Guilty Gear Xrd: Why It Will Work!
It seems with SEGA’s nebulous financial state, they are loosening their grip on certain things they owned the rights to. One was the Frogger theme, which now gloriously blasts through all recent Frogger games (by the way, I recommend Frogger 3D on 3DS). Another is the Guilty Gear license.
Back at the start of this generation, Arc Systems Works had to start fresh with a new 2D fighter called BlazBlue because SEGA/Sammy owned the rights to the Guilty Gear series. Now that the rights are back in their possession they can continue the series! But…there is a bit of a snag. The old 640×480 high-res sprites actually look worse than older 320×240 sprites of other games. With their resources focused on making new sprites and new characters for BlazBlue they have a lot of work ahead of them in completely redoing all their Guilty Gear sprites.
Worse still, we have a new console generation on the horizon! Could the standard resolution for consoles rise again in the near future? How does one combat this issue? The answer, it seems, is to blow our minds.
What at first seems to be a crop of new sprites is revealed to actually be really incredible cel-shading!
“Wow! Why has no one else thought of this!” people keep saying.
Well the truth is, they have. They just suck at it.
Think about it: Street Fighter IV, Tatsunoko vs Capcom, and Marvel vs Capcom 3 just to name a few are all 2.5D fighters with cel-shaded characters. The intent is to make them look like the 2D sprites. However, they don’t because the cel-shading just isn’t good enough and they don’t control the frames as tightly as ArcSys is.
Of course this new method brings with it plenty of other advantages: It’s easier to add new moves, alternate costumes can be made (incase you hate Millia’s stupid hat), and the presentation can be cranked up to 11!
Yeah, see all those neat anime cutscenes in the middle of that trailer? Those aren’t anime cutscenes. I think those are actually real-time 3D.
Now think about the way BlazBlue handles its story with character portraits standing around talking to each other. Imagine if they were 3D models with facial closeups and panning cameras and stuff. I think this is what we might see out of Guilty Gear Xrd.
It makes sense too! Guilty Gear is the ArcSys series with the most “mainstream” (and I use that term loosely) appeal. BlazBlue never caught on with the fighting game community for stupid and arbitrary reasons nor did any of their other fighters (which we’ll touch on in a minute). Now it is true that most “mainstream” gamers won’t really dig into the deep combat of Guilty Gear, but flashy presentation and an appealing story mode can potentially bring in the bucks.
Which brings us to the big question: How will it play?
Let’s be honest here, Street Fighter IV does not play as well as any of the 2D Street Fighters and it isn’t alone. Many 2.5D fighters have stiff controls and awkward jumps. Could the move to 3D models hurt Guilty Gear? I don’t think so.
A part of this is because my hardcore Guilty Gear fanatic friends can identify the exact combos Sol is doing. Unlike many fighting game companies, ArcSys clearly knows their own fighters and what is going on in them. It really seems they want Guilty Gear Xrd to play like Guilty Gear.
The other reason is Battle Fantasia.
Released in arcades on the Taito Type X2, it hit both 360 and PS3 at the start of this generation. Development was headed by Emiko Iwasaki, one of the artists for the Guilty Gear series. There were two main ideas behind the game: To make a fighting game that would appeal to a wider audience (especially women), and to get the company’s feet wet in the world of 3D. The resulting game was a basic but fun 2.5D fighter with a JRPG theme. The game was met with middling reviews and garnered no popularity or fame…
…and yet it redefined the 2.5D fighter.
I am actually not kidding. In an interview, Yoshinori Ono revealed that in an early alpha arcade test of Street Fighter IV the game was met with numerous complaints about the awful, sluggish controls. Then they saw a Battle Fantasia machine and said “Like that! That’s how we need to do this game!”. Yes, without Battle Fantasia, Street Fighter IV would have sucked (harder)!
You see, in a 2D fighter every single frame of animation has to be hand drawn, resulting in a very high level of precision. However, in all previous attempts at 2.5D fighters, developers took advantage of the way 3D models can generate the frames in-between key frames. This results in much smoother animation, but much slower combat, sluggish controls, and sometimes even nebulous frame data. You might think that 3D fighters have responsive controls and smooth animation, but they don’t. When you do that punch-punch-punch with Jack in Virtua Fighter, the animation for that 3-hit combo is premade and your inputs merely tell the animation to continue. Notice the significant delay after the 3-hit combo.
What Arc Systems Works did was control every frame of 3D animation as though it were a 2D sprite. Each frame is pre-posed with no in-betweening. The result is something that plays as tightly as a real 2D fighter.
As for the jumping? I have absolutely no clue why 2.5D fighters frequently have stiff awkward jumps but Battle Fantasia feels about right at least.
In case you can’t tell I am a bit of a fan of Battle Fantasia. Basic though it may be, the game is screamingly nostalgic (seriously, it feels like a Dreamcast game) and I highly recommend it to anyone worried about the fate of Guilty Gear Xrd. The good news is that it was released in America on both 360 and PS3! The bad news is that only the 360 got a boxed release due to Sony of America’s “quality control” policies (namely the “You must dub” one). As such you can find a boxed copy of it used for about $5 at GameStop and new copies are still floating around in Wal-Mart bargain bins on 360. You can download it digitally on 360 and PS3 for $20. I will say the game is not super deep and the netcode is a bit lackluster (but does work okay on a good connection). Also, do not play Coyori (the catgirl) at first as her movelist is microscopic (an uppercut and a rekka) and she may sour you on the game.
Now, having said that there is one other concern with Guilty Gear Xrd: characters. It is quite a bit of work to redo the characters and Guilty Gear follows it’s own story a bit too closely. When we last left our heroes, Justice and Kliff were dead, I-No appears to be dead as well, and Dizzy (one of the most popular character in the franchise) may or may not be alive. While I may be the only hardcore Justice fanatic (who was just celebrating Justice being made legal in the recent revision of Accent Core), Dizzy has a rather huge following and there are dedicated I-No players. Sure they could make the characters show up as unlockable extras, but that is no easy feat as they still have to be completely rebuilt and are they even legal then? The main reason why Kliff and Justice have not been allowed was because they weren’t in the arcade release. What would this mean for I-No? Who else might not return?
Only time will tell; and this is where we get to perhaps the hardest part to swallow: We’re still at least two years away from release.
This is gonna be one excruciating wait.