Mini Review: “Guilty Gear X2 Reload” (Retro Computer Game)

2017-artwork-guilty-gear-x2-reload-review-sketch

Well, it’s been ages since I last played a fighting game! Still, during a weekly sale on GoG a few days before I originally prepared this review last autumn, I noticed that the PC version of a rather interesting looking 2D fighting game called “Guilty Gear X2 Reload” was on special offer. Since it only cost about two quid during the sale, I decided to check it out.

However, this review is probably more of a “first impressions” article than a full review, even if it was written quite far in advance.

Note: Whilst looking over this review a few hours before publication, I’ve just looked online and apparently this game no longer seems to be sold on GoG (but, thanks to their sensible “No DRM” policy, if you’ve already bought the game, you can still play it). So, it seems like the only current place to buy a new copy of this game is on Steam.

I don’t know if this was the responsibility of one or both games sites or the company who made the game. But, regardless, this is the kind of silly corporate BS that has no place in a sensible and fair games market! If a game is sold online, then it should remain available wherever it is sold. It isn’t like physical shelf space is an issue. Plus, why would games companies and/or retail sites want to alienate potential customers and/or lose out on sales?

Anyway, let’s take a look at “Guilty Gear X2 Reload”:

guilty-gear-x2-reload-title-screen

“Guilty Gear X2 Reload” is a 2D fighting game from 2002-2004, which is a PC port of an updated version of a console port of an arcade game.

Despite it’s convoluted history, one of the first things that I will say about this game is that, despite a few flaws, it is probably the coolest and funniest fighting game that I’ve ever played.

 I'm playing as an androgynous goth character (in a vaguely "Blade Runner"-like version of Britain), who can not ONLY wield a giant scythe but who also has a pet raven and the ability to create "Silent Hill 3" save points! This is AWESOME!!!!!!!

I’m playing as an androgynous goth character (in a vaguely “Blade Runner”-like version of Britain), who can not ONLY wield a giant scythe but who also has a pet raven and the ability to create “Silent Hill 3” save points! This is AWESOME!!!!!!!

Yes! This is a fighting game that is all about heavy metal/ hard rock music, ludicrous weapons and comically surreal combat! Well, most of the time anyway – there’s also some cheerful, brightly-coloured settings and “moe” anime characters in the game that detract from the cool aesthetic, badass characters and wonderfully metallic atmosphere of most of the game.

Plus, some of this non-metal/non-gothic stuff can occasionally seem a bit out of place.

The “May Ship” is probably the worst example of this. It’s a giant plane that is filled with groups of cheerful children and brightly-coloured graffiti. It’s about as out of place as you can get in a metal/gothic-themed game!

In terms of the gameplay, it’s a fighting game. However, it’s certainly more on the challenging side of things.

When I started playing, I just did the usual beginner’s trick of randomly hammering the buttons and hoping for the best. This didn’t work as well as I’d hoped and it was only after I’d really focused on learning a few basic special moves for about two or three of the characters that I really started to become even vaguely ok at this game.

Even then, the boss battle at the end of the "Arcade" mode seems completely unwinnable, unless you've probably practiced for weeks.

Even then, the boss battle at the end of the “Arcade” mode seems completely unwinnable, unless you’ve probably practiced for weeks.

This game apparently has something of a reputation for having a complex combat system and it would be hard to disagree with this. This seems to be a game that has been primarily designed for fighting game enthusiasts.

Even so, the combat is still accessible to people who have only played the game for a few hours (despite the constant in-game “counter hit!”, “recovery!” etc.. notifications, which can often be puzzling). This is especially useful, given that the novelty value from all of the hilariously random stuff in the game will wear off after a day or so.

But this doesn’t matter because there are so many funny, quirky and downright cool special attacks in this game. Since “Guilty Gear X2 Reload” uses 2D graphics, the designers and animators had a lot more creative freedom and they use it in all sorts of amazingly cool, funny and bizarre ways.

Yes, even when you're getting thoroughly beaten by the computer, it STILL looks amazingly cool!

Yes, even when you’re getting thoroughly beaten by the computer, it STILL looks amazingly cool!

Hell, one of the characters can even summon the ghost from "The Ring" to block your attacks!

Hell, one of the characters can even summon the ghost from “The Ring” to block your attacks!

In terms of the controls, this game can be played using a keyboard or, apparently, a console-style controller.

Not having one of these controllers, I used the keyboard – although I had to reconfigure the keys into a more ergonomic and intuitive setup (eg: using the arrow keys for movement and the WSAD keys for the attack buttons, with nearby keys serving as the the shoulder buttons). Also, the only way to quit the game when you’ve finished playing is to press “F12”.

As for gameplay modes, there are quite a few different ones on offer here – which help to add some variety to the game. As well as the usual “arcade”, “VS CPU”, “VS 2P”, “Training” etc.. modes, there are also a few other innovative game modes.

For example, the “Survival” mode is actually fairly easy and fairly innovative. Although it’s game over if you die, your health replenishes between battles and – every now and then – you’ll get a “Daredevil” fight with a shadowy version of one of the characters whenever you score 20 more points.

This can happen mid-fight, so it's a also a good way of getting out of more challenging battles

This can happen mid-fight, so it’s a also a good way of getting out of more challenging battles

There’s also a story mode where you get English text/Japanese audio cutscenes between single-round fights with other characters. Plus, there is also a mode called “M.O.M” which is more like a “traditonal” survival mode (eg: you have one health bar that doesn’t replenish between fights), but where you gain coins for every successful attack that you make.

As I hinted at earlier, the character design in this game is varied to say the least. Although there are some really cool gothic, heavy metal, samurai and/or horror movie-style characters, there are also a few a slightly generic characters, and about three or four characters who look like they’re far too young to be participating in violent gladiatorial combat! Seriously, this game would have been better off with a smaller – but slightly more thematically coherent – character set.

If you’re a new player then, although it can be fun to play as some of the really cool characters (like I-No and Testament), the best character to start with is probably Baiken.

Not only does she wield a mid-range sword, but she also has at least three or four easily-learnable special and/or standard moves that can give you a fighting chance against most of the other characters (eg: the most useful one is to use the “heavy slash” attack whilst kneeling, since she will literally spin her sword around, striking anyone nearby 2-3 times with it within a second or so).

Plus, one of her victory animations is wonderfully sarcastic, and it’ll make you laugh out loud when you see it for the first time (she literally just sits next to her fallen opponent and starts casually smoking a pipe).

Another cool feature about the character design in this game is that the characters’ outfits will change colour depending on which button you press when selecting them. Seriously, each character has something like five different outfits. Although they’re all just palette-swaps of the same outfit, it’s still a really cool addition to the game:

This option will also sometimes change the character's hair and/or skin colour too. Still, it's not like every game lets you choose to play as a sarcastic, pipe-smoking samurai version of Elvira!

This option will also sometimes change the character’s hair and/or skin colour too. Still, it’s not like every game lets you choose to play as a sarcastic, pipe-smoking samurai version of Elvira!

The sound design in this game is very good, although the same cannot be said for the voice acting. With the exception of the in-game announcer and the text screens in story mode, most of the in-game dialogue is in un-subtitled Japanese. Likewise, one or two of the character names (Baiken springs to mind for starters) on the character select screen aren’t translated either, which can be confusing.

Yes, this is realistic and it adds atmosphere to the game. But, it’s kind of annoying when you can tell that the characters are making sarcastic comments to each other -but you can’t understand what they’re saying. Some English subtitles might have been a good idea!

Seriously, they were able to include subtitles in the story mode, so why can't there be any in-game subtitles?

Seriously, they were able to include subtitles in the story mode, so why can’t there be any in-game subtitles?

In terms of music, this game has one of the best soundtracks that I’ve ever heard. Literally every piece of background music in this game consists of instrumental metal/hard rock music. Seriously, more games should have a soundtrack like this \m/.

All in all, this game is incredibly cool, unique and fun. Yes, it would have been even better if it had had a more consistent aesthetic, a more consistent character set and more consistent location designs – but most of this game is still really cool.

It’s fast-paced, it’ll make you laugh out loud and it will make you feel like a badass when you play it. It isn’t a completely perfect game, but the parts that it does get right, it really gets right.

If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would get four and a half.

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