GUILTY GEAR X / Sammy / Playstation 2
Daisuke Ishiwatari is a man clearly raised on copious quantities of manga, butt rock and win. Guilty Gear X is the follow-up to his original release Guilty Gear, a fighting game which he both designed and wrote the soundtrack for. Admittedly, it's really just an amped-up re-vamp of the first game with Moar Characters and a little gameplay tweaking, but it executes so well in its areas of specialty that fighting game fans likely won't mind.
The first area of specialty is a tight, fast-paced fighting engine which manages to incorporate big, splashy combos without feeling like a button-mashy SF Alpha or Marvel V.S. sort of game. I dare say it's almost even "technical." With all the swords flying around the obvious first comparison is Samurai Shodown, but really, I've always found it more like Darkstalkers than anything else. You've got a couple of characters that fit a familiar sort of Street Fighter-esque profile, but everyone else has idiosyncratic move sets and does some unexpected things that you have to take time to get used to.
The second area is in detailed character animation and art. While one can certainly be forgiven for being a little tired of Animu, the character designs really are pretty good on the whole and the backgrounds are interesting, and there's real craftsmanship in the animation.
The final area of specialty is in unapologetic butt rock. Most of the games characters and moves are references to some sort of well-known metal or hard rock band. Some of the themes from the first game come back re-worked here and there's a whole lot of new music too.
The one mis-step here is the game's announcer. When I first played this game it was on a less-than-legal copy back in the heyday of the Dreamcast, and the voice-over was so bad I assumed it was a bad disc burn or victim of pirates cutting audio quality to make the game fit on a CD-R or something like that. So I was a little surprised when I fired this PS2 version up for this review and found that it was apparently a design choice! The voice sounds like a muffled, distorted robot and is almost unintelligible. I guess someone thought it was a cool idea, but it really just kind of comes off as annoying.
Well, there's a couple other small mis-steps. One is that the game very much tilts to the "hard" side in terms of AI, and it's really much more tailored to hardcore 2D fighting game fans who want to learn the intricacies of an engine. There's nothing inherently wrong with that, and there's six difficulty settings of which the two easiest make the game pretty manageable for a newcomer ... up until you've won five or six matches and face Sol Badguy. I dunno if this is because he's supposed to be Daisuke's idealized self-insertion or something, but even if you're on the easiest possible level, Sol comes out with ridiculous combos and crazy attacks and often represents a complete impassable stopping point for the player. This would be less of a problem if there was more to do with the game, but Arcade and Survival modes are pretty much all you get here for the solo player. The other is that the obnoxious "Destroy" one-hit-kill moves are still present, though there does seem to be a bit more restriction on using them than there was in the original game, and after over 10 hours of play I've still yet to see the computer even attempt one.
* Gameplay Video