I can’t understand the pressures of being a game developer or publisher. Conversely, I can’t comprehend the need to take a successful series and place it someplace unfamiliar where it bumbles around looking for its true identity. This is often the case with what are historically 2D series moving to 3D, and it’s rarely a good thing for the gamer or the series, be it Metal Slug, Castlevania, King of Fighters, or any of the myriad other failures. Of course there are plenty of exceptions to this rule; unfortunately, Guilty Gear 2 Overture is not one of them.
If you’re new to Guilty Gear, Overture may not be the best introduction. The series is a potpourri of Otaku goodness--colorful Japanese-style 2D artwork, bizarre androgyny, and glam-rock aplenty. It’s also a superbly crafted 2D one-on-one fighter—exacting, deep, and continuously fun. Combining the two has proven successful both in Japan and the US where the series enjoys plenty of casual attention and tournament play. ARC System Works is known for really breaking from the Capcom mold. The forthcoming BlazBlue will, thankfully, take the Arc's line back to familiar territory.
In Overture, the focus shifts to what publisher Aksys Games describes as “3D high-speed action strategy,” though the disjointed mission structure leaves the player wondering what the true purpose is. A convoluted story – about a future rife with magic technology, a reformed United Nations, biological weapons called Gears, and an alternate form of the Crusades – does little to bring everything together. The argument could be made that Guilty Gear has never been known for its straightforward story, though without a solid combat underpinning, this fault is aggravated and will have all but the hardcore skipping most of the cut scenes. In reality, Overture ambitiously tries to mash-up elements from many 3D genres. Is it a real-time strategy game? A fetch-quest adventure? Perhaps a 3D brawler? A one-on-one fighter? It’s as if the entire campaign mode is training for another mode that we never get to enjoy. There is an online component that focuses solely on the strategy aspect of the game, but it’s nigh impossible to find others to play against.
I won’t dare venture too deep in the technical aspects of Overture; they will be presented rather obnoxiously through tutorials as the game progresses. The goal for the majority of missions is to defeat the opposition’s "masterghost." Taking control of Sol, Ky, or any of the other playable characters, you accomplish your goal by capturing smaller ghost nodes throughout the field. The more ghosts captured, the more mana that can be produced, which is used to buy minions, items, and other moves. Some of the levels offer interesting layouts that make it difficult to simply steamroll through the enemy’s master. Directing hordes of servants while trying to control a main character can be difficult, especially with the AI often whining about being outnumbered. Often it will require self-sacrifice in order to call up the necessary helpers to win the mission.
Don’t expect the same level of deep combat the series is known for. The move to 3D has softened up the feel, though there is still a layer of high-level technical play for those inclined to learn. There’s even a form of roman canceling, a staple of the 2D series that lets you cancel move recovery. The tutorial provides plenty of practice with dashing, targeting specific enemies, and item use. All of these are essential to defeating bosses and maintaining the edge while maneuvering around larger levels. This type of combat is a tough sell considering games such as Devil May Cry 4 do 3D combat bigger and better. It’s even tougher to sell it in combination with a less-than-stellar strategy approach that leaves the player-controlled character so vulnerable.
Though plenty of good games have poor presentation – take Earth Defense Force 2017 for example – it needs to be said that Overture comes off as very generic. This is important to fans used to the sharp 2D sprites and distinct character designs of the regular series. In all truth, it’s hard to sell Guilty Gear 2 Overture to even the most devoted fan. Far too many of the missions are pointless, whether it be hunting pieces of treasure, engaging bosses in uninspired one-on-one bouts, racing from point A to B, or trying to comprehend one of the many cut scenes. The action combat and strategy elements don’t work well together. Accessing the “organ” to manage the battlefield leaves you vulnerable to enemy attacks. Nearly every good series has a black sheep; let’s just hope that come next year, we’ll be enjoying the next iteration of the true Guilty Gear series, with solid online play to boot.