Guilty Gear 2: Overture Hands-On

Fighting fans, prepare yourselves for a Guilty Gear that's more Command and Conquer than Street Fighter.


The word "overture" is generally used in the context of classical music, but it can also mean an introductory gesture toward a new friendship. The latter definition seems more appropriate for Guilty Gear 2: Overture because it's taken the well-trod 2D fighting formula used by every game in the series and tossed it almost entirely to the side. In its place stands an unexpected amalgam of genres that will feel very different to fans who have come to expect a traditional fighting game out of anything bearing the "Guilty Gear" name.

The story is often told through mid-battle dialogue. If you fancy yourself an otaku, you can keep it in the original Japanese.
The story is often told through mid-battle dialogue. If you fancy yourself an otaku, you can keep it in the original Japanese.

This combination of genres can be described as third-person action mixed with a generous dosage of real-time strategy elements. Certain levels throughout the campaign offer twists on the gameplay, but most of what you're doing in Overture is participating in a game of territories where you attempt to gain enough capture points on a map to defeat the enemy's main base. Rather than looking down on the map like an omnipotent general floating in the sky, you assume control of an individual character that dashes around the map like a regular action game character. You can choose from six of these characters altogether, with such familiar faces as Sol Badguy and Ky Kiske serving to anchor a roster of mostly new talent. These new characters should still feel familiar to those who've spent time with the Guilty Gear series--each sports an extravagant, stylish look firmly rooted in Guilty Gear's trademark gothic fashion. The familiar Guilty Gear aesthetic also remains present in the form of heavy metal music blasting in at random intervals.

The basic combat--though it's been reduced to two attack buttons and a handful of techniques--also plays out in a highly stylized look reminiscent of earlier games (and one that should frighten the pants off of anyone with light-sensitivity issues). You dash around the level by clicking the left joystick, which allows you to cover a surprising amount of terrain. When you encounter an enemy, you use X for a basic attack, Y for an advanced attack, and the right trigger to lock on to an opponent. Some characters are better suited for diving into melees, but with others, you'll want to hang back and use ranged attacks. Depending on the difficulty you've chosen for a battle, the simplified attack controls can feel like a Dynasty Warriors hack-and-slash game or one that requires much more strategic cunning. This is because higher difficulty levels will force you to use advanced techniques, such as air dashes, cancels, and superpowered moves like blast drives or overdrive attacks. However, the real focus of Overture lies in its new troop-management system.

Depending on how many capture points you control, you'll earn a varying amount of mana. This magical currency lets you buy AI-controlled servants. They can act as bodyguards for you, or they can be sent off on their own to battle enemy servants and go after more points on the map. The winner is determined in one of two ways: You can either be the one holding the most points on the map when the timer runs out, or you can exhaust your opponent's main-base life gauge. This is accomplished by defeating the enemy himself--every time he gets knocked out, he'll respawn at his main base but at the cost of a chunk of his main base's overall health meter. You can also go the direct route by chipping away at the main base itself, though that tends to be an exercise in futility until you've managed to control most of the terrain.

Controlling troops is done through the game's organ menu, which is accessed by hitting left on the D pad. This is where you'll need to go to purchase your servants. In our preview build, we were able to choose from eight troops. Each of these troops has varying attributes and its own unique specialty to bring to the battle. For example, the Queen is light and mobile, Engulfer can seal the enemy's special attacks, and the humorously named Blockhead acts as a support troop to enhance the power of other servants. Once you spawn some servants, you can guide them to any of the capture points on the map. From the organ menu, you can also purchase special skills for your character, as well as your servants, such as armor and weapon enhancements, in addition to such items as landmines, dummy servants, or even a banana peel to make your enemy slip when dashing through the level. These items can also be found in the treasure chests scattered around each level.

Multiplayer supports four players, with teams of two or free-for-all.
Multiplayer supports four players, with teams of two or free-for-all.

Another use for the organ menu is the ability to see a map of the entire level. Rather than a simple overlay of the environment, the map can be rotated in any direction like a 3D model. This is where you'll assess your current situation when running all over the place won't cut it. You can see where the enemy master is, as well as all the troops that you've previously encountered. The ones you haven't seen yet are left off the map in traditional fog-of-war fashion. One of the new features added to the North American version of the game that wasn't included when Overture was released in Japan is the ability to choose whether or not you'd like time to stand still while looking at the organ menu. However, this option only exists in single-player. In multiplayer matches, there's never a break in the action, save for the few seconds between rounds.

This action-meets-RTS style of gameplay is how the majority of Overture plays out, but certain boss battles will add a twist to the formula. One of the boss battles we saw was pure brawling, doing away with servants altogether as you try to avoid getting blasted by a monster the size of a skyscraper. Another one depicted the battle in a top-down view where you had to dodge streams of fire coming your way--exactly like an old-school vertical shooter. The campaign, which picks up where the original Guilty Gear left off (rather than follow the side stories established by the X and XX games), throws a variety of mission objectives your way to help break the monotony of a match-after-match formula you might expect from a strategy game.

From our experience with Overture, we definitely get the sense that this isn't a game meant for casual players. The heads-up display is rather elaborate, the menu is packed with information, and it can often be difficult to tell what exactly is going on in front of you. Thankfully, the game will give you a good deal of scalability in terms of the difficulty. All sorts of options can be tweaked, from the CPU attack strength to your respawn penalty. There's also a tutorial to help you learn how to play. This type of customization seems to be a point of focus for the North American release. Guilty Gear 2: Overture is scheduled for release this September.

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