The Guilty Gear series is crazy. The characters, environments and story make everyone's favorite World Warriors look as ordinary as car salesmen or accountants. Beyond that, Guilty Gear's legacy is of one of the most beautiful, hardcore fighters out there. In that, Xrd -SIGN- does not disappoint.

Stunning Visuals

Guilty Gear games have always been pretty, but Xrd -SIGN- is gorgeous. At first glance, it looks like a gorgeous traditional 2D fighter. Then, once a cinematic plays for an overdrive or an intro or victory animation, it's revealed that you've been looking at 3D models of the characters on screen. It's mind-blowing how gorgeous the character models turned out.

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Seeing still shots of the game is one thing, but in motion it's a sight to behold. The fluidity of the animation feels that wowed me back on the Dreamcast is still present here. Frankly, Xrd -SIGN- is what hardcore Street Fighter fans have been begging Capcom to do since the art style for SFIV was initially revealed. Capcom definitely should have listened to their fans: Xrd -SIGN- is as fun to watch as it is to play. Every time you start it up, you'll be impressed. The art is just that good.

Fight Mechanics

Like its predecessors, Xrd -SIGN- is a competent fighter. The mostly-returning cast all feel exactly the same as they did in 1998. In a sense, Guilty Gear is quite a bit like Street Fighter III, in that it has a higher bar for entry to the series than the fighters of today. Combat is significantly quicker in Xrd -SIGN- than its contemporaries, thanks to air dashes and runs as opposed to short dashes.

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Initially, the various moves and crazy combos may feel a bit daunting or intimidating. Even as a beginner, however, it's easy to string some fairly workable combos together by simply pulling off special moves with a few mindless button presses as padding in between. I'm by no mean a skilled Guilty Gear player, but I was able to do well enough to breeze through Arcade mode with a number of characters in time for this review.

Characters

Characters are key to any fighting game, and though Xrd -SIGN- isn't the largest roster in the series, it brings back all the favorites.

Ky and Sol Badguy, the series' Ryu and Ken are back as well as quirky favorites like Dr. Faust, Zato-1, Potemkin and Axl Low. Each character is unforgettable and has a unique play style. Arc System Works has always been masterful, and this entry, though lacking in new characters, is the same.

The two new characters introduced in this entry, the emotionless Ramlethal Valentine, and bed-ridden otaku Bedman are both interesting characters that fit the series' signature style extremely well. Though neither seems to get a lot of online play yet, I'm sure they'll find their audiences.

Story

Storytelling in fighting games is usually handled poorly, if at all. I love fighting games. I've been playing them since Street Fighter II started the fighting game of the '90s. I can't tell you what's going on in any of them though.

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Guilty Gear, however, has taken a very fresh, interesting approach to telling its story. Aside from the standard-issue cutscenes that interrupt occasionally during Arcade mode, the game game has its own separate story mode. Story mode is strictly a series of cutscenes rendered in-game that recount the events following the end of Arcade mode.

This works because of the amazing job Arc System Works did in bending Unreal Engine 3 to fit their needs, and because it breaks free of the confines of short conversations that occur before two people beat each other senseless.

Story mode feels basically like getting a free movie with your game, and that's never a bad thing.

Library Mode

Like most fighters, it's hard to keep track of Guilty Gear's lore. Fortunately for gamers that are just returning to the franchise, Xrd -SIGN-'s day one patch introduced a library mode, which offers an encyclopedic view of the series' characters and storylines.

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If you like Guilty Gear's story, but are a little rusty, library mode will help you out immensely. Now if only they could present it a bit better, as they did with story mode, this would be a bit higher on my list.

Online Play

Xrd -SIGN-'s online play is a mess, plain and simple. When you hop into network mode, you're greeted with confusing decision after confusing decision. You select your character by updating your profile. You enter lobbies based on region that then become your default lobby until you exit from them.

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Strange decisions aside, online play is laggy as well. I often suffer eight frame delays, which in a fighting game is massive. The fact that Xrd -SIGN- is easily one of the most technical fighters out there doesn't help things, either. The game's day one patch promised fixes for online play, but I didn't see any difference. I'm hoping this gets better, but I have my doubts.

Guilty Gear Xrd -SIGN- is a gorgeous fighter that is as fun to play as its predecessors, even with hobbled online. It's so gorgeous, that I could seriously recommend it on its graphics alone. Once you look past the graphics, however, there's a deep fighter that will please even the most hardcore of players.

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If you don't mind playing your fighters offline, give Xrd -SIGN- a shot. You'll find the Street Fighter that should have been.


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