Guilty Gear X2 #Reload
PlayStation 2 (Sammy Studios 2003, Europe: Zoo Digital Publishing 2004)
The big G-S-G-S-G
General opinion: Possibly the best fighting game ever
Story: Quite interesting for a fighting game
Sound: Rocks you
Gameplay: Fast, fun, and just plain cool
Guilty Gear X2 (XX in Japan, and often referred to by this title in the West as well) is the third game in the Guilty Gear series of excellent 2D fighting games. #Reload (read 'sharp reload') is a revised version that improved balance, added a new character and other features. A few more revisions have been released since, some with quite drastic changes, but I haven't had a chance to try them as of yet.
No game would be really great if it wasn't fun to play. However, the first thing you notice about Guilty Gear is its audiovisual style. The anime style graphics are very well drawn and animated, and reasonably high resolution too for a 2D fighting game. Many games in this genre, even well into the new millennium, have been sequels in long running series that recycle sprites from earlier games without improving their resolution. Compared to most of its contemporaries, Guilty Gear looks very impressive. The character designs are very original, and very cool. The style is a kind of gothic, futuristic fantasy, with plenty of humour as well. And then there's the hard rock soundtrack that, well, rocks. In fact, the whole game is littered with rock music references, in names of characters, moves and so forth. I think Guilty Gear is partly to blame for my current enthusiasm for Queen, it being the game's creator, Daisuke Ishiwatari's, as well as the game's main character's favourite band.
The Guilty Gear series is set in a future world where technology has been banned in favour of 'magic'. This, however, led to the creation of biological, humanoid weapons known as Gears, which, unsurprisingly, rebelled against humanity. The games take place some time after the Gears were beaten, and deal with the threat of new uprisings lead by surviving Commander Gears. X2 takes place soon after the previous title's events, and instead of focusing on one big event deals with each characters personal story. The game is aptly subtitled The Midnight Carnival, as the events take place during a single night during which many of the characters bump into each other, each with their own agenda. And there is a new, mysterious character about, named I-No, who seems to be stirring up trouble wherever she goes.
The game has a very interesting story mode, with a fair amount of dialogue for a fighting game. Each character's stories have several possible endings depending on how you perform in fights. But that's not all the game has to offer. In fact, this game has one of the best selections of different modes I've seen in a fighting game. In addition to the story mode there is a regular arcade mode, two player versus mode, a mission mode, in which you have to beat your opponent under certain conditions, a training mode, of course, and not one, but two different types of survival mode: the 'Medal of Millionaire' mode, in which you have to collect medals to increase your score, and the 'Survival' mode, in which you gain levels from attacks and every so many levels face a boss character. Together with the large selection of very different characters, there's plenty of variety here to keep you occupied.
Coming to actual gameplay then, the basics are pretty much the same as in any 2D fighting game. You have five attack buttons to use: punch, kick, slash, heavy slash and 'dust', which launches your opponent into the air. Each character has a selection of special moves executed with a particular stick movement and button press combination. As in most games of this genre, there is a super bar, called the 'Tension Gauge' in this case, which is depleted when using super moves (or 'Overdrive Attacks'). The Tension Gauge is used for other special techniques as well, such as 'Faultless Defence' and the famous 'Roman Cancel', which allows you to cancel the animation of any move and proceed with another attack. Gameplay is also quite mobile, as all characters can, for example, double jump. There's also a 'Psych Burst' attack, with it's own gauge, and another series hallmark, the Instant Kill attack, which, well, instantly kills the opponent. Its use is, luckily, more limited than in the original Guilty Gear, and thus less cheap and annoying. If you fail the attack, you lose the Tension Gauge for the rest of the round, so you need to think twice before using it.
With its audiovisual quality, a large selection of cool and original characters, a story that's quite interesting for a fighting game, and plenty of gameplay depth and advanced techniques to master, it's really hard to actually find anything to complain about in this game. Perhaps the one thing that bugs a relative fighting game newbie like me is the difficulty level. Set on the easiest difficulty single versus CPU matches are a piece of cake, and it's pretty easy to reach at least one ending for each character's story mode. The arcade mode boss, and some of the bosses in story mode, however, are really tough.
Even so, this was the game that got me, as a complete newcomer to the genre, hooked on 2D fighting games. With the variety of modes even newbies should be able to find something to do, and the tougher modes are always something to aspire to. Naturally playing with a friend will only increase the fun. And for the very best feeling you'd want a quality arcade joystick, like the two player X-Arcade panel. (No, they're not paying me to say that.)
Obviously this is not a game for everyone, but if you like over-the-top, supernatural anime, fast paced action and rock music, this is pretty much a must game. There are many great fighting games out there, and I don't want to disregard any of them. After all, variety is the spice of life. Even so I might go as far as to say that Guilty Gear X2 is the best of the best. To me it is the definition of what a good fighting game should be.
Ben B. Bainton, 2 July 2008