Developer: Arc Systems Work
Release Date: September 5, 2006
For once, I can agree with Sony Computer Entertainment of America (SCEA) on something. Their "no ports!" edict has saved the PSP from being a pathetic dumping ground for quick-buck PSOne shovelware. We've missed out on a few important titles because of this, sure, like Disgaea Portable, Tales of Destiny, Breath of Fire, and Devil Summoner, but that may be worth it. Just think: We'd be looking at a copy of Mega Man Legends, complete with PSOne graphics, being allowed outside of the Japanese market!
Okay, so maybe this particular policy isn't so wonderful. We're missing out on more good releases than bad ones because of it (I'd sell an organ for an English version of Devil Summoner), but we're also getting better versions of titles otherwise identical to their home console counterparts.
You might find this little story pertinent, if you clicked a link expecting to read a Guilty Gear Judgment review. Those of you lucky enough to live near a Fry's Electronics might already know this: Guilty Gear X2 #Reload has been a retail release for some months now – just not an American one. It was a direct port of the arcade/PlayStation 2/Xbox game with which we were already familiar. No frills, no extras, just a portable version of a nearly two-year-old game. SCEA scoffed at this, and Arc System Works, along with their bosses at Sammy, did not want to lose such a large market. So they developed an entirely new game to go along with the old one, and everybody was very, very happy despite the oh-so-long wait. The end.
And that, children, is how Judgment was born. Ain't he cute?
Judgment is a full-length beat-'em-up featuring characters and (some) special moves from the Guilty Gear series. There is no real story to speak of, and the gameplay is extremely simple: One button jumps, and the others work exactly like they do in X2. Simplicity isn't necessarily a fault with the beat-'em-up genre; in fact, in the case of most modern entries, I would prefer things to be toned down more than they are. The best modernized example, in my humble opinion, is Sega's only good game in the past two years, Yakuza, but that game is a great many steps away from Judgment. Yakuza took the genre in a drastically different direction without sacrificing the things most important to it. Judgment is the very basic concepts established back in the late '80s, with some fighting game mechanics thrown in. That shouldn't pass for a retail game these days, but then, Arc and Sammy knew they had a whole other game on the disc that most people were going to be there for in the first place. Pretty sly, huh?
Judgment isn't bad; it just plays like a fan game. A really tight, bug-tested fan game. With impeccable art. The entire ordeal smacks of somewhat justified laziness. Sprites are re-used, which isn't uncommon in this genre; the music is unoriginal; the stages don't have many changes from one to the next, outside of the enemy layouts and boss fights; and about those enemies, there are about three of them, repeated to the point of nausea.
P.S., fan games often do have bug-testing. Just not most of them. No angry e-mails, please.
Really, I cannot responsibly judge Judgment (ha, ha) as a standalone product. Though it is the default game on the UMD, it isn't the reason this product exists, and it should be seen as a friendly extra. It's a particularly good extra, much better than similar extras thrown in with Tekken, Mortal Kombat, and even other Guilty Gear games. But it rides almost completely on the incredibly trying boss fights, which are notably sandwiched between about 10 minutes of unrewarding enemy grinding.
So SCEA was foiled, we have an extra, and we all know that a portable version of #Reload is why we're going to spend money on this thing in the first place.
Well-informed fans will know that there is something fishy about receiving this specific version of the game instead of the latest version of X2, Slash, but there's already a Japanese port lying around, so that's probably why Judgment received top billing this time. Then again, the upcoming Japanese version of Judgment has a port of Slash to go along with it. I think most Guilty Gear fans would have waited an extra month or two, even after salivating over X2 Reload for nearly a year, to have the very best version of X2 possible. With no home console version of Slash, this would have been a perfect opportunity to bring a game almost completely unavailable on U.S. shores, thanks the near-dead (undead?) state of the arcade scene here.
For most of you reading this, playing Guilty Gear is probably a second-nature thing. We roman cancel from one special move to the next without a second thought, run the same press-the-direction-inputs-twice EX moves that seem to be in every 2D fighting game, etc., etc. If you've played any 2D fighting game, you shouldn't do too badly with this one. And if you haven't, honestly, you might want to take a few steps back and enjoy the Street Fighter Alpha series, because Guilty Gear, along with just about every single SNK game, would give players a headache, with how much the games rely on background knowledge of the genre. This PSP version is definitely not an entry point, thanks to something the developers couldn't help: the d-pad.
The game was reportedly tweaked to allow for less stringent diagonal inputs due to the low-set PSP d-pad, which makes it incredibly difficult to input any non-cardinal directions. There are modifications available to fix the problem, but I haven't tried any of these just yet. I will say that, despite controlling much better than Darkstalkers Chronicles did, I still spent a few hours sizing up various methods to fix the d-pad just to play a proper game of X2.
Another knock against the game is the absence of the Story and Mission modes. This version drops any extras from other console versions and operates mostly to replicate the arcade experience. This could be seen as a concession to accommodate for the portable format, but really, a Story mode in a fighting game isn't something that couldn't be enjoyed on a bus ride. Besides, there is a little thing called sleep mode, which allows players to stop and pick up their progress at a whim; I don't think we need to worry about keeping stuff like this unavailable just because there aren't any controllers or cords attached to the console.
The final knock against this otherwise pristine port is the starched graphics, which give away more pixelated details than other versions do. The graphics are still notably high-resolution – and gorgeous – so don't worry about missing out on too much of the eye candy to which the home version owners are accustomed. Simply, the outlines of the characters "stair-step" a little more than they should. Judgment looks much better, as more time was probably spent optimizing that game for the hardware, while Reload is a straight port.
Fans should closely consider which version of this game to get: Import or American. The American version is easy and cheaper to obtain, but contains the older Reload. The Japanese version has Slash, which some purists claim is not as good as Reload's meticulous balance, but contains new characters and EX moves. New players should disregard all of this and simply pick up the American version, but thanks to the region-free console these games have released on, players have the choice to remedy the problem Arc created by neglecting to release Slash in the U.S.
As for how Guilty Gear Judgment should be played, don't take it as seriously as the home versions. If you're an arcade stick purist, or even if you are a high-level player who uses a standard controller, the PSP hardware is far too flawed to allow for perfect gameplay. See this as a portable training ground for the home or arcade versions #&8211; a way to take your obsession on the go, and perhaps enjoy a little mindless beat-'em-up action while you're at it.
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