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Guilty Gear XX Accent Core Plus revives an age of raw, unfiltered 2D fighting (review)

Imagine creating your own fighting game. You hate having boring karate guys as your main characters, so instead you make them a gritty bounty hunter and a holy knight whose superattack comes from a Metallica song. In fact, everyone is named after rock artists, and they all fight with shadows, living hair, giant keys, and other crazy weapons. And your game is going to have every mechanic possible: Air dashes, double jumps, combo escapes, parries, and much more. These fights will award aggressive players and those who have the skill to defend everything that’s thrown at them. And forget about blocky 3D graphics – your game will look like you’re playing a 1990s anime.

Now imagine that you game isn’t a train wreck that should have stayed in the margins of your high school notebook and instead becomes arguably the most influential fighting game franchise of the 2000s. That’s Guilty Gear.

BlazBlue and Persona 4 Arena developer Arc System Works earned their reputation on this series, and the company got the rights to it back in 2011 after spending years in a legal quagmire. Now it’s releasing this port of 2008’s Guilty Gear XX Accent Core Plus, the most recent version before a new rebalance that’s now in Japanese arcades, on Xbox Live Arcade and PlayStation Network. But can this unabashedly hardcore title connect with today’s players?

What you’ll like

Unrestrained originality
Guilty Gear is essentially the cover of a heavy metal album come to life. After a war between humans and the bioweapon Gears, warriors search for the remaining Gears as well as That Man who created them. Among the combatants are assassins, a seductive guitar player, an airship pirate who battles with an anchor, and a giant doctor with a paper bag on his head. You know – the usual suspects.

Accent Core features one of the most original rosters you’ll find in any game. The British punk Axl Low is the game’s Dhalsim, but he also wields counters, long-range grabs, and other moves you’ll never see the Street Fighter monk do. Then you have oddballs like the possessed Zappa, whose spine has the flexibility of a bendy straw and fights with various summon attacks. While Arc System Works’s later efforts are based off this game’s basic engine, few of its later characters have matched the weirdness of this cast, and the game popularized the creation of quirky warriors with unique mechanics like Super Street Fighter IV’s Hakan and Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3’s Phoenix Wright.

Much credit for Guilty Gear’s bizarre world goes to series creator Daisuke Ishiwatari, who both designed the characters and composed the excellent soundtrack. This makes Accent Core feel like someone’s cohesive vision.

Complex, high-octane gameplay
Guilty Gear rewards aggression — just walking towards your foe builds your supermeter — and punishes “dishonorable” tactics like running away too much or even taunting after a round is over. Your superbar is very important as you use it not only for Overdrive supercombos but also for techniques like Faultless Defense, an advance version of blocking, and Roman Cancels, a way to cancel attacks that has inspired similar mechanics like Street Fighter IV’s Focus Attack Dash Cancel. Protecting yourself is very important, but even if you get hit you can use the Burst technique to escape a combo.

Many of these mechanics will be familiar to BlazBlue and Persona 4 Arena veterans. Newcomers will feel overwhelmed, but having a lot of universal abilities promotes parity between characters, and the basic chain combos and flashy moves provide fun for those playing at a basic level as well.

Lots of content
Accent Core contains all of the single-player modes from the game’s PlayStation 2 version. Medal of Millionaire (Score Attack), Survival, and Mission offer a unique spin on these normally throwaway features. You score points in Medal by beating the tar out of opponents and collecting the items that fall out, while in Survival you gain levels and periodically fight powered-up opponents. Training Mode is robust, and small things like the input display “flash” that shows you when to time the difficult False Roman Cancels should be incorporated into more games with strict execution requirements. Story Mode doesn’t have the same production values as ASW’s later efforts, but I prefer it. It’s nice to have a narrative that doesn’t stuff 10 minutes of text in between battles.

Guilty Gear XX Accent Core Plus

What you won’t like

Learning curve
Accent Core is fast and technical, which means it can be difficult for newcomers or even those who played previous versions casually to get used to. This is basically the same game it was in 2008, a time when the fighting genre had hardcore arcade junkies, casual brawlers, and little middle ground. A new tutorial or combo-training mode along the lines of Street Fighter III: 3rd Strike Online Edition would have helped mid-level players. Be prepared to bookmark pages like BrokenTier’s simple character guide and the Dustloop forums if you’re going to take this game seriously.

Bare minimum online mode
While I experienced a lot of online lag in some matches — something my shoddy Internet connection may have contributed to — Guilty Gear’s netcode is decent if not as good as other Arc System Works games. The offerings are very basic, however, with just Ranked Match and a lobby-less Player Match. Ranked Match is also unusually punitive, as you’ll quickly lose progress if you go on a losing streak. Online leaderboards have never reflected actual skill level, but it can be frustrating to feel like you’re not progressing.

Conclusion

Guilty Gear XX Accent Core Plus is both a welcome return and a missed opportunity. While one can argue that an old-school title wasn’t going to have staying power with so many newer fighting games around anyway, the port is more a direct rip of the original disc instead of something to attract modern fans to a classic franchise. Even an online mode menu that didn’t look like it was from 1998 would have been nice. The new arcade rebalance shows that the developers want to do more with the series than capitalize on nostalgia, and this would have been a good place to start.

Still, watching a classic NBA game would be enjoyable even if no one added modern features and special effects on top of the footage. The game’s cast and gameplay are just as inventive as they were in the past, and I had trouble controlling that “one more match” urge while playing. The content available is comparable to most modern games, and this should be required playing for any fan of the genre.

Score: 85

Guilty Gear XX Accent Core Plus was released for the Xbox Live Arcade on Oct. 24 and Dec. 4  for the PlayStation Network. I reviewed the Xbox Live Arcade version, which I paid for myself. 


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