in Options, of course.) When you start at Level 1, the enemies are hardly challenging at all. But as you progress to Level 100, and then beyond to 200, 300, etc., your foes will become gradually tougher. So gradually, you won’t even notice it. In fact, your foes will also receive small increases in their speed every few fights. Comparing a fighter at Level 5 and Level 500, for example, will have the Level 500 fighter running circles around you. So this aspect is something I like. The main difficulties? You’ll have it set on Beginner for a LONG time.

Balance: 6/10


ORIGINALITY

This is an interesting category to call. On the one hand, you have some of the most interesting innovations and adjustments made to a 2D fighting series such as this. Its something I’ve certainly never seen before, and never thought it would work on a 2D engine. On the other hand, if these additions were never made, it would look exactly like a re-release of Guilty Gear X2. The characters would not have ANY changes at all if the fighting system didn’t undergo the changes it did. So it’s either a highly-innovate version of a popular fighting game, or a cheap rehash with 4-player fighting. So in the end, this category balances out.

Originality: 6/10


ADDICTIVENESS

I really believe the level of this category is inversely related to how many people you have around you that plays the game regularly. Yes, the main game modes offer quite a lot to do, but after a while, you’ll be going back to these modes less and less. The game was built primarily for multi-player madness, and DOES support 4 players with a PS2 multi-tap. So if you have more people to play against, you’ll be more inclined to be addicted to this game. If you don’t, then you’ll be addicted for as long as the Arcade mode lasts, and how long the RKII Factory holds your interest.

Addictiveness: 7/10


APPEAL FACTOR

Guilty Gear primarily appeals to a very select bunch. It’s not as big as the Capcom and SNK fighting games, but still is pretty respectable. Now, this particular game will probably appeal only to the current fans of the series. The gameplay changes are too radical and too different to get new players into the game. And if the game DID draw new players in, they would have quite a hard time getting used to the simple “one-on-one” style fights in the rest of the series. They would be better off starting in either GGX or GGX2, and working their way up. So the amount of people the game would truly appeal to is somewhat limited.

Appeal Factor: 5/10


MISCELLANEOUS

Now just because your attention might wander away from this game after a while, it doesn’t mean that there isn’t some cool stuff to look forward to. As you go through Arcade Mode, you can unlock EX versions of all the characters by facing them and defeating them. You can also unlock Leopaldon after reaching Level 200, and he’s a gigantic broken character to begin with. You can ALSO unlock the thugs found in Boost Mode by clearing it. It’s hilarious, considering they have limited animations, you can only select one at a time, and you can’t face them as computer opponents. They’re just there as humorous additions.

Also, if you’re very lucky, you might be able to unlock the incredible super-powered versions of Sol Badguy and Ky Kiske. You’ll know when you see them. Trust me.

And besides the unlockable stuff, this game really tries to be different from the other 2D fighters out there. They try a completely new concept, and believe it or not, they exceed incredibly. This could be a brand new dimension in the 2D fighting game world. However, it shouldn’t have to be at the expense of other items that were made popular in previous versions of the game.

Miscellaneous: 9/10