Inside Pulse 12

Review: Guilty Gear 2: Overture (Microsoft Xbox 360)

Guilty Gear 2: Overture
Genre: Action/RTS
Developer: Arc System Works
Publisher: Aksys Games
Release Date: 10/07/08


Guilty Gear 2: Overture is unlike any other Guilty Gear game published to date. It’s not 2D, it’s not a fighting game, and it’s going to be a huge shock to anyone who counts themselves as a fan of the series at first, simply because of HOW different it is. To describe the game simply is to discredit the sheer complexity of the endeavor; the game feels like a combination of products, combining equal parts of Guilty Gear, Dynasty Warriors, War/Starcraft/Command and Conquer/other RTS games, and a fairly obscure Genesis game called Herzog Zwei. If you can imagine such a combination, you’re most likely excited about the prospect of such a game and/or confused as to how such a combination might work, which is understandable. The good news is that, for the most part, the end result is a solid game; the bad news is that, for the most part, the game is probably going to spend as much time confounding you as it is entertaining you (at least at first) because of how it does things.

As opposed to the fighting game franchise this comes from, Guilty Gear 2 has a fairly involved, complex story, which you will be seeing a lot of throughout the course of the Campaign Mode. The story revolves around series mainstays Sol Badguy and Ky Kiske, as well as newcomers Sin, Izuna, Dr. Paradigm and Valentine… and a few other characters who pop up here and there. It seems that the various dormant Gears around the world have begun disappearing into thin air, which is, of course, particularly alarming since most of them are weapons of mass destruction and all. As it turns out, this is all part of a much larger problem, namely the fact that Valentine (a young, somewhat emotionless woman) is attacking various locations, trying to gather up whatever Gears haven’t disappeared, for unknown reasons. The other five mentioned characters all seek to oppose her, though they’re not entirely sure what she’s aiming at, except that it involves The Backyard (basically another dimension that the magic the various characters employ seems to come from) and That Man (the person responsible for the Crusades years ago, where Gears and Humans fought one another for dominance). The story isn’t bad, and it’s told fairly well all in all, but those who are not fans of the Guilty Gear franchise are more than likely going to be confused by everything that’s going on at first, as the game spends a lot of time explaining some very complex concepts that don’t really seem to be terribly relevant. This is the biggest problem with the story, in fact: nearly half of the story involves all sorts of philosophical discussions and pseudo-scientific revelations, neither of which particularly matter in context, especially considering they don’t particularly make a whole lot of sense. Ignoring these tangents, the remaining story is solid for what it is, and provides a surprisingly large amount of depth to the characters, so all in all, it works well enough.

Guilty Gear 2, in another interesting stylistic change, is rendered in full 3D, and while the results aren’t anywhere near as impressive as the sprites from the prior games, they’re not bad, either. The character models are generally solid looking and well-animated, as are the various support units that each character can control. The environments are also quite attractive and lively, and are quite nice to look at while you’re tearing into your enemies. The game isn’t taxing the capabilities of the system from a high texture count standpoint, largely due to the amount of enemies on-screen at one time, so it’s good to note that slowdown is also kept to a minimum, and there are some visually impressive battles even so. Aurally, the music is mostly guitar-riff-centric rock music (as one would expect), which is not only rather appropriate, but incredibly awesome to boot, and the sound effects fit well and don’t sound at all out of place. The big winner, though, is the voice acting, as some of the best actors money can buy are here, including Troy Baker (Markus Vaughn from Trauma Center: New Blood and Yuri Lowell from Tales of Vesperia) as Sol Badguy, Liam O’Brien (Akihiko from Persona 3, Herbert West East from Operation Darkness) as Ky Kiske, Dave Wittenberg (The Coffin Man, goddammit, from Baroque, Hitler from Operation Darkness), and, of course, Wendee Lee (who has done a voice in, like, everything ever because she’s awesome) as Valentine, and the game is all the better for it, as the voice acting helps sell the story all that much more, making even the most ridiculous concepts sound, well, interesting.

The gameplay of Guilty Gear 2 is going to be the hardest thing to adjust to for both new players and series fans alike; it’s familiar enough to be easy to adjust to, but different enough to leave players confused, at least at first. You primarily control your character, which will be your choice in every mode but the Campaign (which will choose your character for you) as you maneuver them around the battlefield to fight your opponents and such, which should feel fairly comfortable to anyone whose played a Dynasty Warriors type game before. Your chosen character moves with the left stick and looks around with the right stick, and can jump and attack with the face buttons. The X button is assigned to normal attacks, while the Y button is assigned to heavy, magic-based attacks, most of which will drain your Tension gauge (which can be thought of as your super meter, more or less), which is charged by hitting enemies with normal attacks. Using these attacks together produces various combos, and helps to keep the Tension gauge full by charging it with normal attacks before draining it by using Tension moves. When attacking, you can either choose untargeted or locked-on attacks; untargeted attacks generally hit wide swaths of enemies, but locking onto a specific foe opens up a large amount of additional attacks in your repertoire and deals more damage to enemies in general, thus allowing you a variety of combat tactics for any occasion. Your jump button also doubles as a dodge button when locked on, allowing you to dive out of the way of attacks and attack foes from their blind sides. By default, your characters will block any attacks that come from the front when not attacking, but they cannot block side or back attacks, thus meaning dodging around other enemies will become a necessity in some cases, as you will need to make your own openings in battle in order to damage some enemies.

Your characters also have an inventory at the bottom of the screen which can contain up to six special abilities or items for use; by cycling through these things with the bumpers until you find the skill or item you want, you can press B to activate whatever you have chosen, which can be anything from a potion that heals you or increases your Tension gauge to an attack of some sort to a status boosting effect and beyond, depending on your character and what you’ve acquired. In another interesting addition, clicking in the left stick also allows you to enter into Blast Drive mode, which allows your character to take off like a rocket around the battle zone, which allows you to race to from area to area as needed to influence the tide of battle. Mastering dashing around the battlefield is crucial in most cases, as most areas feature tight hallways and corners, leaving you to drift turn around them with a press of the A button, though if you mess up the turn, you’ll go crashing into the wall and fall out of Blast Drive mode. In other words: learning how to properly turn and steer in Blast Drive mode is crucial to your success, since getting to a battle in time is often the difference between victory and defeat.

Managing your own character is only a small part of the overall experience, however; Guilty Gear 2 is much more of a strategy game than it is an action game, which is where most of the confusion comes in. You and your opponents (in most cases) will each have a “Masterghost”, IE home base, which is your basic base of operations that you control, which dispenses Capture Units for you. Capture Units serve only one real purpose: to capture Ghosts (spires around the map that provide your character mana to do various things) for you so that you can summon up needed things as necessary. Mana allows you to buy items and skills you can use in battle and, more importantly, summon up Servants to do your bidding as needed. Your Servants act as your front-line infantry for assaults, and can generally be thought of as troops in normal RTS titles. Each of your troops falls into one or more categories, including Melee (hand-to-hand combat), Ranged (shooting combat), Armored (high damage and health, low speed), Mobile (high speed and movement, low combat capability) and Magic (uses magical abilities to assist in battle), each with their own strengths and weaknesses, as well as their own enemy types they’re strong and weak to (Melee is good against Mobile, but weak against Ranged and Armored, for instance). Using these troops effectively is a significant part of battle, which can be done either from the field with the D-Pad or from the Organ, which is basically your battle map screen. From the Organ, you can summon new Servants, make contracts with Servants not yet on your side, and direct your servants to specific locations on the map, either to have them defend key points or attack new locations to take over. Playing against the CPU allows you to pause the game while the Organ is up, but against human players you won’t be so lucky, meaning that proper management of the Organ and regular troop management is crucial if you want to win against other players. You can also pick up your Servants and add them to your inventory, allowing you to transport groups of soldiers across the battlefield with Blast Drive in a flash, which can further mean the difference between winning and losing.

Make no mistake: strategy is your biggest ally in Guilty Gear 2. Do you spend your time defending your Masterghost and directing your troops around from the Organ? Do you run your troops around, depositing them where they’re needed at all times instead of focusing on combat? Do you jump into the front lines at all times and leave your troops to their own devices? Whatever decisions you make and whatever strategies you choose to employ will determine how you play the game, and you’ll most likely spend a lot of time fine-tuning your strategies before you find one that works for you. You’ll have plenty of different ways to practice this, thanks to the different play modes available, which is a definite plus. The Campaign Mode allows you twenty missions to play through (well, a few tutorials, a few odd story-specific one-on-one battles, a couple of huge boss fights, and three non-interactive cutscenes), which can all be played on a few different difficulties, allowing you to get the basics of the game down before you jump into multiplayer play. You can also spend some time in Training to further hone your craft, play some Free Missions against the CPU, and play standard Exhibition matches against local opponents to practice or just to amuse yourself. Guilty Gear 2 also offers up online play for up to four players to compete, and offers up the standard Ranked and Player matches we’ve come to expect, across three modes: Singles (one on one strategy matches), Points (up to four players in a free-for-all to earn the most points) or Team (four players compete in two-on-two matches). You can also create and watch Replays of game sessions to pick out good strategic tips and view online Leaderboards to see who the best strategist really is, and with some DLC already popping up and more promised, there’s plenty to keep an interested fan coming back to the game for a while.

So, as we’ve noted, the game is NOT a fighting game, and may well put off fans of Guilty Gear who are expecting such a thing. The game is also rather involved and complex in most cases, and will require a decent amount of involvement from the player in order to learn the intricacies of the game, which may put off the more casual or less strategically inclined players out there. The single biggest flaw of the game, however, is that when playing against a living, breathing human (or three), the game demands a whole lot more from you than your typical Dynasty Warriors or RTS normally does, largely because of the combination of gameplay mechanics the game uses. In a Dynasty Warriors clone, melee combat is the main concern, and all other things come secondary to this; beating the snot out of your opponents is the primary thing the average player will need to be interested in, and directing your troops is generally simple as a result. You won’t need to be concerned about the specifics of what they’re doing at any given time, because unless the opposing player is actually attacking the CPU over you, the CPU can often hold its own while you tear through everything. In an RTS game, you’ll often be able to instantly switch back and forth to different areas of the map at any one time to micro-manage building and combat, and since there is no single unit you are in control of over any other, you often have full control of the battle at all times. In Guilty Gear 2, however, the game basically asks you to make split-second decisions as to what needs to be done at any given point in time, and this may well be asking a lot of some players. What battle should I jump into? When should I leave to go somewhere else? How do I order my troops to a specific location when I’m in the middle of a battle with two other players and escape isn’t an option? How thin SHOULD I spread my troops right now? What are the key locations on this map? You will be spending just as much time fighting as you will thinking, running from one location to the next as you will fighting and distributing troops, and so on, and for many folks, the game is simply going to be beyond them.

The above can be summed up more simply, however, by bringing up the old term “Jack of All Trades”; while the game does a lot of neat stuff, none of it is done especially well, leaving the player feeling like the game is a lot of interesting ideas crammed together that don’t work as well together as they do individually. The combat mechanics are an interesting blend of Guilty Gear moves and 3D action, but outside of the occasional battles in Campaign Mode, you won’t really put them to full use, thanks to the here-there-and-everywhere strategy management you’ll constantly be doing. The strategy mechanics are neat in theory, but you can only have about twenty or so units in play at any given time, meaning most battles are fought on a small scale and aren’t particularly exciting unless two or more Masters are involved at one time. There are only six Masters to choose from, as well, and since Ky and Sin share a lot of the same characteristics in troops and such, the end result is that you don’t really feel a lot of difference between characters after more than a few sessions of play. The Blast Drive concept is also very neat in theory, but since most of your battles are fought in open areas separated by small, restrictive tunnels, you’ll end up spending equal amounts of time plowing into walls before you learn the steering properly, and the fact that you have to learn racing mechanics ON TOP OF learning combat and strategy mechanics is, again, needlessly complex and kind of annoying.

Frankly, Guilty Gear 2: Overture is a fun and solid first attempt at creating an entirely new product, and as a first shot at the attempt, it isn’t bad, though it’s not all it wants to be. The game is certainly fun in a lot of respects, and with so many things to do in the game and so many modes to play, it’ll keep you entertained for a while. The presentation is also pretty solid across the board, which helps to keep things interesting for a while, and even if you stick to the single player modes exclusively, you’ll get your money’s worth from it. It isn’t until you really get into the multiplayer matches that the flaws in the game become more obvious; the game is simply too complex for its own good, requires the player to do entirely too much at one time to be anything other than frantic and maddening, and will most likely turn off a good many people, simply because it requires a great deal more from them than they’re going to want to be bothered investing into the product. It’s not bad so much as it could use some streamlining; a sequel, perhaps with a few more recognizable franchise characters and some more focused design, could certainly be exceptional. Guilty Gear 2: Overture isn’t quite there yet, though, and while it will certainly be fun for a while, and will probably justify the asking price to anyone who does purchase it, it still needs a little tweaking before it can cross over from being a good game into being a great game.

The Scores:
Story: ABOVE AVERAGE
Graphics: GOOD
Sound: CLASSIC
Control/Gameplay: GREAT
Replayability: GOOD
Balance: MEDIOCRE
Originality: GOOD
Addictiveness: ABOVE AVERAGE
Appeal: ABOVE AVERAGE
Miscellaneous: GOOD
Final Score: GOOD GAME.

Short Attention Span Summary:
Guilty Gear 2: Overture is a lot of different things in one package, and while some of these things are more successful and enjoyable than others, all in all, it’s definitely worth checking out simply because of how different it really is. Cramming the best parts of RTS games, Guilty Gear, Dynasty Warriors and Herzog Zwei into one package, Guilty Gear 2 combines strategic micromanagement, solid combat mechanics, the entertainment of hacking apart a cluttered battlefield, and the joy of zipping around from one place to the next (often with troops in tow) to turn the tide of battle into a slick product that’s either incredibly enjoyable or amazingly frustrating. At its best, the game comes together into a solid strategy/action hybrid that combines tactical thinking, awesome battles, and fast-paced action together in a way that’s amazing to behold. These scenarios are often few and far between, however; in most respects, the game often feels too hectic for its own good, and the player is often asked to do more in a short period of time than is entirely possible of them, leaving the experience feeling more frustrating than it really should. Fans of the franchise and fans of action and/or strategy games will certainly have some fun with the game, and the game certainly feels like it could easily be streamlined into a far more enjoyable experience with a bit more effort, but as it stands, Guilty Gear 2: Overture feels like a good, if flawed, first attempt, and as such, may not be for everyone.