Guilty Gear, a unique-looking 2D-fighting game series that has dominated Japanese arcades and home systems for many years, has a small but dedicated following outside of Japan. We recently imported the latest version for the PlayStation 2, Guilty Gear XX Slash, to get a sneak peek of what the game will look like when it comes out over here later this year. As tends to be the case with Guilty Gear, Slash is merely an update to the previous games in the Guilty Gear X2 series (which includes the original, and then #Reload), returning to the roots the game abandoned in the most-recent Isuka iterations. The result seems to be a game that is very much deserving of the Guilty Gear name, different only in as much as the gameplay has been tweaked, balanced, and adjusted from the previous games in the series.
The available modes in the Japanese version of the game consist of arcade, M.O.M., two-player versus the CPU or a human opponent, training, survival, and mission. Training mode is quite rich in this game and will help people unfamiliar with Guilty Gear to gain their bearings easily. The fundamental gameplay mechanics are very similar to those of 2D fighters like Street Fighter, with only a few twists (Guilty Gear's rampant originality comes in the form of its characters and style). Of the five offensive buttons, the four face buttons correspond to punch, kick, slash, and heavy slash, and the R1 button lets you perform a dust maneuver. Most of the basic combat consists of rotating the directional stick (or pad) quarter/half-circles forward/back and pressing a corresponding button, with the occasional dust move spattered in to toss the enemy up into the air. Simply mastering these moves, however, will not make Guilty Gear an easy game for most players, as you'll have to take advantage of the game's various gauges and specialty moves to get a win out of the sometimes excruciatingly difficult artificial intelligence.
The main gauge to keep an eye on is the tension gauge at the bottom of the screen, which fills up depending entirely on your aggressiveness in game. Filling up the tension gauge will let you pull off tricky and devastating moves such as the Roman Cancel, which lets you execute several different combos quickly in succession. All of the fundamentals in this game seem to be intact from the previous Guilty Gears, so adept players can immediately begin playing through the game's main modes--arcade, survival, M.O.M., and mission--attempting to unlock versions of the playable characters from previous games, other characters, and new items. Though we didn't get the opportunity to check out all of what the unlockables have to offer, we know that you will be able to unlock and play as Kliff and Justice, two characters from the original Guilty Gear who are not open from the start. The only brand-new character in this game is a variation on the protagonist, Sol Badguy, named Holy Order Sol. You'll also be able to play as A.B.A., the tiny girl with the giant key who made her first appearance in Guilty Gear Isuka.
Guilty Gear's strength is undoubtedly the unique characters and their sometimes-bizarre move-sets, all of which have been translated well into this game. There have been some balance changes among them, so those who have played a lot of #Reload might have to change up their tactics a bit, but from what we've seen so far, the new balancing works in the game's favor. New players should definitely check out some of the more-interesting personalities, such as the warped doctor, Faust, whose "In Your Face!" move lets the character disappear briefly before reemerging from a door that slams into the opponent's face, or the yo-yo toting schoolgirl Bridget, who is actually a boy that was raised as a female. There's no shortage of personality in this game, and you'll be able to experience it through the brief character interactions at the beginning of battles, even though the story mode is conspicuously absent from this game.
Guilty Gear's personality is still abundant in Slash, from the constant reference and innuendo to heavy metal in-character names, move names, and the soundtrack to the sleek animations and appearance. Admittedly, while the graphics were once quite new and interesting-looking, this many versions of the game later, they are starting to lose their freshness. Regardless, it's certainly a unique-looking game, which, when combined with the difficult-to-master game mechanics, makes it quite interesting to play through. We look forward to spending more time with the import and bringing information on the US release as it's made available in the upcoming weeks.