The march of new editions of old 2-D fighting games for the PS2 (and Wii) continues. Providing a reprieve from SNK Playmore releases, this time it's Guilty Gear XX Accent Core Plus from Arc System Works and publisher Aksys Games.
Adding only a few extraneous single-player modes and two returning bonus characters, the core game is identical to 2007's North American release of Guilty Gear XX Accent Core, which was itself the fourth iteration of 2002's Guilty Gear XX, the third in the U.S., and the second of those on the PS2. Guilty Gear XX was in turn the upgrade/sequel to Guilty Gear X, which garnered critical acclaim in 2000 as a methodically built fighter designed by people who clearly played and loved 2-D fighting games. The series was the first to take a discerning look at the glut of unbalanced systems in other games (e.g. dodge/roll/parry, combo breakers, Alpha counters) and reform them into an unparalleled combination of depth and technical refinement. It was also notable for sporting sprite-based graphics that were double the resolution of Street Fighter and its contemporaries.
I picked up Guilty Gear X2 (the North American version of the first XX) for the PS2 six years ago, after hearing that it was the most popular 2-D fighter in Japanese arcades. At the time, the hi-res graphics were very exciting, and I loved the rocking soundtrack, but, while I admired its thoughtfulness, the fighting engine was way beyond my comprehension. I pretty quickly gave up trying to learn it, and I paid little attention to the subsequent revisions until now. After passing on #Reload, Slash, and the original Accent Core, I figured that the accumulated tweaks and additions of three revisions constituted a substantial enough upgrade (comparable to going from 2nd Impact to 3rd Strike, but maybe less than the jump from Alpha 2 to Alpha 3) to justify giving it another go. I was also mindful of the possibility that this may be the final and definitive edition, since the rights to the series are split between Arc System Works and original publisher Sammy.
After a few rounds, I can comfortably say that none of the changes make the game any easier. It still rests at the extreme hardcore end of the 2-D fighting game spectrum, and only a hardcore player would even appreciate the differences from previous installments. Although the menu graphics, artwork, and voices are brand new since my time with X2, the character sprites and music are essentially unchanged from the nine-year-old Guilty Gear X. While the soundtrack is still great, it's amazing how quickly the once revolutionary "hi-res" graphics have aged. The new story mode, the big selling point for owners of the original Accent Core, finally picks up the Guilty Gear saga from where XX left off, but it's very typical of fighting game stories. Characters just randomly run into each other and then decide to fight for no good reason.
Still, the single-player provides a diverting enough addition to my rotation of 2-D fighting games. For a collector, it's also good to have the current and possibly last edition of one of the genre's big titles.