Review by discoinferno84

"Take a bow..."

Heaven or Hell? That's all that's left. Come on, you‘ve got to make this quick. Will it be the righteous paladin or the fiery anti-hero? What about the old dwarf with the giant meat cleaver, or the woman with the living hair? Don't forget about the pool-cue wielding assassin, the androgynous Grim Reaper wannabe, or the dude with the giant fan. Not to mention the zombie with the sentient key, the one-armed female samurai, the English time traveler, the witch guitarist, the vampire aristocrat, or whatever Zappa is supposed to be. And what's up with the swashbuckling womanizer and that little pirate girl he keeps by his side? Kind of creepy, but you've got to expect that from a game like this. By the way, that ridiculously cute nun with the yo-yo isn't female, so you might want to stop drooling. Or maybe you're into that kind of thing. It doesn't really matter; no one's going to judge you. The point is, you've got to choose. So hurry up, will you? In the end, it all comes down to Heaven or Hell.

Sounds familiar, doesn't it? If you're a fighting game fanatic with a PS2, chances are you've come across a Guilty Gear game somewhere along the line. It's been years since X2 was released, giving gamers a glimpse into a bleak future in which man and gear duke it out for control of the world. The characters were as amazing as they were unorthodox, and their intertwining stories made the plot so much deeper than that of the average fighter. After such a great introduction, it only made sense to build upon it. And boy, did they ever. The core of X2 has been refurbished, rehashed, and re-just about everything else in its lengthy, glorious run on the PS2. Some of the newer ideas were brilliant, and some…Well, some sucked (here's looking at you, Isuka). Either way, it's been a long, occasionally frustrating wait for those fans wanting closure to the series. With Guilty Gear XX Accent Core Plus as sendoff for the dying PS2, they might finally get their wish.

For the rest of you that aren't familiar with the series (and shame on you, indeed), know this: Accent Core Plus isn't a new game. It's basically the same game that was released in 2008, which was yet another revamp of the old X2. Given its quality, however, that's not a bad thing. That Plus alludes to a few major additions to the previous title. Justice and Kliff are the most obvious of them; after years of exclusion, these series veterans have finally made it back as playable fighters, making the character roster the largest to date. The main attraction, however, is the brand new story mode; it picks up in the aftermath of X2 and delves further into what's already been established. Sol Badguy's past, his rivalry with Ky, and his quest for That Man might take center stage, but each of the characters is treated to his or her own little development. Some are handled better than others; Millia's potentially tragic fate and Slayer's impending retirement and personal insights into his enemies offer more depth. Others, like Chipp's presidential campaign, will make you wonder when Aksys stopped taking things seriously.

But hey, it's never really about the story. It's all about insane, flashy, over-the-top brawls with a bunch of weird characters and even weirder moves. The gameplay operates like a standard 2D fighter; you make button and directional pad inputs and unleash whatever your fighter has up his or her sleeve. The combat mechanics focus on linking attacks together into extensive combos, which means you'll be able to spend countless hours figuring out all the little tricks and subtle strategies that make these warriors tick. Aside from the usual punches and kicks, you'll be able to pull off tons of special moves and abilities. There are no Hadokens or Sonic Booms here; you've got demon summoning, walls of fire, lightning blades, cherry blossom-flinging swordplay, billiard ball assaults, whales, teddy bears, and a slew of other stuff only a Guilty Gear game could pull off. That's on top of the Instant Kill moves, which range from upper-cutting someone in the stratosphere to ramming them at full power. While these things can end a fight in a single hit, they're easily blockable and require you to fight at a close range. Needless to say, victory doesn't come cheap.

The emphasis on character balance and the limits of the movesets is one of the best things about this game. Even if the technical aspects are basically unchanged Accent Core versions, they are still incredibly well polished. Chipp might be the fastest person in the game, but his attacks are close-ranged and deal little damage. On the other hand, Potemkin's gargantuan frame severely limits his movements, but gives ridiculously high attack power. While such strengths and weaknesses are standard, Accent Core worked in deeper and more effective strategies around them. If you're a fan that hasn't played the series since X2, you're going to see your favorite characters pull off stuff you never thought they could manage. Accent Core veterans, however, will be pleased to see the return of the Fautless Defense, Roman Canceling, Instant Blocking, and all that other mumbo jumbo you'll want to learn if you want to delve into the technical awesomeness being offered. Such gamers aren‘t going to find anything new when it comes to the purely strategic details, but Plus is still as every bit as fun and challenging as before.

Of course, Aksys couldn't get away with just a new story and bringing back a couple of fan favorites. No way. Unless you're a hardcore fan, not even the refined mechanics would make you want to shell out another thirty bucks for a game you've already played. That's why Plus comes packing a ton of extra gameplay modes and content. Nearly every mode from each installment of X2 (Isuka's half-assed content is thankfully absent) makes its return. The Team Battles, Versus, and VS CPU modes are made even better with multiplayer options. While the Arcade and Training modes are staples of the of the series, the Mission Mode is back with a vengeance. You'll have to take down enemies with boosted abilities, deal with handicaps, use specific moves, etc. The same goes with the redesigned Survival Mode; not only will you get to take on a gauntlet of foes and bosses, but you'll be able to improve your stats (attack, defense, or health) to last longer in the challenge. All your hours of sweat and tears and Game Overs will pay off, too. With tons of unlockable art galleries and alternate versions of each character, you're going to have your hands full.

But if that's not enough for you, Plus comes with the game's soundtrack on a bonus CD. That one's the real love letter to the loyal fans. All of those heavy metal tunes and character themes ought to bring back a few memories. But if you're just getting into the series, it probably won't be a major selling point. You'll be too busy being overwhelmed with the sheer amount of eye candy to care about the music. The characters are drawn with style in mind; it's not just about the animation - which is smooth and fluid as ever - but about what's being shown. The epic stare-downs between Sol and Ky, the way Millia's hair wraps around her depending on the attack, how Slayer leisurely lays down whenever he gets knocked off his feet, or how Kliff's muscles literally burst through his clothes in his win pose. The stages are equally as engaging; you'll brawl along the blood-drenched shores of Hell, dodge attacks amidst the fiery glow of hundreds of candles, and take down your rival with your reflections just barely visible on a polished checkerboard floor. While none of this stuff is new, it's still an impressive and detailed presentation.

That's probably what Guilty Gear XX Accent Core Plus really boils down to: an older game with just enough new stuff to make the purchase worth it. The fact that it's just an updated version isn't a detriment to its appeal; this is one of the greatest 2D fighting games on the PS2. None of the basics have changed, and that's a good thing. It's got an impressive cast of characters, along with two returning fan favorites. The story finally makes a comeback, and it's exactly what veterans of the series want. The combat mechanics remain as deep and technical as ever, which means that newcomers will have plenty to learn, and dedicated fighting game enthusiasts will be kept busy. The sheer amount of gameplay modes and unlockable content ensures you'll be playing for hours. Plus also comes with the game's soundtrack, which might make or break decision for those who already own Accent Core. But if you love fighting games and want to see with Guilty Gear is all about, then get this game. In the dim twilight of the PS2's life, no other game can send it off better.


Reviewer's Score: 9/10 | Originally Posted: 05/11/09

Game Release: Guilty Gear XX Accent Core Plus (US, 04/07/09)


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