Retro Monday “Guilty Gear”

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Title: “Guilty Gear

Developer: Arc System Works

Publisher: Arc System Works

Released: Japan: May 1998

US: October 1998

EU: May 2000

This week I am going to indulge myself. Mainly because, (as I am writing this), there is a film on the TV called “MirrorMask,, a brilliant British film written by Neil Gaiman with visual effects by The Jim Henson Company. It’s a visually stunning blue-screen adventure. Ask the site’s film guy (Josh Barton) and watch his brain fumble. For a British film, it only had a US release back in 2005. So firstly, go watch “MirrorMask.”  When you’re done, come back and I’ll talk about a 2D fighter from 1998 or 2000, depending where live in the world, that is visually stunning as well.

Guilty Gear” is a 2D fighter from the PlayStation 1, but has lasted all the way to modern times with the latest incarnation “Guiltily Gear Xed” being released in arcades last month. As players of fighter games may know, there isn’t much story. There never is in fighter games. Trying to fit in story or dialogue is like the fighting talk in “DragonBall Z.”  One fight lasts for hours because of the piles of exposition that gets dribbled out. That’s partly because of the ‘hierarchy of knowledge’ film theory and no I don’t need to prove I was at least conscious during the failed University experiment.

Arc System understood story in fighting games was bad so they put it at the beginning and the end. Set in the 22nd century where a new renewable energy source called magic was found.  With it, humanity created new humanoid beings called Gears. After many years, the Gears rebelled and so there was a 100-year war against the Gears called the Crusades. Many humans where killed and the Gears where locked away in a dimension prison Superman Style. I am able to make that joke because ITV decided to do with “Superman II” in the afternoon what it does to “Dirty Harry” in the evening and that’s playing it every day for weeks.

The 2D over-the-top anime styled visuals are striking.  For example, the characters have some bombastic weapons. The two leads, (a literal version of ‘white knight’ (Ky Kiske) and ‘fiery anti-authoritarian’ (Sol Badguy)), have an electric long sword (Ky) and gas lighter inspired fire flat sword (Sol). The petite girl character (because there always is one in Japanese games) has a ship anchor as a weapon. Like I said, over-the-top bombastic visual design.

The characters are also well-rounded and have particular traits. Like, the ninja character is the only one that can triple jump and the mad doctor character is the lowest (although he’s a 9”) because he defaults to crouch height. Each character has his own “special ability” which makes playing the game much more interesting rather then just choosing ‘Sub-Zero’ or ‘Scorpion’ in “Mortal Kombat” and spamming the free hit attacks or (famously) kicking someone to death by shin kicking. The shin death can happen, but with each character being different and not really having overlapping abilities it’s ‘less’ of a problem.

On the controls, I should answer the question ‘does it just come down to button mashing?’ My response to that is ‘kinda?’  There are many different commands for all the characters ranging from the down-to-forward punch kamahamaha attack to the extended secret pass code to the gods and f-u and your family death attack. There is at least one attack you can learn and do easily so it ‘shouldn’t’ come down to button mashing. But from experience, it does. When I had the game (my sister took it and I’m totally still not sad about that) battles always came down to who can press buttons the fastest.

Now to move on to what I adored about the game most of all–the music. The music can be safely categorized as rock music. Lots of electric guitar and (what I only later learned was) overdrive guitar. Each character, like their design, has his own theme to fit their style. Ky, for instance, is the ‘white knight’ character (whose theme is called “Holy Orders–Be Just Or Be Dead” — the most awesome song title ever), has a classical opening and a harpsichord intertwined with the guitars which gives it a gothic style. But my favourite track has to be “The March Of The Wicked King,” the theme for the time-warped British character ‘Axl Low.’ It is rock with a funky twist, somewhat British. Think of the music of Guy Richie’s “Snatch” and that’s pretty much on the money if you need an example.  A close second is “Suck A Sage” (the theme for triple-jumping ninja ‘Chipp Zanuff’) with its speed rock. The music helps sell the characters. It becomes a part of the characters personalities.

To round this off, “Guilty Gear” has earned the right to be called a cult classic video game. The whole thing is an intertwined package of visuals, music and style. Getting the game is another matter.  Firstly, it’s a PS1 so it’s hard to find just because of its age. But there is also another thing. There was a rights snafu between SEGA and Arc System. A company that helped make the early games called Sammy was bought and merged with SEGA (who publishes the series) back in 2004. SEGA then said that they owned the rights to “Guilty Gear.” Arc System in response made a new series called “Blazblue,” a spiritual successor to “Guilty Gear.” Everything was cleaned up in 2011 when Arc said that they filed their trademark for “Guilty Gear,” ending the dispute. If you can, get a copy, especially if you’re a fighting game fan.

I’m still waiting for the “Guilty Gear” animated movie!

Retro Score: 4.5/5

Modern Score: 4.5/5

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