Game: Guilty Gear XX ^Core
System: PlayStation 2 DVD-ROM, NAOMI Arcade Board GD-ROM
The Guilty Gear X/XX series from Arc System Works has been placed alongside the legendary Street Fighter II in terms of illogically-named incremental upgrades and Guilty Gear XX ^Core does little to break the trend. As the third revision of Guilty Gear XX, ^Core (pronounced ‘accent core’) only features a few new special moves and new mechanics that do not go far to significantly differentiate the core (get it?) gameplay from its predecessors. Its balance changes and interface overhaul will breathe some fresh air into the franchise for those who still adhere to its hi-resolution, anime-inspired madness, but the stale taste of an old game will be all the average player feels toward this necessarily conventional reprisal.
Guilty Gear XX ^Core is essentially a retooled version of Guilty Gear XX Slash, itself an update of Guilty Gear XX #Reload which originally expanded on Guilty Gear XX. These 2d fighting games stood out from the pack with hi-resolution VGA (640x480) graphics, fast-tempo combat all wrapped in bizarre heavy metal-themed, anime styled universe. By Slash, the series’ roster had expanded to more than 25 unique characters with their own specials, ‘tension’ based super moves, and even instant-kill techniques. While crafted in superficial homage to Street Fighter and Marvel Vs. Capcom, GG quickly became the most fully-featured and polished 2d fighter still in production. The intricate system involves fighting mainstays like jumping, dashing and 4 main command buttons, but also allows more advanced techniques. Some include the ability to ‘Roman Cancel’, or recover instantly from attack animations, to defend without taking damage, or to retaliate with what is termed a ‘Dead Angle Attack’. These abilities, and the character’s fighting capacity at large are monitored by a variety of gauges apart from the standard Life and Guard. ‘Burst’ affords certain special moves when active and many of the specials mentioned are payed for with ‘Tension’, a ‘super’ meter, the amount of which increases with every action taken, but can be completely drained by idling or playing defensively. Ponder that Johnny, A.B.A and Order Sol have even more specific commodities to manage and conclude that the GG system is as intricate as they get. On top of all that, each character’s ‘Dust’ move launches the opponent into the air and allowing the exhibitionist to take advantage of the series’ simple yet intuitive air-combo system to the fanfare of a psychedelic backdrop (unique for each character in ^Core). As a largely unchanged instalment, ^Core benefits from all these tried and tested mechanics, but introduces some new ones to the fray for good measure.
A significant difference between ^Core and every Guilty Gear upgrade previous is that it introduces no new characters. In the spirit of competitive gaming, balance has been completely reworked across the board. Every returning cast member has received at least one new standard special in complement to a new ‘Force Break’ attack (more on that later). These are changes which will no doubt aversely alter the effectiveness of characters in high-level play – Order Sol, for example, is now considered ‘top-tier’ despite his debut one game earlier seeing him as one of the weaker fighters. Other characters play completely differently. There will almost certainly be a ‘wtf’ moment when Sol Badguy’s Grand Viper no longer trailblazes into the air and instead launches with an animation resembling CvS1 M. Bison’s Psycho Crusher. Lamentable it is then that no fresh faces appear this time. Raven, a mysterious antagonist throughout the series, had been rumoured to compete in-game for the first time in ^Core but has apparently been overlooked. Newcomers introduced in Slash, A.B.A and Order Sol, join the old crew for another round, but an entirely new cast member would have made ^Core especially appealing, if slightly counterproductive to the game’s balancing efforts.
New mechanics almost make up for the lack of new blood in ^Core. ‘Force Break’ attacks provide another way to spend Tension during a match. They come out almost instantly and hit hard albeit at the cost of 25% of the Tension gauge. Think of them as level 1 supers, in contrast with real Tension or Overdrive attacks which typically cost 50% of the meter, or 100% for top-end techniques like Gamma Ray. Normal hits now have new properties to work with too. Before a hit could knock back, knock down, launch or dizzy, but now can also slide an enemy across the stage, or knock them up against the walls at the sides of stages. Wall-stuns are particularly dangerous as they open the victim up to free hits, which are easier to land than if they were during a juggle. A final change to the system concerns throws- they are now escapable and counter-able.
If one were to somehow miss the fact that there are no new characters and that the engine has only been advanced in paces, and not leaps, (not to mention the sprites dating back to 2000’s Guilty Gear X) they might be forgiven for mistaking this for Guilty Gear XXX (as in X3, not pr0n), so severe are the superficial aesthetic facelifts. First off, the entire main-menu layout is vastly rearranged from previous ports, but this is only a matter for the PlayStation 2 owners. The game opens with a new introduction sequence using the art style of each character’s redrawn ^Core profile pictures. Interface elements are completely redrawn, and after so many years of seeing ‘Heaven or Hell’ and ‘Destroyed’ written in certain ways, they might come as a slight shock. Not as much of a shock, however, as the new voice-over work. Every single in-game cue has been rerecorded. ‘Round 1’ sounds different. Character voices are different. Bridget sounds more like a girl. These changes are ultimately for the worse, and almost none of them properly match the mood or feel of Guilty Gear.
Admittedly they are easily warmed up to, because players will likely be paying more attention to the new stages in ^Core than the dodgy voicework. Most have been recoloured (yet again) but all have been changed to varying degrees, and new ones added to the line-up. Paris, Sol and Ky’s stage, is all new. Although it is set in the same highland chateau, it is an original area, and contains the link to A.D. 2172. The Hell stage is entirely changed too, and as morbid as its old version was, its ^Core incarnation is unreservedly better. Minor cosmetic changes like these will not impress the sceptics, but this is without a doubt the most extensive visual upgrade the franchise has seen since the jump from Guilty Gear: The Missing Link to Guilty Gear X: By Your Side. Too bad that, like Slash, only 2 tracks from Daisuke Ishiwatari are original here – one of which, the opening theme, is especially noteworthy. It is a shame because the music is generally one of the series’ strengths. The rest of the soundtrack has aged well, but will be deplorably overheard to most all GG veterans.
Naturally ^Core ships with all the standard modes. Arcade, Vs, Survival and Training, all obligatory quantities, are joined by the inept M.O.M. mode from Slash, but not its Mission mode or the text-heavy Story Mode from #Reload. A tip of the hat has to go out to the Vs CPU mode where you can lay down the gauntlet against any opponent on your own terms. It is a simple yet appreciated feature for any fighting game that is all too scarce these days. Where ^Core surprises is in its original ‘Guilty Gear Generations’ mode. A nostalgic avenue not dissimilar to Street Fighter Alpha3’s X-ISM, Generations allows you to pick the game to play under, and modifies the movesets (and game system) accordingly. The options available are ‘Guilty Gear’, complete with all those sneaky countering one-hit-kills, ‘Guilty Gear X’ with its older commands, and of course ‘Guilty Gear ^Core’ and its most recent errata. Although not all that useful beyond its novelty, Generations is a welcome feature. Still, like the collection of art in the Gallery mode, it will have to be unlocked the old-fashioned way.
It will be hard to get over the fact Guilty Gear XX ^Core is just another upgrade to Guilty Gear. Worse still, it is the first such upgrade to not add any faces to the line-up. Once that ostensible obstruction is overcome there is a tight, finely-tuned game to be discovered. Not a significant amount has changed, even though the new interface elements and voices would have you believe otherwise, but that does not stop ^Core from being a satisfying game. It is easily the best version of GG to date and a definite essential for those with an import-ready PlayStation 2 looking to do their due diligence to either 2d fighting or import gaming cultures. For series diehards, there are assuredly enough new mechanics to make the game feel ‘fresh’, but probably not enough for the layperson who picked up #Reload at retail a few years ago – they will likely be unable to tell the differences. Standing on the strengths of its previous iterations, Guilty Gear XX ^Core is a strong title. Justifying its purchase against Slash or#Reload already being owned (or the fact that #Reload can be had for a bargain price) is, unfortunately, a harder call to make.
So yeh, ^Core is fun and all, but I wouldn't buy it. Unless you're hard up for the little changes, #Reload is going for a lot cheaper and with its Story Mode (in English) you can't go wrong.