Review: Guilty Gear Xrd -REVELATOR- (Sony Playstation 4)

Guilty Gear Xrd -REVELATOR-
Genre: Fighting
Developer: Arc System Works
Publisher: Aksys
Release Date: 06/07/16

I’ve fallen out of the loop a bit with Guilty Gear; while I’ve kept up with some of the other fighting games developed by Arc System Works over the years, including BlazBlue and Persona 4 Arena, the last Guilty Gear title I’ve played that wasn’t Guilty Gear 2 was one of the earlier XX titles. Because of that, I was actually pretty excited to get back into the series again; while the games often have a certain degree of mechanical similarity from one to the next, Guilty Gear was the first ASW title I cut my teeth on, and it holds a special place in my heart. I’d also seen the visuals for the game through trailers before playing the game, and while the 3D visuals were certainly surprising given how strongly ASW has relied on sprite work over the years, they definitely had a certain surprising charm to them that made the game feel fresh and modern in its own way. On the other hand, ASW fighting games (outside of the Persona 4 Arena series) tend to be high-tier experiences, making them… a bit harder to jump into for newcomers, compared to other games on the market, and jumping back in seemed like a daunting task. Surprisingly, though, this wasn’t the case; while REVELATOR is still a game that tends to be best for more advanced players, there’s more than enough here to make it a game that’s great across the board, and it’s a great entry no matter what your skill level if you’re interested.

On weird worlds and weirder people

As has become a standard for ASW fighting games, there’s a fairly extensive plotline in REVELATOR, though it’s actually divided between an Arcade mode dubbed Episode (where you can see plot elements leading up to the big story of the game) and the actual Story mode itself, which is actually a kinetic visual novel of sorts with no gameplay involved. The story itself, by all indications, picks up from where the story of the prior game, SIGN, left off; emotionally independent Gear Elphelt Valentine has been kidnapped by the Universal Will, who intends to merge her with the reconstituted (but currently inactive) Justice, more or less with the intention of ending the world, and basically everyone else wants to stop this from happening. You’d think that the story would be hard to follow for newcomers, considering that the franchise is several entries deep at this point and is full of so much unique terminology the game comes with its own encyclopedia to reference it all, but surprisingly enough, if you know nothing about the world, you can still follow along with the plot fairly well. The story explains its own technobabble just enough to get you through, and you can stop the plot periodically to research what terms mean if you’re so inclined, so knowing nothing isn’t that bad. Further, the actual plot that’s carrying the game forward is, surprisingly, pretty good on its own merits; even as someone who only recognized about two thirds of the characters, I found myself caring quite a bit about the events in the story by the end, which is no mean feat for a game of this sort. The only concern of note here is that the story works best if you either know absolutely nothing or have been following the series from jump; as someone who knew just enough to follow events but not enough to understand the more involved technobabble, I’d find myself losing the plot at the weirdest places. That’s not even really a problem with the game, per say, but if you’re interested in the plot as a lapsed fan, you might want to spend some time with the encyclopedia beforehand.

Of course, a fighting game is, more often than not, only as good as its roster and modes, and REVELATOR has both of those in spades. The game comes equipped with twenty characters from jump, and offers three additional characters for download, all of which are free for brief periods during their launch period, making for a roster that’s fairly robust all in all. Mode-wise, however, the game is an absolute stunner, as there are an astonishing amount of modes available to players of all types. The game breaks its modes down into three base categories, in Battle (for fighting of all sorts), Story (for all story related elements) and Collection (for acquiring knick-knacks and such), of which each has its own sub-modes. Battle mode allows you access to Online Play, which drops you into a lobby that allows you to play casual Lobby Matches at in-lobby arcade machines or jump into Ranked or Player sub-lobbies where you can simply play as normal. You’re also given access to the Arcade, which gives you Episode play (playing as characters through a small story mode), Versus play (for playing against friends or the AI offline) and MOM (a combat mode with RPG level progression attached). You can also visit the Dojo, which allows you to access the Tutorial (to learn the basics), as well as Combo mode (for learning moves and combos), Mission mode (for learning techniques while performing specific actions) and Training (for simply testing a character). You can also jump into the Story mode, which contains the story itself and GG World, an encyclopedia of game terms, or head over to Collection, which lets you edit your online profile, check game replays, view your Gallery to see unlocked items and purchase them with in-game currency, or even “Go Fishing” to unlock more online avatar custom items. That’s a lot of options, clearly, and whether you’re looking for a single player or multiplayer experience, there’s a lot here to give you exactly what you’re looking for.

Visually, REVELATOR utilizes fully 3D visuals, which can take some getting used to if you’re firmly in the high-res 2D camp, but honestly, they look amazing in action, to the point that they give the majority of higher profile fighters a run for their money. Part of this comes down to the fact that the characters and environments are fluidly animated and really come alive during combat, but honestly, the game comes alive due to its electric and occasionally bizarre art style, and this game is brimming with weird and eclectic visuals that make it sing. Aurally, the game is also a top notch product, starting with an excellent soundtrack that mixes various rock tracks (leaning mostly towards metal) with the odd electric piece, and everything not only works, but works very well indeed. The voice work is also well done, and while the game doesn’t offer an English audio track, the Japanese voice actors turn in a fine performance, of which the majority is subtitled for player convenience. Finally, the game also contains the expected combat effects such a game needs, and they all sound excellent when the game is in action; nothing feels out of place and the composition helps to give the combat the extra punch it needs to feel effective, no matter the mode or matchup.

On combat in its varied and expansive forms

Let’s get this out of the way up front: ASW fighting games tend to be mechanically complex affairs, and Guilty Gear as a series is basically the progenitor of that trend, so if you’re new to the franchise, you should probably know that there’s going to be a bit of involved system talk here. The core mechanics, however, are pretty easy to digest, as REVELATOR is essentially a five button fighter; the face buttons of your controller, by default, are used for Punch, Kick, Slash and Heavy Slash attacks, while RB is mapped to the Dust button, which acts as something of a launcher on its own. The game utilizes a 2D movement plane, meaning that characters move forward and backward in relation to positioning, and holding back blocks incoming attacks as needed. The game also utilizes a sliding scale combo system, meaning that default combos can escalate from Punch to Kick to Slash to Heavy Slash for those who want to learn basic combo structures, and special moves can easily be chained off of these as needed, making elementary combo structures easy enough to learn. The game also offers a Super system, as the Tension Bar will fill up at the bottom of the screen, allowing players to perform Overdrive super moves (though Tension is used for a lot more than that here). Basically, if you’ve played a fighting game before, you’ll have a fundamental idea of how this works when you jump in, and the Tutorial should fill in most of the blanks as you go.

One of the positives of REVELATOR, however, is that it doesn’t expect you to learn everything from jump if you want to have fun. For one thing, the game allows players access to two modes of play, dubbed Technical and Stylish. Technical play works exactly as you’d expect, meaning you’ll be performing all of your actions manually, which is the default method of play. Stylish, however, is a useful mode for newcomers that, in effect, allows them two major concessions. First, the game will automatically block incoming attacks as needed so long as you perform no inputs during the blocking period, effectively allowing for “auto blocking” of attacks and combos. Second, the game allows the player to spam an attack button to instantly generate combo attacks, and while the button pressed plays a big part in how the combo goes (IE starting from Punch will perform a full combo, while starting from Slash will only perform a Slash > Heavy Slash combo), for the most part it’s essentially an easy combo generator. This is a surprisingly effective method of learning the mechanics of the game, as you can watch how combos unfold and experiment with them as needed, and it’s also helpful for new players, as the game will even follow up with aerial combos and Overdrive combo transitions when possible. You can even perform special and Overdrive moves simply if you want to bust them out at will, and even Bursting (which we’ll get into in a second) and more technical options are available to you if you want to experiment. It’s not perfect; Stylish mode won’t guard low automatically, and when using Stylish mode you take more damage than otherwise, to give Technical players a more even playing field. Still, it’s a great way for newbies to learn the basics before transitioning into normal play. Plus, if nothing else, it makes clearing Episode mode with characters you hate a breeze.

You’ll probably need it, though, because Guilty Gear is one of the more complex franchises to master out there, and REVELATOR continues this trend. There’s a lot to take in, but to start, REVELATOR is a very aggressive game; turtle play is very much discouraged, so much so that the game will even punish you for being overly defensive if you do it for too long. That’s not to say that the game hates defensive moves, though; it’s more accurate to say that the game hates simplistic, constant blocking, but it loves it when you utilize its own systems. For example, the game offers standard blocks, but it also offers systems like Instant Block (where you block just before impact, which reduces your guardstun and increases Tension), Faultless Defense (press two buttons while blocking to block all damage, even chip damage, at the cost of Tension and increased recovery and pushback), Blitz Shielding (burn 25% Tension to block an attack and stun the opponent, so long as you block correctly) and more. Keep in mind, this is just the defensive game; offense is just as complicated, featuring elements such as Clashes (attacks connecting with one another, allowing players to cancel out and respond), Roman Cancels (canceling a move into another move at various points), and Instant Kills (does what it says on the can, though missing locks you out of using Tension for the rest of the round), among others. There’s a lot to learn, in other words, and if you want to develop yourself as a player, you’ll probably be spending a lot of time in the training modes of the game to learn and develop.

That said, though, if you don’t want to be a competitive online player, REVELATOR is one of those special kinds of fighting games where you totally don’t have to. Unlike something like Street Fighter V, the game is surprisingly adapted toward offering players of all types something to do, which is honestly really refreshing. Now, if you do want to play online, that’s well supported here; the netcode feels fairly stable on first brush and the game even does you the service of telling you how bad the frame delay is when playing, so if you’re a competitive sort you know what you’re getting into pretty easily. If you’re not big into competitive play, though, you’ve got so much content here to experiment with that it’s still well worth giving the game a look. The training modes are certainly a good place to start if you want to develop your skill, as they’ll teach you the basics and advanced play mechanics needed to win, but even if that’s not your thing, you’re still set. The story mode offers a three to five hour long kinetic visual novel to plow through (so Persona 4 Arena fans will be right at home here), and the game comes with a whole mess of unlockable content that can be bought entirely through the game using in-game currency (or through DLC if you’d rather). Further, you’ve got multiple competitive single player modes to toy with, and MOM in particular is a surprisingly engaging pseud-roleplaying mode that allows you to develop your character as you play, which harkens back to World Tour mode in Street Fighter Alpha 3.

To put it another way, this is the fighting game to pick up if you love fighting games but suck at fighting games, and it’s glorious.

Now, assuming you did play SIGN, if you’re wondering what’s new in REVELATOR, while most of the changes here are mechanical in nature, the most obvious change is that there will eventually be six new characters in the game that weren’t in SIGN. Out of the box, the game comes with three new characters ready to go; Johnny and Jam from the XX series make their return, and the game gets a completely new character in Jack-O, who’s an extremely technical minion-based character. Further, two all-new characters are available as DLC in Raven (who was in Guilty Gear 2, but never in a fighting game proper), who is a solid mid/long range fighter with an odd Excitement meter that enhances his attacks (and fills as he takes hits) and Kum, who (despite his appearance) is a slow but powerful projectile and mid-ranged fighter. We’ll also be seeing Dizzy sooner or later as DLC to round out the cast, making her return after a long time gone, which should be pretty interesting for lapsed fans if nothing else. Beyond that, the Stylish system was overhauled a bit (as we discussed above), and characters now have the ability to perform a Burst Overdrive; by using the Dust button for their cinematic Overdrive, the character burns Tension and their Burst meter to do extra damage, and recharge some Burst if you connect, for big risk/big reward plays. You can also attack out of Blitz Shielding, as well, which allows for blowback on the opponent and some minor Burst recharge if successful. Some of the systems have also seen some overhauling, such as Blitz Shielding and Homing Dashes, but these are the most important changes overall for those who are coming in from SIGN, whether you’re a competitive player or not so.

On long term play and odds and ends

As mentioned above, you can clear the story of REVELATOR in around three to five hours, depending on how much you skip through text, and while there’s no combat to be had here, that’s pretty meaty for a fighting game story to be honest. From there, you’ll probably spend hours upon hours with the game depending on what you want from it; for example, clearing each character Episode will take around ten to twenty minutes (depending on combat settings and skill level), and with twenty three characters that’s a good couple hours right there. Single player fans will probably spend most of their time with MOM, while multiplayer fans will probably find themselves whiling their time away with online play, and that’s not including all of the time you can spend working on the training modes to up your game as needed. The game also offers the fully expected compliment of Trophies, for those who want this thing, and there are plenty to unlock depending on your skill level. Basically, there’s a lot more to do with REVELATOR than you might think, and from a pure time investment perspective, it’s easily worth investing in for fighting game fans of all skill levels.

That said, there are some minor hiccups here and there that, while generally not significant, are worth noting for the discerning consumer. For one thing, online play is kind of odd in how it’s structured in two noticeable ways. The first is in Lobby Mode; while the concept is fun in theory, in practice, it doesn’t seem to offer much. You can sit down at an arcade cabinet and wait for a player, but so far it takes way too long to get into a match doing this thing, and the rest of the mode amounts to little more than a visual lobby. It’s not bad, but it just feels poorly executed, especially since most people just seem to jump into Ranked or Player matches anyway. The second is that, for reasons I’m not entirely sure on, you can use Stylish mode online, which seems… poorly thought out. It’s fine, one supposes, if you’re playing with friends, but it’s almost certainly going to upset less skilled players and you’re still going to get absolutely trucked by skilled players, so I’m not sure who this is intended for, since unskilled players shouldn’t be jumping in with that kind of mode, skilled players will destroy people using it and it’s mostly just going to scare off learning players. Finally, Episode mode is a neat idea in theory, but not all of the characters actually have a story at all (Jam in particular has nothing here), and for a mode that’s otherwise well designed, it’s kind of annoying to pick up a character for eight rounds only to unlock a color and some cash.

That all said, Guilty Gear Xrd: -REVELATOR- is easily the second best fighting game I’ve played so far this year, and it’s far and away an easy game to recommend to basically anyone who has any degree of interest in fighting games, period. There’s a lot to love here in the presentation, starting with the surprisingly engaging storyline regardless of franchise familiarity to the artistically and technically sound visuals and excellently crafted audio. Mechanically the game feels approximately as simple to jump into as it ever has, but offers a wide range of play options so that players of basically any skill level can get the hang of the game and enjoy it on their terms. There’s also a sizable amount of stuff to do with the game, such that both solo and competitive play fans will easily find this game to be a robust one that’s easily worth the asking price. Some of the online mechanics, such as the Lobby mode and allowing Stylish play, aren’t great ideas, Episode mode isn’t quite as robust as it should be, and the game is quite technical to learn for newcomers who want to learn everything they can, but honestly? These aren’t significant concerns for the most part. In a year where the biggest announced launch for fans ended up being a fairly big flop, REVELATOR not only delivers, it delivers big, and if you’re a genre fan of any level, I’d seriously recommend giving it a look.

Short Attention Span Summary:
Look, here’s the short form sum-up for you: Guilty Gear Xrd -REVELATOR- is basically a must-have game if you like fighting games, because no matter what your skill level is, you’ll find hours and hours of stuff to do with it, period. What else do you need to know? The story’s interesting even if you know nothing about it and the game is an artistically interesting experience, both visually and aurally, while also being a technical marvel. The gameplay is simple to pick up the basics of, and the game comes equipped with extensive training modes and simplification options to cater to even the least skilled players, plus the game features an extensive amount of modes and options to play with that will easily give you hours of entertainment. The game can be a bit complex to learn if you want to get to a point where you’re capable of decent play within the mechanics, to be fair, and some of the choices in how online play works, such as Lobby mode and allowing Stylish play in online environments, aren’t the best. You also won’t always find that Episode mode actually gives you storylines for a chosen character, which makes it feel like more work was needed. On the whole, though, these are honestly minor dings in the experience, and for the most part, REVELATOR is easy to recommend if you’re at all interested in fighting games. It’s easy to jump into even if you’re terrible, full of content to have fun with, and honestly an impressive experience that any fan should love more or less from jump.

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