Thursday, 5 February 2015

Alright, let's talk about Xrd 1.10's Loketest

So, this weekend is the first location test for the first serious balance adjustments to Guilty Gear Xrd. Before I jump into what's going on with the changes, I'd like to talk about where the game currently stands. From there we can see what the aim with the update is and what it'll do to the game. So, let's jump in!

1. Who's currently strong, and why?
Most of the tier lists coming from the high ranked japanese players run on a similar theme, with the number of tiers being based on personal philosophy or sorting. This here is Sharon (a high ranked Ramlethal turned Elphelt player)'s list, as it sorts things in a way I like to discuss the tiers. Leo's placement is my own, however.

S Milia, Zato, Ramlethal, Faust, Elphelt
A Sol, I-No, Venom, Sin, Ky, Chipp
B May, Bedman, Leo
C Slayer, Axl, Potemkin

What's interesting about this list is that it is essentially four categories of play style.

S tier's cast have multiple strengths. They're both fast and for the most part have some form of extra mobility quirk such as flight, aerial FD brakes or fast falling. They have potent space control options such as fast, far-reaching normals, projectiles that cover distinct angles (such as Milia's hairpin) or can just stick things like grenades, giant swords or shadows shaped like sharks wherever they want. They all have excellent options to force you to block on your wakeup such as spinning hair, giant buzzsaws, miniature Fausts, giant spinning swords or grenades. On top of that, once they've made you block they either have setups that are literally unblockable, or a mixup game so relentless that it might as well be unblockable anyway. Milia has numerous extremely fast overheads, lows that looks like overheads (and can spend meter to make them actually become so), nasty crossups at midscreen and damn good frametraps just to keep you honest. Zato has a command grab, a nice overhead and if he tags you on the ground while Eddie's out, an unblockable setup is coming for you. Faust has a command grab that when combined with the slowdown from roman cancels can punish you even if you jump out. On top of that, he has an instant overhead and another overhead whose startup can be obscure by the right items coming out. Elphelt has unblockables that loop into themselves for very little meter cost if she lands the right hit. Ramlethal has myriad high and low options that are always backed up by giant sword swings.
In other words, the S tier controls a large portion of the stage and demands respect from you simply by existing after knockdowns.

In comparison, the A tier have some form of deficiency. Rather than a barrage of unreactable mixups, Sol relies on staying at advantage until you crack and fall for an uppercut or throw. He plays like a grappler. Likewise, Ky nags at you with 6H or f.S chained to 2S then swats you if you run away at a poor time. If he wants to catch you sleeping, there is a degree of risk that you'll mash your way out or just stay patient and blow him up if he didn't make that Greed Sever safe by spending meter. Chipp is the closest to an exception to what defines this A tier, as he has numerous safejumps and ludicrous mobility. However, since he's not backing himself up with some form of projectile or Eddie and pretty much goes down in one hit, he isn't quite as oppressive as the S tier. I-no's mighty hard to block, but simply isn't getting the sheer damage or dictating the entire flow of the match right from round start that the S tier can.
In other words, the A tier can control space and stay on top of you, but rely much more on getting in your head than just following a flowchart that guarantees results.

B tier characters are simply solid. They move well, have nice buttons, have nice damage and some forms of trickery, but are lacking in either relentless pressure or have notable deficiencies in their neutral game. Once they get to play their preferred game they're scary, but they have to put in some work to get started.

And then the C tier. These guys all have some serious strengths (Slayer buttons are still scary as hell up close, Axl at full screen can be a huge jerk to approach, Hammerfall YRC is the single craziest option in the game), but are deficient in multiple areas. Slayer's lost his gigantic back of tricks to keep you guessing at many ranges, Axl's lost his pressure and Potemkin's taken serious hits to his footsies. They're hardly weak when compared to the bottom tier of a game like Street Fighter 3: Third Strike, but  you're definitely putting in way more work to win than other players are.

So to sum up:
Guilty Gear Xrd currently favours characters with strong space control and relentless okizeme.

2. What's chaging, and what does it mean?
1.10 has a pile of character changes that are mostly subtle tweaks. What's really significant are the system changes. These are as follows:

 - Buffer reception time for button inputs, forward dash inputs, etc. has been extended.
 - Inputs for certain command moves such as Special Moves and Overdrive Attacks have been made easier.
 - When repelling a projectile with Blitz Shield, the opposing character itself is repelled if close.
 - Time it takes for Purple Roman Cancels to activate has been shortened.
 - When activating a Roman Cancel during the opponent’s Blue Psych Burst, the Roman Cancel is now red.
 - Behavior when activating neutral recovery at a low position changed.

The input detection change is likely bringing things back in line with how XX read inputs. This means that an input like 23P6 will give you Gunflame again. You can afford to be a bit sloppier and still get what you want.
The changes to roman cancels mean that Purple cancelling things will be a little bit safer. The change involving bursts removes an option select. If you input RC on each hit in a combo while your meter was between 25 and 49 points of tension, you would instantly YRC if a burst came out and thus blow it up without much thought. It was a dumb and unintended nerf to bursts that people in both the Japanese and international communities weren't very fond of. Good riddance.

What's most interesting is the change to Blitz Shield. If you're reading this without much familiarity with Xrd (likely because I shoved this link down your throat), here's what the system does:
- If you push two buttons that aren't Dust together while the stick is in neutral or immediately downwards, you can spend 25 tension to Blitz Shield
- If it comes into contact with a physical attack, the opponent makes a pose like this.
  - While in that state, you can Blitz Shield back!
 - You cannot Blitz Shield throws or supers
 - If you Blitz Shield a projectile, the projectile goes away but you can't immediately act.

This last note is key, because it meant that even if you Blitz Shielded away things like Milia's disc or Zato's drills, they were still free to smack you around while you recovered from the Shield. This latest change means that you can now blow up traditional Guilty Gear okizeme for 25 tension. This is a serious change to the game's flow. Characters who previous stayed on top of you for free all the time now need to spend a lot more time baiting out Blitz Shields. If you're at all familiar with Melty Blood, this is what characters like Aoko need to do against H-moon players. Expect to see a lot more setting disc then simply blocking or jumping back, seeing what you do and then running in. Knockdowns still put the aggressor at advantage, but they're not just going to chop you up for free now.

I think this is a great change for the game for two reasons. The first is that YRC's ability to slow down the opponent made a lot of traditional defensive techniques (such as aerial FDing) way riskier as far more things either caught you in jump startup, or made your jumps so obvious that they just airthrow you for your efforts. In a related note, there are far less reversals in Xrd than XX at this point (no Robo-ky, Jam, ABA, Zappa, Order-Sol, AC Testament and so on), so that alone meant the okizeme characters had way less matchups where they needed to worry about threats to their momentum. This change is going to increase player-player interaction and further distinguishes the game as different from XX. After all, I still love to play Accent Core +R and think it absolutely deserves to be played in conjunction with Xrd. Now there's even more reason to not just treat Xrd as a complete replacement.

3. Might as well talk about the character-specific changes here.
Sol - Plays the same, but Fafnir is a bit less dumb. Sol's still got great buttons and still has the best DP in the game at this point, so he's just a little bit less of a scrub killer now. 
Ky - Increased stunedge  YRC window means he can play more of an SF2 fireball game. I enjoy this a lot, so nice change. The Split Ciel change means he can actually use it as a legit pressure option, as well as for staggering pressure to catch Blitz Shields. Since the BS change is a big nerf to how he's pressured people since the year 2000, this is very nice to have. Sacred Edge YRC change means that he can now spend 75 meter to blow up a Blitz Shield and do the traditional pressure at the same time. Cute.
May - These are mostly ease of use changes. The buff to HHD means she's pretty much always safe on block. I really like how Xrd May is far more about space control than "I hit you once and you died", so I have no complaints here.
Milia - 6K has been nerfed for the first time ever. Gotta work for those confirms into Sdisc or Super now. At this point she's so relentless and has so many options thanks to the roll followups that she deserves this. You want frame advantage? Use Lust Shaker for once. Other changes are small nerfs, which are fine. The system change is the biggest nerf she has ever had. Also, we know that this is a patch and not a new revision because her combo theory hasn't been reworked yet. :V
Zato - Basically, they're nerfing his neutral game and leaving his pressure and okizeme the same (bar the Blitz shield change). Zato's space control is so scary that this is a perfectly fine decision to make. He basically needs to be more on point with what he's doing if he wants to control the stage.
However, I think that the BS change won't affect his unblockable setup. Even if BSing the drill makes him get rejected, he can always just mix up the timing on when he hits you with a jumping normal so it comes before or after when you BS. And from there, make you guess whether you should BS high or low. So, that Drill is still going to hit you and it's still going to hurt. He just might not have the Eddie gauge to combo into it after catching you fullscreen with a buzzsaw now.
Potemkin - ...are you trying to give him a 25 meter DP, ASW? That's a nice thought, but fixing his footsies would be nicer. Seriously. Goddamn.
Chipp - Find Me is stupid as hell as it currently is, so it's probably getting nerfed. Buffing other things is, well, Chipp's pretty much guaranteed top tier if all these changes stick.
Faust - Slight nerfs. f.S trading more often is probably going to wind up in his favour half the time. j.2K height adjustment potentially means that FD brakes come out too low to the ground to make the instant overhead j.K possible. He's deserved this nerf for like 8 years.
Axl - Looks like he gets pressure for 25 meter. Otherwise, just some tweaks to make his Sparrowhawk combos more consistent. Still not quite what I'd like him to get, but it's better than nothing.
Venom - Buffs to his supers are nice. Ramlethal shouldn't have a better Dark Angel than the originator of Dark Angel. If that wording on the Ball Set means what I think it does, he might be getting two balls per set. This is a huge buff in a way that makes him really stand out from AC Venom, whose strength lied more in his huge damage.
Slayer - 6P is more like AC. Very nice. Pilebunker changes are interesting, but I'd rather improvements to his consistency than on a move that's already a gamble. Further nerfs to advantage on Bite are just baffling at this point. Dead on Time being more like AC is very good to see. He's still a shadow of his former selves.
I-no - Oh lordy. Footsie buff, STBT buff and tremendous improvement to reset potential. I-no's great in Xrd and now she's that much better.
Bedman - Basically, buffs to things that were unique and cool and to his zoning without making the Ball stupid. Nightmare cloud thing is likely going to be much scarier. I'd still rather it were really fast but just cranked the guard bar way up instad of being an unblockable.
Ramlethal - SHe's going to be even more reliant on meter for playing her game now. On top of that, she's got the most serious nerfs to combos of anyone in the cast. Given how everything carried to the corner before, it's well deserved. A bit less Accent Core, a bit more +R.
Sin - 6P is much more threatening. The uppercut is going to work in combos much more consistently now. So basically, he still craps out damage but it's way more consistent. This is pretty much all he needed. Sin's cool.
Elphelt - The grenade is what leads to all the momentum-related woes. These changes make it a much less dominating tool. Essentially, Elphelt and unblockables is to Xrd what Johnny is to XX: build your mixup game around making the opponent hang themelves trying to escape the things. f.S nerf is a swat to her footsies that is also deserved. Don't get hit in the air against Elphelt.
Leo - This guy is dumb. Improving his ranged game is dumb. Fixing the "bursting j.236H makes you escape then get hit anyway" bug is sensible, but less funny. This character is dumb and plays like Blazblue. Go away Leo.

Thoughts? Complaints? Questions? Fire away in the comments!

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