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  1. Developer: Arc System Works Publisher: Arc System Works Platform: PS4, Nintendo Switch, and PC Release Date: May 31, 2018 ESRB: T for Teen Arc System Works has been quick to fill in the crossover team fighter void left by Capcom's extremely disappointing Ultimate Marvel Vs Capcom. By seemingly invoking the power of Shenron (through Dragon Ball FighterZ) Arc System Works has rapidly jumped in power level in both sales and status among hyperactive team-based fighters. This year, Arc System Works has decided to follow up with another team-based fighter, Blazblue Cross Tag Battle, but this time it leans far more heavily into its crossover nature. Featuring characters from Blazblue, Persona 4, Under Night In-Birth, and the most surprising addition of all -- Rooster Teeth Production's popular action web series RWBY -- one can only hope Blazblue: Cross Tag Battle is as satisfying to actually play as it is inherently bizarre as a crossover game. With such a broad selection of characters, the immediate concern is how daunting it is mechanically. Weirdly enough, Blazblue Cross Tag Battle may be Arc System Works' most approachable fighter to date, even with the strides in accessibility that Dragon Ball FighterZ made earlier this year and Persona 4 Arena before it. Everything from button mash-friendly auto-combos to extremely simple button inputs being no more complex than a quarter circle motion, as well as two button reversals like in P4A more than considerably help lower the execution barrier. Blazblue Cross Tag Battle goes a few steps further than that, however, including little details such as your character automatically trying to close the distance themselves when you input a grab command, leading to far less missed throws. If anything, anyone who has played Blazblue, Persona 4 Arena, or Under Night In-Birth may feel like they have a larger learning curve here than those who have not. The reasoning for this is that most of the characters in this game originally come from four-button fighters while Blazblue Cross Tag Battle primarily relies on two for most attack strings (before getting into tag commands and the "Clash" button, at least). So, in addition to potentially unlearning years of muscle memory, it can lead to many characters feeling quite foreign due to their much more limited movesets. Personally speaking, I found myself gravitating towards characters I had very little experience with before, or outright new ones like members of RWBY, because of how odd it felt playing once familiar 2D spites. Of course, at the end of the day, Blazblue Cross Tag Battle is a team-based fighter and the synergy between character pairs is arguably more important than being decent with any one fighter. A good assist, for instance, can give slow/short-ranged characters like Azrael the opportunity to easily close the distance. To put this into practice even more, Blazblue Cross Tag Battle clearly borrows many mechanics from Marvel vs Capcom like its own version of push blocking, DHC cancels (changing characters mid-super), and its equivalent of X-Factor to dramatically power up a character when their own ally is knocked out. However, there are a few extra tools in Cross Tag Battle that allow much more combo creativity due to its distinct tagging options. Players can switch characters during normal ally assists or the craziest tag feature of all which involves the "Cross Combo" mechanic that has one's second character on-screen at the same time and perpetually attacking, allowing for some truly devious pressure and combo potential for a brief moment. It is truly impressive just how much free reign players are given with the tag mechanics, both offensively and defensively, making the initially easy-to-approach mechanics for newcomers also appetizing for far more seasoned players with its potential depth and enjoyable yet frenetic combat. Those that do not necessarily want to overload their brains with systems can veer into a much more straightforward environment, like the game's visual novel-style story mode. The story by itself is hardly special as it basically revolves around the many characters being taken from their world and the mastermind behind it forcing them to battle others in hopes to return to their own. In spite of this simple setup, Cross Tag Battle does a great job at being fully aware that it is a crossover game and never takes itself too seriously. There is a lot of fun, self-referential writing regarding each respective franchise and it is entertaining to see unlikely character interactions with one another, such as Ruby fangirling over the bizarre weapons of much of the cast, for example. From an English localization perspective, they go the extra mile for quality, such as having nearly every Persona 4 and Blazblue voice actor reprise their former roles, which is a nice nostalgic touch. Unfortunately, the story mode does frequently serve as an unpleasant reminder about the game's tacky approach to DLC as well. Many characters that appear in the story are outright unplayable in the base game, and with nearly half of the roster locked behind a paid DLC pass, it makes what is supposed to be a discounted fifty dollar game on paper closer to seventy dollars in actual practice. And frankly, it is especially hard to ignore when Persona 4, Under Night In-Birth, and RWBY characters have four characters or less to play as in the initial twenty roster. Though, in fairness, Arc System Works has made an effort to make sure at least the two extra RWBY characters Yang and Blake are free, and I'd be lying if I did not say that Blake Belladonna is probably my current favorite character to play in the entire game... despite me knowing next to nothing about RWBY as a series. The rest of the gameplay feature set is quite standard when compared to Arc System Work's most recent titles. There is the typical training, VS mode, survival, as well as a fairly insightful tutorial that teaches the gameplay systems in addition to character specific nuances, which are incredibly welcome. The same applies to the online lobbies that allow players to roam around in cutesy character avatars and challenge other in sixty-four player rooms, and it is still as endearing as ever. Plus, a fairly solid netcode (without the obnoxious rollback in various Capcom titles) helps its case too. Blazblue Cross Tag Battle successfully delivers in crossover fanservice and as a hyperactive tag team fighter. A very low execution barrier, incredibly fast-paced action, and surprising depth to its many gameplay systems makes this truly bizarre mashup an entertaining time, regardless of one's inherent fighting game skill level. Yet, for everything it does right as a game, it becomes that much harder to shake the feeling of Blazblue Cross Tag Battle coming off as an incomplete package, especially regarding its character roster with so many playable characters clearly locked behind DLC. If one can accept the distinct fine print required for the full package then Blazblue Cross Tag Battle should make for an enjoyable fighter despite how it "Can't Escape From Crossing Fate" with its intended audience through its questionable DLC business practices. Pros + Very low execution barrier for basic controls makes both high and low level play frantic and enjoyable + Lighthearted story mode that is fully aware it is a crossover game and never takes itself too seriously + Immense potential for combo creativity thanks to really flexible tag mechanics Cons - Most of the cast play extremely different than they do in their original games which can be rather off-putting initially - Nearly half the potential playable cast are paid DLC and having them frequently teased in the story mode makes them feel less than optional for the full package - Clearly recycled assets from entirely separate games lead to the visuals not being exactly cohesive Overall Score: 7.5 (out of 10) Good Blazblue Cross Tag Battle does quite a bit to provide a very accessible, yet deep fighter that is chock full of crossover fanservice but the stigma of its poorly handled playable character DLC unfortunately severely hampers it as a complete package. Disclosure: This game was reviewed using downloadable PS4 code provided by the publisher.
  2. barrel

    Review: Guilty Gear Xrd: REV 2

    Developer: Arc System Works Publisher: Aksys Games Platform: PC, PS4, and PS3 Release Date: May 26, 2017 ESRB: T for Teen Note: This review is based on the PS4 version of the game It is hard to be proud of a beautiful series' 3D resurrection in Gear Gear Xrd-SIGN- when it is already so eager follow in the shallow re-release footsteps that plagued Gear Gear X2 for nearly ten years. Despite somewhat feeling like what the original release should've been at launch last year's rocking Gear Gear Xrd: Revelator generally earned its place as a bombastic fighting game follow-up. That game had it all: a fully-featured sequel story mode (that gets surprisingly good), five entirely new characters, smartly revamped gameplay systems and online, and essentially the best tutorial in a fighting game ever. This year's annual follow-up in Guilty Gear Xrd: Rev 2 has, well, two new characters and feels like a premium balance patch for the most part. Now, I'm not going to lie. I genuinely adore Guilty Gear Xrd: Rev 2's two new playable characters. Baiken and Answer feel right at home with the already wonderful diverse character cast and now brings the current total to 25. The fan-favorite Rurouni Kenshin inspired and one-armed lady samurai Baiken finally makes a return in Xrd's gorgeous 3D art style. Retaining familiar skills like randomly kicking a tatami mat into the air, grabbing foes from afar with a weird mechanical claw, and even her signature parry-focused mechanic are there as well as a few others. Baiken does seem simplified compared to her 2D counterpart, especially her combos, but she remains quite enjoyable to play and her rejiggered parry mechanic still feels very execution heavy to use effectively. Oddly enough, despite myself and many others begging to see Baiken in Xrd for years (which she should've been there day one), my favorite of the two new characters to play is actually that of the businessman ninja: Answer. While if it easy to shrug him off when we already have a ninja as cool as Chipp Zanuff fulfilling that role, Answer has a lot of intriguing tricks to his gameplay arsenal. In one moment Answer is tossing business cards, and in the next he's doing Naruto styled ninpo shenanigans mid-air, all while trying to maintain an important phone call in the midst of battle. Best of all -- he has a Ninja Gaiden styled Izuna Drop too, so that's awesome There really is not a whole lot new aside from those two (very fun to play) new characters, however. Everything else included comes across as very subtle gameplay refinements more than anything else. Don't get me wrong, if you haven't played the previous iteration Guilty Gear Xrd: Revelator, Rev 2 is absolutely worth one's time and may arguably be the best 2D styled fighter this console generation. As a retail follow-up to Revelator, however, it is quite lacking as an overall package. For returning players from Revelator it can certainly come off as a $20 DLC pack with two new characters (or $40 if one is getting the disc version to replace it) and character re-balancing. Sure, some characters have new abilities, like Faust has extra items to toss or Ramlethal gets two added sword skills, but most of the cast has seen very few significant balance changes (Both my boys Slayer and Potemkin got almost no changes at all despite being extremely low ranked competitively). That said, it is kind of neat that one can change between the balance changes in Revelator and Rev 2 at any time though if one is so inclined. While this update approach is not entirely uncalled for for Arc System Works standards -- as they are notorious for character DLC being sold at $8 a piece -- it can still feel quite thin especially for how few single player additions were added as well. What new single player content it does include does not really help Rev 2's case either. Former characters that didn't have arcade mode-like "Character episodes" now have them as well the two newcomers but they generally add so little story-wise beyond teasing at least one more familiar Guilty Gear X2 face (which will highly likely be DLC or appear in yet another future version). The most substantial piece of storytelling is in the "After Story A" chapter which, while decent, takes less than 20 minutes to complete following the main story (though, it's safe to assume there will be more to come based on naming alone). Guilty Gear Xrd: Rev 2 is Arc System Works's most obvious attempt of a retail cash grab under the Guilty Gear Xrd name. As tempting as it is to praise an already great fighter that brings just enough excuses to play it once more -- like two awesome and very fun new characters. It is difficult to not feel somewhat shortchanged following right after last year's iteration when Guilty Gear Xrd: Rev 2 is willing to offer so little that is genuinely fresh as a whole. If one hasn't played Guilty Gear Xrd in any form, this is technically the most complete version to date with a budgeted retail price of $40. If you have, well, Guilty Gear Xrd: Rev 2 does not make any real strides to impress beyond satisfying die hard Guilty Gear fans that are willing to pay for what is basically $20 DLC pack with balance changes and two new characters. Pros + Wonderfully diverse list of playable fighters with both Xrd newcomers, Baiken and Answer, being awesome additions + Still the best looking 2D fighter on the market + Neat refinements to the online lobby interface Cons - Pretty thin single player additions with only a few new character episodes and a brief "After Story" chapter - Is kind of difficult to look at it as anything more than a $20 dlc pack for two characters if one is coming off of Guilty Gear Xrd: Revelator - Danger time is still a bad mechanic - Some baffling balance changes (or lack thereof) Overall Score: 6 (out of 10) Decent As great of a fighter as Gear Gear Xrd has become Gear Gear Xrd: Rev 2 makes a paltry argument as a re-release for anyone less than serious fans Disclosure: This game was reviewed using downloadable PS4 code provided by the publisher.
  3. Arc System Works is traditionally known for their Guilty Gear and Blazeblue fighting franchises, though they've worked on other smaller games as well. But recently, the Japanese developer has been experimenting with publishing games that are a bit outside of what they do. Case in point -- they're publishing a cartographing sim called Neo Atlas 1469 from developer Artdink. Set in 15th century Europe, you'll command explorers as they set off to map the uncharted world at the time, discovering new trade routes, materials, and products along the way. The world will begin to take shape based on the information you approve -- some may return with tales of mythical creatures while others will be more mundane but valid. It's up to you to decide what to believe. In all, the game sounds intriguing. If you've played Atlus' Etrian Odyssey games, you'll have already gotten a taste of how addicting it can be to create your own maps, and with Neo Atlas 1469's sim elements added to the mix, it sounds like it could be one of the most unique games out thus far this year. Neo Atlas 1469 arrives on Steam on February 15 at a price point of $29.99, but will launch with a 10% discount for a limited time. Check out the trailer below. Source: Press Release Are you interested in checking out this game?
  4. Developer: Arc System Works Publisher: Aksys Games Platform: PS3 and PS4 Release Date: November 1, 2016 ESRB: T for Teen Note: This review is based on the PlayStation 4 version of the game All things considered, 2016 was actually a solid year for fighting games. Sure, Street Fighter V is facing the consequences of its less than stellar approach to content at launch, but remains as a well-crafted fighter none the less. More or less the same is true for less popular, yet generally reputable, fighting game titles such as the surprisingly good King of Fighters XIV or Pokken Tournament to more safe yet solid iterations such as Guilty Gear Xrd: Revelator or Killer Instinct Season 3. To top the year's end off was the most recent release of my own personal favorite fighting game series: Blazblue. Promising new characters, gameplay mechanics, as well as be the final narrative installment of the confusing tetralogy, Blazblue: Central Fiction will feel complete on its own. People tend to approach Blazblue for either the deep fighting gameplay or its robust visual novel story mode. As much as I love the series, Blazblue's storytelling borders on the level of Kingdom Hearts with its often convoluted approach by casually tossing out phrases like "Seithr", "Phenomenon Intervention", "Nox Nyctores", "The Boundary" and many more during the telling of it. With three previous games that had roughly twenty hour visual novel story modes each, it has become important for many series' fans and also likely indecipherable at this point for those that aren't by now. However, as someone who was expecting a narrative train wreck for the final installment, I was actually rather pleasantly surprised by how much is resolved in the main story in Central Fiction. It closes the book on most story threads and is paced noticeable better than previous games by pushing much of the excessive idle banter into optional chapters. I may have a qualm or two with cringe-worthy anime trope moments, and occasionally its pacing, but most fans should be pleased with much of the conclusion. Where Central Fiction gets most of its longevity is undoubtedly through its rich 2D fighting gameplay. The total character roster has jumped thirty-five total and most of which play vastly different from one another because of their unique character-specific "drive" mechanic (with the sole exceptions of probably Lambda and Nu-13). New additions to the playable list include light-novel spin-off protagonist Naoto, the powerful magician Nine: The Phantom, the ninja-like assassin Hibiki, Goddess of death Izanami, as well as a few others locked behind either DLC or the story mode. As strange of a composition as the new characters are, they are quite fun overall, like Nine whom crafts different spells mid-fight based on using different elemental attack combinations; Naoto, who uses powerful charge attacks that can break guards; and Susano, who unlocks skill seals to gain access to powered up abilities, and so on. Even if that sounded complicated (their story relevance even more so), Central Fiction does rather well with its gameplay tutorials. The tutorials are not quite as fun and free-flowing as Guilty Gear Xrd: Revelator was, but there is a lot of positive reinforcement through them and they are willing to explain the most basic of the aspects of game or fighters in general, to far more complicated character-specific mechanics, which is welcome. This certainly helps as Central Fiction adds some new system mechanics like "Active Flow", which powers up "Distortion Drives" based on meeting certain battle conditions or the new meter-less special attack, Exceed Accel, that all characters can use during their Overdrive mode. Again, mechanics like these and plenty more you can learn through the many helpful tutorials if you care to do so. Which, for a very dense fighter that is more than four iterations in, can be invaluable for newcomers or those who want to brush up their understanding. Now -- other than those aspects -- not a whole lot new has been brought to the table specifically for Central Fiction. It has modes one would expect like arcade, an unlock based gallery mode, and online multiplayer. The least traditional mode it even has, but not actually new to Blazblue, is the RPG-like mode renamed "Grim of Abyss", which has seen a bit of an overhaul with its design and remains rather addictive despite being an occasional interface nightmare of menus. An incredibly crucial component for many fighters nowadays is, of course, the online multiplayer. The cute 2D sprites and arcade-like lobbies from Blazblue: Chrono Phantasma make a return and there are custom player and ranked matches for those who don't want to face just anymore for online multiplayer. The only aspect that is really new at all is basically the ability to create your own online room and add random furniture to it, which I honestly fail to see much of a point to, but whatever. More importantly than any of that is the quality of the netcode, however, which... is kind of iffy. Frankly, it does not seem quite as good as Arc System Work's own Guilty Gear Xrd: Revelator (which is excellent) when I directly compared it side by side. I am not sure if this is something that will be patched down the line, and while the netcode is not bad by any means, I just wish it ran as well as Revelator's when my connection claims to be at its peak. It is hard to believe that Blazblue as a series is more than eight years old at this point. And, for a series that is more than four iterations in it manages to mostly reaffirm those who already love it as a complex and rewarding fighter by adding more to it in addition to satisfying those who are into its storytelling with the surprisingly conclusive finale. Still, for those hoping to see a huge leap in gameplay changes, Central Fiction simply is not that. It is the most approachable and content-filled the series has ever been, thanks to many helpful tutorials, but is unlikely to change minds one way or another for those who have been already been exposed to its more recent releases. Pros + Huge and highly diverse playable character roster + Surprisingly conclusive main narrative + Tutorials are helpful and provide a lot of positive reinforcement for a very mechanically dense fighter + Fun online lobbies and many gameplay unlockables Cons - Netcode does not seem as good as Arc System Work's own Guilty Gear Xrd: Revelator - No English dub whatsoever can be disappointing - Central Fiction's narrative is not approachable in the slightest for newcomers to the series Overall Score: 8.5 (out of 10) Great Even if it does not bring huge gameplay changes for the series at large, Blazblue: Central Fiction is without a doubt the best iteration of the series to date with the smart additions to its rewarding gameplay that also provides a solid narrative resolution for fans as well Disclosure: This game was reviewed using downloadable PS4 code provided by the publisher.
  5. WildCardCorsair

    Review: Damascus Gear: Operation Tokyo

    Developer: A+ Games Publisher: Arc System Works Platform: PlayStation Vita Release Date: March 24, 2015 ESRB: T for Teen Have you ever wanted to pilot a giant robot? Woah, okay—that was a dumb question. So when you are reminded of your own unearthly longing for piloting a giant robot, what is it about that experience that you like the most? Is it tons of ordinance? Is a fast, nimble mech with a sword that can cut down swaths of enemies more your thing? Do laser canons get you all hot and bothered? Well I have good news everyone. In Damascus Gear: Operation Tokyo, a downloadable title from Arc System Works (best known for the Guilty Gear and BlazBlue fighting games), allows you to pick and choose from a variety of customizable robot parts and smash any robot that stands between you and...whatever it is you want in that game. Well, spoiler alert—despite this thing being about super awesome mechs called GEARs, this isn“t actually a prequel to Guilty Gear. Sad, I know. And honestly I might have been okay with that fact if there had been an interesting story to replace it but there really isn“t. There are some super angry robots out there and it“s your job to disassemble them like the angry robots from Short Circuit. Okay, that“s a bad comparison because that movie had some decently interesting characters where as Damascus Gear unfortunately does not. The other pilots you encounter are flatter (personality-wise) than day-old root beer, and most of them make no sense to boot. The operator Mirai, spends the first couple missions putting various speech affectations after your name just before admitting, “That really doesn“t go there, does it?” But after that, she never does it again; I assumed it would be a running gag (one that I didn“t understand in the least), but it“s discarded before you can finish scratching your head. I wish I could say that this was clever satire. Which brings us to another problem. The localization is dry, but functional, aside from a couple odd factors. For one, the text seems very close together, and since there is no English language voice option (though there is really no full voice option at all), you“re going to have to do some reading that is made more difficult by text that seems to run together. Another odd factor, albeit one that doesn“t really bother me so much is the fact that (like in most Japanese games on Sony platforms) the “X” button is used to cancel and the “O” button is used to confirm. It takes some getting used to, and there are plenty of other games that also do this (especially in the Metal Gear franchise) but it can throw you for a loop for a bit. So what about the game? Well if you“ve ever played an Armored Core game you“ll know what you“re getting into mostly, but if you haven“t, here“s the skinny. You“ve got a big honkin“ robot and the parts of said robot changes all sorts of stuff about it. You can change the weapons (with a maximum of three equipped at once), the head, shoulders, body, arms, and legs. Customize your robot and you can take it from a big fat slow robot that can“t even pick up a soccer ball, to a lean mean fighting machine with super robot fist action. Obvious Big Hero 6 reference aside, since you don“t “level up”, upgrading your GEAR will be what helps you climb the ranks from lowly D-rank “Shinji” to a crazy “Hiro Yui” S-rank badass while you navigate top-down levels crawling with RAGE baddies. There are plenty of parts to choose from as you progress through the game, so you can make a heavy walking tank with high output and huge freakin“ guns or a light and maneuverable mech with laser swords to anything in between. Basically, the customization and variety of parts is the best part of the game itself, allowing players to create a mech that best reflects their play-style. You can even paint the thing different colors for added personality. But the crux is you“re going to have to play to get the parts that will really turn your GEAR into a crazy robot death machine. And while the game isn“t as technical or in-depth as other mech games (cause really, who can match Steel Battalion?) it is accessible to more than people who“ve watched every Gundam series. Honestly, despite the numerous flaws I“ve mentioned, and even a few that I haven“t (super repetitive environments), the fact remains that Damascus Gear: Operation Tokyo is a $15 title and not a full blown $60 retail game that might weigh a lot of these criticisms far more. Taking price into consideration, the game still isn“t amazing, but it is accessible and fun, even if it is still quite lacking in story or interesting characters. It isn“t going to redefine the mech genre—and it“s far from perfect—but it“s worth a try, if for no other reason than who even knows when the next Zone of Enders game is coming. Pros: + Plenty of parts to customize your GEAR + Textures and visuals show lots of polish Cons: - Nonexistent plot and characterization - Repetitive environments - Localization quirks Overall Score: 6.5 (out of 10) Decent Damascus Gear: Operation Tokyo won“t turn heads, but it has enough robot shenanigans to keep players entertained. Disclosure: This game was reviewed using downloadable PS Vita code provided by the publisher
  6. barrel

    Review: Guilty Gear Xrd -SIGN-

    Developer: Arc System Works Publisher: Aksys Games Platforms: PlayStation 4/PlayStation 3 Release Date: December 16, 2014 ESRB: T for Teen This review is based on the PS3 version of the game The Guilty Gear series has always had a weirdly strong place in my heart. Guilty Gear X2 was the very first Playstation 2 game that I had ever played and it always stuck with me because of how cool I thought it was at the time thanks to its crazy character designs, awesome music, and frenetic gameplay. Still, fast-forward twelve years later and, pushing all nostalgia aside, I was not quite sure what to make of Guilty Gear Xrd -SIGN-, which looks dramatically different from previous 2D iterations. I think my biggest concern before playing Xrd -SIGN- was whether or not it would feel like Guilty Gear at all. I may have enjoyed recent Arc System Works fighters a lot regardless of their variance (Battle Fantasia not included), but Guilty Gear is a different beast from Blazblue and Persona 4 Arena in particular. While both series pay homage to it in various ways, Blazblue with certain character designs and mechanics, and Persona 4 Arena with its extremely fast and rush-down focused gameplay, at the end of the day they play and feel quite different from their forefather that started it all. I am pleased to say that, despite how many changes it has seen (especially visually), Guilty Gear Xrd -SIGN- does right by its classic lineage. What should immediately stand out to anyone is its gorgeous and completely overhauled visual style. A casual glance at it could mislead one into thinking it is still in 2D, but the character models and environments are actually entirely in 3D. Far stranger is that this new visual look somehow comes from Unreal Engine 3, which is an entirely separate set of surprises. Either way, the end result is that Xrd is downright eye-catching. The animations are extremely smooth, attacks are both flashy and oddly nostalgic for fans, and it is rich with personality frame by frame. This is only escalated further by the great soundtrack that blends entirely new songs as well as a few arrangements of classic tracks. Keep in mind that the PS4 version is most certainly the preferred release because of its higher visual resolution and better audio quality. Still, what gives Guilty Gear its own identity is its fast gameplay, deep fighting mechanics, and crazy characters. You have your shameless rock-band-themed character names like Sol Badguy, Slayer, and Axl Low returning as well as those with even stranger fighting styles: like Venom, who fights using a pool cue; May, who bludgeons people with an anchor; or I-NO, who literally shreds opponents with an electric guitar. Adding some fresh faces to the mix are newcomers Ramelthal, Sin Kiske, DLC characters Elphelt and Leo Whitefang, and lastly, the questionably named Bedman, each with their own refreshingly unique mechanics. Regardless of the insanity that each character presents, both the old and new cast are generally rather fun to play with their nuanced fighting abilities, even if the total number of returning characters is far shorter than I would have liked. Guilty Gear enthusiasts who have stuck with the series are probably wondering if the nitty gritty of its mechanics are intact. If that is the case, don't be; everything from Jump Installs, Roman Cancels, Dash Brake, and Faultless Defense are all there along with some entirely new mechanics like Blitz Shield and Danger Time. If that sentence made no sense to you at all, don't worry—Guilty Gear Xrd is far less intimidating than it used to be with its simplified inputs/mechanics and generally comprehensive tutorial modes to teach people what those even are and the general basics. I say that, but... Guilty Gear Xrd -SIGN-, at its heart, is still most certainly not an easy fighter to get into. If you aren't already a fan of the series or fighters in general, chances are it'll be difficult for most to stick with it to learn its very technical and relatively high-level execution gameplay, despite Arc System Works intentions to reach for a broader audience. To help with the standard fighting game grind towards improvement are the typical tutorial, challenge, mission, arcade, versus, and training modes. If you are hoping for more modes beyond that, however, that's where Guilty Gear Xrd -SIGN- is less consistent. Having said that, the most distinctive features to play through are its online play, story, and, the extremely odd acronym—"M.O.M." mode—which is actually the most pleasant surprise of the bunch. M.O.M mode is basically what I wanted Golden Arena from Persona 4 Arena Ultimax to be. It is an RPG-like mode with a battle progression of your choosing. You can customize your characters in several ways from raw stats, equipment, and even usable skills, as you pick the foes you want to square against while also trying to get new more money and loot treasure chests. It sort of broke my brain knowing that, while I was playing the character Millia Rage, I could also use Sol Badguy's gunflame skill or Faust's explosive bombs in this mode. Nevertheless, this new mode was a fair bit more addictive than I anticipated it would be. Much more disappointing is how online play is handled. The cross-platform PS3/PS4 netcode itself runs solid, even telling you how many frames of lag you have mid-match, but the interface is actually rather clunky. Basically, it tries to make the 64-person lobbies the default hub upon starting it up and then you have to navigate several separate menus within it to initiate ranked versus, player/friend matches, or to even change your character, which almost made me not want to use it altogether at times. That, and certain glitches/errors that I also encountered in lobbies. This shift is even stranger to me since Blazblue: Chrono Phantasma had next to no problems with the online interface and was pretty seamless when doing what you wanted to. The story mode in Xrd is also not very good. Despite being considerably shorter than most recent Arc System Works story modes, it somehow feels way longer than it should due to its awkward internal jargon and corny script. That said, it is more interesting in how it is presented than anything it attempts to convey. Opposed to still-frame character portraits, like a typical visual novel, it actually uses the beautiful in-game engine to present the story. Because of this, it does a decent job at creating an anime-like depiction of story scenes with varied cinematography (despite animations being more stiff than they are in-game). Like I said, though, it is rather poorly told and somehow rubs salt on the wound with not only an anticlimactic "To be Continued" screen but also very clearly showing two characters that old fans would love to see return to being playable in Xrd -SIGN-. Guilty Gear Xrd -SIGN-'s biggest problem is that it mainly feels like a taste of better things to come. It is a really good taste, and I highly enjoy playing it, but the product that it currently is is hard to recommend on its own beyond hardcore fans of the series or the genre in general. As a fighting game, it is great with its excellent visual style, sweet soundtrack, varied characters, and deep mechanics. Yet, in both its relatively small character roster (even with DLC) and how certain modes are handled, it feels somewhat lacking currently. I have more than a lingering suspicion that most improvements will appear soon enough in an enhanced release, like Arc System Works is more than prone to do. That aside, it is more than commendable in itself that Guilty Gear Xrd -SIGN- manages to revitalize a classic fighting-game series quite successfully; it just needs a bit more fine-tuning to truly "Keep on Rockin." Pros: + Downright gorgeous stylized 3D visuals + Deep gameplay mechanics that feel both faithful and fresh compared to previous iterations + Great soundtrack + Questionable naming aside, "M.O.M." mode is a decent time sink Cons: - Why aren“t [insert list of older Guilty Gear characters] here? - Clunky online mode interface - Weak, unsatisfying story mode Overall Score: 7.5 (out of 10) Good Guilty Gear Xrd -SIGN- more than faithfully revitalizes a classic fighter, but it just needs to few more additions to its total character roster, and improvements to certain modes, to give the experience that everyone wants this return to form to be Disclosure: This game was reviewed using downloadable PS3 code provided by the publisher.
  7. Curious as to what Aksys Games' first major release in 2015 will be? Look no further than Under Night In-Birth Exe: Late, a new anime-style 2D fighting game being developed by French Bread in collaboration with Arc System Works. That name might be a bit of a mouthful to say, but it looks to follow in the same story-driven format of French Bread's previous games (most notably the Melty Blood games). The game will also feature 16 different playable characters that each have their own fighting style, a network mode (developed by Arc System Works) that will allow you to fight others online, as well as a number of other modes, including Arcade Mode, Training Mode, Time Attack, Score Attack, and Survival. For more on the game and its story, be sure to check out its official site. Under Night In-Birth Exe: Late is slated for release on PS3 on February 24, 2015. Source: Press Release Are you interested in playing this?
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    Review: Persona 4 Arena Ultimax

    Developer: Arc System Works Publisher: Atlus USA Platforms: PS3, Xbox 360 Release Date: September 30, 2014 ESRB: T for Teen This review is based on the PS3 version of the game It always seemed strange to me that the teenagers of Persona 3 and Persona 4 who had difficulty standing on their own two feet in turn-based battle have transitioned to full-fledged badasses by the hand of Arc System System Works. Yet, just like that, Persona 4 Arena was that peanut butter & jelly combination that fans of the classic Persona 3 & 4 RPGs did not know they wanted it until the series arrived as a fighter. As with fighting game tradition, Persona 4 Arena Ultimax serves as both a direct sequel and an enhanced release two years after the original P4A debut. Is it worth it to take another admission to the P-1 Grand Prix or can one only hope that its Dark Hour quickly passes? Like the original release, Ultimax continues the smart approach of bridging the gap between fans of fighters and those well-versed with the RPGs. The P-1 Grand Prix Tournament returns once again, taking place only a few days after the events in Persona 4 Arena. General Teddie forcibly summons the cast from Persona 3 & 4 to participate in this tournament by enveloping the town of Inaba in a eerie red fog, reminiscent of P3's Dark Hour, and threatens to destroy the world in one hour if they fail to do so. As you would expect from the storytelling, it is told as a fairly in-depth visual novel, with the occasional fight, and it is dense with callbacks to the RPGs. Just be warned, Ultimax“s plot has a much bigger disregard toward spoilers for both P3/P4. If you haven“t played either of P3/P4 to completion (or at all) you probably should not even consider touching Ultimax“s story until doing so, especially since the RPG stories are way better told. For as big of a fan as I may be towards P3/P4, I had pretty fundamental problems with the storytelling in the original Persona 4 Arena. This is primarily because of how P4A was written in way that characters from both entries honestly felt like caricatures of themselves, where significant character development from the original games was disregarded and how much time they spent retreading old story devices and jokes. Ultimax pays more respect to how the cast are written and has better pacing than Arena, but it still falls under a pretty redundant, predictable, and heavy-handed overall storytelling procedure. Not unlike the villain, Sho, I became rather fatigued by the end of it because of how much the phrases “friends” and “bonds” were regurgitated, almost as if Tetsuya Nomura fed them lines in the script. At the end of the day, though, I still really enjoy Persona 4 Arena Ultimax as a fighter. It“s frenetic, very stylish, visually stunning, has tight controls that are easy to learn, and Ultimax is just a ton of fun to play almost regardless of skill level. Of course, there is a lot of depth to it in spite of its more intended approachable design. But, as most who know about series are probably already aware of those things and are wondering what is actually new with this release. What is new aside from the storytelling is the changes to modes, additional characters, general re-balancing, shadow forms, and a ton of fanservice laced throughout. Persona 4 Arena Ultimax has at this point gotten pretty close to having almost every main character from P3/P4 playable with few exceptions. Most of the new characters play quite varied and bolster the roster by eight more from P4A, three of which are technically DLC. In the game by default are new characters like archer/actress Yukari; the enthusiastic baseball coach Junpei; the duo of the spear-user Ken and his knife-wielding dog companion Koromaru; the bubbly idol Rise; and lastly, the villain figure (shadow) Sho Minazuki, who teleports around and slashes foes with his dual katanas. From a roster that was arguably too small in P4A, the new characters serve as very welcome and enjoyable additions in Ultimax, even those unfortunately relegated to paid DLC. Atlus USA also went the extra mile during localization by bringing English voice talents from the original RPGs, which hits a soft nostalgic place for me as a fan. It is a shame that the Shadow characters and (normal) Sho Minazuki are not as interesting or, arguably, as enjoyable as the main cast. Shadow characters are basically clones that play as faster, but generally weaker, versions of most characters with a new combo-centric mechanic called “Shadow Frenzy”. Despite some occasionally neat stuff, like special intro/victory poses, most Shadow characters feel like an afterthought and are generally just less viable to play as in the current release. Due to narrative context, there are also two versions of the character called Sho Minazuki. Unlike the character Labrys, who has a counterpart that plays fundamentally different, (normal) Sho Minazuki and (shadow) Sho Minazuki don't exactly feel that way. (Normal) Sho Minazuki doesn“t have a persona and feels really out of place because of it, especially when (shadow) Sho Minazuki has a relatively similar moveset, in addition to a fairly cool Persona which changes it up a lot. Online play in Ultimax is structured pretty much identically to Blazblue: Chrono Phantasma“s, which is a very good thing. The nifty lobby structure returns, which has custom player avatars roam around a virtual arcade, and also initiating specific ranked/player matches is still pretty seamless as you play the other modes (except story, unfortunately). Thankfully, the netcode is still excellent and, like the original, is the best I have ever seen in a 2D fighter. One cool aspect that sort of stood out to me is that certain unlocks also occur as you are playing online matches, so players don't have to complete the fiendish Score Attack mode… as much for extra content. Aside from netplay enhancements, the only mode that is actually completely new is Golden Arena. This mode brings an RPG progression to what would otherwise seem like a standard survival mode in other titles. Just like the RPGs you can level up and distribute stats, as well choose which passive abilities you want to slot in with a lot of familiar Shin Megami Tensei spell/skill names. It is presented in a nostalgic way, but I wish it had more variety overall, opposed to pure back to back fighting with the occasional "level-up", since it feels like it has a lot of potential as an interesting time-sink. Every other mode is what you'd expect from most fighters and have received fairly subtle to negligible changes; the only difference that stood out to me was that Score Attack is no longer purely unapologetic SNK Boss Syndrome and has now toggleable difficulties. That said, my favorite, seemingly throwaway detail added to the options is being able to change the main menu as well as online lobby music to the fairly huge song selection from both P3/P4 as well as the original Arena and Ultimax tracks. To this date, Persona 4 Arena Ultimax remains as easily one the strongest examples of a licensed property in a fighting game space. Your mileage may vary from what you get out of the in-depth visual novel storytelling, even as a fan of the RPGs, but in every other regard it is more than up to snuff as a fighter considering the high quality bar of its source material. Persona 4 Arena Ultimax doesn't boldly go past the original foundation too much as a whole, but it still proves itself as quite a thoroughly enjoyable fighter. Pros: + Very frenetic, accessible, and yet surprisingly deep core gameplay + Most new characters are very fun to play + Better storytelling than Persona 4 Arena + Online play is well-designed and overall netcode is excellent Cons: - Storytelling is predictable and heavy-handed - Shadow characters and (normal) Sho Minazuki don't add much to the game - Golden Arena mode could be more fleshed out Overall Score: 8.5 (out of 10) Great While not necessarily the biggest step forward in terms of overall content, Persona 4 Arena Ultimax should delight series fans, both old and new, as a worthwhile enhanced release of an already great fighter. Disclosure: This game was reviewed using downloadable PS3 code provided by the publisher.
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    Review image 7

    From the album: Persona 4 Ultimax

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