Those that played Guilty Gear Xrd -SIGN- (Sign from here on in) uncovered a fighter with depth, fun, and personality; one that introduced real rewards for aggressive play while also boasting defensive options beyond the genre norm. This bodes well, then, for the Guilty Gear Xrd -REVELATOR- (Revelator, from here on in) - a newly expanded and refined sequel to Sign.

So then, what's new and why should you care? The most obvious and anticipated feature of Revelator is the expanded cast. First up is pirate leader Johnny; already regarded as top tier by some Revelator pros, he possesses cracking range on both his normal and special attacks, and seems capable of dealing devastating damage from more or less any opening. Jack-o has something of a Skullgirls vibe about her, arranging devices on stage to release multiple minions that attack on her behalf, delivering specific instructions to the critters via her magically summoned organ.

Rounding off the initial offering is passionate restaurateur and bounty hunter Jam Kuradoberi, capable of powering her special moves up by assuming various stances during combat - her predominantly kick-based attacks pose a real threat once fully charged. Initially missing from the roster are Raven and Kum Haeyun – though each will be available for free during Revelator's launch period, and Raven is unlockable via a rather large amount of the title's in-game currency.

Raven's an interesting character in that he's seemingly a strong zoner, but, being a terminally bored immortal, rather enjoys the thrill of getting hurt. Entering Raven's unusual "Give it to me HERE" stance grants players the opportunity to absorb incoming damage as recoverable health, and beatings delivered this way quickly fill his excitement gauge, resulting in deadlier attacks across the board. Finally, long teased and rumoured to return at some point, is fan-favourite Dizzy, who will eventually bring the final roster to 23 combatants.

For newcomers, such typically diverse mechanics could alarm, but the game caters to newbies exceptionally well – first by virtue of stylish mode. Snaffled from the brilliant BlazBlue, stylish mode grants beginners sturdy training wheels: mashing attack conjures up flashy, satisfying combos, while the mode also engages auto-blocking. It's not all good, though as players utilising stylish mode take more damage in combat. Regardless, it's a great and proven addition, and allows new players to acclimatise to the flow of combat quickly.

For those looking for hands-on learning, the game features a lengthy tutorial, and a superb series of missions which dig deep into Revelator's distinctive brand of mayhem. Overdrives, shield blitzes, instant kills, launchers, dust attacks, faultless defense, and so on all ensure that at any time, a tonne of options are on hand to deliver beatings or escape assaults, and all's explained through a set of interactive guides.

As are the newly introduced mechanics, such as burst overdrives – particularly resource-heavy super moves that land huge damage, and blitz attacks – a way of converting defensive action into attacking potential. Better still, these soon expand into general fighting lessons, applicable across the genre; tick throws, feints, option-selects, fuzzy guarding, and more. Potential players may have no idea what the above terms mean, but Revelator's missions educate effectively.

It's worth learning the intricacies of these systems, too, as Revelator's combat is fast-paced and rewards aggressive play. A great deal of damage potential stems from players' tension level – super moves, cancels and defensive options rely on the tension gauge being charged, and forward momentum tops it up quickly. Conversely, a player who is intent on doing little other than run away risks a negative penalty, severely limiting their own tension gain. Elsewhere, the burst gauge returns, offering players an escape route from particularly dangerous situations, or a way to max out tension with a well-timed burst attack.

Once these mechanics begin to bed in, Revelator, like BlazBlue, benefits enormously from its pedigree. The fighters all offer a distinct feel, their own intricacies, and their differing game-plans and strategies soon become apparent. Occasionally, fights can seem a frantic attempt to land a quick high - low mix-up to deliver damaging sequences, and as with many chain-combo brawlers, may sometimes feel less strategic than other fighting games. However, carefully rationed tension and burst gauges effectively dampen excessive bedlam, and besides, a fast and frenetic spectacle is often good, honest fun.

Much of this fun will come from the game's online modes, both standard and bizarre. Ranked and player matches make up the standard contingent, while a strangely endearing lobby mode sees players' avatars wander around an outdoor arcade, with the option to split off into private lobbies for sessions with friends. There's no apparent invite system, however, so you'll be forced to supply friends with a code to enter your lobby. Once all this is sorted, though, netplay works exactly as intended; a smooth and reliable connection with only very infrequent tangible lag.

Offline, there's plenty to get stuck into. Aside from the challenges, missions, and combo sets, Revelator features an arcade mode which acts as a prologue to the main event of the bundled story – two hours of beautifully rendered in-engine cut-scenes offer up an intriguing progression of the storyline, ending on an enormous cliff-hanger, just as soon as things start to get going. For those unprepared for story's intricacies – and there are many – the game features an enormous glossary of terms relevant to the Guilty Gear world, cleverly context-aware and available during the cinematic mode.

Meanwhile, M.O.M. mode makes up the survival component here, as you battle in an effort to gain medals and points to subsequently spend on power-ups for increased stats. The whole thing's really quite involved, with various parameters up for tweaking - such as elemental resistances - and available items, such as bombs, to use in combat. Taking part in M.O.M. mode – or more or less any other Revelator activity – grants world dollars, in-game currency that's used to unlock alternate character colours, voice overs, themes, and other collectables within the game's impressive gallery. And naturally, a brilliantly executed training mode is present, with all the options that you could hope for in a modern fighting game.

Of course, it's impossible to discuss Revelator and its predecessor without special mention of how they look. Sign used 3D models and incredible filtering to create a sprite-like affair that delivered the smoothness and utility of 3D models with the character and personality of more traditional techniques. Revelator takes this rock-solid foundation and carefully refines: ambient lighting on stages subtly affect how fighters appear, while special moves create their own dynamic lighting. Such detail lifts Revelator's aesthetic impossibly high, delivering what is, for our money, surely the best looking fighter to date.

There's only one real downside with Revelator, however, in that it's very much an iteration on Sign. While the story is new, the system tweaks and new characters - one of which is, remember, only free for a period - may not prove enough of an incentive for all to upgrade, especially given the game is a fully priced release.

Conclusion

Guilty Gear Xrd -REVELATOR- offers up a wonderfully entertaining, complex game, and the addition of stylish mode makes it the perfect starting point for those looking get into Guilty Gear. It's addictive, frenetic, and varied, not to mention absolutely stunning. If you already own Guilty Gear Xrd -SIGN-, you may have to take a harder look at this improved package, but for everyone else, this is one of the very best fighters on the market.