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First Impressions: Guilty Gear Xrd Revelator

by Todd Ciolek,
Next week brings along E3, but this week is all about Guilty Gear. And it reminds me of one proud accomplishment: I'm quoted in the Wikipedia page for my favorite Guilty Gear character, Millia Rage.

Granted, the quotes make me sound like a nutcase. I was largely joking when I compared Millia to Disney's Rapunzel or Platinum's Bayonetta, but without context I come across as that weird kid on the playground who swears that the Ninja Turtles are a rip-off of the Street Frogs.

Even so, I'm glad to be part of whatever small attention history will show to a Wikipedia entry about a fighting-game character who forms her blonde tresses into roses and knives and rudely gesturing hands. I even saved it just in case someone edits it out.

I'm also quoted in the article about Rainbow Mika from Street Fighter, which goes into detail about the controversies caused by a video-game woman's rear end. I saved this as well, just in case I need something to send out with this year's Christmas letter.

NEWS

SQUARE ENIX FINDS NEW AND EXCITING WAY TO SELL FINAL FANTASY XII
Square Enix swept Final Fantasy XII aside faster than usual. Sure, it had plenty of marketing, several reissues, and the largely unnecessary sequel that Square Enix delivers to most numbered Final Fantasies. But Square Enix didn't remember the game much once it ran that course, perhaps due to the troubled, lengthy development period that saw director Yasumi Matsuno leave both the project and the company.

Square Enix now returns to Final Fantasy XII as many expected: with an HD remaster for the PlayStation 4. It'll make everything look and sound prettier, with shorter load times, faster gameplay, and both English and Japanese tracks. Standard stuff for an upgrade.

The important thing is that Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age doesn't use the North American version of the game as a foundation, but rather the subsequent Japan-only Final Fantasy XII: International Zodiac Job System release. That version enhances the original game's License Board system and allows characters to gain skills through twelve different job classes, like a pared-down version of the Job Systems from Final Fantasy III, V, Tactics, and, oh heck, a lot of Final Fantasies. It's a much-improved method of character progression, and this version was never seen in English. Well, not officially, anyway. You know what I mean.

And I'm glad we'll have the chance to revisit Final Fantasy XII, to roam ornate sepulchers and air fortresses with rebel princess Ashe, impeccably cool sky-pirate Balthier, and…yes, even dopey street kid Vaan. There's nothing wrong with him.

Yes, you can clearly see the moment in Final Fantasy XII that Matsuno walked out of the room, but what remains is an excellent RPG with a breezy combat system and a fascinatingly rendered world. And at last we'll have its best incarnation in an official translation.

SUPER ROBOT WARS V HAS DRAGONS, BRAVES
Half the fun of a new Super Robot Wars title lies in seeing just which previously unincluded anime series make the cut. Sure, the Super Robot Wars games usually work Gundam and Mazinger and Evangelion into the crossover, but many installments summon at least one slightly obscure entry to march around their strategic grids and unleash signature anime attacks. Bandai and Banpresto now prepare Super Robot Wars V (for “Voyage,” apparently) for the PlayStation 4, and it presents at least one unexpected sight.

The most unlikely choice? The Brave Express Might Gaine, a 1993 series about a rich teenager and his team of crimefighting robots (no, not The Bots Master). It's part of the larger Brave collection of Sunrise mecha shows, which has contributed surprisingly few machines to the Super Robot Wars titles. Only Gaogaigar, arguably the most famous of the line, had its signature robot appear in the series, and some even speculated that Tomy held back other mecha from the Super Robot Wars crossover. Well, Might Gaine made it in, and that means fans of Brave Police J-Decker, Brave Exkaiser, or any other Brave mecha show can renew their hopes.

Other new Super Robot Wars inclusions are more familiar. The recent Cross Ange contributes its dragons and the mecha that slay them, and Shin Mazinger Zero joins the other contributing Mazinger series. Space Battleship Yamato 2199 becomes the rare series to appear in Super Robot Wars even though it doesn't feature robots heavily. The starfighters and the Yamato cruiser itself will appear on the map at the player's command.

As for returning series, Super Robot Wars V has plenty of those. It brings aboard several Crossbone Gundam mecha, which haven't been seen here in a good while. Also in line: Gundam Z, Gundam ZZ, Char's Counterattack, Hathaway's Flash, SEED Destiny, Gundam 00: A Wakening of the Trailblazer, and Gundam UC. In the non-Gundam ranks, we find Getter Robo: Armageddon, Mazinger Edition Z: The Impact!, Zambot 3, Daitarn 3, all three currently existing Evangelion reboot movies, Martian Successor Nadesico: The Motion Picture – Prince of Darkness, and Fullmetal Panic's first and second series, plus the original novel. Yes, I know the Nadesico movie isn't half as good as the TV series, but the robots are neat

Super Robot Wars V also looks substantially better this time around. The machines still navigate battlefields like a traditional strategy-RPG, but their attacks call up animated cutscenes full of elaborately recreated moves, whether it's slice-kicking a dragon in half or bashing an enemy robot with a giant flail.

Bandai also revealed that this latest Super Robot Wars installment will be available in English—in its Asian version, that is. Still, it's easy enough to import a copy and run it on the PlayStation 4.

CAT GIRL WITHOUT SALAD GOES LEGIT
It happened again: an April Fools' Day joke became a real game. Wayforward presented Cat Girl Without Salad as a seasonal gag back in 2013, cramming a single screenshot with every modern Japanese game cliché: Dance Dance Revolution arrows, neon bullets, bright puzzle blocks, a robot squid, and, to tie it all together, a pink-haired warrior catgirl.

Well, Cat Girl Without Salad is real, and it's part of the Humble Bundle subscription service. The final game isn't as nuts as the joke screenshot—instead it divides each element of parody into a different level—but it's a complete game. WayForward even gave it a storyline and had Cristina Vee voice heroine Kebako.

This isn't the first time an April Fools' gag became reality. Irem, known for putting extra effort into the tradition, foisted Dokidoki Suikoden on audiences back in 2001. Ten years later, Irem released the actual game, a high-school dating sim based loosely on the same classic tale that inspired Konami's Suikoden. Sadly, Irem left the game industry in 2011, but at least one developer is willing to make amusing April Fools' pranks and turn them real, like a king legitimizing his bastard children.

FIRST IMPRESSIONS: GUILTY GEAR XRD: REVELATOR

Guilty Gear knows no restraint. Where other games tread in fear of alienating players with a limited tolerance of anime-styled confusion, Guilty Gear and its creator Daisuke Ishiwatari plunge headfirst into the deepest stretch, drag out the most bizarre specimens, and slap them into a 2-D fighting game polished to nuclear sheen.

The recent Guilty Gear Xrd –SIGN- marked a comeback for the series, ramping up a sluggish overarching storyline and reintroducing most of the major characters in a 3-D engine so detailed it resembles a fully playable hand-drawn cartoon. Xrd –SIGN- was, of course, the first game in Guilty Gear's revival, and no successful fighting game goes without a sequel. Revelator isn't lazy in that regard as it returns to the PlayStation 3 and 4. It reuses Xrd's bedrock, but it's rife with new characters, new storylines, and a new way of approaching Guilty Gear's daunting inner machinery.

Introductions to Guilty Gear often run long. It unfolds in the 22nd century as human civilization recovers from a vicious war against rebellious artificial lifeforms called Gears—a war that often threatens to break out anew. This results in a bizarre panoply of characters twisted into fighting-game archetypes. For the protagonists, we have churlish bounty hunter Sol Badguy and patient ordained knight Ky Kiske—who's now a king, married to Gear experiment Dizzy, and father to the already-grown Sin Kiske. And they're among the more ordinary choices on the character-screen. You'll see assassin Millia Rage and her prehensile hair, scalpel-toting Faust and his Wile E. Coyote attacks, pirate-girl May and her massive anchor, caustic Bedman and his ambulatory battle-recliner, and the two Valentine sisters: Elphelt wears a wedding dress and carries pheromone-laced firearms, while Ramlethal psychically totes two enormous swords and two bulbous bat familiars.

Revelator builds on this. It brings back the chipper chef Kuradoberi Jam, swordsman pirate Johnny, and, as a yet-unseen downloadable bonus, the now-married Dizzy. The new faces are suitably odd. Jack-O', a bipolar woman in a white suit and Halloween regalia, summons exploding ghosts while swinging a ball-and-chain with each kick. Raven, a knife fighter with a spike through his brain, joins the cast after several games of ominous background appearances. Kum Haehyun appears ordinary at first, being a large beared man in robes and chains, but that's actually an outer shell worn by a young woman.

Guilty Gear's fighting system easily intimidates. It's welcome to newcomers at first, with four basic attack buttons that let players explore each character's distinct play style; Sol and Ky follow motions similar to Street Fighter mainstays, but there are few equivalents for Kuradoberi Jam's powered-up attacks, Jack-O's ghost army, or Venom's flurries of energized billiard balls. Yet every match offers many variables: a Tension Gauge that builds with attacks, a whirling shield activated with two buttons, Dust Attacks that launch an opponent into the air, Roman Cancels that reduce a move's recovery time, Purple Romans that protect against payback after missed attacks, Blue Psychs that interrupt combos, and the Gold Psych that fills the Tension Gauge.

Revelator has a solution for those who don't want to learn the intricacies. Similar to the easy entrances of Persona 4 Arena, Stylish Mode lets the player achieve decent combo attacks simply by mashing buttons, even unfurling Overdrive moves if the mashing is fierce enough. In exchange, Stylish Mode players do less damage and have tougher times with certain characters: simpler, forceful combatants fit Stylish play, but anything more complex than Jack-O' and her ghosts better suits the game's regular play.

Guilty Gear Xrd –SIGN- had perhaps the most expansive story mode yet seen in a fighting game. A standard fighter offers a plotline with a few character conversations and an ending. Guilty Gear Xrd unspooled hours of narrative without so much as a fight interrupting. And a lot of it was dreadfully protracted conversations, either among established Guilty Gear characters or far less interesting politicians. Guilty Gear has a marvelous lineup of goofballs, but Xrd –SIGN- did its best to drain the life from them with tedious exchanges. Its story now seems much more palatable when it's condensed into a five-minute recap at the start of Revelator.

Unfortunately, Revelator plays the same card. It introduces a threat from impressively coiffed papal leader St. Maximus, who has Elphelt captive and plans on remaking the world in the fashion of many a crazed zealot. And it drags through needless dialogue and poor pacing. King Leo and the American President talk in portentous tones about press conferences and Sol Badguy's true nature, St. Maximus takes forever to tell Ky something that could be summed up in two lines, and half of the characters are scheming and planning and world-building without actually doing anything. Guilty Gear blatantly wants to be an animated series in its new outings. If that's true, it's frequently a boring one.

Guilty Gear's characters save it from complete desolation. They're still an amusing pack of weirdoes and stereotypes, from the cocksure vampire Slayer to the addict-turned-ninja-turned-president Chipp Zanuff. For series fans, it's fun to watch Venom befriend joke character Robo-Ky, to watch Elphelt stare in confusion as St. Maximus explains her scheme in egg-cooking metaphors, to watch Sin Kiske treat Sol as his family's adopted Cool Uncle, or to watch Sol make a philosophical point to Ramlethal by punching down the wall in front of them. When the story mode remembers just how silly it is and lets the characters puncture the sagging bulk of gravitas and technobabble, it's genuinely amusing.

Those who've followed Guilty Gear's mess of storylines will walk away satisfied as well: a confrontation between Sol and the recurring antagonist known as That Man lays out things hinted at for years, and the climax brings every major player and arc to an overflowing maelstrom of fun clichés. Too bad you'll have to sit through what feels like half an hour of Zappa and his coworker Randy rattling off scientific gibberish that would baffle even Star Trek: The Next Generation script doctors.

It's gorgeous at times. Guilty Gear's modern look is 3-D sharpened and shaded so well that it's as fluid and detailed as hand-drawn animation, and the character models are impressive--even the imperiled street urchin who inspires Ramlethal's cliched sudden jolt of humanity. Still, it's not as consistent as traditional animation, and it slips sometimes in the story mode. Characters' mouths occasionally look poorly synced, Sol has too-wide shoulders, and Kuradoberi Jam is particularly awkward in the story mode. Her face is weirdly doll-like and her body has jutting Barbie boobs, as though she was rushed for her limited screen time. At least she looks better during actual fights.

Revelator carries on the original Xrd's use of a hard-rock score co-written by series director/writer/designer/producer Daisuke Ishiwatari. It's raucously enjoyable in regular gameplay, though some of the songs seem misplaced during the story mode. Yet Revelator does any with one of Xrd's features. There's no dub this time around, so anyone who liked Slayer's Scottish accent is out of luck here.

Despite its attempts at simplifying gameplay, I doubt that Guilty Gear Xrd: Revelator will break the series into vastly new territory. Devoted fighting-game players will find the new game consistent with earlier Guilty Gears that they either embraced or ignored, and those who think the genre unapproachable will see an aimless story with gameplay that's confusing even when they win.

But it's for the best that Guilty Gear doesn't change so much. Its pileup of heavy metal futurism and slickly nonsensical anime combat elevated the original game eighteen years ago, and it started a blaze that has yet to burn itself out. That's the Guilty Gear we want: a riotous swarm of ridiculous attacks and likeable heroes, where even the post-battle taunting goes overboard. Revelator keeps that fire going.

NEXT WEEK'S RELEASES

Few companies scheduled releases with E3 just around the corner, so you won't see much beyond some Steam offerings with titles like Zaccaria Pinball – Star's Phoenix Table. Things will return to normal later this month, as we see Grand Kingdom, Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE, and maybe even the fascinating cryptid known as Mighty No. 9. Just kidding, Mighty. I'm sure you'll make it.


Todd Ciolek occasionally updates his website, and you can follow him on Twitter if you want.


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