When your game has an almost impossible to understand subtitle, you can’t help but feel a little endeared with it. What in the heck is a “Midnight Carnival”, anyway? As opposed to a Daytime Carnival? And what’s a guilty gear versus an innocent one? Sometimes, you just have to roll with the crazy Engrish.
2D fighting games, at one time, were a dying genre (at least in America). Capcom refused to produce any new games; their lack of success with Street Fighter III seemed a permanent death knell for the series. Instead, they remained content to release a constant stream of Resident Evils, Mega Mans (oh, how times have changed!), and other various popular franchises while Street Fighter appeared only in compilations. SNK did rather well even in the face of complete bankruptcy, and their franchises continue to develop and progress. Still, if you did not find the prospect of importing your fighting games or traveling to Japan/an arcade somewhere exciting, you were mostly out of luck in the fighting game genre.
Along came Arc System Works – they created a new 2D fighting game called Guilty Gear. The initial PS1 title, though quite notable for its great animation and awesome music, was unremarkable as a serviceable fighting game. Even so, the unique “heavy metal” aesthetic created a rather dedicated fan base that believed a sequel would improve the game exponentially and sell it to an arcade audience – the original game was never an arcade game. They then released Guilty Gear X only two years later. It was breathtaking in July of 2000 – high resolution 2D character sprites, an unbelievably fast pace and offensive game with too many options and combos to list. The hardcore ate the game up, and here we are today. Honestly, the name of this review seems a sort of misnomer, but this was the first one I played and all the rest seem quite similar (minor changes). It’s even on XBLA and PSN right now (Guilty Gear XX Λ Core Plus R’s the latest iteration). They’ve been tinkering and improving on their formula for a decade or so, even making new games with the same archetype (Blazblue; they lost the license to their own game at some point), but the game’s still as great as it was when it was first released.
What makes Guilty Gear special in a sea of Capcom and SNK? It is simply a case of being different. Unlike modern fighting games, the characters are weird; most do not follow familiar archetypes (take Bridget, the guy who dresses up like a girl because he was raised in a village where men were considered bad omens; he attacks with a yoyo. I am not joking about this.). This lends lots of variance to the game flow, as they all play COMPLETELY different. Even the two supposed “Ryu/Ken” character, Badguy Sol and Ky Kiske, play very differently. The former goes for complete and total offense, whereas Ky can be played offensively or defensively – neither of them, unlike Ryu and Ken, are total palette swaps. Unlike Capcom, ArcSys chose to make every character unique, interesting, perhaps a little insane, and balanced. It’s almost intimidating to come into Guilty Gear – it may appear a simple Street Fighter clone, but just watch a match and you’ll see: this is fast. Really FAST.
Watching it, the game almost blinds you with its speed. None of those combos, those setups, and that timing is easy to learn. I dare say it’s a rather execution heavy game at heart, but that’s part of the design and appeal. A technical fighting game demands technical proficiency which makes those combos and techniques possible in intense situations such as the above. Of course, you and I both look bad by comparison, but fighting games are all about learning things: about the mechanics, about your character choice, about other characters, about other players, and about how to play well.
Preferring to cater to the hardcore rather than the casual (which, in this sense, means the arcade crowd), this depth gives you a run for your money. The computer is not hard at all in most cases (it acts stupid all the time, and falls for repeatable tricks); however, real competition is fast paced and furious. The whole game uses a free form combo system; pretty much, anything can link to anything (given that the next move in sequence isn’t too slow to connect before an opponent recovers), but you obviously have to use good timing and spatial judgment. In addition to this, combos can be created where they cannot exist normally by using a Roman Cancel – pretty much being able to reset your movements in order to add to a combo. It’s unbelievable the crazy things you can do, and the possiblities are nearly limitless. The useful ones, however, remain much more limited, but does your opponent know when you’re going to unload a crazy combo? No. You can’t give anything for free in this game; if you do, you may find yourself destroyed.
There are even False Roman Cancels which are used under stricter timing for certain moves. These both use what is called your Tension Meter – it builds up as you fight (much like the super meters of other games). However, you cannot “stock” super meter that well – as it is the Tension Gauge, you have to keep fighting in order to keep tension. This makes the game mostly offensive, discouraging turtling (that is, overly defense play) which makes matches much more frenetic and exciting. Your normal super moves (popularize by Street Fighter) are there (Overdrives, in this case) if you ever need them, and even Instant Kill Moves (which are self explanatory), though these are easily avoidable and nearly impossible to pull off in high level play. There are even defensive options; one can use the Tension Gauge to avoid block damage, or do a combo break move. Your Tension also drains completely at the end of each round, meaning you’d better use that meter before the round ends.
There are lots of mobility options as well, with everyone having double jumps and air dashes to continue combos, escape and the like. Even though all the characters are different (which is where you would expect character imbalances), there is none because there are so many ways to escape your opponent and turn the tables. 3D fighting games do not have things such as this, and it is hard to turn the flow of the match once it turns against you. I love Soul Calibur, but the game continually stacks the odds; even the most recent game in the series, V, has super moves, but they’re too predictable, not powerful enough, and have a command that makes no sense relative to everything else (seriously; they just copied the Street Fighter inputs for such attacks).
One good combo in GG can turn the tables, making these fights nailbiters until the end. Of course, all of this requires practice, and these characters are by no means pickup and play material – you’ll spend hours practicing combos in Training Mode, then spending countless more hours finding out which combos are even practical in battle.This is not a mainstream game, nor is it intended to be. One has to be willing to spend the time to play it (and having a competitive friend or two as well never hurts, or an XBLA/PSN connection, though I hear the online on the new one’s pretty bad) and learn it intricately to get the most enjoyment.
However, there are some flaws. Apparently, every character in the game has some sort of infinite combo, at least in some versions of the game (Reload, for its own part, has the Dust Loop of Sol Badguy, a glitch that was fixed and replaced with a more technical version of the same). This could be a destructive factor in the balance, as by now many have found these and will continue to use them. However, they can be escaped from, and smart players can see these coming. I’ve never had a situation where “avoiding the single hit of doom” became my modus operandi; it’s merely another tool in the toolbox. As with all good fighting games, learning other characters is the key to seeing these in advance. Again, this is time consuming stuff, but it will keep you occupied trying to learn the intricacies of your opponent’s characters and applying them to your playstyle. It’s just plain great – a combination of the combo system and various escape methods make everything balanced and fun, though the learning curve is a bit steep for new players. Of course, I’m no expert on balancing of fighting games (Eddy has a clear advantage in most matchups, for example) but there’s no huge tier divides in this game.
The graphics are fantastic. Rather than the common “keep low resolution sprites” philosophy enacted by most 2D games, GG is an anime series look alike. It really comes to life when you see it in action, as any good action anime does. Sometimes it is hard to see what is going on with all the flashy effects, special moves, and everything else going on at the same time, but you will get used to it eventually. Some character animations are a little jerky as well, though it does lend to the anime feel. For those that can appreciate excellent hand drawn animation, feast in the creativity and madness of Guilty Gear.
If you like rock music, you’ll like this soundtrack. GG is sorta a tribute to rock music in general, so it is no surprise the game has an excellent heart pumping soundtrack. Most characters are not so subtle references to rock bands, and there are some really obscure references in both character names, move names, and stages – I’m sure there’s a list somewhere! I like metal, so instrumental Japanese-style rock music floats my boat.
Honestly, I find it a shame that games like this never receive the critical reception they deserve, nor do they sell well. Guilty Gear and everyone one of its sequels/variations come with intricate crafted and balanced mechanics, a wholly original style, and plenty of depth, yet no one seems to care. The learning curve’s too large, or someone finds one preconceived notion on which to cling so they can ignore a fantastic game. Our tendency, in gamer culture, to promote the greatest action movie-style game, the most “artsy” indie title, and “best” games (usually determined by the game’s graphical realism) comes at the expense of some fabulous lower-budget titles. That’s changed in recent years due to the Internet, but it happens more often than you’d like. In this respect does James 2 become relevant:
My brethren, do not hold your faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ with an attitude of personal favoritism. 2 For if a man comes into your assembly with a gold ring and dressed in fine clothes, and there also comes in a poor man indirty clothes, 3 and you pay special attention to the one who is wearing the fine clothes, and say, “You sit here in a good place,” and you say to the poor man, “You stand over there, or sit down by my footstool,” 4 have you not made distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil motives? 5 Listen, my beloved brethren: did not God choose the poor of this world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom which He promised to those who love Him? 6 But you have dishonored the poor man. Is it not the rich who oppress you and personally drag you into court? 7 Do they not blaspheme the fair name by which you have been called?
8 If, however, you are fulfilling the royal law according to the Scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing well. 9 But if you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors. 10 For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles in one point, he has become guilty of all. 11 For He who said, “Do not commit adultery,” also said, “Do not commit murder.” Now if you do not commit adultery, but do commit murder, you have become a transgressor of the law. 12 So speak and so act as those who are to be judged by the law of liberty. 13 For judgment will be merciless to one who has shown no mercy; mercy triumphs over judgment.
So it is in games, so it is in real life: favoritism’s not a great thing.