I have wanted to write this post for a while now, but for the longest time it was just going off of my observations from match videos. Then I got to play a decent amount of GGXrd at the Anime Expo Aksys booth during the summer, and I also got to play a bit of the PS4 demo afterwards. But it still felt like I didn’t have enough information. Now that I have been regularly playing the console version since its release last month, I finally feel like I have enough material to write my impressions on Guilty Gear Xrd.

First up, let’s talk about what is new in Xrd. It is the fourth Guilty Gear game in the main series, but actually the third in arcades(hence the name), since the first GG game was console only. The previous series(XX) got its first game GGXX in 2002, so it has lasted for 12 years! The biggest change that Guilty Gear Xrd brings to the table is the revamped roman cancel system. Instead of RCs and FRCs(blue), there are now 3 types: red, yellow, and purple. The red RC is very similar to the old RC in previous Guilty Gears: it costs 50% meter, and cancels any connected move, returning your character to a neutral state. However, it can only be done during a move’s active frames. The yellow RC costs 25% meter, and has some special rules: it can only be done during a move’s startup frames and cannot be performed if the opponent is blocking or getting hit. The purple RC costs 50%, and occurs whenever an RC is pressed during a move’s recovery frames. Other important changes that are shared by all 3 of the roman cancels are that they all pause the game for a brief moment, and slow down the opponent for varying amounts of time.

The other big change is in the overall direction. Guilty Gear Xrd attempts to simplify the game and bring it back to its roots by using XX #Reload as a base. This is even officially stated in the game’s Library mode! As a result, the Force Break, FRC, Slashback, and Impossible Dust mechanics are gone. Many of the new tools and move changes made in Slash, Accent Core, and AC+R are gone as well.

What I like

  • Presentation – this is the one thing that every GG player, new and old, can agree on.  The visuals in Xrd are incredible, and Team Red has really set a new standard in 3d art that emulates the 2d style.  It clearly took a lot of work, as the two 4gamer articles show.  From Guilty Gear X in 2000, to Blazblue Calamity Trigger in 2008, to GGXrd now, Arc System Works is always ahead of the curve in the visuals department.
  • Lowering the execution barrier – The GG developers have stated in multiple interviews that the Guilty Gear series has a reputation of being a hardcore game with a harsh execution requirement to play the game at a basic level, so one of their main goals in Xrd was to make it easier for new players to get into the game.  They have definitely succeeded on this front, as most characters are easier to play and understand than their AC/AC+R counterparts.  Now, I personally did not find GG to be overly difficult in the Accent Core era, but that was mainly because I had experience from playing earlier games in the XX series.  But I will freely admit that if I was a completely new player in say, 2010 who was trying to get into GG, I probably would have quit.
  • Red roman cancels – Normal RCs are not seen often in the XX series.  You will mainly see them if a player fails to hit the FRC point of a certain move, or if a player wants to cancel a move that is not FRCable.  Despite having 2x the cost of an FRC, the RC is just not as useful.  The GG developers noticed this, and in many interviews have stated that one of their goals in Xrd was to strengthen 50% options.  They have accomplished this in a big way with the new red RC: it slows down the opponent and adds extra hitstun, which makes hitconfirming way easier.  It also opens up new combo possibilities, with the most celebrated example being Sol’s 5s5h RC Bandit Bringer.
  • Blitz Shield – I was really worried when I heard that Xrd was adding a parry mechanic.  Especially because I know that Daisuke Ishiwatari loves Street Fighter III: 3rd Strike, and that game has one of the most problematic versions of parry in any fighting game.  What was intended to be a defensive mechanic became an offensive mechanic because of 1)its motion creating all sorts of Option Selects and 2)its lack of a whiff animation.  Thankfully, Blitz Shield is superbly implemented in Xrd.  It costs 25% meter, and is done by inputting S+H on the ground for a standing version, and down S+H for the crouching version.  And yes, it has a whiff animation!  But the most interesting part of Blitz Shield is what happens when you successfully pull one off.  The opponent gets put into a vulnerable state where he cannot block, attack, or move but he is not completely helpless: he can still Blitz Shield you back!  So it creates this interesting mindgame of do I attack the opponent immediately, or sit back and bait the counter Blitz Shield.  Blitz Shields also have startup invincibility so they add a new layer of defense against unblockable setups.  I personally feel that despite Zato being ridiculous in this game, one of the reasons he is not as dominant as his #Reload and AC incarnations is because of the existence of Blitz Shield.
  • Console features – The PS3/PS4 port of Xrd is the most expansive GG port in its entire series.  It has the coolest version of M.O.M, great netplay features(although the netcode had to get patched a few times), and even the ability to save and view replays.  It also has one of the greatest tutorial modes I have ever seen in any 2d fighting game.  The Tutorial and Mission modes do a great job of teaching players the mechanics of the game and how to apply them in meaningful ways.  The Challenge Mode is quite good too.  Although I feel that some of the combos are unnecessarily flashy for little reward, they provide a good starting point.
  • STEAL THE SOUL – If you don’t know what I’m referring to, please start up your copy of Xrd and play Mission #20.
  • The feel – This was the biggest thing that I was worried about when Xrd was first announced.  Everyone knew that they were gonna simplify the game and make it more accessible, but nobody wanted it to come at the cost of the game’s dynamic neutral game, character diversity, and pace.  Despite Xrd being slightly slower than earlier titles in the series, it still feels and plays like Guilty Gear.  And that’s the most important thing.

What I don’t like

  • Yellow roman cancels – New players often think of YRCs as easy FRCs, but they are actually two very different things.  Before I continue, I would like to mention that even though YRC is at the top of the “things I don’t like” section, that does not mean it is 100% bad.  There are good and bad things about YRC: I just believe that the cons outweigh the pros in this case.  Let me start with the good parts: YRC allows for more freedom in how players spend their meter.  In older GG games, sometimes you could be in a losing position with 100% meter, and have no way of meaningfully spending that meter to take back control of the match.  With YRC, this doesn’t happen as often anymore since you can RC anything and everything.  Air YRCs also make you fall to the ground, so they can be used to alter air trajectory.  A common example is using them during an airdash: normally airdashes travel in a straight line for a set distance before falling, but if you YRC during the airdash it makes you fall earlier.  You can almost think of air YRCs as an extra movement option.  It also does not take long for the average player to realize that many moves in GG recover quickly.  So there are many attacks that are difficult to punish.  With YRC, you can spend a bit of meter and use the slowdown to make the opponent stay in his attack’s recovery frames longer, giving you more time to punish.  Here’s an example of FAB using this: Millia does a roll->throw setup, and FAB reads it and responds with Megafist(which may have been a Buster misinput).  Millia gets a whiffed 5h, and normally Potemkin would not recover from Megafist fast enough to punish.  But FAB spends 25% to YRC the Megafist and get a nice punish with j.d.  So these kinds of YRC applications are cool and open up a lot of possibilities over how to use your meter.  Unfortunately, the other parts of YRC are so problematic that they need their own list:
    1. Slowing down the pace – There are two reasons why this happens: 1)the sheer strength of YRCs and 2)the low cost.  Guilty Gear Xrd is not the first fighting game to have a “roman cancel everything” mechanic.  Many other games have experimented with this, and the most recent one that comes to memory is Under Night In-Birth.  In UNIEL, there is an RC like mechanic called Chain Shift.  Aside from letting you cancel anything, it also pauses the game briefly.  Anyone who has played UNIEL at a decent level can tell you how important this mechanic is.  In fact, it’s so strong that players cannot just do it whenever they feel like it.  Chain Shift can only be performed by the player who has Vorpal state, which is granted every 17 in-game seconds to whoever has more GRD blocks.  It’s beyond the scope of this review to explain what GRD is, but the point I’m trying to make is that besides the ability to cancel anything, the ability to pause the game is INCREDIBLY strong.  Getting that moment to briefly assess the situation can make or break some matches, so it makes sense that this strong mechanic would only be available every 17 seconds.  In GGXrd, YRCs(and all other RCs) pause the game, and they only cost 25% meter!  In addition, the rate of meter gain seems to have been increased across the board, so getting that 25% is super easy.  Most characters can generate that amount of meter just by doing a simple combo.  On top of that, YRCs also slow down the opponent, which give the attacker an even bigger advantage!  The power of YRCs coupled with their low meter requirement slow down the pace of the game because many matches just turn into a game of meter chicken: it becomes difficult for either player to commit to anything when they know that the opponent can just YRC and use the pause + slowdown to take control of the match.  This is especially noticeable against Chipp, and is one of the reasons why he is considered to be among the strongest characters in Xrd: his speed, the power of teleport YRC, and the teleport’s easy input(22x) allow him to whiff punish just about anything if he has meter.
    2. Option selects – Unfortunately because YRCs can only be done when the opponent is in a neutral state, they create some problematic OS setups.  The most well known YRC OS involves baiting bursts: when you have between 25%-49% meter and your attacks are connecting with the opponent(either hitting or getting guarded), you can press the RC input with every attack.  If the opponent bursts, he counts as being in a neutral state, so you will automatically YRC and have enough time to react and block the burst.  If the opponent doesn’t burst, then your attack string continues normally, since you can’t YRC when the opponent is blocking/getting hit.  It really takes away a lot from the player-to-player interaction and the mind reading that was usually involved with baiting bursts.  At a certain level of play in Xrd, it just becomes a golden rule to never burst when the opponent has more than 25% but less than 50% meter.  Yes, I know that there have always been burst safe setups in GG, but those are usually character and range specific.  The YRC burst OS is universal and tied to meter, and meter is much easier to come by in this version of GG.  The other problematic YRC OS is with command throws.  Characters like Sol and Zato can just mash the RC input every time they go for a command throw.  If the throw lands, great: they can follow up like usual.  But if the throw whiffs, the attacker just YRCs the cmd throw and is still at advantage.  What makes this worse is that the most reliable ways of beating a command throw setup are to jump or backdash away, and those two put you in an airborne state…  so the YRC makes it very easy for the attacker to just respond with an airthrow, since the defender’s movement and attack speed are slowed down.  You can see Ogawa using the technique in this video.
    3. Domination – The GG developers have stated multiple times in interviews that they felt that 25% meter options were too dominant in the XX series, and that 50% meter options were too weak.  So one of their goals in Xrd was to weaken 25% meter options and make 50% meter options more viable.  Well, I think they have failed in that regard.  Yes, it is true that 50% meter options are overall stronger, thanks to the new red roman cancel, addition of some obscenely strong overdrives(Trance, Chroming Rose), and Hellfire buffing overdrive damage.  But in the end, YRC is still king in Xrd, and in some ways it is even stronger than FRC.  The meta has not changed.
    4. Uneven benefits – The last problem I have with YRC is that despite its strength, not everyone benefits equally from it.  In particular, characters in previous games who relied on 25% meter options(FRCs and Force Breaks) for combos and pressure get hurt by the FRC->YRC transition the most.  This is ESPECIALLY true for Axl and to a lesser extent, Slayer and I-No.  Axl without Rensengeki FRC just feels like a shadow of his former self.  You might argue that there were uneven benefits from FRCs as well, but at least those could be used anytime(unlike YRCs).  And it generally made sense as to which moves had FRCs.  Which brings me to my next point…
  • Removal of FRCs – FRCs are one of the most controversial topics of the Guilty Gear XX series, and everyone knew when Xrd was announced that they would be changed.  But did they really need to get removed?  Let us first review what an FRC is: only certain moves have it, it allows you to cancel those moves with 25% meter in a very specific window, and can be performed even if the move completely whiffs.  It adds a whole new layer of options in GG and greatly diversifies the gameplay.  I highly doubt that there is anybody in the world who will say that the concept of FRCs is bad.  The real “problem” that people had with FRCs was in the difficulty, not the concept.  So…  instead of replacing FRCs with YRCs(and creating a whole new slew of problems, as outlined in the previous set of points), why couldn’t they just make them easier?  I have heard a few suggestions on how to simplify them throughout the years, and I’d like to mention the most noteworthy:
    1. Extending the window – Most FRCs in the XX series had a 2-4 frame window, so some have suggested to just widen that window.  I think this is a terrible idea though, because there is a strategic reason for the FRC points to be placed in those windows.  When you extend the windows, it changes their function and often has some broken implications.  It is actually possible to test this directly: just play the Wii port of Accent Core!  That particular port allows you to turn on easy FRC points, which make the FRC windows huge.  Moves that contain FRC points at the tail end of their startup frames or at the beginning of their active frames become really stupid, and all sorts of unreactable mixups become possible.  There are also damage changes: Millia’s damage skyrockets when her S Tandem FRC can be done during its active frames.
    2. Adding a buffer – This would be the best way to simplify them, in my opinion.  The best buffer related suggestion I’ve heard was from Mike Z, who proposed the idea of allowing you to get the earliest possible FRC by just hitting the RC input before that point.  For example, the FRC on Sol’s Gunflame is on frame 14-15, so if you wanted the fastest possible FRC, all you would have to do is press the RC input anytime between frame 1-14.  If for some reason you wanted the FRC on frame 15, then you would have to do it with precise 1f timing.
    3. Removing FRC exclusives – Another suggestion I’ve heard was just to allow you to RC everything, not unlike what Xrd has done.  Some moves in the XX series can ONLY be FRCed, and not RCed.  This applies to a lot of projectiles(like Gunflame, Chemical Love) and to some other moves like AC Potemkin Buster.  So, you would sometimes see situations where Sol would have 100% meter and try to cancel his Gunflame..  only to miss it completely and be vulnerable.  It is quite silly.  So, by changing these FRC exclusive moves and making them RCable, FRCs are no longer a requirement to play a character at a basic level.  They just become a reward for putting in practice and having a good sense of timing.  It’s an interesting idea, and does allow projectiles to be RCed(which I’m ok with personally), but ultimately I think the buffer idea is better.
  • Character specific changes – Besides the way meter was changed, this is the other big issue I have with the game.  As mentioned in the game’s Library mode, Xrd uses XX #Reload as its foundation.  This in itself is already questionable because Xrd is supposed to be a brand new game.  It is not a revision of XX, but the 4th main game in the GG series.  So why exactly is it using a very old revision of XX as its foundation?  It would make more sense for AC+R to be used as the base.  You would expect a new game to move a series forward, but the choice for Xrd to be based off of #Reload seems to move the series backwards.  Characters lost many of the tools that were added in Slash, Accent Core, and AC+R.  And I think we can all agree that there is NOTHING cool about losing options.  However, you could make a decent argument that using #Reload as a foundation is beneficial for new players because most characters were simpler in #R.  I can agree with this, since appealing to new players was definitely something that was high on their list of priorities.  However, is there really anything wrong with characters being complicated?  Some people argue that everything should be as easy as possible, but I would argue that it is just natural for things to get more complicated over time.  The simplest version of any character is often the very first one, because the developers have a vision of what that character should play like, and then they make the character purely from that raw idea.  It’s never perfect, so the character gets refined with each new revision of the game, and of course they always have to give the character more tools to keep things fresh.  This expands the character’s moveset and options; thus it is just natural for them to become more complicated.  So it is particularly upsetting to see Xrd turn back the clock on several years of balance and design history in GG.  Now, don’t get me wrong: I don’t think every character changed in a negative way.  I LOVE the new Ky and May, for example.  But most of the returning characters, especially Millia, Venom, and I-No just feel so bland compared to their AC+R versions.  This is the main reason why I’ve spent most of my time in Xrd playing one of the new characters.
  • Danger Time – This mechanic is silly and does not add anything to the game.  It would actually be more tolerable if it was consistent.  Like if Danger Time always activated when one player’s hardslash move clashed with the other player’s hardslash.  But it being a random occurence upon clashes just makes it stupid.

Other things I don’t like, but aren’t that important

  • Hellfire – When any player reaches 20% life or lower, they enter Hellfire state which grants a damage boost to their overdrives.  However, it’s sort of a double edged sword because that player also becomes more vulnerable to Instant Kills.  During Hellfire, the opponent’s IK activation will cause them to freeze, which makes it possible for the opponent to combo into IKs.  Hellfire is essentially a comeback mechanic.  Yes, it is a very minor one, and is nowhere near as problematic as X-Factor and Ultras.  But it’s still a comeback mechanic, which in my opinion have no place in competitive fighting games.
  • Removal of force breaks – Force Break moves in Guilty Gear are another controversial topic, and many players think that the GG series never needed them to begin with.  I might concede that point, especially in Xrd where YRC is so ridiculous.  With that said, I don’t think there is anything wrong with the concept of using 25% meter to get a powered up special move.  Many Capcom games already have this mechanic in the form of EX moves, and they work fine there.  I think the real issue that people had with Force Breaks was in how strong some of them were(AC Eddie FB Drill, Jam FB Puffball, Slayer FB Big Bang Upper, etc).  So, it shouldn’t be too difficult to just weaken them.  It would be nice for the game to have another 25% meter option.
  • Replay lock – Xrd is the first GG game in the series to have the ability to save and view replays.  GREAT!  Replays are an amazing educational tool for fighting games: if you want critique, you can easily share your matches with anyone.  They even have other uses, like for people who want to make collaborative combo videos.  Unfortunately, most people who have Xrd are PS3 users, and the PS3 port for whatever reason has a security lock on replays.  If you go into the PS3 Game Data Utility, it actually forbids you from copying Xrd replays to an external USB drive.  WHY?  I have no answer to this.  The only place where you are allowed to copy replays to is Online Storage, which requires Playstation Plus.  So for PS3 users, the only free method to share replays is through the Player R-Code.  And the R-Code profile only allows a maximum of 3 replay slots.  This might be ok for some people, but if you have a long set of matches saved up, you can see how tedious the replay sharing process would become.  PS4 users get the better end of the deal, though.  I am not sure if the replay lock is present there but even if it is, it’s not a big deal since the PS4 has numerous built-in sharing capabilities.
  • Removal of throw techs – Throw techs were first added in Accent Core.  They have a 2f frame window in that game, and since throws have no startup it is impossible to tech throws on reaction.  You basically have to a yomi a throw attempt, and throw techs generally happen when both players attempt to throw at the exact same time.  Thus, Xrd’s choice of removing this mechanic doesn’t make too much of a difference.  However, it still seems really backward for a 2014 fighting game to not have a throw tech mechanic.  Now when two players go for a throw at the exact same time, the throw won’t happen and whoever has the faster hardslash will win the exchange.  You might argue that the ability to OS your throw with 6h+x(where x is any button other than h or d) makes this a non-issue, but this technique only works for forward throws.  If you want to do a backwards throw, then the system again favors the character with the faster 5h.

Wrapping up

Guilty Gear Xrd is a solid new offering in the GG series.  It has raised the bar for graphics in the entire fighting game genre and has taken some great steps in making the game more accessible to new players.  Replacing FRCs with YRCs takes away one of the biggest execution hurdles to newcomers and allows more freedom in how players use their meter.  However, there is a lot of room for improvement.  The YRC mechanic has numerous problems like slowing down the pace of the game and adding Option Selects that dampen the gameplay.  I hope to see future Xrd updates take steps to fix YRC.  I also wish to see characters get back the options and moves that were lost in the AC+R -> Xrd transition.  And of course, bring back the remaining characters!