Guilty Gear is unashamedly insane. I’m confident in saying that it’s the only fighting game in which a French lawman goes up against a time-travelling magic-and-chained-scythe-using Axl Rose knockoff. Each character is either named after a rock band (typically heavy metal) or has attacks or an element of their person that follows that naming scheme. Add to that the fact these characters use weapons ranging from yo-yos to pool cues to giant scalpels to hair, and it’s hard to find any game like it. Even BlazBlue doesn’t approach how weird it is.
The uniqueness continues into its combat. Guilty Gear uses a five-button system: Punch, Kick, Slash, Heavy Slash, and Dust. While the first four buttons work as you’d expect them to (remember, everyone in the game uses a weapon of some sort… even if that weapon is a ghost or a symbiote), the Dust button is your combination slow launcher/sweep kick/EX button. Strike an enemy with a standing Dust and they’ll go flying into the air for you to follow skyward with an air combo, complete with a color-changing background. It’s also used for more powerful versions of some of your attacks (typically at the cost of 25% of your Tension Gauge).
Aggression is rewarded. You can gain meter simply by running towards your opponent, and playing too cautiously can result in the loss of the whole thing. Everyone’s constantly air-dashing, setting up air combos, and using bursts to get out of them. Add to that the all-in gambles that are instant kills (everyone can do them, but they have to enter Instant Kill mode, which drains your meter, and then your health until you activate your Instant Kill… which robs you of any use of tension gauge until the end of the round).
Each character feels really unique without resorting to anything as on-the-nose as BlazBlue’s Drive button for differentiation. Setting up traps as Testament has a very different flavor than Ky’s more direct, hitstun-heavy playstyle. Considering that Guilty Gear XX came out over 10 years ago, it still feels incredibly modern and forward-thinking. Even the Roman Cancel system, in which you can cancel out of an attack for half a Tension Gauge, (or during certain frames of certain attacks, you can perform a Force Roman Cancel for only 25 Tension) feels like something that more games should look to.
Unfortunately, the PlayStation Vita port feels older than the game itself. Command lists are left completely untranslated, and while they don’t contain attack descriptions like Blazblue does, it just seems lazy to have “ドラゴンインストール” sitting in Sol’s movelist as opposed to Dragon Install. Then, of course, there’s the controversial lack of online play or even leaderboards. In a perfect world, GGXXAC+R would have online and crossplay with the PS3 version (which will hopefully be patched to match the Vita version soon), but If you want to play with someone, you’d better hope they’re in the same room with another Vita with Guilty Gear installed. It’s like 2002 all over again.
There are some things you can do without other people though. Naturally, there are the fighting game staples—Arcade, Training, and Survival mode. Survival works in a pretty interesting way, in which you earn points for decent play, and every 20 points or so, you fight a tougher opponent with an all-black color scheme called a “Daredevil”. Beat the Daredevil, and you get some sort of reward, whether it’s a health refill or faster movement. It’s a nice spin on an old formula. Master of Medals (M.O.M.) is another strange mode requiring you to build up combos to knock more and more medals out of your opponents. The more aggressive you are, the bigger your medals become. You’ve also got Mission, which typically pits you in a handicapped state against some buffed opponent. It can be infuriating, but it’s satisfying when you nail a particularly challenging mission.
However, my favorite bonus mode is the Story Mode, which was left out of the original Guilty Gear XX Accent Core release back in 2008. Part of the reason I love Guilty Gear so much is because of the characters, and the story, while rather terse and repetitive compared to Blazblue, provides an interesting slice of the characters and the world of Guilty Gear.
Take, for instance, Venom. He’s a pool-playing assassin with white hair that somehow has a purple eye dyed(?) into it. He’s also the head of the Assassin’s Guild after his lover Zato was killed by the object of his obsession, the hair-wielding assassin Millia Rage and taken over by his symbiote Eddie. Venom is aimless and haunted by nightmares since Zato’s death and thinks that the only way he can find peace is to kill Millia. That’s just one element of the story, and that doesn’t even involve the main villains like the Post-War Administration Bureau and the creator of the Gears (effectively artificial humans + weapons), just mysteriously named “That Man”.
I love the way Guilty Gear’s world works. Japanese people are nearly extinct, so the government attempts to round up Baiken and Anji every so often. However, because of the rarity of Japanese people, you also have people like Chipp Zanuff, a American former drug dealer with aspirations of presidency who’s obsessed with Japanese culture and speaks broken Japanese in combat. The story and characters are what drew me in back when I first played the series back in 2004, so it makes me happy to see Story Mode back again, even if finding the alternate endings for each character is a little vague.
Food for Thought:
1. Guilty Gear’s music is really good at helping shape its characters. I love how straightforward and powerful the bass line in Potemkin’s theme is versus how cocky I-no’s theme sounds.
2. Speaking of, I loathe I-no in her boss form. So much. Even when you know how to deal with her, a single mistake can cost you half of your health. They even disable instant kills for the fight.
3. While the game only displays in 4:3, it still looks absolutely gorgeous on the Vita. As the screenshots can attest to, I turned off the wallpaper and just completely forgot about the aspect ratio. It looks great in motion.