Note the title. Prepare yourself for some truth-bombs.
As of this post, there’s only been one 100% new playable character announced for the latest title in the franchise, Guilty Gear Xrd: Bedman. He was introduced in a blacked-out silhouette at first -- much like the better part of the BlazBlue cast when it was first making the rounds -- but based on the shape alone, nobody could really get a good idea of just what future players would be in for. Or if not “nobody”, then me, at least. And then when he was actually revealed…it didn’t answer ANY questions. How do you respond to a character that looks like this?
Fortunately, gameplay videos have been there to answer the vital questions -- or just demand further questions, but at least now there’s something to go by. As if taking inspiration from Death Bed: The Bed That Eats, most of Bedman’s fighting comes from him using his nightmarish robotic bed to carve up opponents (with his supers being more than a little terrifying). What really sets him apart from the rest of the cast, though, is his ability to repeat his last attack via a phantom double -- so apparently if you do an E. Honda-style sumo splash, you can input a command and have the ghost do the same attack. There’s no telling how effective that’ll be in the game’s run (i.e. if Bedman has what it takes to become top-tier, or if he’ll invoke the spirit of “losing at the character select screen”), but if nothing else he’s one of the nuttiest fighters I’ve seen yet.
But he’s still got nothing on Zappa -- a character from one of the earlier games, naturally (and one that’ll likely appear in future versions of Xrd). But that’s to be expected from a franchise that’s as blatantly genius as this one.
I should probably start by saying that I’m not exactly an Arc System Works super-fan. I’ve sung praises about them before, sure, but I don’t really have any reason to. I’ve known about Guilty Gear for a good while now, but the first game I ever played in the franchise was Accent Core -- so setting aside matters of credibility (I’m no true fan, by some measures), a lot of the story, character, and gameplay beats are lost on me. Besides, the only other games I’ve played in the franchise was one of the XX games that popped up on Xbox Live (which I played maybe three times in total) and the bizarre RTS/3D brawler Guilty Gear 2: Overture. And when I say “bizarre”, in this case I don’t mean that in a good way.
It was my understanding that somewhere along the line, series mastermind Daisuke Ishiwatari and the rest of the Gear-heads lost the rights to their creation -- and that loss ended up giving rise to the ever-respectable and delightful-in-its-own-right BlasBlue series. And while Ragna, Jin, Noel, and all the rest have done well for themselves, for the longest time there was a gear-shaped hole in the hearts of many a fan. I can just imagine how dedicated Dustloop frequenters would spend their nights peeling themselves away from Roman Cancels and Instant Aerial Dashes, and stare forlornly at the moon as they wished to see their old friends once more. “I miss you, Sol,” they would say. Or “Come back to us, Ky.” And their prayers have been answered in the best way possible.
I’d like to think that interest in the game persisted not just because of the damn-near mystical combat forming its framework; after all, GG is supposed to be one of the more difficult fighters to get into (in games past, there was a HUGE difference between Roman Cancels and False Roman Cancels). So on that note, there always was -- and likely still will be with Xrd -- a pretty tall wall standing between the player and the soft, sugary center at the core of the game. But you don’t need split-second timing to enjoy what makes the games so memorable: the music.
I am absolutely convinced that if not for the absurdly-memorable theme songs -- one for every character, and likely one for every player’s persuasion -- GG would have been that much more likely to fall to the wayside, like fighting games of the past. (Anybody know what Last Blade is? How about Red Earth?) That’s to be expected when every character is a walking reference to a band, song, or musician. Main character Sol? Pretty much a pyrokinetic Freddie Mercury. His rival, Ky Kiske? His name comes from a mix of Gamma Ray’s Kai Hansen and Helloween’s Michael Kiske. Axl Low is…well, that one’s a gimme.
It’s no surprise, then, that Xrd is worth getting hyped over JUST so people can hear the new tracks by Ishiwatari. I know I’ve been hitting YouTube regularly for more than just match footage; I’ve been itching to hear the clearest versions of the new songs since the moment the game was announced -- and even if I’ve had to deal with the chatter of tournament announcers, blaring sound effects, and “GUN FLAME!” shouted ad nauseum, what I’ve heard of the new themes hasn’t disappointed.
I went in expecting updates to the old songs. I walked away with a suite of brand new themes to keep in mind from sunrise to sunset. I’m more than a little partial to the new songs for Slayer, Potemkin, Bedman, and Ky. Bonus points go to Ky, though; not only does he get a new (radical) theme, but he’s got Holy Orders III from Overture -- one of the few good things about the game -- that’ll play on blast when he’s taking a beating. I’ve actually seen players make big comebacks once that song started. I can’t say I’m surprised.
So let’s talk about Ky for a bit (because as a fanboy, this post almost became an unabashed source of Ky gushing). Here’s what the wiki has to say about him:
“He is one of the most well known characters, and has been an integral part of the series since the first Guilty Gear. He is a very charismatic young man who possesses a strong sense of justice and devout religiosity, which sustain and guide him through all manner of shaking uncertainties.
“Ky is a deeply religious man, the adjective describing both his devotion to God, as well as his commitment to the ideals of law, order, and honor. He is diligent and scrupulous. However, despite his great faith and strong conviction, he is not beyond doubt, and is not entirely incapable of seeing the colors between black and white. Loyal to his ideas more than his surroundings, Ky will not hesitate to investigate his superiors if he believes them to be undermining his conceptions of justice. He is a compassionate man and chivalrous in the classical way, being known to hold back against female opponents if he is forced to fight them. Though his strong beliefs tend to color his moral world black and white, his experiences have developed his character beyond this caricature.
“In his Overture profile, it is stated that his position as a king made him lose some of his zeal, but he gains a new perspective over things in its place.”
Hear that? He’s a king. Dude’s got some royal-ass swagger.
I think that part of the reason why I like Ky -- besides my admitted lean toward Boy Scout/squeaky-clean heroes like Superman or Captain America -- is because in the very first match of the very first Guilty Gear game I ever played, I went with the holy knight; I didn’t even bother with wild rebel Sol (he went to my brother, as per our tiger/dragon relationship). But even that one match offered up a cross-section of what helps make GG such a great series. The gameplay certainly helps, of course. And indeed, even now I feel like GG -- and fighting games at large -- are some of the only games that make the most honest statement about what sort of content they’re packing in trailers. No bullshot propagators, they…well, unless you count the Marvel vs. Capcom 3 trailers that made it look like there would actually be a story. And Street Fighter X Tekken for doing the same. Seriously, they could have done so much with the Pandora concept.
But Ky really does show off just why this game deserved a revival, and deserves its praise -- and he does so on three fronts, at least. The first and most obvious one: conveyance. Between his looks, his movements, and his theme song, you can get a pretty good beat on exactly what kind of character Ky is. He expresses himself so that words don’t need to -- as it should be, seeing as how he’s a key player in an audiovisual medium. This is a character that looks like an angel when he does his version of the Shoryuken, does a quick prayer before he goes into a fight, and has no qualms about stabbing the shit out of his foes.
As of Xrd, that level of conveyance is clearer than ever (by using the Unreal Engine to completely humiliate everyone who just decided to use it for the usual grim palette and urban decay). You can see it in each intro, and each character’s actions, and most of all in their fighting styles. You know instantly that Sol’s a cool tough guy. You know May is cute but deadly. Millia is a cool beauty. Venom is even cooler while barely needing to move. Slayer is such a badass that he’s primed to make vampires cool again. Potemkin makes Zangief look puny. Zato makes the devil look tame. Chipp is a rough-necked punk. Axl is a goofball, but he’s got the skills and style to back up his words. Bedman is pure menace. I-No is sex in a talking hat.
It’s reached a point where I think there’s a reason the devs held back on adding in Bridget; the world is not yet ready for his 3D debut. (Yes, HIS.) Also, bonus points for actually making the cast diverse without driving into Stereotype City; Venom may invoke the image of Egypt, but he’s actually British -- and specifically stated to be gay, as per his furious loyalty to his walking corpse of a teacher, Zato. But you would never be able to guess that from his style or mannerisms, save for a stylish flourish here or there. Whatever his orientation, he’s still one of the most badass characters in a cast full of badass characters. See, video game industry? It’s not that hard. You can make a gay character without taking inspiration from Family Guy.
Now then, what’s the second point? Well, it’s tied into conveyance, but it’s important enough to be named in its own right: charisma. It’s that air that a character carries themselves with -- a presence that makes them worthwhile, and worth following. It’s what sets a character like Elizabeth apart from, say, a character like Master Chief. And as you’d expect, GG makes an example out of damn near every member of its cast. That should be pretty much a given, considering that Sol Badguy is supposed to be Ishiwatari’s alter ego/avatar -- and as you’d expect, he’s supposed to be one of the coolest, toughest, and very near best characters in the canon’s history. (From what I’ve read, Ky has never beaten him in a fight. Take that as you will.)
I can’t say I’ve ever had any attachment to Sol; since my brother laid claim to him, by nature I was hardwired to hate him more with each cry of “BANDIT REVOLVER!” But after watching him in action in Xrd (with his amazing new theme song, no less), I can’t help but find myself enjoying his presence. I may not like him, but I sure as hell can respect him. He just makes it so easy; he exudes charm and style, and has the personality to carry him from one fight to the next.
It’s true that a character like him derives most of his coolness from being an engine of spectacle rather than (for lack of a better phrase) intelligent design, but the key difference is that the spectacle he offers is different from what we’re used to. What he’s selling is something only a man with a sword that’s effectively a giant lighter can do -- and if that demands haymakers packing nuclear force, then so be it. Let it be known that I’m not so high-strung that I can’t enjoy a little razzle-dazzle.
But the third point is likely the most important of all: creative vision. I said as much when I played devil’s advocate for Senran Kagura; despite the fact that the franchise orbits around breasts that qualify as planetary bodies, I still think that it’s worth at least a little praise, in the sense that A) someone came up with the idea, B) people put in the work, and C) they realized that vision, however problematic it might be.
GG at large is an extension of that. It’s the brainchild of Ishiwatari -- characters, music, story, and all. Most, if not everything we’ve been treated with has been the result of his ideas and involvement. I think it’s safe to say that it wasn’t a one-man effort, but I’d think that he’s had core teams to help make his visions a reality. Even Overture; supposedly, that was the game Ishiwatari always wanted to make, and the only thing stopping him was the limits of old hardware. I have to respect that, even if the finished game made me endure a quest to search some scientist’s huge-ass mansion for sheets of paper. With a time limit, no less.
I don’t have good memories of that game.
Being able to realize a creative vision is something video games can do with ease -- and it’s something that they SHOULD do, without question. Think about it: do you seriously think that the guys who made Fuse genuinely wanted to make Fuse? Why do you think CliffyB stepped away from Gears of War? Was Batman: Arkham Origins really the result of an earnest desire to bring an imagined world to life? Or just a stopgap on the way to a new Batman game…even though it hasn’t even been a year since Origins?
Now, to be fair, there are probably plenty of cynical reasons as to why Xrd is in arcades right now, and heading to consoles in the future. If not for the fighting game renaissance spearheaded by Street Fighter IV, a new GG would have been impossible. Beyond that, it’s obvious that Xrd exists to make money for its parent company -- and it will, because if my guess is right, the game that’s out now will be the first of several updated versions and rereleases. (Want to play as Anji Mito? Look forward to Xrd COSINE next year!) But damned if they haven’t built up a castle’s worth of goodwill with this one game. There’s no telling how much had to be left out to get Xrd in a playable state for the public, but what’s here right now is well worth celebrating.
Whether you’re a fighting game enthusiast or not -- whether you’ve got the skills for a one-frame link or not -- a franchise like GG is what we all need; if not for the finished products, then certainly for what it symbolizes. A style that just can’t be matched. An almost furious drive to put out the wackiest, most insane titles with a polite smile and a curtsy. The heart and soul contained within every pixel and every beat, offered with a quiet humility for our pleasure. A project that may very well have sprung from the self-aggrandizing doodles of a single man, but what we know now as a hardcore, heavy-metal fighter that’ll punch your teeth out if you so much as turn your back on it.
That’s Guilty Gear. And that’s just one reason why being a gamer absolutely rocks.
Was that too cheesy? I sure hope it wasn’t.