Review #1 by Ken Lee
Three years. That's the amount of time it has taken ARC System Works to create, design, polish, and finally release their first 2D fighting game, "Guilty Gear." When looking back at the history of 2D fighters, one can only see two names appear as the leaders: Capcom and SNK. A myriad of "Street Fighter clones" have come and gone, and effectively no other company out there has made a solid, well-playing 2D fighting game besides Capcom or SNK - the one surprising exception being Fill-In Café, and their fun, but cutesy "Asuka 120%" series of fighters. First featured in the debut issue of Dengeki Playstation F magazine (3 years ago!), it boasted impressive and bad-ass Character Designs and concepts - this cast of characters were definitely unique. In the end, despite the limited RAM of the Sony Playstation, the developers have proven themselves: With Guilty Gear, the 2D Fighting Genre has received a flashy, brash, and oftentimes brilliant newcomer that has as much attitude and solid gameplay to launch it into the upper echelon of 2D fighters.
Without a doubt, the high point of "Guilty Gear" would have to be it's refreshingly distinct and unique cast of characters. In a day and age where fighting game character concepts range from 'boring clones' to 'borderline cheese,' Guilty Gear's cast of fighters are pretty darn cool. Inevitably there is almost always a 'Hero' and his rival/buddy character (from the archetypal Ryu and Ken (ala SFII)), in any fighter, and here GG is no different. Sol and Ky are GG's Ryu and Ken clones, but their special moves, attacks, and personality make them different enough to be enjoyable. Other standouts include Mei, a futuristic female pirate of sorts who fights with a giant anchor(!), Dr. Baldhead, who is an inhumanly tall, emaciated psychotic doctor of sorts, armed with a giant scalpel, and Millia Rage, a female fighter who's developed killing techniques using her hair. All-in-all, the characters and the setting of GG (futuristic, medieval mixed with slight touches of macabre) add very important and integral aspects that help make it outstanding.
The character sprites are wonderfully drawn and effect a certain level of admiration and respect from players - i.e., they are drawn very well and look cool. The backgrounds are also amazing - very interesting and refreshing locales with parallax scrolling and various BG animations running. The special attacks are where GG seems to disappoint. They are certainly adequate, but quite often there is a bit of pixellization of the sprites (like Sol's GunFlame or Volcanic Vaiba), similar to Treasure's Guardian Heroes, but less so. Once you get over that snag, it'll be pure gaming madness from here on in.
In addition to the arcade quality graphics is the outstanding Metal soundtrack. Usually, I'm not a big fan of Heavy Metal or Heavy Rock music; indeed only one game ever successfully integrated Heavy Metal Rock music: The godly "Lords of Thunder" for the PC-Duo. Those of you gamers lucky enough to play this game and remember the ultimate soundtrack will be surely pleased by ARC's attempt here. The music for Guilty Gear seems to be very inspired by Lords of Thunder's excellence. For those of you who didn't play it, Lords of Thunder had an astounding Heavy Rock soundtrack that was amazing in its electric guitar work and just getting the player's adrenaline rush going. Great melodies and smooth guitar rifts (not just mindless thrashing). That's what Guilty Gear has as well - a refreshing change from the typical keyboard/synth stuff put in current fighting games. The sound effects also deserve mention - very loud and booming sound effects for fireballs and specials, further accentuating the hard edge to the game.
Finally, gameplay-wise, Guilty Gear pleases and disappoints as well. First off, the control scheme is interesting: There are 4 attack buttons - Punch, Kick, Light Slash, and Heavy Slash. Thus each character can use hand-to-hand fighting, as well as use their Weapons to fight. There are also 2 taunt buttons, one of them (R1) used for a special 'power charge' where you can charge up a special bar and store it up for use. There are also dashes and air dashes(!) to further add to the quickness factor. In terms of the gameplay style, imagine a darker, meaner, tighter-playing "Asuka 120% Limited" and you know what Guilty Gear is like. It combines tight Street Fighter Zero 2 control with Chain Combos and Air Juggling, ala Vampire series and Marvel/X-Men engine. If you can imagine tight, responsive controls with 2-in-1's, crossups (like SFZ2) with the excessive Chaining and Air Juggling of Marvel Vs. Capcom, then you've got the idea. For those who are true SF'ers, there is no problem whatsoever playing a solid, traditional match - fakes, jumping in with a Fierce Slash, standing Slash, 'Dragon Punch' special combo, etc. For those who love the excessive wildness of Marvel Vs. Capcom, you can dash in and start a chain of something like Punch, Punch, Kick, Light Slash, Launcher (sends them in the air), then follow them up in the air (!), and continue with a massive air juggle combo and end it with a special move. It caters to both crowds and if you play Versus mode only, you'll have all the fun in the world. If you decide to play single player Arcade mode, then be prepared to play Chain Combo cheeseball CPU AI opponents who will continue to try and air-juggle you to death. One other new facet is the introduction of the "Ichigeki hissatsu" system. Basically this is a system that allows you to Destroy your opponent in -one- blow! As in, completely destroy your opponent (they lose both rounds and the entire match!). The victim can easily break out of this system by just doing a backwards quarter circle motion + any attack button, but still this is very questionable at the moment; only time will tell if this is a nifty new addition or just major cheese.
Also deserving of special mention is the last boss, Justice, who takes the cake as the cheapest boss in the history of fighting games. Imagine Shin Gouki (Super Akuma) plus Magneto AI (from the X-Men:COTA), plus Level 8 Rugal (from KOF'94/95), and you have an idea of what he's like. It just gets absurd when you lose ¼ of your life, by just blocking his Super move - uhm. In the end, for gameplay, GG delivers tight, responsive controls (unlike XM/MSH looseness), and ultimately gives the players a choice between styles of play - either Street Fighter Zero 2, King of Fighters solid style, or absurd, over-the-top chains ala Marvel Vs. Capcom.
A word about the amount of Japanese in the game: Anybody can navigate around the game, as all the main modes and options are in English. The moves in the instruction manual are also shown graphically, so the only Japanese necessary is to understand the cool story going on and the endings.
What ARC System Works gives us fighting gamers is a great playing, great looking 2D fighting game that gives Capcom and SNK something to worry about. For their first effort on a fighting game, ARC astounds. This game looks and plays like an 'Arcade Fighter' and this is an original product for the home systems! I can only imagine what Guilty Gear 2 would be like on the Playstation 2 or Sega's new monster DREAMCAST game system - with 16 megs of RAM, Guilty Gear could've graphically rivaled Capcom or SNK's best offerings. Overall, great fun.
Final Scores (out of a perfect 10):
+ Cool character designs and concepts. + Great backgrounds and nice sprite work. + Solid and competent animations for all the characters and moves. + Creative and interesting attacks for many of the characters. - Slight pixellization of sprites for certain special attacks. - Slowdown occurs when massive explosions and sprites appear (brief). - Washed out color palette for the characters (but it fits with the theme of the game).
+ Bad-ass, hard rock soundtrack! + Solid, loud sound effects for the moves. - Slightly muffled, poor-quality taunts and introductions for the characters.
+ Solid, tight fighting engine, like SFZ2 or KOF'97. + 2-in-1's, crossups - good play mechanics and a responsiveness of control. +/- Chain Combos +/- Ichigeki hissatsu 'Fatality' system. - Massive cheese Air Juggling system, like Marvel Vs. Capcom. - Hard to tell when you're getting hit or hitting someone else at times (there is so much going on, and every hit or block is followed by a 'hit spark' that it can confuse).
"Where others (outside Capcom and SNK) have tried and failed, ARC System Works' Guilty Gear is a great, fun 2D fighting game, with a mean edge, great concepts, hard-rockin' soundtrack, and responsive control. An over-the-top fighting game for the fighting enthusiast."
Review Copyright © 1998 by Ken Lee. Please feel free to email me with your comments, questions or criticisms about my review. Thank you very much for your time.