Guilty Gear X. May Anime Live Forever.
|Article By: OkonomiyakiIchiban
Some time ago when PlayStation was at it's peak, I wandered across a game that seemed like it was any anime/fighting game fan's dream. It's name: Guilty Gear. As my eyes glimmered at the screenshots on the back of the display I reached into my pockets and to my distress I found nothing, but a wad of lint. I figured that I would just come back the following week with some cash and it would still be there since I had never heard anything about it. The following week it was gone without a trace. Searching on and off for the game for the next year I finally gave up hope that the phrase Guilty Gear would ever be spoken of again. Then, last year, I opened up Tips and Tricks and there, like a punch in the face, was a preview for Guilty Gear X. It all came back to me and was the first on my want-list for PS2. And so, the first games I purchased for my PS2 were Guilty Gear X and Capcom VS SNK 2. Now that I've gotten that nostalgic crap out of the way I want to focus what makes GGX such a beautiful thing and how some people are just missing the whole point.
I have been a Capcom and SNK fan since the beginning (and for all of you who are trying to jump to a foolhardy conclusion, I still am a huge fan and would never jump ship) and what drew me to fighting games in the first place was one simple thing, anime. Each game wasn't only about learning endless button combinations, but for the gaming experience as a whole (ie. creativity, visually appealing characters and environments, story, etc.). As the years rolled by the animation improved, the stories of the characters grew more involved and there were more interesting characters popping up every minute, that was until SNK came up with it's King of Fighter series and Capcom later adopted it's own line of versus games. Although I love these games the developers increasingly began to lead astray from almost every aspect of their games that made them so appealing in the first place, and although I played each of these games until I was blue in the face, I found an emptiness to them. The stories were used as nothing more than catalysts to bring such a wide range of characters together. Capcom's JoJo's Bizarre Adventure came on the scene during the versus game frenzy with mind-boggling originality that I had not seen for years in terms of gameplay, but as far as controls, it fell short of its mark. Street Fighter III, however, did retain the story element that had been missing from the recent verses games, but then someone got the bright idea to veer away from the anime physics (and I'll explain that later) of the game and make the characters move and breathe like real people. Hell, if I wanted to watch two people rather than anime characters duke it out I'd whip out Mortal Kombat and start playing it (total realistic action man!). There is a point to which too much realism in an anime style game contradicts itself and starts to deteriorate what has been a staple of 2D fighters since the beginning. Instead of making characters more lifelike, the goal to better visuals in 2D fighters should be to move towards making the action look as anime as if you were watching an anime itself and Sammy is definitely heading down the right path with GGX.
First, before I launch into all the reasons as to why GGX is so great, I'd like to first make a comment about something CMoon mentioned in his article about the game. I would like to completely agree with him about the fact that there are some pretty stupid reasons as to why some people claim to love GGX. Many believe that GGX is so superior because it is in high-res. Let me state right now that that is the most idiotic reason to like a game that I have ever heard in my entire life! Sure, high-res certainly enhances GGX's amazing visuals, but not purchasing another Capcom game until it's in high-res is complete and utter nonsense! I'll admit that Capcom games aren't what they used to be in terms of the gaming experience, but in terms of gameplay they are second to none! I will always see Capcom and SNK as the pioneers of fighting games, but let's not crap on Sammy because they haven't had as much experience. In 16 years and 22 titles, Capcom has been able to perfect their 2D fighter engine. GGX is only Sammy's second fighting game; cut them some friggin' slack! I'll admit that the fighting engine is not as refined as that of Capcom's games, but for only being its second game, Sammy has done pretty damn well and I am eager to see what they will do in the future. Controls aside Sammy has outdone any 2D fighter to date in terms of visuals and anime style gameplay.
What is so great about GGX is that, yes, whether you like or not, it is original, it does have a soul, it does make good use of controls and no other fighting game has brought the gamer closer to the anime experience. What has impressed me the most about this game is it's characters. CMoon also mentions in his article that the determinant for character originality is by the buttons that are pressed in order to perform a particular move. What defines a character is who they are (demeanor, morals, martial status, how they react to people and situations etc.) not the button inputs the gamer (completely detached from the actual character) must press in order to perform their own, unique moves. Chun-Li and Charlie require the same button patters in the SF series to perform their moves, but are they similar in character? Hell no they're not! Who they are has nothing to do with what buttons the gamer must press! GGX has character originality coming out of the woodwork, and it shows. Let's look at the main characters. You have Sol Bad Guy, a hot headed bounty hunter, and Ky-Kyske a holy swordsman who despises Sol. How many games have a renegade bounty hunter and a holy swordsman as leads, who would like nothing better than to kick each other's asses? Hmm....I believe Ryu and Ken are friends, that also goes for Batsu and Kyoske and then there's the Bogard brothers, well....I think you get the contrast. Not to mention those other characters in GGX that just scream imagination and anime; assassins who use pool cues, hair, and even their shadows as their instruments of death, airship pirates, samurai of a post-destroyed Japan, and an insane 10ft. doctor who uses a host of insane gadgets (including mini versions of himself!) as his weapons of choice. Then we have the special characters; the scythe wielding demon, Testament (who you battle in Hell) and the seemingly innocent angel, Dizzy (who you battle with in what appears to be Heaven). Damn! How many games have Heaven and Hell as their battlegrounds? That's right, I'm blown away too. These characters are some of the most original I've ever seen and breathe the life of anime into a game unlike any other. Even the music is completely in tune with the anime feel, especially the track for May's stage. This is also something that has taken away from the anime feel to most of Capcom's recent games where they have veered more towards western influenced dance/pop tunes (the stage for England in CVS2 is a perfect example). Of course it all comes down to personal preference, but there is no disputing the fact that these western style tunes take away from the anime feel.
Lightning fast action and the ability to defy the law of physics in every conceivable manner has always been a defining characteristic in anime and has been completely upheld in GGX, not only as far as the aesthetics, but the gameplay as well. Because the game is so fast paced it gets your adrenaline pumping, thus allowing the gamer to feel the intensity of the game, while some complain about the game's speed, which tells me nothing more than they can't handle it because they have poor hand-eye coordination. Because of it's fast paced nature, yes, you are forced to react quicker resulting in the need to perform more offensive attacks, but simply stating that the game penalizes you for being on the defensive is a bunch of bullshit! There's a difference between being on the defensive and being a block jockey, and for being a block jockey you are penalized. Let's look at how it penalizes you. First of all, your rage meter is affected (far more convenient than if it were your life meter at stake) and only if you have been on the defensive for a full 25 seconds! 25 seconds! That's a full quarter of one round. Now playing fighting games are all about balancing offensive and defensive as well as knowing when to strike, but hell, if you are going to be blocking for a full 25 seconds not doing shit you are certainly not balancing offensive and defensive and you deserve your rage meter depleted. What GGX is trying to do is get all those gamers who sneak in a hit or two and then block the rest of the match until the clock runs down to play the friggin game! It's simply an alternative method to Capcom's block meter instituted in Street Fighter Alpha 3. Never the less this penalization doesn't hinder anyone's performance that is actually playing the game. It only slightly affects those who like to cower and huddle over in the corner of the screen like a frat boy over the toilet bowl after an all night drinking binge. In my opinion if you aren't going to perform one offensive move in 25 seconds you might as well not be playing at all. And by the way if you aren't doing anything offensive in 25 seconds how do you expect to build up that rage meter in the first place?
Let's go back to anime physics. It doesn't take an anime fan to observe that anime has it's own law of physics that doesn't comply with the physics of reality and the super jumps implemented in X-Men: Children of the Atom and the air combo system that followed in Marvel VS Capcom 2 were the first to finally incorporate anime physics into a fighting game, but ultimately damaged the gameplay as a result. Where these games failed GGX has molded into perfection. I absolutely despised super jumping in the versus games, but as I played them more and more I got used to it and it became tolerable, but let's look at why it was so crappy. Super jumping resulted in spending most of the match watching either yourself or your opponent in the air (where apparently you have an advantage) trying to hit your target by looking at a cursor that identifies your opponent. Often this results in failure because you can't see where the hell your opponent is! GGX on the other hand solved the problem of not being able to see your opponant by cleverly zooming out the camera and limiting jumps to a more modest height. You are able to see your opponent at all times in GGX so super jumping is no longer a major pain, but rather a feature that enriches the gameplay. Next comes the one thing that ruined MVC2, and that was air combos. Air combos in MVC2 became the focus of the game and once you were caught in one of these endless combos you might as well give up all hope of getting out of it. This is where GGX really shines in terms of gameplay because unlike MVC2 when you are caught in an air combo it is extremely easy to get out of it. GGX has finally equaled the playing field both in the air as well as the ground, while neither fighting on the ground nor the air ensures dominance over your opponent.
Another factor that brings originality and anime creativity to the scene is the instant kill moves. Each of the character's instant kills are jaw dropping with exception to Sol and Ky's (why the developer's choose to give their finishes such lack of creativity is beyond me considering they're the main characters). Sol and Ky aside, I have never been more impressed by any finishing moves in any game, period. Look at the art, look at the beauty of Jam's stylish fighting poses before she kicks her opponant to oblivion, Faust's hilarious operating table fiasco, Testament sending his seductive succubus to drain the life from a battered opponent upon his deathbed and let's not leave out the sheer artistic tranquility of Baiken's finish. Artistic perfection aside some argue that these moves are unfair if they are delivered to an opponent who has been flawlessly prevailing the entire match. However, when you really look at it from all angles it is extremely difficult to pull off these moves considering you are only given one opportunity to do so in which you have a time limit due to your rage meter (and then even your life bar) running down. If you fail your rage meter is gone for the rest of the round. Looking at the fact that you are given such a limited window of opportunity and such a high margin of error it is well deserved if one is able to pull off an instant kill.
Now let's talk about the combo system, shall we? Sure, it's true that almost all the characters have a punch to kick to light slash to heavy slash combo, but let's stop and think about that for just two seconds, the establishment of such a combo system signifies a natural progression doesn't it? I don't know how many of you reading this are martial artists, but I being one can tell you that leading with a punch and following with a kick is much quicker than a kick to a punch due to the movement involved. Light to heavy yet again makes more sense from heavy to light because a heavy attack takes more time to recover from than a light one. This combination system makes sense, as it has with previous fighters, and that is the most obvious reason as to why Sammy decided not to mess with it. It is ludicrous for Sammy to waste their time coming up with a new combo system (at the risk of it not making sense or having any logical order) just so a select few can boast about how they mastered a new set button combinations, and quite frankly that's the only logical explanation for attempting such a task. Having said that let's talk about the new elements that were added to enrich the supposed "flawed" combo system. The Roman Cancel is one of the best systems yet to allow a gamer to customize their own combos (there's your originality!). However, this is not the easiest thing in the world to do and takes a great deal of time to master, but even so, as I mentioned before it is just as easy for a defender to recover from such an onslaught as it is to dish out, thus balancing out the gameplay. Not to mention the Faultless Defense, which further emphasizes and adds depth to the art of defending, which some argue there is a lack of (sorry, but you're wrong).
GGX is truly anime at it's all time best. I only ask that when one decides whether or not to purchase GGX to not be discouraged by those who have biases towards Sammy for not being as experienced Capcom or SNK and likewise not be encouraged by those who think it's the greatest game solely because it is in high-res. The beauty of GGX is that it's a game that immerses the gamer into a new world by offering new and original characters with unique styles that cut away from the norm with a new and adrenaline pumping fighting engine, which all conform to the anime tradition; a tradition that has sadly not been seen for a very long time. I believe 2D fighters have gone downhill in the recent years due to gamers who have lost sight as to why they started playing games in the first place. If GGX doesn't make you feel that experience again, then I believe the world of 2D fighters is sadly reaching its close.