Guilty Gear Xrd Review

She’s A Killer Queen…

It began with a declaration of war. Ramlethal, a mysterious young woman from another dimension, proclaimed that all who were unworthy would be destroyed. Genocide isn’t a new concept in the Guilty Gear universe – it’s only been a year since the showdown in Overture – but there’s good reason to take her seriously. She backed up her boast by summoning The Cradle, a magical structure the size of a mountain. Within seconds, an entire city full of people was wiped off the face of the planet. The Cradle vanished as quickly as it appeared, with the unspoken threat of a future attack. It’s up to Sol Badguy and Ky Kiske, the two most powerful and iconic fighters in the franchise, to join forces and save what remains of human civilization.
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It’s not the most ideal partnership, of course. As any Guilty Gear veteran knows, the rivalry between Sol and Ky is the stuff of legend. As a direct sequel, Xrd examines how they and the returning cast are dealing with the fallout of the previous game. Ky has matured into a competent king, though political realities and responsibilities have forced him to rethink his morality. Sol is still a gruff and bitter bounty hunter, though he’s kept his word and raised Ky’s son as his own. Sin doesn’t have his father’s brilliant mind, but he certainly has his idealism. May is similarly positive, but vague hints at her backstory (and foreshadowing of events in the next game) imply that all is not well with her and the Jellyfish Pirates. Faust is still crazy, though he’s embarked on a long, wacky road to redemption. The Assassin’s Guild is still operating under Venom’s leadership, and he’s even managed to end the longstanding feud between himself and Millia. More importantly, Zato – long dead and possessed since XX – has been magically resurrected. His surprise reappearance is a herald of something far more sinister.

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Not everyone is back, unfortunately. The Guilty Gear series is known for its bizarre and unique designs, but some of the biggest fan favorites didn’t make the cut. Baiken is arguably the most missed; her incredible swordplay was among the best in any fighting game. The same can be said for Johnny, who gets nothing but a few scenes in Story Mode. Dizzy gets a similar treatment, though she’s out of action for plot purposes. The newcomers have enough personality to distract you from such shortcomings, though. Ramlethal pretends to lack emotion, but she enjoys summoning giant swords and viciously slashing you to pieces. Elphelt is far more cheerful and ditzy, but she’s a bride that takes the term “shotgun wedding” literally; she tosses grenades instead of garters, and pumps any runaway spouses with lead. Bedman looks like a harmless coma patient in a silly-looking hospital bed…until he starts summoning spiky wheels of death with his mind. Sin isn’t as terrifying, though his long-range spear combos are powerful. He’s balanced by a stamina gimmick akin to the Monster Hunter games (he has to eat steak to prevent exhaustion), but he’s lethal in the right hands. That goes double for Leo Whitefang, the exclusive DLC character. Imagine a hulking man/lion hybrid who dual-wields greatswords, can change stances to attack you backwards, and whose every word is dripping with deliciously hammy voice acting. Yes, Leo is hilarious, awesome, and a perfect fit for the game’s setting.

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Speaking of which, Xrd’s story is surprisingly easy to get into. Guilty Gear’s lore is notoriously convoluted, but this game alleviates much of the problem. While the new Story Mode has the underlying assumption that you know what happened in Overture, it occasionally retouches some of the major points – such the importance of Justice and That Man – to keep new players from getting lost. If you’ve endured the stories of Persona 4: Arena or any of the BlazBlue games, don’t worry; Arc System Works forgoes its usually sprawling narrative in favor of focused storytelling. It takes only a few hours to finish, with plenty of cameos and no repeated scenes. As usual, the majority of it is told through voiced dialogue. Instead of simply plastering the characters’ avatars on the screen, however, it uses drawn scenes. They aren’t fully animated – there’s a lot of standing and talking – but it gives players something interesting to look at. Considering the costs for such a production, having a relatively brief story makes sense. If you miss anything, there’s an entire in-game library to keep you informed.

However, you’ll probably skip over all of that and dive right into Arcade Mode. If you’ve played any of the XX games, it’s like returning to a childhood home: familiar and nostalgic. It utilizes most of same move setups as before; there’s the usual array of punches, kicks, slashes, and heavy slashes that create a wide variety of combos. Every character comes with their unique special attacks, like Sol’s iconic Dragon Install or Venom’s billiard-style ranged tactics. That’s on top of the guard crushing, air dashing, Overdrives, Psych Bursts, Faultless Defense, Instant Kills, and the other returning features. At first glance, it’s easy to assume that Xrd is a hyper-aggressive button mash-fest. Blindly running into battle, however, will get you slaughtered. While not as intensive as BlazBlue’s commands, the inputs in this game require a good sense of timing and attention to frame animation. Unlike the Persona 4 fighting games, Arc System Works didn’t implement any kind of auto-combo control scheme. If you take the time to learn the fundamentals, you’ll be surprised at how far they carry you.

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For more experienced players, there are several new advanced mechanics to master. Guilty Gear’s Roman Canceling system is back again, but it’s been expanded into three types. They still allow you to cancel attacks into other moves, but their effects are more situational. RCs depend on things like opponents’ hitstun status, timing with animation frames, using projectiles, character momentum, etc. It’s technically demanding, but mastering it pays off in spades. Elphelt, for example, has some ridiculously good unblockable setups with her grenades. The classic Dust Attack has been modified as well. The traditional homing jump version lets you launch foes skyward and follow it up with mid-air combos. The homing dash, however, forces your opponent into the wall and leaves them wide open for cornering tactics. For more defensive players, the newly-implemented Blitz Shield lets you repel oncoming attacks while sacrificing a quarter of the energy otherwise saved for Overdrive moves. It doesn’t seem like much in the midst of all the offensive capabilities, but using it well can completely turn a fight on its head. So can Danger Time, which randomly triggers whenever attacks clash. It basically boosts your attack power, countering, and canceling capabilities for ten seconds. Unlike the other features, this one feels tacked on; the randomness completely throws off the match’s pace and doesn’t fit well with high-end competitive gameplay. If Danger Time had to be included, it would’ve made more sense to make it a limited optional command, like Instant Kill Mode. It detracts from what is an otherwise solid and engaging experience.

Regardless, there’s a lot to learn. If you’re feeling intimidated, there’s a robust Tutorial Mode that covers every aspect of the game. It’s even structured as a series of lessons taught by Sol to Sin, which is amusing in itself. There’s also a Challenge Mode that focuses on increasingly demanding character-specific combos. However, the Mission Mode is more practical. It assumes that you already know the basics, and focuses on situational tactics instead. How do you block attacks while dashing? How do you perform air-to-air combos? How do you combo into an Instant Kill? You need to know if you’re playing competitively. Having a feature that focuses on advanced tactics is immensely useful, and it’s something that more fighting games should include. It could never replace Practice Mode, of course. It lets you customize everything from the health and special bars to computer competency and blocking techniques. The recording function is as useful as ever, but it’s the Input Delay – essentially a lag simulator – that’s the most important. When the crux of your strategy depends on how well you can handle the animation frames, mastering the inputs is a must.
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Speaking of lag, the online multiplayer isn’t quite up to par yet. By no means is it unplayable, but it’s inconsistent. The majority of the matches played thus far have been incredibly slick and responsive – as expected for an Arc System Works title – and making the transition from offline has been easy. However, a few of the fights have slowed to a crawl or randomly disconnected. It’ll likely warrant another patch in the near future, but it’s questionable right now. Ranked matches are few and far between, though there are dozens of player matches going on at any given hour. The lobby system takes the next logical step from BlazBlue: Chrono Phantasma’s design. The rooms are separated by continental regions, and then further divided by geographic location. Each place on the map has 32 rooms, which can accommodate up to 64 players each. Not surprisingly, most of the rooms are completely empty. If you find a busy location, you can set up lobbies with certain skill level requirements, connection speeds, voice chat, and even differentiate between casual and serious matches. Inside, you have the choice of pairing off with someone for a quick match, switching opponents, or waiting on the sidelines and spectating someone else’s fight. Despite the lack of a YouTube uploading feature for replays, there are a lot of options packed into such a simple design.

If you want something not so competitive, the offline M.O.M. Mode will keep you busy. It’s basically a huge, customizable survival mode. You begin at the center of a massive map of panels, and must fight across other panels to progress. The more you win, the more cash you’ll earn towards stat boosters, items, and equipment. For example, my Slayer can’t move quickly, but he hits like a truck and his health bar is three layers thick. You can spend time building up resistances to status ailments, reduce chip damage, etc. You’re not the only one with upgrades, either; at higher levels, you’ll run into enemies with increasingly broken movesets. You think Axl is bad at long range? Try dealing with a version of him that doesn’t flinch and can summon May’s whale. Only patient and masochistic completionists need apply. It’s worth the effort, though; everything you do in any of the modes will net you bonus points that go towards unlocking stuff in the gallery. It’s a little sparse compared to BlazBlue’s offerings, but it’s definitely a case of quality over quantity. Character avatars, cutscenes, voice acting, music…It’s all there, practically begging to be unlocked.

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You’ll want every last bit of it, too. In an unusual move, the designers chose to use Unreal Engine 3 for Xrd’s graphics. Rather than attempting to make traditional hand-drawn character sprites, they decided to go with 3D cel-shading. It works beautifully with Guilty Gear’s anime-influenced style; just look at the way Ky’s hair moves when his ponytail becomes undone, or the way Ramlethal’s cloak flaps in the breeze, or how Slayer seems to slide across the screen in one fluid motion. Sol’s detailed Dragon Install animation – and the epic music track that activates with it – is the stuff other 2D fighters could only dream of achieving. Not to mention all of the fully-animated and voiced Instant Kills. The backgrounds are detailed as well. May’s airship drifts above the clouds before diving low enough to skim the ocean, and the bridge in the Japan colony gives a good sense of depth and perspective. There accompanying soundtrack is, as usual for Guilty Gear, a stellar blend of rock and metal. Tracks like “Storyteller” and “Holy Order III” steal the show with their awesome instrumentals, and “Lily” sounds like a long-lost Queen song. Considering who designed the game, there’s nothing more fitting.
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It’s been a long time. After so many years, it’s great to have Guilty Gear retake center stage of the 2D fighting genre. Arc System Works has learned from their experiences with BlazBlue and Persona games, and it shows. It’s a reminder of what makes these games great: a small but unique cast of quirky and awesome characters, highly technical gameplay, and a style second to none. It’s not the easiest game to get into, but the streamlined story and in-depth tutorials are enough to keep newcomers hooked. The drastic changes to the old combat mechanics are interesting, though not everything is perfect. The online multiplayer still needs some reworking, though most of the matches work flawlessly. This game sets a new standard for the inevitable future titles. Judging by what Xrd has accomplished, Guilty Gear is back and here to stay.

*Originally posted here.

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900 Miles: A Week On Hawaii’s Big Island

Hey, folks. I’m baaaaack.

*Crickets chirping*

…Ahem. If you recall, I recently left for a week-long trip to the Big Island of Hawaii. As with all of my travels, I focused on exploration and seeing new things. This was my first time on the Big Island, so there was a lot of ground to cover. And while I’m going cover it all via writing and photography (with a new DSLR!) soon, I thought I’d outline my epic adventure using a list format from this week’s writing challenge. To give you an idea of the scale and length of the journey (totaling nearly 900 miles, to the amazement/horror of the rental car people) here’s a map of the Big Island:

Map_of_Big_Island_of_Hawaii_Detailed

Here’s a list in chronological order of where I went. See if you can chart my routes:

Friday, 11/28/2014:

  • Kailua-Kona, Hawaii. (The location of my hotel and the starting and end points of all my daily trips until the last day).

Saturday, 11/29/2014:

Sunday, 11/30/2014

Monday, 12/01/2014

Tuesday, 12/02/2014

Wednesday, 12/03/2014

Thursday, 12/04/2014

Friday, 12/05/2014

Beaches, harbors, volcanos, lava tubes, rainforests, towns, nature trails, waterfalls, gardens, farms, tide pools…I may have overdone it. Then again, I’m already compiling a list of all things I’ll do the next time I go!

BRB, Going To Hawaii…Again!

Hey, folks. Happy Thanksgiving! Things are going to be a little quieter on the blog this week, because I’m heading out to Hawaii in just a bit. If you recall, I went to Maui back in May. This time, I’ll be headed to the Big Island itself. I expect to have lots of adventures, and to take tons of awesome photos! If you want to stay in touch, my Twitter will still be working. Have great, safe holiday. Take care of yourselves and those you care about. I’ll be back soon!

Dreamforce 2014

Hey, folks. If you’re in the tech industry, you’ve probably heard of the annual Dreamforce expo. For that week, San Francisco’s Financial District is flooded with business owners and enthusiasts seeking the latest advancements in technology. I’m neither of those; when the expo happened last year, I noticed everyone wearing little blue lanyards and merely wanted to get one for myself. I followed the trail back to the Moscone Center, politely asked about the event, and managed to get inside despite knowing absolutely nothing going in. It was an eye-opening experience. I got a look at some of the more technical aspects of businesses, and managed to make myself look like I actually belonged there.

This year, I signed up well in advance. The regular passes for the keynote speeches cost over a thousand dollars, but anyone could sign up for a free pass to the showroom floor. I couldn’t go on Monday due to weekly errands and scheduling. Nor could I go on Tuesday, as that was reserved for paying attendees. I finally made it on Wednesday, though getting the pass was a bit of a hassle. According to the sign-in schedule, attendees had to go all the way to the Hilton near Union Square. It was hardly a problem – I regularly hike around the city – but it was more time consuming than expected. I later learned that I could’ve gone straight to the desks at the Moscone Center. It’s okay, I got to see the inside of a famous hotel and had a little extra morning exercise. Checking in was no trouble at all; Salesforce made it as easy as typing in an email address and showing proper ID. The people running those desks were…tired. I’ve had my tours in the trenches of retail services, so I know how that goes all too well. Dealing with thousands of people will drag anyone down quickly. Still, a smile and a little courtesy would’ve been nice. The gentleman who gave me the lanyard didn’t even bother including the extra slip of paper that had event information. When I asked for one of the fancy Dreamforce backpacks I saw everyone carrying, I was coldly informed they were for paying attendees only.

Well then. My trusty North Face pack is better anyway.

As I made my way back down to Moscone, I was struck by how crowded the streets were. I mean, that part of San Francisco is always crowded. But this? It was like every square inch of sidewalk was covered with bodies, so much that actually staying on the sidewalk wasn’t always an option.  I’m always surprised by how many people are willing to jaywalk through oncoming traffic just to get a few extra seconds ahead. Never mind the self-endangerment and all potential the accidents. A little common sense goes a long way. A lot of credit should be given to the folks handling the mess of pedestrian and vehicle traffic on those 4th Street intersections. At Moscone Center proper, security was even more on the ball. Take more than a few steps onsite without a pass, and they’d be on you in a heartbeat. I saw at least two or three people being escorted out of the green concert area, as well as a confused pedestrian getting into an argument with an officer. Considering the high-profile guests at these events – including Hillary Clinton as a speaker – it wasn’t surprising. Come to think of it, I wonder what their procedure was for dealing with contraband; everyone was wearing backpacks carrying who-knows-what, so something being snuck in would’ve been a possibility. I happened to be hauling my three-foot umbrella, but only one attendee called me out on its resemblance to a sword.

Shortly after getting inside the building, I found a table serving free salad containers and lemon-flavored soft drinks. I was struck as how they were just handing these out. If you’ve ever been to the Financial District, you’d know its homeless population is huge. Poverty is one of San Francisco’s most prominent issues. It’s almost bizarre to see the two opposite ends of the wealth spectrum shoved into such close proximity. I recently saw a man wearing nothing but a blanket standing amongst a small crowd of businessmen. Most corners, subway entrances, and major storefronts have at least one person with a sign and cup. The security detail must have swept through the surrounding blocks and kicked all the beggars out of the area. Yet at the event, you could get a nice lunch for free, so long as you showed up with a pass. As I guiltily ate my lettuce and beef strips, I decided to give my next free meal in the city to a homeless person. I actually did so the other day, but that’s another story entirely.

After crossing the concert area – someone onstage was belting out Michael Jackson covers – I ducked into Moscone West.The booths hadn’t changed much since last year. Seemingly endless rows of desks and tables, each boasting a different business brand, piles of cheap pamphlets, free swag, and representatives practically shouting their sales pitches over the roar of the crowd and music. If you’ve read about my shyness and introversion, you’d know that this crazy, chaotic setting is the exact opposite of what I enjoy. For a couple of seconds, I actually considered bailing. After some deep breaths, I slowly, methodically checked out each booth for anything interesting. Most of the representatives were far too busy to notice me at first, so I took the opportunity to read pamphlets and nab free goodies while waiting. When they finally got to me, I put on my most confident, yes-I-really-do-belong-here attitude and let them do the talking. The entire time, I felt like an imposter sneaking into a high-security fortress. I’m not a techie by any means, but I’ve got more than enough experience with operations and procedures to understand what was being sold. Most involved client communication and data management, though there were some interesting things being done with robotics and gyroscopes. I politely nodded along with their sales pitches, asked a few questions, and gave them my contact info. Rinse and repeat a few dozen times, and I toured the whole building in one day.

Some high (and low)-lights include:

-Tracking down Vidyard. Every time I tweeted something about the expo, these guys would immediately message me back. So, I made a point of actually finding them:

-The Coca Cola booth had special bottles made for the convention, but they weren’t for sale:

-The new Tesla car model on display. I couldn’t get a good picture due to the huge crowd around it, but the interior is sleek, and the dashboard interface looked amazing.

-Free books. Just like last year, attendees could get their hands on Salesforce’s manuals for the programming and development of their products. It took over half an hour to get through the line, but getting this kind of information is valuable. Who knows, maybe I’ll start developing an app…

The Oculus Rift. Yes, they had a demo of the virtual reality system ready for use. It was…unimpressive. Wearing those huge, clunky goggles was uncomfortable, especially since I had to take off my glasses to use it. It was supposed to simulate the interior of a car, but the textures were far from realistic, and the touch-based interactivity was inconsistent at best. Opening the virtual car door involved not a smooth, natural motion, but lots awkward flailing. Hopefully the next build will be better.

-T-shirts. One section of the second floor was devoted to a series of t-shirt printing stations. People could sign in, choose what color and design they wanted, have the artist press the design by hand, and send it through a drying machine. I think I impressed the gentleman handling my shirt; rather than making him do all the work, I handled the pressing myself. I ended up choosing a purple shirt, which was the least of three evils. It was either that or a garish light blue or bright orange. I’ll get a picture posted on here once I’ve ironed out the wrinkles.

-The lei. The third floor had a distinct Hawaiian theme to it. Not sure why it was chosen, but it worked decently. Lots of bright colors, a photo stand with fake waves, and decorated surfboards. They were also offering a chance to win a free trip to Hawaii. I went to Maui earlier this year, so of course I couldn’t turn it down. Entering the contest involved using Salesforce’s new info displays to run a mock Hawaiian-themed business. It was ridiculously easy to figure out (seriously, how hard is it to read a bar graph or pie chart?), and I finished the challenge in seconds. What caught my eye, however, were the leis decorating the stand. I put on my sweetest and most polite face and asked a representative for one, and was turned down…so I waited until another rep passed by and asked again.

Let me tell you, wearing a Hawaiian lei on BART is one heck of a conversation starter. Most guys wouldn’t be caught dead wearing something like that, but I worked it with style. I strode confidently out of Dreamforce 2014 with a beautiful wreath of flowers around my neck, several new potential business contacts, a backpack full of books…and a killer backache from hauling around so much stuff. But it was worth it. Here’s hoping next year will be even better.

The MindSponge Kickstarter

Hey, folks. Don’t know if you’ve noticed, but I love learning about weird facts about all kinds of subjects. So when MindSponge was brought to my attention, it really piqued my interest. Donovan looks into questions that most people don’t think about. I didn’t know why tennis balls are fuzzy until I watched his first video. Or how LEGOs can be applied to advanced mathematics, for that matter. Though the channel doesn’t have many entries at the moment – it was just started a month ago – there are plans to have short fun-fact videos every Friday, and longer videos on Wednesdays. Donovan already has 140 questions in the works, but community feedback would be much appreciated.

Here’s the thing, though. Asking people weird questions might sound easy, but translating it into a web series certainly isn’t. Especially when you’re doing it all on your own. I’m not much of a filmmaker, but I do know that production costs can get ridiculously high. Filming on location, transportation, finding and conducting interviews with experts, hours of editing…there’s a lot that goes into making quality videos. There’s only so much you can do alone before the logistics catch up with you. That’s why Donovan has started the MindSponge Kickstarter. Getting some better equipment and hiring a crew is vital in getting the series further developed. The project will continue either way, but having extra support would be immensely useful for the production. So if you’re interested, give the channel and the Kickstarter a look. You might learn something new.

Stay curious.

BRB, Going to Hawaii

Hey, folks. Don’t be surprised if I’m quieter than usual for the next week or so. I just learned that I’ve been arranged to fly out to Maui early on Sunday for an impromptu Mother’s Day trip. I’ve never been there before, so I’d be happy for an suggestions of what to see and do. I’ll be sure to take tons of pictures while I’m out there! In the meantime, I’ve got to start packing…

Summertime, Coming Soon

Hey, folks. Today’s Daily Prompt is all about summer. As in, what you’re looking forward to about the upcoming summer months. I’m more of an autumn type, but I won’t pass up the chance to enjoy the heat. Especially this year; for the first time in my adult life, I might still be unemployed this summer. I’m not hoping I’ll end up like that, of course. I recently applied for a community manager position at a major website. There’s a good chance I’ll be hired. If that happens, then I’ll be carrying around my laptop a lot in the foreseeable future. If I don’t, then I’ll enter UC Berkeley’s open-enrollment technical writing program and further develop a practical skill set. I could get the pursuit of my M.A. going, but that’s a whole other mountain of problems. I’ll also be delving deeper into the No Excuse List and doing independent studies while looking for another position.

…Doesn’t sound very fun, huh?

I’ve also been invited on a trip to Rome tentatively scheduled sometime in May. The itinerary is still up in the air – it might even be postponed until October – but I’ll take full advantage of the rail system to see more of Europe. The last time I was in that part of the world, I managed to visit Spain, Morocco, and Gibraltar in a single week. Let’s see if I can do better this time around! I’ll also be equipped with a better camera; before, my old camera malfunctioned on the first day, and I had to resort to my iPod. I’ll be sure to take tons of awesome photos for you guys!

That’s a best-case scenario, of course. If I’m stuck here in the Bay Area, I’m going to make the most of it. I spent a considerable amount of 2013 exploring San Francisco on foot, and I’d love to do it a second time. Those long, sunny afternoons wandering off of Market Street, climbing Lombard Street, and walking through Chinatown all the way Fisherman’s Wharf were some of my most cherished moments. I only stopped exploring the city because of winter’s onset; now that the days are getting longer again, I have more hours of sunlight to use. I live in a bad neighborhood of a terrible city, so traveling to San Francisco is like a brief, but lovely escape. I can’t wait to do it again.