Review by Matt C.
In 2015, Arc System Works released Guilty Gear Xrd Sign, and fans of the series rejoiced. This was a long-awaited new game in a franchise that had been collecting dust for many years, and it lived up to every expectation: it kept the series’ trademark depth and complexity, while toning down some of the needless technical difficulty that plagued the earlier games. Despite a pared back roster and the absence of some fan favourites, its selection of fighters offered a good mix of old and new, with a wide variety of fighting styles. It even managed to keep the series’ iconic 2D art style in place despite a shift to a 3D engine, thanks to some masterful cel-shading and animation techniques. It was exactly what you could want from a sequel: a game that pushes boundaries and tries new things, without forgetting its roots and the things people play it for in the first place.
A year later, Arc brought us Guilty Gear Xrd Revelator, an update and sequel to SIGN. It continued the story of the previous game, and added new characters, mechanics, and game modes. Revelator was to Sign what Guilty Gear XX Accent Core was to Guilty Gear XX Slash, or Super Street Fighter IV was to Street Fighter IV: a new game in the same sub-series, which doesn’t bring the kind of overhaul that a new numbered title would, but expands on the core mechanics quite dramatically. It added Blitz Attacks (similar to Street Fighter IV’s Focus Attacks), supercharged supers, throw breaks, and an easy control scheme called Stylish Mode, along with new characters and revamps to the game modes available.
Related reading: REV2 is an update to Guilty Gear Xrd Revelator, which came out last year. Here’s Harvard’s review.
Now we’ve got Guilty Gear Xrd REV2, which is a less ambitious update to the Xrd series, but a welcome improvement nonetheless. REV2 is akin to Guilty Gear XX Accent Core+R or Super Street Fighter IV: Arcade Edition: it adds some new characters, a few more chapters to the story, and widespread balance changes to all the existing characters. It’s an expansion to Revelator, and though it’s available both as an add-on or a standalone, it’s priced accordingly.
The main appeal of REV2 is Baiken. She’s certainly one of the most interesting characters in the Guilty Gear franchise, and given how unique the character designs are across the board, that’s quite the achievement. She’s a modern-day samurai on a quest for revenge, making up for her missing arm with a litany of weapons hidden in her kimono and a sword that she effortlessly wields singlehandedly. She’s fierce, brash, and violent, she drinks, smokes, and swears with the best of them, and she carries herself with swagger and machismo. Despite her feminine physique, she completely rejects the “Yamato Nadeshiko” archetype that women in samurai media so often fall into, and wholly embraces a rōnin anti-hero vibe that’s typically the domain of men.
(As an aside, I really wish Anji Mito was in Xrd as well, because he and Baiken go together so well. Just as Baiken rejects feminine stereotypes, Anji rejects masculine ones, and is himself something of a Yamato Nadeshiko character. Baiken and Anji are two of the games only Japanese characters, and together, they’re a potent subversion of tropes that are very common to samurai anime and film.)
In terms of how she plays, Baiken chances a lot since Guilty Gear XX, mostly because her trademark counter attacks work quite differently now. She used to have a handful of guard cancel moves – attacks that she could perform while in blockstun, like Dead Angle Attacks or Street Fighter’s Alpha Counters, but without any Tension cost. This made her very good at interrupting an opponent’s offence and, frankly, a real nuisance to fight against.
In REV2, Baiken counters work very differently. She has a move called Azami that puts her in a counter stance for a few frames, during which time she’ll parry any attacks (like a Blitz Shield, but with no Tension cost). After a successful parry, you can press another button to do the counter attack. She can also go into Azami stance while blocking an attack in order to parry and counter the next strike, but the timing is very strict. If you’re familiar with Street Fighter III’s red parries, guard cancel Azami is basically the same thing.
What all this means is that although Baiken can still use counterattacks to stop a foe’s rush, it’s a lot more tricky and situational. They’re a reward for predicting enemy attacks, not something you can just throw out reactively.
The trade-off to this is a stronger offence. She was always good at controlling space and had the potential for big damage, but she’s now got a lot more tools at her disposal. A new projectile is great for attacking from afar and covering her approach, and she has much better combo potential at mid-range thanks to improvements to her chains. She’s got some really good options against a downed opponent, with an airborne Tatami Gaeshi that can be Yellow Roman Cancelled to force the opponent to eat a mix-up. Baiken’s okizeme game may not be quite as dominant as Millia’s, but she’s still a force to be reckoned with.
The other new character is Answer, a “business ninja” who fights using business cards. I must admit, I didn’t spend a huge amount of time with him, but he seems rather strong. He’s a very offence-focused, with quick movement, good normals, and a big bag of tricks for mix-ups and pressure. He can teleport, and with his Business Ninpo move he can plant business cards in the floor, then use them to attack. He can hang scrolls in the air in a variety of configurations, and then cling to them and attack with a wide range of moves – like Chipp’s wall cling, but with available mid-screen and with a lot more options. He seems like you’d have a to put a lot of work in with him to learn different traps and setups, but in the hands of a good player, he’ll be a real pain in the ass to fight against.
The other additions in REV2 are more modest. Episodes for Baiken, Answer, Jam, Dizzy, Haehyun, and Raven – Episodes being Guilty Gear Xrd’s answer to Arcade Mode; a series of fights with short story snippets tying them together to offer a bit more background for each character. Story Mode itself is the same as in Revelator, but with an additional epilogue chapter to close out this story and lay the groundwork for the next arc. As in Revelator and Sign, Story Mode is a totally non-interactive mode that basically just plays out like a long movie divided into chapters. I know some people won’t like it, but I think it’s a great way to deliver narrative in a genre not really known for great storytelling, and it’s a nice way to unwind when you’ve been doing a lot of fighting.
There are also a raft of balance changes, though if you care about those, you’ll probably have already pored over the patch notes and seen what’s going to happen to your favourite characters. The changes generally seem pretty good – it’s nice to see Zato get toned down a bit, and characters like Slayer and Jam get some more things to work with – but time will be the judge of that, as top players explore the new meta-game.
Online play has changed slightly, in that Lobby Mode – where you control a little chibi avatar in a village, walk around, chat, emote, and challenge other players on little in-game arcade machines – is now a separate mode to Ranked Match and Player Match. I didn’t notice any substantial changes in netcode; I was able to play over the distance of New Zealand to Tokyo with minimal lag, but your mileage will vary depending on your connection speed, distance to the other player, and so on.
Aside from that, REV2 is pretty much the same as Revelator, and that’s a good thing. It’s a deep, complex, stylish game that blows every other fighter out of the water, but made surprisingly accessible through things like the Stylish control scheme and a Combo/Mission modes that serve to teach useful, practical combos and strategies. It’s still got its RPG-like M.O.M mode that lets you level up and customise your character, it’s still got an eccentric but oddly moving story, and it’s still got the sort of kickass soundtrack that only Daisuke Ishiwatari can come up with.
It’s got all that, but it’s also got Baiken, and she alone is reason enough to recommend this to everyone.
– Matt C.
Find me on Twitter: @MC_Odd