Thursday, October 31, 2013

A Brief Look Back at Extreme Ghostbusters

When you're asked what your favorite movie about ghosts is, I'm willing to bet at least a quarter the U.S. population would say the 1984 action comedy masterpiece Ghostbusters.

And for good reason.  Ghostbusters had the perfect mix of scares, thrills, and funny moments.  The story about a company that goes out to snare and trap ghosts with their fancy equipment has all kinds of action-packed possibilities, and with comedy legends like Bill Murray and Dan Akroyd in the leading roles, it all came together for a timeless classic that anyone can enjoy.  Its sequel, Ghostbusters 2, had a more mixed reaction, but I love it just as much as the first movie.

Though arguably not as popular as the movie, there was a TV show made in the 80s using the characters from the movie called The Real Ghostbusters.

Essentially The Real Ghostbusters was a series about what working for the Ghostbusters was like, which was mainly only shown as a montage in the movie.  The series followed the basic premise and had the same characters, but was not canon from the movie, which might have been for the better.

From what I understand, it was quite a hit with the kids in the 80s, even having its own toy line.  It has a similar lighthearted tone (and animation quality) to the old 80s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cartoon; definitely a product of the era.

It pretty much followed a monster-of-the-week formula, which works well enough when it's about their day to day lives.  For the most part, it seems all the writers had to do was come up with a ghost for them to fight each episode and then write the conflict around that.

There was comedy, cheesy one-liners, and a sidekick in the form of Slimer, from the first movie, if you can believe that.  While it doesn't hold up to my standards today, I can see why The Real Ghostbusters was a hit in its heyday.  Especially considering it had the Ghostbusters fighting Cthulu!

Pictured: me not making this up.
But I am not a child of the 80s, I am a child of the 90s, and in 1997, we got a new team of Ghostbusters with a series that to this day I still love.

At first you might roll your eyes at the "Extreme" adjective in the title and heavier, darker tone, but Extreme Ghostbusters is actually far better than The Real Ghostbusters, in my opinion.

The series follows a new team of college kids led by Egon.  At the start of the series, all the ghosts in Manhattan are already captured by The Real Ghostbusters, who since disbanded, but after some construction workers hit some kind of seal, a whole new gang of super-ghosts burst out, prompting Egon to have the students in his college class on the paranormal take it to them.

They call them "ghosts", but it would be much more fitting to call the things demons of varying sorts.  Not all of them came out of the place the show initially showed them being sealed in either.  Some of the demons came from other sources, like a giant weather-controlling winged monster conjured by a scepter or an evil Leprechaun that got out of a broken magic circle.

Like the original Ghostbusters movie, the characters are well-established, the dialogue is excellent (the director has worked on Animaniacs) and, though about as silly as the original team, each character is believable.  They really act like people in their early 20s.  Obviously that excludes any talk of risque subjects and cursing, but even then they reference the threat of death very often.  Remember when kid's shows were allowed to do that?

It helps that each character is perfectly acted, especially Maurice LaMarche returning as Egon and Jason Marsden as the wheelchair-bound Garrett.  Jason Marsden has really been around western animated series, but I think Garret is his best role because it sounds so much more natural than the goofy characters he usually voices.
There's also Slimer, the team pet, who's rather impressively voiced by voice acting legend Billy West.  There's something about the flying slimeball's semi-coherent speech that's really fun to listen to.

Extreme Ghostbusters follows the forumula of having a different ghost/demon each episode, but it's the way they have to outsmart each of them that keeps it interesting.  That usually means spending some time looking them up in folklore (even if it's sometimes inaccurate to the actual folklore), discussing what they observed, or having Egon analyze something about them fr a lead.  Just going up to them and zapping them like any other ghost almost never works like it seems to in the movies, and if it does, it's never that easy.

And these demons are genuinely disturbing.  Extreme Ghostbusters has a similar tone to the Batman animated series and Gargoyles, both of which are also classics.  People are eaten whole, trapped in mystical objects and turned into evil goblin-like monsters.  I remember a few of them being a little too scary for my 7-year-old self.  They really outdid themselves with some of these designs.

Freakin' clowns, man.  It's always gotta be clowns.
But that's what made Ghostbusters so fun in the first place.  Extreme Ghostbusters has all the scares, action and casual wise-cracking that made the original so great, and on Halloween, it seems like the perfect time to do so.  To my knowledge, the series has never been released on DVD in America, but you can find episodes on Youtube.  If you have the time, see a few for yourself, and have a great Halloween.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Fire Emblem: The Sacred Stones Review

I’ve never been one for real-time strategy games, and not just because I prefer to charge in singlehandedly and mow down hundreds of enemies like a game of Madworld.  While I can enjoy a session of Starcraft or Warcraft, I’m never able to devise a good strategy as fast as my opponent (including the AI) and micromanagement tends to get overwhelming (though game design has certainly improved on that aspect).

No, if I’m going to be commanding around little men armed with machine guns and tanks, I need to have time to consider my options, which is why I’ve always been more enamored with games that have players taking turns, like Project X Zone or Civilization.

This sums it up.

One of the turn-based strategy games that have stood out to me over the years came from Nintendo with Advance Wars: Dual Strike on the Nintendo DS.  While I hadn’t played the first two Advance Wars games on the GBA, I was still able to enjoy the strategy, the story, the outlandish units (mega tank!), the stylization and the slew of bonus content, including its varied characters with different abilities not unlike the variety seen in fighting games.

CO of choice.
Even though I got into Nintendo’s big strategy franchise for a time, I rarely paid mind to what may be their even bigger turn-based strategy game franchise, Fire Emblem.  I’m not entirely sure why I brushed Fire Emblem off for all these years.  Maybe the idea of units dying and never coming back made it sound too hard.  Maybe nobody sold me on the stories they told, or maybe copies of several of them are just way too hard to find (Radiant Dawn and Path of Radiance come to mind).

The time for me to play a Fire Emblem game came when Nintendo released its GBA Ambassador games for people who bought a 3DS before its original price drop (even though I actually bought it a day beforehand, where a store dropped the price early).  In addition to other classic GBA titles like Metroid Fusion and Zelda: The Minish Cap, I got a digital copy of Fire Emblem: The Sacred Stones, one of the only standalone Fire Emblem games.

I had some prior experience with the game before.  My friend had owned it way back when it originally came out.  I found it to be very interesting for a while, but I quickly moved on, probably because my young mind only had one-track strategies.  The Ambassador program gave me the perfect chance to see what I missed and, in the process, what I had been missing for as long as the franchise has been around.

As somewhat cliché as it is, The Sacred Stones’ story is well-told and action-packed, just the way I like it.  It takes place on a fantasy continent called Magvel, where the five nations that make it up have lived in peace for several years.

That peace ends when the nation of Grado attacks.  Its emperor, Vigarde, suddenly acts extremely out of character and has his army invade the other nations, hurt innocent civilians, and destroy the sacred stones each nation holds.  The importance of the sacred stones is explained later on, but needless to say, they need to be kept intact.
What’s more, Vigarde brings in three very questionable generals to fight alongside the virtuous and loyal ones he has had for years.  Said generals are a deserter of another one of the nations, a knight that was exiled from Grado for being unjustly cruel, and a sorcerer who looks like he was trained by the Sith.

They are not nice people.

After their kingdom of Renais is attacked by Vigarde and its king is killed, Princess Eirika and Prince Ephraim both travel the continent to rally allies across each nation and stop the Grado army.

The plot is mostly traditional with a few twists and added elements, but it’s the characters that make it work.  Each of the few dozen characters have their own personalities and backstories, which the game is able to convey very well by integrating it into the gameplay with moderate success.

It all starts with recruitment.  While some of the more plot-important characters will inevitably join you, most of them won’t join your alliance until a certain character talks to them (you can identify most recruitable people by their distinguished faces).  Sometimes that requires a strategy to let such a character get close without killing the one you want to recruit or getting one of your own units killed by the recruit (when they’re on the enemy’s side).

It’s crucial to recruit and protect as many characters as you can, because you only get one of each of them.  You might have the same unit class, but you only get one of each character, and if they die, it’s for good, which makes each one feel more individualized instead of faceless support like in Advance Wars.

Each time you recruit someone on the field, you get a special conversation depending on the character you choose to recruit them with, but there are also several more conversations to witness afterwards.  In addition to the main story detailed as you proceed through the game, where characters that are alive can have extra conversations, they can also start conversations with each other mid-battle after spending several turns next to each other.  With each support conversation, they also give one another a boost when next to each other.
Disappointingly, the number of turns they need to be standing next to each other is so large, and the characters that can have a conversation together are so specific, you practically have to go out of your way to do this.

It’s easy enough to have units stand next to each other while passing turns when the enemy doesn’t, or can’t, move, but I don’t think I should have to exploit a loophole to see something that should blend into the narrative.  It may not even be a loophole though, because the game puts a limit on how many support conversations each character can have, which I can see no reason for other than to stop people from exploiting the waiting game.  I haven’t played the other Fire Emblem games, but I hope they implement character interaction better.  If you take your time and focus on keeping the party members next to each other, it can make for a much better story, but I am not one for patience.

It’s best to describe The Sacred Stones, and the other Fire Emblem games, as a turn-based strategy RPG.  Each character has statistics, such as speed, strength, and luck.  Characters with speed can move farther in one turn, ones with more strength do more physical damage, those with luck have a better chance of dodging attacks, ect.

They also each have their own classes, which determine their statistics and what weapons they’re able to use.  For example, mages and clerics have low defense, but strong magic, and horse-riding units like paladins and cavaliers can move several squares in one turn on most terrain.  Clerics can use staves, and paladins can use lances and swords.

Most characters can change classes at least once after they reach level 10, usually through the use of very valuable items specifically made for doing so.  Characters are generally given a choice between two classes for them to change into, and once changed, they change their appearance and get a major stat boost.
It perfectly encapsulates what makes leveling up so meaningful.  Not only does it make characters more useful, but it can also give you new units to work with you can’t get any other way.

As you can see, there is quite a bit of depth to this game.
But as much as the character management is full of depth, the weapons each character uses is probably the biggest part of how the game plays, believe it or not.  Each weapon has its own range, power, accuracy, and limited number of uses.  Lances, swords, and axes are used when a unit is next to an enemy, unless they’re weaker ones made for throwing, in which case it can be used at close range or a distance.  For such axes, magic, javelins, bows and weapons like them, a character can attack diagonally and one space away vertically or horizontally.  But even that’s excluding certain tomes and longbows.

The weapons are given further depth with their rock paper scissors advantage system.  Spears work better against swords, swords work better against axes, and axes work better against lances.  Magic has a somewhat more complicated advantage system to consider too.

Then there are even more statistics entering a battle.  When you’re about to choose your target, the game tells you the chance you have of hitting them, the damage the attack will do if it does hit, and the chance of a triple-damage critical hit.  Those stats can get an even bigger boost if you use weapons specialized for fighting specific units or weapons, like armorslayers or lancereavers.

It might seem like a very complicated game, but once you get into the mentality of it, it’s only about as complicated as a JRPG like Final Fantasy, just in a different way.  The limited number of characters you’re allowed to take into each battle (usually 11 at the most) prevents annoying micromanaging.  All of The Sacred Stones’ variety and rules make for a very flexible game system that gives many different ways to approach a situation.

“Do I use the super powerful weapon on this relatively weak enemy even though the weapon has limited uses?  What if I let my powerful unit weaken the enemy and then have a weaker one finish it off for more experience?  Do I retreat this unit to save him or finish this annoying monster off now?”

Granted, a strategy that you can usually fall back on is to simply throw Seth at whatever the problem is.  Seriously, Seth, the paladin you start out with, is the single most powerful and invincible mega-unit in the entire game.  When an army of horseback knights headed in the direction of my units, Seth went back and killed them all.  When there was a boss that could one-shot a unit, Seth one-shot him first.  When my valuable units kept dying, I rethought my strategy and just sent Seth and a couple of other cavaliers so that Seth could take the brunt of the onslaught…. And live.  He’s like the Ralf Jones of Fire Emblem!  The only reason you’d ever not want to use Seth is so that you can let your weaker units kill enemies instead and level up.

I never did this.  Seth is my backup nuke.
But having an easy option to reduce frustration is always appreciated, especially in a game like Fire Emblem: The Sacred Stones.  I’ve heard it’s one of the easier games in the Fire Emblem franchise, but if that’s the case, I’m now scared of the other games.  The Sacred Stones is one of the hardest games I’ve ever played.  It could be because I’m not a strategy buff, but I think it’s more because of the unbelievably spiteful AI!

Where did Grado get these brain-dead crack whores?  Every enemy unit only has one strategy somewhere along the lines of “fuck you player!”  They do not fight against the characters that are trying to stop them, they fight against you, whether itmakes any logical sense or not.

They will always attack your lord (Ephraim or Eirika) if they can.  If they can’t, they’ll attack your healer.  If there’s no healer within their range, then they’ll pick on your weakest unit and only your weakest unit on the off-chance they might be able to kill it in one turn.  They don’t care if they go around your front line and into the heart of your team where they’ll immediately be killed in the next turn!  They just want to at least damage your healer as much as they possibly can!  They don’t care if attacking your lord has a 3% chance of hitting!  They might get lucky and damage him/her by one point!  They go strictly out of their way just the piss the player off, which works when you have to restart the entire mission all over again just because they got one lucky shot on a valuable unit!

It’s practically inevitable that you’re going to lose units.  It’s almost impossible not to.  In fact, playing through Fire Emblem without losing a single unit was nominated for Nintendo Power’s “Harder Than College” award (it lost to The Pit of 100 Trials in Paper Mario: The Thousand Year Door).  There are enough recruitable units in the game to make losing a handful of them not too big a deal, but if you don’t have at least two characters that can use healing staves on hand, you’re screwed!

I understand that the game should be challenging, but in The Sacred Stones, if you make one wrong move, you’ve probably lost, and that comes off as punishing, which is never a good thing.  I would at least like a get-out-of-screw-up-free card that would let me go back in time a couple of turns at least once.

Regardless, the game was much easier my second time around, and it may not be the last.  There are several factors that will keep you coming back for more.  Most prominently is a fork in the game’s story, where Ephraim and Eirika go their separate ways and you have to choose which of the two to follow.  Not only are there plot points not shown in the other’s story, but the story afterwards also changes depending on which one you chose.

You can’t forget the strategic choices you’re given either.  There are many different ways the story can play out.  If you lost someone in your first playthrough, try to make it a point to keep them alive in the second, and if you upgraded someone to one class the first time, try the other class.
It’s also motivational to go back and try to see more support conversations.  Once you beat the game, you unlock a gallery of every support conversation between characters you’ve seen.  Since it’s impossible to get them all in one run due to the limit on them, playing through the game again gives you another goal to achieve on the side.

On top of that, there are more Easter eggs here and there you may miss initially, like conversations between characters right before they fight to give it more meaning.

That’s not even going into the other extra mode you unlock at completion, in which you can take on even greater challenges and recruit some of the bosses into your party.

And I will play through it again someday.  Fire Emblem: The Sacred Stones, while frustrating at times, was memorable and fresh change from the games I usually play.  I would love to experience more epic fantasy tales like this from the rest of the Fire Emblem games.  The first step though, is finding copies, and that may be even more difficult than the games themselves.

I give Fire Emblem: The Sacred Stones a solid 7 out of 10.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Fighting Game Camps: Guilty Gear

Capcom and SNK have always been the titans of fighting games, with fans in their respective camps pounding on each other dressed in Terry Bogard's hat and Ken Masters' gi, but there’s another company with its own fighting game camps that has essentially been doing its own thing over the years.
Arc System Works is a developer specializing in fast, hand-drawn 2D fighting games with large character sprites and detailed animations often mixed with deep, sometimes 3D backgrounds for a unique visual effect that makes both stand out.  They've made many critically praised fighting games this way, some of which are based on action-packed licenses like Sengoku Basara, Fist of the North Star, and Persona 4.

Based on a totally true story.
Their best and most prominent games come from the franchises they made themselves: Guilty Gear and Blazblue.  Though the two are roughly equal in popularity (since it seems both their camps have the same members), the former is the company’s claim to fame and currently its longest-running franchise.  I’ll go over Blazblue in the next article, but for now I feel it’s necessary to go over the franchise that set the stage for it and is still beloved today.

Believe it or not, Arc System Works was founded by several former SNK developers with a few Capcom devs mixed in as well.  SNK’s influence shows itself through ASW's love of 2D artwork and a few similar characters, but unlike SNK’s audience-targeting designs, Guilty Gear is primarily designed around one man: Daisuke Ishiwatari.  Daisuke is the artist, programmer (for the most part), musician (for the most part) and writer for Guilty Gear, as well as the voice of the main character.  Everything that Daisuke likes is in the games, making it one of the most indulgent game franchises I have ever seen, not that that’s a bad thing.  The gamers in camp Guilty Gear have tastes that match his, and the people outside of it are still interested in it because it can be seen as having auteur qualities and simply because it's... Y'know... Cool.  Having the game primarily center around what this one man likes is probably the point, and what he and the Guilty Gear camp likes is metal.  If there’s any one word that can describe Guilty Gear, it’s “metal.”  Guilty Gear is one of the most metal game franchises there is.

Keep in mind that because these are articles about fighting games, I will not be detailing the game Guilty Gear 2: Overture, the 3D action game that takes place after the fighting game installments.  I will also not be covering Guilty Gear Xrd because I am limiting myself to only covering games in each franchise that have been out for at least a full year, mostly for spoiler reasons.  That also means that I will not be detailing Blazblue: Chronophantasma when the time comes.


Guilty Gear takes place several years into the cyberpunk-like future, specifically 2180 in the first game.  Years before, in 2010, mankind discovered a new, special energy source they called magic (because that’s the scientific term) and established more powerful civilizations based around its use.

I must’ve missed that headline back in 2010.

The new technology proved to be humanity’s undoing when one of the countries developed artificial organic weapons made from magic called gears.

What precisely a gear is is rather vague, but from what I understand, they’re creatures that are much more in tune with magic than ordinary humans.  Their appearance can be anything from humanoid to giant teethed monstrosities, but the main ones in the series are the former, though some use a special limiter that gives them human form.
When they aren't human-types.
After the gear leader, the first complete gear, Justice, turned on humanity, a century-long war commenced that destroyed much of the world, including Japan, where nearly the entire population was wiped out.  The gears were ultimately defeated and Justice was sealed in an extradimensional prison thanks to a gear-fighting organization called The Sacred Order of Holy Knights, which disbanded when it was all over.

The first Guilty Gear takes place a few years after the war, when a gear named Testament attempts to bring back Justice.  Because of his power, and because they're still recovering from a huge war (or perhaps because Testament tricked them), the Union of Nations holds a fighting tournament to find the strongest person to fight Testament and stop him.

After the first game, the series drops the tournament structure and becomes largely about the interaction between the characters, of which there is quite a lot.


Guilty Gear’s main hero (or at least one of the two primary heroes) is Sol Badguy, a badass, sword-wielding, fire-shooting gear-killing bounty hunter with a mysterious past slowly brought to light over the course of the games.

From what we know so far, Sol’s real first name is Frederick, and he along with two other people helped create the gears.  He was made into the first (and possibly only) prototype gear.  When the gears rebelled, he joined the Holy Knights for a time, but left and took a special weapon called the Fireseal sword with him.  Now that he’s a vigilante (like many of Guilty Gear’s characters), Sol is wanted by the authorities.

You can see the previously-mentioned indulgence from Sol alone.  First, he’s an avatar of Daisuke, even having the guy’s voice.  Second, Sol is practically made entirely of Daisuke’s favorite character traits: frizzled hair, a revealing punk outfit, belts (the number of belts Guilty Gear characters wear is ridiculous), a badass, unfazed demeanor, and a headband that has the words “rock you” etched on it, referencing Queen, one of his favorite bands.  Sol is how Daisuke Ishiwatori sees himself, to the point that, reportedly, some of his friends jokingly replace his last name with “Badguy” when talking with or about him.

But just because he’s made specifically to make the designer look cool doesn’t mean he’s a flat character.  He’s a little clichéd in my opinion, but he has some depth.  Sol fights gears because he’s responsible for them, and his relationship with his enemy and ally Ky Kiske is a somewhat complicated one.

Someone tell me what the purpose of wearing belts on your sleeves is!
Ky was the most prominent member of the Holy Knights, having become leader when he was only 16.  After the knights were disbanded, Ky became a member of the International Police Force, where he upholds the law and investigates phenomena that occurs, discovering the main villains and forming a rivalry with Sol in the process.

Ky is essentially on the lawful good alignment.  He can be understanding of some characters bending the law (he works with them on a few occasions), but outright monsters or the main villain feel the wrath of his lightning-based weapon: the Fuuraiken.  Think of him kind of like the Harvey Bullock to Sol’s Batman (only much much better-looking).
Ky’s such a prestigious law enforcer that the main villains made a robotic copy of him (more on that later).

He is also very much a civilized gentleman.
The third focus of the story is Dizzy, a girl who is half-human and half-Gear, giving her the general appearance and mannerisms of a human, but also giving her sentient wings, a tail, and a much faster aging process (she's technically 3).  This is likely because she is the daughter of Justice, who was a human made into a gear.

Because she’s a gear, Dizzy was forced to live in isolation from the general public, where she was protected by Testament, who had a new resolve after Justice was destroyed.  Unfortunately, someone found out about her and a gigantic bounty was placed on her head, leading to the events of Guilty Gear X, where Sol made his way to her, but spared her life, since she’s the most innocent character in the franchise by far.
Later, Testament allowed the side character Johnny and his Jellyfish Pirates to look after her, where she gets along very well with everyone.

What is the purpose of wearing belts on your wrists?
Dizzy’s two sentient, morphic wings act as her weapons: Necro, the dark and violent one that uses brutality, and Undine, the light and gentle one that uses ice.  Both care for Dizzy’s well being, but have different methods of protecting her (they briefly argue with each other in one of her taunts).

With these three heroes, Guilty Gear has every variation of good on the alignment spectrum: Chaotic good (Sol), neutral good (Dizzy) and lawful good (Ky).  I don’t know if that was the intention when they were designed, but having the three variations of heroes allows for more dynamic (and just plain entertaining) conflicts.  Speaking of conflicts…


In the first Guilty Gear, the villain is the previously-mentioned commander gear Justice.  Like Sol, she was one of the creators of the gears before she was turned into the first successful human-like gear against her will, after which she revolted and led the gears into the massive war.

They apparently made her a self-aware gear on purpose with no contingency plan for if she rebelled, which is kind of a massive oversight.  She had an army of bio-beasts at her command, and they didn’t have any failsafes.

I thought Bush was out of office by then.

Every gear has no choice but to do what Justice says, all except for the prototype gear, Sol, who ultimately kills her at the end of the first game after she’s brought back by her loyal follower Testament.

What is the purpose of the belts on his shoulders?
Testament (not to be confused with the thrash metal band) is similar to Sagat in that he changes his ways after his boss is defeated.  Like Sol, he was originally with the Holy Knights, but was changed into a gear.  Unlike Sol though, Testament did so willingly, and since he was not a prototype gear, Testament answered to Justice.
Even after Justice was sealed away, Testament still remained loyal to her, and in the first game, tried to sacrifice the warriors in the tournament as a part of a ritual to bring her back, but ended up sacrificing himself instead.

Later, Testament was brought back to life by the young new commander gear Dizzy, whom he decided to dedicate his life to protecting up until she decided to join the Jellyfish Pirates.  After that, Testament simply became a protector of the magical forest he and Dizzy lived in.  Thankfully he’s not entirely alone there.  A blue spirit of some sort that takes the form of a crow follows him around in battle.  It’s never explained what exactly it is, so I assume it’s just one of his spiritual forest friends.

Must get pretty boring.

I suppose it’s unfair to classify Testament as a villain, since his morality is not so black and white, but since he was an antagonist in the first game, I think it counts.
Testament is a very likable character; noble to a fault, but understanding.

He has a unique method of fighting as well.  He’s great at twirling his scythe (made from his own blood after the first game) and uses grim reaper-like attacks, but Testament can also trip up his opponent with trap moves: one a tree that comes out of the ground and the other a bloody web that is placed in midair.  Testament’s opponent can see when he puts the trap, but they have to memorize the location because they’re invisible once they’re placed, and sprung when the enemy or one of their attacks touch them.

After the first game, the main villains have been the Post-War Administration Bureau, a secret organization created to recover from the war with the gears.  Their exact intentions and plans are unknown, but since said plans involve terrorizing others, they quite clearly shouldn't be left alone.  They seem to be involved in making weapons for some nefarious purpose, since they created robotic doubles of both Ky and Justice (the latter likely being a plot excuse to use Justice as a combatant after she died) and gears as a whole, which were essentially made to be living weapons.

The PWAB is led by someone only ever referred to as “That Man.”  Even Sol only ever refers to him by that name, which is odd, because he, That Man and the woman who would later become Justice all helped make the gears, so you would think Sol/Frederick would know his name.

Unless “That Man” is actually his real name and Mr. & Mrs. Man were evil enough to name their kid “That.”

So are we dealing with the nazguls, dementors, or Organization 13?
That Man has yet to engage in combat himself (except in Guilty Gear 2, which I’m not covering).  He never shows his face and operates in the shadows, often sending subordinates to do the dirty work and occasionally engaging in conversation with some of the characters.

One of said subordinates is a strange gear named Raven, who also has yet to fight in the series proper.  He seems to be something of a rival to side character Axl Low, a British street fighter from the 20th century who was forcibly sent through time into Guilty Gear’s future.  Apparently Raven is some sort of alternate version of Axl.  Whether that means he’s some kind of Axl from an alternate future or a nega-Axl from an alternate dimension has yet to be made clear.

That Man has his own mad scientist as well, named Crow.  Crow made the robotic Kys and a robotic reconstruction of Justice.  Like Raven, he has yet to be playable, instead sending his creations to do the fighting.

The only person working for the PWAB who actually fights is the guitar-playing woman known only as I-no.

Why does her hat need a belt?  And why does it talk?
All you can really say about I-No’s motives is that she works for That Man and loves terrorizing others.  In fact, how loyal she even is can be called into question, considering there are times where That Man has had to stop her.  All she seems to ever do is deride the other characters, and at one point, transport Sol into the past to make him fight his past self, because she can somehow travel through both space and time (the latter takes more power though).  I guess either she or the writer don't about the time paradoxes that could cause.

I-No’s impossibly cool weapon is her rocking guitar, which can send out powerful shockwaves that come in different shapes and sizes.  Some are simply projectiles, another is a piercing aerial strike in the shape of a Halo energy sword, one of her super attacks is a powerful explosive shock, and in Guilty Gear XX: Accent Core, she has screen-filling onslaught attack called Megalomania.

I-No is the most prominent villain in Guilty Gear and arguably one of its most popular characters rivaled only by Sol himself.  Sure she’s an evil bitch, but she likes having fun, and isn’t that a big part of what Guilty Gear is all about?

The Assassin’s Guild

Before I get to the other guys, I think I should detail a very prominent subplot that runs parallel to Guilty Gear’s main story and involves a good chunk of the side cast.

In the Guilty Gear universe, the Assassin’s Guild is a shady organization that has existed for hundreds of years.  It was originally founded by the gentlemanly immortal British nightwalker, Slayer (not to be confused with the band of the same name).

His wife Sharon is immortal, so he never runs out of blood.
What nightwalkers are isn’t specified, but they seem to be essentially vampires with dark powers and a name similar to “Darkstalkers,” which is probably a fun little tribute to the franchise, as some of Arc System Work’s developers used to work on the Darkstalkers games.
After a while, Slayer retired, and his place was eventually succeeded by an assassin named Zato-1.

I know he's blind, but does he really have to keep his blindfold on with a belt?
Zato-1 rose to prominence in the guild thanks to the power he got from a magical creature called a forbidden beast, named Eddie (not to be confused with Eddie Van Halen), who gave Zato the ability to use his shadow as a weapon at the cost of his eyesight.
Like most demonic entities you make pacts with, Eddie corrupted Zato’s mind, leading Zato to be killed by his fellow assassin Millia Rage (who has her own forbidden beast she uses to control her hair), after which Eddie completely took over Zato’s dead body.  Now, because Zato’s body is deteriorating, Eddie is looking for a new body to possess, which commonly leads to him attacking other characters in the same vein as Akuma.

The whole guild is falling apart at this point.  One of the other assassins, Venom, hates Millia for killing (or rather, attempting to kill, in his denial) the master he was loyal to, and Slayer came back to forcibly disband the guild because he doesn’t like the direction it’s taken.

Slayer is kind of a badass... More than other characters, I mean.

Venom has very questionable equipment, not just in his really stupid belt-laden outfit and that he somehow painted his insignia on his bangs.  The strangest thing about Venom is his weapon.  There is a character that uses a key, another uses an anchor and another with folding fans, but none of them are as strange as Venom’s weapon: a billiard cue.
I will never get over that.  A serious, near-faceless, badass assassin takes people out using billiard balls and a cue.  That is both hilarious and awesome at the same time, especially since it works!  Venom is able to place floating pool balls in the air (up to 4, I believe), which he can hit with his cue to have them ricochet around the stage and hurt his opponent, possibly multiple times.  He also turns his opponent into a white ball as a grab and shoots even bigger balls for his super attacks.

All this time I’ve been playing regular pool when I should be playing EXTREME pool!

Break shot.

The Other Guys

While the heroes, villains, and Assassin’s Guild settle their problems with each other (by talking them out, I'm sure), the other characters mind their own.

Among the side cast are Bridget, a boy raised as a girl by nuns, Jam Kuradoberi, a Chinese kung-fu girl who opened her own restaurant after claiming Dizzy’s bounty, and female samurai straight out of Ruroni Kenshin named Baiken, who along with two other characters is one of the few Japanese people left in the world.  During the war, Baiken’s village was destroyed by gears and she lost an eye and arm (replacing the arm with a chained claw).  During the attack she saw That Man, and has since sworn revenge.  With such a personal connection to the main villain, she may become a more important character later on.

The other Japanese characters are Anji-Mito (shown with Baiken above) and May.  The few Japanese people left in the world are of interest to the PWAB, apparently because they’re able to use their own special kind of magic (ki).  Many, like May, don’t utilize it though, so nobody shoots it out of their hands like an episode of Dragon Ball Z.

May is first mate of the Jellyfish pirates, a gang composed almost entirely by young girls that travel on land and sea in their giant mechanical ship.  The captain of the fine flying vessel is a sunglasses-wearing paragon of coolness named Johnny (and his last name isn't Cash).

The very concept raises a few questions.  Isn’t only allowing young girls to be on your crew sexist?  What happens when they grow up?  Are there any kinds of pedophilic implications?

Daisuke doesn’t care.  He liked the idea, and what he says goes.  Or at least, what he or Norio Wakamoto says.

Man, look at the size of his belt.
Other characters include the previously-mentioned time traveler Axl Low, special government agent of destruction Potemkin, a homunculus named A.B.A. (not to be confused with Swedish music group ABBA) with a giant talking key, and Faust, the single craziest character in any fighting game ever.

In the first Guilty Gear, Faust went by the name Dr. Baldhead, a doctor who went crazy and started killing people after he believed he accidentally killed someone (it later turned out to be a setup by the Assassin’s Guild).  After learning the truth, however, he put a bag on his head and started going by the name of Faust to atone for the people he killed by healing others (self-defense notwithstanding).  Even when someone calls him Dr. Baldhead, he tells them he isn’t that man anymore.

Outside of battle, Faust takes his job as a doctor seriously and is a very caring individual if you can ignore him being over 9 feet tall and wearing a bag on his head.  The way he flies to the scene of an incident on his magical umbrella makes him like a more awesome Marry Poppins.

Does he really need belts for his shirt?  What's wrong with buttons?
But when he has to fight, Faust is nucking futs.  He uses a gigantic, oversized scalpel as his weapon of choice, somehow vanishes and then smacks his opponents by hitting them with a door that comes literally out of nowhere, throws a never-ending supply of exploding bags, and turns into a baseball player to hit his opponents with a bat.  That’s only the tip of the iceberg.

His wacky moves and contortionist fighting style make Faust essentially a combat Loony Toon, and it's what makes him such a stand-out in Guilty Gear’s cast.  Hell, he’s a standout out of all the characters in fighting games as a whole.

Faust contributes to what is particularly impressive about Guilty Gear: it actually has one of the smaller character rosters in fighting games, but it’s able to get the absolute most out of it to make what it has as long-lasting as any other game.  I suppose it helps that each one has an unlockable second moveset in some games, but even without them the characters are so radically different and have such unique fighting styles, Venom’s billiards, for example) that it never gets stale.

One of the best examples of this is the character Zappa (not to be confused with Frank Zappa), a young man whose body is constantly possessed by a number of ghosts, although he doesn’t know that’s what it is and thinks there’s something wrong with him biologically.
What makes him an interesting character is how these ghosts help him fight.  In battle, Zappa randomly switches possession between these ghosts, and each of them enables a certain set of special moves alongside a handful of consistent base moves.

He has a group of ghosts that act as projectiles, a powerful lightning ghost, a dog ghost, a sword ghost, and his default ghost taken straight from The Ring.
Of course, Zappa doesn’t like being possessed, which is why his story is all about looking for Faust to help him (even though he’s technically not that kind of doctor).  The special battle introduction between him and Faust is pretty humorous, in my opinion.  There’s a lot of comedy that goes on with the side characters in Guilty Gear.

When it comes down to it, the Guilty Gear characters are the embodiment of Daisuke’s twisted pleasures and bizarre concepts.  If he likes it, he throws it in: belts, skin-tight outfits, being Japanese, little girls with giant weapons, fancy accessories and…


You may have noticed a recurring trend in character names.  That trend carries over into many of Guilty Gear’s attack names, like “Break the Law,” “Master of Puppets,” “Napalm Death” and Ride the Lightning.”  As I stated, the game is just crammed with whatever Daisuke likes, and when you have such a man compose almost all of the franchise’s music, the thesis that Guilty Gear is really "metal" is reinforced.



Guilty Gear has a similar basic control structure to The King of Fighters, but a very different feel and flow.
Instead of having two punch and kick buttons, Guilty Gear has one punch, one kick, one slash, one heavy slash, and one dust attack button.  The punch and kick buttons are used similarly to the weak punch and kick buttons in KOF and Street Fighter: they’re for racking up combos and striking your opponent when they're close.  Also like the fighting game big boys, quarter circle and half circles are used with button presses for special and super special attacks.  Sometimes super special attacks in Guilty Gear are done with the same quarter and half-circle movements as the other two, but another common command for a super special attack in Guilty Gear is half circle back and then straight forward.  For me, that took some getting used to.

The slash attacks bring each character’s weapon into play (aside from a few unarmed combatants, like Slayer).  A normal slash attack has better reach and does more damage, but isn’t quite as fast as a punch or a kick, so if your opponent is up in your grill, you generally want to keep them away with a flurry of punches and kicks before following up with a slash or two.  The heavy slashes are very much the same: they take a moment to use, but generally have good range and do strong damage.

The dust attack is a different story.  No, it doesn’t kick dust in your opponent’s face like Ryuji Yamazaki.  The dust attack takes the longest to use and requires good timing.  When it connects, it launches your opponent helplessly into the air.  If you hold up on the control stick as they go up, you can follow them up there and deliver a badass air combo.

Dust attack air combos make the screen turn blue for some reason.
The dust attacks demonstrates a big part of what sets Guilty Gear apart from other fighting games: the fighting is much more free form.  Powerful attacks send players flying around the stage even more than in The King of Fighters, combos are racked up with quick attacks that are easy to use in succession, and just about every character can double jump, high jump, and air dash around the stage.  It has the feel of a multiplayer brawler like Super Smash Brothers.  In fact, one of the spin-off games, Guilty Gear Isuka, was essentially that.  It played much like the other Guilty Gear games, but allowed for up to four fighters onscreen at once (it was annoying that there had to be a separate command to change which way you were facing though).

The DS spin-off, Guilty Gear: Dust Strikers took things even further by adding platforms for players to jump around on.

The special attack gauge in Guilty Gear, called the tension gauge, is done differently from its peers as well.  It’s charged in essentially the same way, though it’s also charged by simply running, but has a much wider variety of uses.  Depending on how full your tension gauge is, you can use a percentage of it for various actions (the diversity of which depends on the game and control style).

For example, you can often use a super special attack (“overdrive”) by using 50% of your meter and 25% can be used for certain special moves that are stronger than a heavy slash attack and use the dust attack button.  A common usage of tension is “fortress defense.”  By holding the control stick back and pressing any two buttons (other than the dust button) at the same time, you create a barrier that completely negates damage instead of reducing it, but it uses tension regardless of whether it's hit or not, making timing very much key.

Playing offensively is also key.  Some Guilty Gear games take away your tension if you rely on tactics that are too defensive, like avoiding combat as a whole or guarding the entire time.  That’s the game’s way of saying “fight or GTFO!”

My favorite use of the tension gauge, outside of super special attacks, is the instant kills, which by name, may sound like total game breakers, but in reality, they’re extremely impractical.  Impractical, but awesome as hell.

In order to use an instant kill, you first have to enter instant kill mode by pressing all 4 buttons other than the dust attack at the same time.  Once in instant kill mode, your tension gauge decreases, and you have to use your instant kill attack before it’s completely out and starts draining your health instead (or you can press the 4 buttons again to back out).  The thing is, almost all the instant kill attacks only work at point blank range, they can be guarded against, and entering instant kill mode is a dead giveaway to your opponent.

If the instant kill misses or is blocked, or if the tension gauge runs out while in instant kill mode, you lose the tension gauge for the rest of the round, meaning you’ll see it more often used as a humiliating finisher or a last-ditch move, and even then, probably not in a serious fight.

If it does connect…

It’s glorious.  Each character has their own badass and/or insane instant kill move that “destroys” your opponent.  To name just a few of my favorites: Slayer punches the enemy into the sky and recites a haiku, Faust blows up an atom bomb under the enemy, Venom turns his enemy into a billiard ball and pulls off the previously-pictured break shot, and Eddie makes some kind of giant blue ghost head that then turns into a skull (possibly to be symbolic).  Some are rather plain, just killing the opponent with a strong attack, but for the most part, instant kills are inventive and just plain fun to watch.  As I said, Guilty Gear is indulgent, and it’s fun to indulge in our fantasy of destroying people with the power of rock, a giant blue flame dragon, and a punch to the moon.

That's nothing!  When Ralf punches someone, they're deatomized!
The last combat aspect to touch on is the burst gauge, which is separate from the tension gauge and slowly refills over time on its own.  When the burst gauge is full, you can initiate a burst by pressing any button with the dust attack button.  A burst can break an opponent’s combo and/or knock them away from you for some breathing space as well as potentially refill your tension.  If a burst hits your opponent, your tension gauge is maxed out.  If it doesn’t, it’s instantly drained.  It’s just another option to the combat that adds depth.

Bursts are actually used in a lot of fighting games, including Tatsunoko vs. Capcom and other Arc System Works games like Persona 4 Arena, so anyone who has played such games should be quite familiar with them.

Personal Fighter of Choice: Robo-Ky

Robo-Ky is superior to the organic original.
Robo-Ky started out as a carbon-copy of Ky, having been created by the PWAB to imitate him, but since his debut, he’s established his own, very unique method of fighting with all sorts of built-in contraptions.

He has lazers in his eyes, a spiked ball and shotgun in his wrists, missiles in his legs (and they’re longer than his legs are), a bazooka, and even a fancy chair that folds out of his body and a table that folds out of his sword!  Robo-Ky comes prepared!
All these convenient appliances come with a price though.  Instead of a tension gauge, Robo-Ky has an electric gauge, which he can charge by either using one of his grabbing special moves on his opponent or standing on electrical panels he can place in front of himself by ducking and pressing the dust attack button.  This makes charging the electric gauge a little trickier than a tension gauge, and a lot of Robo-Ky’s attacks expend electricity in order to not work like crap.  With some knockback strategy using basic attacks though, Robo-Ky can actually charge his electric gauge even faster than a tension gauge.

Separately from the electric gauge is his overheat gauge.  When using some of his stronger, effective normal attacks, the gauge's temperature indicator rises, requiring Robo-Ky to use one of his heavy slash attacks to spit the exhaust out, and the closer to overheating he is, the more the exhaust damages your opponent.  If he doesn’t cool down himself by venting the heat, he takes damage.  That’s right, even Robo-Ky’s weakness is weaponized!

Using Robo-Ky requires some fast and unconventional thinking (my favorite kind), but once you learn when it’s a good time to place an electric panel or use his exhaust, he can be incredible.  He’s definitely my best and favorite character to use.

That goes beyond just being a heinous ass-kicker though.  Robo-Ky also has awesome theme music: his own rendition of Ky’s theme.  Foolish humans call Robo-Ky’s music warbled and loopy, but that is only because their defective minds cannot comprehend its genius.

And his instant kill is by and large the greatest of all.

All hail the mighty Robo-Ky!
We both are also of the having people troubles.

Believe it or not, at the end of Robo-Ky’s story mode in Guilty Gear XX: Accent Core Plus, Crow tries to scrap him!  Clearly that man’s brain is defective!  Robo-Ky is the ultimate robot!  He’s like the superman of robots!  He fights evil, makes friends, and then flies off into the distance to fix someone else's life.

The Best of the Bunch

If you’re going to get a Guilty Gear game for the best character selection and features, you should get Guilty Gear XX: Accent Core Plus.  It has every single important Guilty Gear character up to that point (again, excluding Guilty Gear 2), all the newest gameplay improvements, a story mode, and more.

It should be noted that Accent Core Plus’s story mode takes place after Guilty Gear XX’s story mode, so that one may also be worth picking up for those who want to follow the plot.  Guilty Gear X had a version with a story mode too, but it was never released in America because we can’t have nice things.
You can get Accent Core Plus on any modern-day system, but the easiest way is to get it for $15 on the Xbox Live Arcade or Playstation Network.

The HD versions have optional sidebars for the widescreens.
If you’re feeling cheap though, you can instead get Guilty Gear XX Accent Core without the plus, which I was able to find on the Wii for an incredibly cheap $5.  The original Accent Core omits two characters (who are technically dead at that point in the story anyway) and a couple of stages.  Accent Core doesn’t have a story mode either (instead it has an arcade mode with character-specific win quotes), but the fun gameplay still makes it a great pick-up-and-play title.  The Wii version also has Gamecube controller support, so there’s no need to worry about awkward nunchuck controls.

Still badass.

Other Media

Like The King of Fighters, Guilty Gear has had a lot of drama CDs and novels that were never released in America.

What KOF hasn’t had (to my knowledge) is live performances of its awesome music.  I haven’t been to one of them personally, but I imagine the live performances of Guilty Gear’s soundtracks are probably the most badass rock concerts ever organized until they make one based around KOF.  The live performances, like the games themselves, have gotten their own CDs, but unlike the drama CDs, fluency in Japanese is not necessary to appreciate good music, so if you like it enough, you can import them.

Finally, there’s the obligatory manga, titled Guilty Gear Xtra, which was never released in America either, but I don't think we're  missing much.  Guilty Gear Xtra is basically a side-story taking place between the first Guilty Gear and Guilty Gear X.  It focuses around two young characters: Tyr, a mysterious young warrior, and Mizuha, a young girl and one of the last surviving Japanese.  The story centers around the two during a cataclysm in which gears and gear parts are falling from the sky due to a giant gear airship in space falling apart, all while dealing with a villainess from the PWAB named Geena.  The Guilty Gear cast from the games play a key role, but little about them is really expanded upon, since the focus is on the two new characters.  Fans may be interested, but it’s ultimately your average spin-off manga.  It does have some above-average artwork though.

With Guilty Gear Xrd on the horizon, I hope that this article brought some gamers up to speed with the franchise, even if that wasn’t my original intention.  Personally, I’m not getting Xrd until I see some Robo-Ky!  In the meantime, I’ll keep playing Accent Core and the other fighting games I have.  Like Blazblue.