How to play Guilty Gear Xrd Rev2 for the Sony PlayStation 4 and Microsoft Windows Personal Computer
When fighting game players decide to start learning a game, their first steps typically include playing through tutorials, looking up videos, asking for advice on Reddit and Discord, perusing through wikis, and generally absorbing as much information as possible. This is not a bad way to learn. The best thing you can do as a fighting game player is to simply make sure you’re learning new stuff every day, and eventually you can trust that through practice and reflection your knowledge will coalesce into a functional understanding of how to play the game.
A major issue with this approach, though, is that once the player tries to actually play the game, they will overfocus on applying the things they just learned in a live match against an opponent that doesn’t give a shit about what the player was just practicing. This is actually good for long-term skill growth (“I may have lost, but at least I anti-aired!”) but if the player doesn’t get to easily connect the work they do to at least some improvement in short-term outcomes, they will likely get tired of losing despite putting in work and go do something else.
There are many other activities that require a significant investment in upfront practice before the player is able to enjoy the game at their own pace. In those activities, the player’s learning is often supported by other things that make it easier to enjoy the overall experience. If you play a sport poorly, at least you still got exercise; if you cook poorly, your food is probably still edible; if you draw or dance or sing poorly, whatever your dissatisfactions with the output itself, at least you made something. And if you have an instructor to guide you, and a supportive community with other people at different points in their own journeys, then it becomes easier to contextualize your own progress and develop your own sources of satisfaction that are independent of the competitive outcomes in any given session.
However, most fighting game players do not have this. The average Reddit-posting ranked-grinding Evo hopeful is armed with cold, unfeeling software, a subscription list of well-meaning content creators, and that’s about it. If they have not already developed their own tools for learning through other activities, they will be ill-equipped to sustain a fighting game journey longer than a couple months unless they can figure it out on their own (which is hard).
Experienced instructors should be able to relate to this, of course, either from their own learning process or witnessing those of the people around them. Any given skill must necessarily be learned piece by piece, and it takes time before a new player has enough pieces to start seeing the general shape of the puzzle. Thus, in order to help sustain a new player through the often awkward and uncomfortable journey of acquiring difficult skills and gaining a single foothold from where they can begin to feel satisfied with their slow but steady progress towards mastering a very complicated activity, a teacher can convey a set of “rules” that help guide the player in their progress for the moments when they have not learned what to do yet. Live sparring will not wait for you to catch up, and training a student to only respond to the situations they’ve studied will yield a practitioner who is rigid and inflexible.
The two rules that helped me out the most in my martial arts practice were “Keep your hands up” from boxing, and “Position before submission” from Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. Both of these are fantastic for cutting through the mental noise of a hundred techniques that might rush through my head during a match — or, alternately, filling the mental void of an adrenaline dump that clears my head of technique entirely. If you’re boxing and you don’t know what you’re supposed to be doing, for the love of god, keep your hands up so you don’t get knocked out. If you’re grappling and you’re not sure what to go for next, start by trying to advance to a stable advantaged position before fighting for a submission that might cause you to end up in a worse state than you were before.
Both of these rules are not inflexible, and experienced fighters will understand where they can be bent or broken, but for a new practitioner, it’s better to adhere to them than not. And eventually, these rules come to serve as principles of the art’s philosophy that can anchor one’s practice over time. “Keep your hands up” isn’t just useful advice in the moment, it’s also a valuable reminder of one of the defining facts of the sport itself, which is that boxing is first about not getting hit, and second about hitting your opponent. “Position before submission” is handy when choosing which branch of your attack flowchart to go down, but when practiced for many years, it creates grapplers who are methodical and ruthless in grinding down their opponents, stacking small advantages to create big ones that then make the eventual submission feel inevitable.
What follows is a set of rules that I’ve formulated through my years of playing Guilty Gear Xrd. Like the two rules above, they’re not absolute, but from what I’ve found, they’re very helpful for orienting new players through the complex chaos of their first couple years.
Rule #1: Get in that ass.
Guilty Gear is generally a game that is designed at its core to reward the attacker. Meter gain is tied to moving forward and attacking, and moving backwards to disengage is penalized. The RISC system means that blocking and then getting opened up is actually worse than not blocking. Roman Cancels allow the attacker to deny the defender the opportunity to escape pressure and turn any opening into a high-damage combo. And, perhaps most importantly, every character has access to plenty of powerful tools that are simply easier to use than they are to beat. It’s easier to swing with good buttons than it is to counterpoke them; it’s easier to run forward than it is to run away; it’s easier to instant airdash in than it is to anti-air.
I say it’s “easier” as a shorthand, but what’s actually going on here is that the attacker gets to take initiative, while the defender has to respond, and responding is more difficult. In order to attack, I simply need to know what my character’s moves are and how to use them, which, for new players, is the easiest thing for them to practice and will generally be useful in every game they play. When I attack, I get to go through all the strings I’ve practiced, watch for the result, and choose my next move according to what I see happening on the screen. Since I am attacking, it is my character doing the thing, and while my character is doing the thing, I get to think about what I want to do next.
However, if I defend, what my character is doing is less important than what my opponent’s character is doing. If I am to defend effectively, I need to know what their character can do, what their options are, where the opportunities for me to engage are, and either react to or predict those opportunities as they come up. The attacker has the luxury of making choices in advance and watching their character do the things, while I have to respond to those choices in real time. What’s more, the risk/reward of effective offense typically leads to damage and knockdown to let the attacker continue their turn, while the risk/reward of effective defense more often leads to a safe return to neutral than it does a complete reversal of circumstance.
Defense is simply more difficult in terms of cognitive load, decision timing, character knowledge tests, and payoff on success. Thus, the most important thing for a new Xrd player to learn is that they should start by learning how to do all their character’s bullshit on offense, and do it repeatedly as often as possible. Eventually they will play against people who are able to consistently check them in neutral or defend their wack-ass mixups, and then they’ll have to learn how to play the rest of the game, but fundamentally, if you are not down to get in that ass, stay in that ass, take your shoes off and make a home in that ass, you’re not going to see much success.
Rule #2: If you’re blocking, you’re losing.
This is a fairly short corollary to Rule #1, and I include it mostly to yell at the people who pick up a fighting game and think that if they have successfully defended their opponent’s attacks, they have earned a chance to play the video game.
When it comes to Xrd, blocking just means you haven’t gotten hit yet.
In the vast majority of attack situations, blocking something is the second-worst outcome. Getting hit is the worst outcome, but blocking is almost as bad. Think of getting hit as paying your bills on time, and blocking is making the monthly minimum payment on a credit card instead of paying off the RISC balance.
You aren’t nice for blocking. If you were nice, you would have either have hit them out of doing the thing, or at least made the thing whiff, or blitzed it, or Instant Blocked it, or even bought your way out of the situation with Faultless Defense or something.
If you are coming from other fighting games, you might expect that blocking your opponent’s attacks would eventually create enough pushback that your opponent’s pressure would naturally end. In Xrd, there are no natural ends to pressure. Pressure is a constant possibility that you must be prepared to dodge or counter, and both of those are hard.
So, when you find yourself blocking a lot, then dying and getting frustrated, remember that you were losing the moment you started blocking. Do whatever you can to not have to block, and if you do block, accept that you fucked up and might very well lose the round for it.
Rule #3: You have to bet.
I say this as the Guilty Gear player who probably dislikes gambling the most: You have to be willing to bet on something that you think will win a situation.
I know there is a fantasy of the perfect player who never gets tagged and always counter hits everything. Xrd is not that kind of game.
If you find yourself neglecting to use certain tools or play certain situations for any reason — you find guessing distasteful, you are morally opposed to oki, you think strike/throw is for uncouth savages, you feel dirty for round start DPs, whatever — you will be making your opponent’s life a thousand times easier.
Xrd is a game where every character has enough unique tools in any given situation, and enough layers to any interaction, that it is only through incredible skill and practice that any situation can yield anything approaching barely-readable controlled chaos. If you’re not willing to use literally any tool in your toolkit, you have done your opponent the generous favor of removing some options from the table, which will make it easier for them to narrow down the possibility space into the most conservative set and style on you ruthlessly for thinking you were above fighting in the gutter. It is better to die getting counter-hit than to live in blockstun.
This doesn’t mean you have to be random. It does mean you have to be ungovernable. To paraphrase a wise man: Holding down-back is just mashing block.
Rule #4: Look at the screen.
After having internalized the above rules, a new player will eventually grow into an ungovernable mashing tax-paying citizen of That Ass. They will have a great time running over newer players and getting into full on sloppy mud fights with players at their own level, they will believe that they have finally learned how to play Xrd, and then they will run into a stronger player who simply moves faster, hits harder, and always seems to be right.
This is because in the process of learning to be an ungovernable mashing tax-paying citizen of That Ass, the new player probably also forgot how to look at the damn screen, which is a pretty important part of playing a fighting game. You can get away with not doing it for a while, when you’re learning how to do all the other beginner shit, but eventually you have to start doing it again.
If you’re getting mysteriously outclassed in seemingly imperceptible ways, the trick almost always reveals itself if you can make sure to look at the screen. Sometimes you’re looking at the screen too long, or at the wrong time, but know that everything good in this game starts with looking at the damn screen.
Rule #5: Do your homework.
This game is deep and complicated and fast, all at the same time. There is always room to figure stuff out on your own, but for most of your player journey you will be better served by standing upon the shoulders of the giants who came before you than you will figuring out stuff for yourself.
Each person who plays Xrd at a high level has invested the time equivalent of somewhere between a Masters degree to a Doctorate in order to get there. You could spend your time trying to figure out the basic principles of second grade-level Gear for yourself, or you could study the work that’s already out there, on Dustloop or Replay Theater or by asking questions in the various character Discords.
If you do end up insisting on figuring out the basic principles of second grade-level Gear for yourself, at least do it because it’s a useful exercise in practicing using your tools (training mode, the Rev2 wakeup tool, etc.) and cultivating your understanding of how the game works, not because you think you’ll find something uniquely useful. You may come up with something unique, but it will probably be less good simply because it didn’t come from the hundreds of thousands of hours of cumulative experience and research yielded from the research labs at Mikado, Shinjuku Sportsland, and all the other current and former Gear hotspots.
Xrd is not a solved game. Not all of it has been fully developed by its players. However, in order to find the edges of our knowledge you kinda have to spend some time understanding the work that has already been done. Seeking to develop your own stuff without doing your homework is mostly an exercise in vanity.
Rule #6: Play Guilty Gear.
Above all, the best way to get better at Guilty Gear is to keep playing Guilty Gear. This game, more than most, rewards players for time spent above all, whether that time is spent in the lab or mashing netplay or grinding locals or whatever.
Sometimes you’ll feel like you’re up against a wall that’s insurmountable. When that happens, play Guilty Gear and the wall will get smaller.
Sometimes you’ll need a break from playing Guilty Gear. Sometimes you’ll take a break from Guilty Gear and end up playing more Guilty Gear. Maybe you’ll play a different character. Maybe you’ll play a different Guilty Gear. Once you come back from that break, you’ll be excited to play some Guilty Gear.
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