Guilty Gear XX Accent Core
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As Whitney's away this week it's a chance to use our Gamefly account to try out some games that she normally wouldn't play. Well, as their shipping is so slow, just the one - a fighting game called (I promise you) Guilty Gear XX Accent Core arrived in the post yesterday evening. The Japanese, apart from their unique sense of mania, seem to have a unique approach to sequel numbering - at least Final Fantasy was moderately normal even if they get increasingly inaccurately-titled as the series goes on, but Soul Calibur took three goes before even settling on a name, and this series (as far as I can tell) went for calling the sequels and updates #Reload, X, X2, and XX. I'd been told by various sources that the entire game was one very large ball of heavy metal references, and after spending a couple of hours with it I can see what they mean. It's about ludicrous bombast and loads of hair.

The tone of the game was very clear right from the first few frames of the introduction, which epileptically flashed the characters and their names on to the screen slightly faster than I could keep up with, to the tune of a blistering guitar solo. The characters seemed to get more and more far-fetched as it went on (along with their weapons - the last of them was brandishing a not-so-deadly looking guitar.) And after that sonic onslaught it dumps you at the title screen wondering what happened.

The menu seemed slightly more subdued with a solo bass, before eventually going into more jazzy electric guitar piece. Now, I don't know about you, but on starting a game for the first time I have this neurotic habit of going straight into the Options screen immediately, even though I have little hope of knowing what anything does before actually playing the game to find out, and this was no exception. I was amused to see that the page titles were written in an approximation of Iron Maiden's font, but beyond that I quickly confused myself - most of the control names were fairly self-explanatory, but what, for example, are "Dust" and "Respect", and is it advisable to have those up on the same set of shoulder buttons, or is that going to make things phenomenally uncomfortable? Backing out of all this, I decided I needed the Training mode.

Yet another fast and lively metal instrumental was the soundtrack for the fighter select music, and I quickly felt a bit overwhelmed. The last time I played a fighting game, they started you off with ten or so characters and you could flip through them to find the one you liked the look of best. With this approach it seemed that the character I picked first would always become my favourite - King from Tekken and Voldo from Soul Calibur (formerly Blade (formerly Edge)), for example. This one throws no less than 23 at you at the same time, but I had been forewarned about the range of characters by and told that one of the easier ones to start off with was Ky Kiske, a floppy-haired swordsman in a white floaty thing who is named after Kai Hansen and Michael Kiske from Helloween (and just about everywhere else) and has moves named after Metallica and Yngwie Malmsteen albums. His in-game profile says he's French and enjoys collecting tea cups.

A twelve-foot-tall man with a bag on his head slaps a possessed Australian named after Frank Zappa, in one of the game's calmer moments.
So after getting used to the movement and the very unusual-feeling lack of a third dimension, I had a go at seeing what the controls did. I quickly found out that the previously mentioned "Dust" button is a slow but powerful launch move that blasts your opponent about fifty feet into the air, and if you hold Up when it connects then you'll both shoot into outer space from where you can freely hit them as many times as you can before you both come tumbling back to earth. My major difficulty with the controls is caused by the only fighting series I've really played for ages being Soul Calibur, which has very unusual controls in that Block is on a face button instead of Back. So my instinct to hit X when something attacks me just results in me performing an ineffective kick against the incoming giant missiles of doom.

Importantly, though, the Training mode didn't actually seem to provide much training. A sparse command list was provided, of course, but uniquely it didn't give any move names or effects, only suggesting a few combinations to try out for myself. And I memorized a few of them. I did attempt to look up an FAQ for a fuller explanation of how the game worked, but that just resulted in huge confusion as to what game I was actually playing - as if the sequel numbering confusion wasn't bad enough, the game is apparently a compilation of two updates to the second sequel, or something, and even the mighty GameFAQs doesn't have much in the way of help for it, instead expecting you to defer to the other games (possibly called X2, XX or #Reload). Faced with this situation, I decided to abandon this plan and instead go with my dad's approach to fighting games - start off with no clue about the mechanics, hit buttons to see what they do, and muddle through from there.

And that worked decently for me for a while. Fights are introduced by an enthusiastic announcer who sounds vaguely like the man who used to do the voiceover for Iron Chef, and it's a sure indication of the game's musical influence that they've gone for "Let's Rock!" instead of the more traditional "Fight!". After that it's a matter of flying around the screen hitting each other until one of you reduces the other's health bar to zero. The opponents in my first run-through included a Hot Topic-looking woman brandishing a really serious Keyblade, a robotic version of Ky, slightly resembling Viktor Von Doom from the Fantastic Four, and a girl in a red pirate outfit whose choice of projectiles seemed to be dolphins.

This is pretty much all I saw of the boss.
It was somebody named Eddie, presumably after Iron Maiden's mascot as his choice of fighting stage is none other than Hell, who first gave me problems. He's a ghostly spectre possessing the body of one of the fighters from the previous games, who was named after Zatoichi the blind swordsman. And his shape-shifting spike-summoning cheating was something that I found myself unable to defend against. Eventually I seemed to realize the tone of the game and gave up on physical attacks in favour of spamming blue missiles back at him, which saw him off fairly quickly. And with this new approach I got all the way up to Sol-Badguy (a name that's asking for it if ever there was one), but I never got his health bar more than halfway down before he absolutely flattened me, so I decided to call it a night and research more of what I was supposed to be doing (or set the difficulty level down).

Out of all the fighting games I've played seeing as I grew up with the PC route instead of games consoles where they were more common, it's most similar to One Must Fall, with the emphasis on projectile attacks, scores flying around as you counter and hit things, and downplaying of combination attacks (which this game has chosen to call Beat). The sprite work is amazing - there's something about 2D drawn artwork that keyframing things in 3D can't quite capture, and it never seems to age, especially when put alongside early Gouraud-shaded 3D efforts like Tekken. And naturally, the music, in fitting with the game's theme, is pretty fantastic as well.

The sheer madness of it makes it feel rather like Evil Zone, but with an actual decent game backing it up. Perhaps it would have made a bit more sense if I could understand the Japanese that the characters bellow at each other while hitting each other with fans, magic missiles and musical instruments. But I doubt it, somehow.