Guilty Gear is a series that I’m pretty familiar with, but I wouldn’t necessarily call myself a Guilty Gear player despite the tournament scene that I am heavily involved in. As an Arc System Works title, it has been part of our greater Los Angeles area-based event’s tournament lineup for quite some time. Since myself and a couple others are the organizers for those events, I make an explicit effort to give all of the games a try and, thus, that has included Guilty Gear. It’s sort of ironic: although I learned how to play fighting games through BlazBlue, I had actually rented and tried Guilty Gear X a large number of years prior, when I was still a kid.
That said, it’s important to remember that although Guilty Gear XX Accent Core Plus R is a “new game”, it is also the latest in a long line of updates for the game Guilty Gear XX – a game that was released over 10 years ago. That sometimes shows in different respects of the game, but is mostly easy to overlook. It’s still prudent to keep that in mind if you’re coming to the game from one of Arc System Works’ newer titles, such as BlazBlue or Persona 4 Arena, because certain aspects of the game may not reflect the same advancements in game design.
Guilty Gear is a fast-paced, technically deep fighting game series that many hail as the hallmark “Air Dasher” that started the whole sub-genre. The series, started in 1998 and primarily designed by Daisuke Ishiwatari, has greatly evolved over the years and has reached a sort of balance and complexity that many other fighting games fail to attain. +R is the latest update, introducing a balance patch and some other system changes or improvements. For the most part, the game is very much the same as Accent Core Plus, which is why the +R update is available for free to PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 owners of the game. However, I am reviewing the Vita version, which is currently the only portable version of the game with the +R update.
For those unfamiliar with the series as a whole, Guilty Gear can be best described as a 5-button fighting game: Punch, Kick, Slash, Heavy Slash, and Dust. Similar to other fighters, for the most part these buttons are in order from fastest to slowest. In addition to your standard movesets (normal, specials, and supers), the game makes heavy use of meter management with several mechanics. Among these meter-related mechanics are: force break specials, which use 25% of your meter for a more powerful or otherwise improved attack; faultless defense, a mechanic which allows you to block an attack that is normally air-unblockable and also provides you with extra pushback while blocking; Roman Cancels, which allow you to use 50% of your meter to cancel nearly any move on hit or block; False Roman Cancels, which do the same thing as Roman Cancel for only 25% meter and can be done on whiff (however, these have pretty strict timing requirements); Dead Angles, which blow back the opponent when you’re locked in blockstun for 50%; and Slashbacks, which are sort of like a red parry in 3rd Strike, allowing you to recover from an opponent’s move extremely quickly at the cost of only a very slight amount of meter and very precise timing.
In addition to these meter-based mechanics, there are also other game mechanics, such as the guard bar, bursts, and instant kills. While the last one is quite obvious, the first and second are less so. The guard bar is a mechanic that causes you to take more damage the longer you’ve been blocking. This is an attempt to prevent players from turtling, because when they are inevitably hit, they will take far more damage than if they had gotten out of pressure via a reversal or other means. The burst mechanic can be used to get out of pressure, similar to the Dead Angle, but can be used whenever the player likes so long as their burst meter, which fills up over time, is full. It can also be used offensively in that, if it hits an opponent while at neutral or while on offense, it will fill up the user’s meter 100%.
Aside from these mechanics, there are also other complex intricacies, but these are only truly important to those who decide to master the game. On the whole, the game can be played at as deep as a level as the player wants to. If you’re looking for a good fighting game to pick up and mash in with friend, Guilty Gear can serve to do that just fine. Unlike BlazBlue or Marvel, where the combos are long and complex, Guilty Gear is relatively easy to find a character you can pick up and play decently in a short amount of time — particularly, Sol Badguy and Ky Kiske come to mind. Unfortunately, the game lacks any form of “Challenge Mode” to teach you basic combos for the character, so the player will have to either do some quick internet research or figure it out for themselves. While some may prefer not to be spoon-fed, it definitely reduces the accessibility for one not schooled in fighting game fundamentals.
Although the game lacks a challenge mode, there are a variety of other modes for the player to enjoy. Aside from the standard Arcade mode, there’s M.O.M. mode, Network play mode, VS modes for playing a CPU, Team VS mode also against a CPU, Training mode, Survival Mode, Mission mode, Story mode, Gallery, and Sound menu. Each of these modes have merit, but I will say that I found some to be far more enjoyable than others.
I won’t cover Arcade mode in too much detail here, because it’s your standard run-of-the mill fighting game arcade mode. The only notable thing is the final boss which requires you to play a schmup in a fighting game. Yes, you heard that right. The final boss has an attack called “megalomania”, which you basically don’t want to block. If you block the move, it does enormous amounts of chip damage; however, if you use faultless defense to stop the chip damage, it will eat all of your meter and then do an enormous amount of chip damage anyhow. Even better: it will also just instantly kill you if eat a direct hit. You basically need to dance around the move to the best of your abilities, only blocking the move if absolutely necessary due to error. Other than that, the CPU AI does exhibit type your typical input-reading cheapness at times, but that applies to all modes, not just Arcade. I can’t really penalize them for programming the AI this way, since that’s basically how all fighting game AIs are built.
The next mode in the list is M.O.M. mode. Although it is not stated anywhere in the game that I could find, it stands for Medal of Millionaire. The objective of the mode is to fight the entire cast while collecting medals that pour out of the opponents when you hit them, increasing your score. The less you get hit and the better you do, the higher value the medals that you can collect. Once you reach a certain level of points, you can start collecting health-refilling items. This is important to do if you want to beat the mode, as you only get one try: once you die, you lose. The game also keeps track of your high score, so if you want to keep track of progress across several attempts, it is meant to let you do that. It’s basically a survival mode with a catch, although, that’s not to be confused with the actual Survival mode that exists in the game.
Network mode is an ad-hoc multiplayer mode. Since the game is a Vita game, there’s no VS 2P option like there is in the home console iterations, so the only option is network play. Thankfully, I had a chance to try out with mode with one of the guys that show up to our local tournaments. The ad-hoc mode didn’t seem any more or less lag-filled than what you’d see on internet-based netplay, but, admittedly, we did see some funky hitbox/hurtbox issues related to network lag (instances where our characters didn’t touch, but the game still acted as though we had traded blows.); however, that’s to be expected of any network-based gameplay. Overall, the Network mode is pretty solid and is a fun way to play the game with a friend while on the go, without having to drag a whole console around with you.
The two versus modes are just for free-playing against the CPU AI. There’s a decent number of difficulty settings, configurable in the Options menu, to allow you to change how difficult these matches will be. The teams version is a nice touch, as most fighting games don’t include an option for this. Although I’m a one-character type of player, I can see some definite value in this for someone who likes to play a handful of different characters and wants to try them out against the AI.
In my opinion, Training mode is honestly the most valuable thing in this version of the game. If you play your fighting games on pad and like to practice a lot, this is hands-down worth the purchase. I actually prefer to play on stick now, but even despite that I found myself spending hours in training mode practicing the timing on my False Roman Cancels, as well as trying out new things with the changes made to Ky. Being able to take out your Vita and try a new idea out in training mode literally anywhere, combined with the superior standby life of the Vita, is a fantastic idea and one that I wish more fighting games would pursue. The greatest part about this is that you can keep your Vita in standby mode for literally days at a time, come up with an idea, and turn it back on to immediately start back up where you previously left off; this is a major boon to releasing the game on the Vita as opposed to anything else. To top this off, Arc System Works has always had a good number of training mode options. Although the options are not as numerous as those in BlazBlue or Persona 4 Arena, they are still far and away better than that of most fighting games. This is a serious strong point for the title, because without a solid training mode, it’s very difficult for players to improve. Thankfully, here Guilty Gear delivers.
The next mode is one of my favorites: Survival mode. The mode is just as it sounds, requiring you to play through 999 “levels” without dying. These are not levels in the traditional sense, as much as they are a measure of rank. The better you do, the more the game increases the level. Every 20 levels (every 10 once you reach the 900s), your match is interrupted by a “daredevil” battle, where a more powerful opponent appears to challenge you. These consist of EX Black and Gold versions of all of the characters, as well as some otherwise powered-up versions, but in order to unlock these versions as playable, you are required to defeat them in these modes. Additionally, every win against one of these “daredevils” earns you a chance to increase your stats or pick a new special ability. Put bluntly, it’s basically Abyss mode from BlazBlue, but if the player wishes to play through the Classic Survival mode which included no upgrades, they can press the circle button while holding L1 on the menu to revert to this mode. This mode is my favorite because the upgrades allow you to do some ridiculous things you normally wouldn’t be able to do in the game. Increasing speed can sometimes allow for combos to work that normally wouldn’t, and increasing damage can result in some really, really strong combos. Survival mode, if played well, essentially lets you go ham on the AI and, as a result, is incredibly fun.
Mission mode consists of 25 missions that you can challenge, each with their own requirements. The game grades your completion of these and also tracks what characters you used to complete them. The difficulties range from relatively easy to very difficult, so the completionist will have their work cut out for them if they wish to finish this mode.
Story mode is also just as it sounds, telling the lore of the game series through the perspective of each character. There are bits of story, with each piece inevitably followed by a fight. I was somewhat disappointed in this mode, because I’ve been spoiled by newer Arc System Works games. Unlike BlazBlue or Persona 4 Arena which basically have full visual novels as their story modes, with battles against the AI thrown for storyline reasons, the story mode in Guilty Gear is very sparse and dry. In all honesty, I enjoyed reading the story more on Wikipedia than I did in playing the game’s story mode. I’m really hoping that this changes more when Guilty Gear Xrd rolls around, but I find it very difficult to enjoy AC+R‘s story mode with as little substance as it has. If you are, for some ungodly reason, playing this fighting game for its story, you’re probably going to be disappointed. Then again, you’ve probably been disappointed a lot if you’ve been playing fighting games for story. Jokes aside, the Guilty Gear universe is actually really interesting, but they seem to have a terrible time communicating it through the games themselves. I seem to recall this being an issue even way back with Guilty Gear X.
The last two menu items of notability are the gallery and sound options. Gallery allows you to view a variety of images unlocked by beating or playing through various modes, including Story, Survival, and Arcade. The sound menu allows you to go through all of the game’s sound bites and background music, which, by the way, are amazing. Given that the entire series is heavily themed around rock music and bands, one would expect the series to have an amazing soundtrack. It delivers on this premise well, with a large swath of excellent pieces composed by Daisuke Ishiwatari and co. Even today, this continues to be a large draw for the players that enjoy the series.
All-in-all, I found the most fun in this game to be in Training mode, Survival mode, and Network mode. I’ve already gone into Training mode in detail, but Survival mode remains to be incredibly fun because of the customizability in upgrades and the different approaches you can take with them. I really just can’t say enough good things about this mode; you have to try it to truly understand. Network mode, despite the occasional latency, is pretty responsive and playing with friends still proves to be more fun that playing alone. Plus, it’s always a good laugh when that occasional latency causes some strange things to happen. In addition to those, I absolutely love the soundtrack, which only adds to the experience, and the character designs are really stylish and really cool. The only real downsides to this game are the lackluster Story mode and the complexity, which might off-putting to some. On the whole, it’s definitely worth a try for anyone who enjoys fighting games.
Short Attention Span Summary
Guilty Gear XX Accent Core Plus R’s rock-themed, anime look gives a truly stylish and fun feel to the game. Compounded with an excellent soundtrack and refined gameplay, Guilty Gear XX Accent Core Plus R still stands as an exemplary fighting game. The gameplay is remarkably balanced and remains fast-paced and fun at all skill levels. Although the more complex mechanics keep the game from being easily accessible to newcomers, it doesn’t have an insurmountable learning curve and is still an excellent choice for a casual fighting game to play with friends. The story mode is less-than-stellar, but the game manages to make up for this with an excellent selection of other modes, such as Arcade, Survival, M.O.M., and various VS modes. Finally, the ability to try something out in Training mode anywhere on-the-go is well worth the purchase to any existing fan of the series.