2D fighters may be in short supply with the advent of these new fangled 3D game machines, but when we do get them, it's like striking gold. Capcom's Versus series and SNK's King of Fighters series are staples for fighting game fans. Guilty Gear X's arrival on the Dreamcast, drawn in stunning high resolution, opened our eyes to a third major player. Rising from its humble beginnings as an average fighter on the PSX, the Guilty Gear series has matured into its latest incarnation, Guilty Gear X2, arguable the best 2D fighter on the planet.
All of the gameplay is here for competitive fighting game fans, which I'll get to in a moment, but Sammy hasn't forgotten to add the extras that make a home version worth while. In addition to arcade and versus play, there are a few extra modes. Survival, which is more common in recent games, has an added incentive of unlocking characters the further you progress. M.O.M mode, which is basically another survival mode, is more for bragging rights based on score (medals). A mission mode has been included that contains 50 of the most devilishly wicked tasks to complete. In these missions, all sorts of limitations are imposed on time, moves available, life gauge, tension gauge etc., and the cpu difficulty is usually set at its highest. Try winning in under 40 seconds when your life is draining, you can only do damage with combos over 4-hits, and the cpu has unlimited tension. Finally, a story mode has been added, and it contains illustrations and voice acting that detail events from the GGX2 universe. Each character has their own story with branching paths and multiple endings. Certain requirements must be met during matches in order to view alternate paths, and this greatly enhances single player replay value. The mission and story modes are also viable avenues to opening up EX-mode, gold, and locked characters.
Guilty Gear X2 is already off to a great start with its presentation, 20 initially available characters, and various game modes. Make no bones about it though, this fighting game engine is just as much about substance as it is about style. At the very least, you'll find standard half circle motions, double jumps, chain combos, and two-in-ones, but that's just the surface of this deep and rewarding engine. Overdrive Attacks, which work like super moves, and Instant Kills are back from the previous version, as are many other mechanics like air dashing.
That's not to say that the engine hasn't changed at all from X. A new burst gauge has been added, and it serves a couple of purposes. Once the burst gauge is full, you can use it by pressing the Dust button + any other attack. Outside of being in the middle of an Overdrive Attack, it will bail you out of any offensive onslaught, potentially changing momentum in your favor. If it connects in an offensive manner, it will immediately fill your tension gauge to maximum capacity, and that may be just what you need if your only hope is a desperation Instant Kill.
The array of high level moves and strategies will appeal to any hardcore fighting game fan. Roman Cancels and False Roman Cancels can be used to interrupt the animation of a move in progress. This allows you to link another combo starter onto the end of a normally un-chainable move, which opens up huge combo possibilities. Jump Cancels, Jump Installs, and Instant Air Dashes all allow you to manipulate the rules of the game engine by taking advantage of joystick buffering. These types of moves can really take your opponent by surprise and throw off their timing. Damage even scales based on how much you've defended in the current match, how much health you have left, as well as, how many hits you've put together in the current combo. Check out the training mode sometime. You'll notice if you throw in a multi-hit Overdrive Attack at the end of an 8-hit combo, the damage can be as little as 1 point per hit. If you perform the same Overdrive as a stand alone move it can do upwards of 10 times the damage.
It'll be hard for anyone to argue that this is one hell of a sharp looking game. Everything is hand drawn in glorious high resolution, and it makes Capcom's old models look like a pile of Super Nintendo pixels in comparison. As if to show off this high resolution look, Guilty Gear X2 has thrown in progressive scan support for HDTV owners, and I can tell you first hand it's stunning. The characters, backgrounds, and special effects all work together to make the game look like one big art gallery in motion. Although it's tough to compare because of the fast paced intensity of the game, the animation still isn't of the caliber of a Street Fighter 3 or Garou. Regardless, it's far from slide show and still sports some amazing motion on screen. The graphics are more than just technically sound too. From my point of view, everything is artistically grand from the well placed backdrops to the unique character designs.
The final touch of any well rounded game is a good sound track that shows that a little effort was put into making a complete game. If I take the time to mention music in a game, then you can bet it's a damn good arrangement. The hard driving guitar tunes are a perfect match for the fighting environment. Add to that the fine work with the voices and a first-rate (read: not castrated) announcer, and it wraps up an overall exemplary audio package.
I really can't say much against Guilty Gear X2. It's currently my favorite 2D fighting game, although don't let that fool you into thinking that there isn't room right next to it for Capcom Vs. SNK 2 and others. I just really love everything about it from the wild assortment of characters to the depths of the fighting engine. Mind you, the difficulty is high-high-high. The computer, she can be a cruel mistress, and there's no shame in getting frustrated about it. Luckily these games were made for taking out frustrations on your friends in versus mode. Have fun with this one guys, it's highly recommended.
-- Travis Dwyer