Even if you’ve never spent a moment of your life trolling the dark hollows of classic arcades or ever thought about buying an arcade stick, the odds are good you’ve heard of and played a Street Fighter or Mortal Kombat game—maybe even Tekken or Soul Caliber. They’re all good games, but there’s so much more to the fighting game genre than the household names we’ve been playing for years.
Capcom made waves with Street Fighter V this year, releasing the game essentially unfinished with the promise of free downloadable content updates to complete the character roster, story mode, and other key facets. It’s a brilliantly playable and gorgeous fighter, but the DLC-focused release turned off a lot of potential players. So maybe it’s time for a change of venue. Let me point you to something that’s been here for a while, always in the periphery, but never in the spotlight where it sorely deserves to be: Guilty Gear.
Originally released way back in 1998 for the original PlayStation, Guilty Gear was a wholly new one-on-one fighter intentionally designed to be something other than a cookie cutter copy of Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat. Partially this was due to its somewhat different control scheme of slashes and kicks—it’s a heavily weapons-based fighter—and “instant-kill” techniques that could end a round at any time.
Mostly, however, Guilty Gear’s roster of hilariously dark and bizarre characters and beautifully rendered hand-drawn art made it unique. What’s somewhat ironic is that 18 years later, the game still feels as amazingly different as it did back then. Everything about Guilty Gear is a nearly perfect melding of style and substance. It’s a fighting game made by people who love the genre and their creations.
As consoles evolved, so did the series’ graphical punch. High-resolution character models on the Dreamcast and PS2 iterations made the sequel one of the best looking games of its generation (a trend that would continue on to future consoles). The series has always been fixated on perfecting 2D fighting with amazing character models and silky smooth, over-the-top gameplay.
Guilty Gear Xrd Revelator is the latest in the series (the second on the PlayStation 4) and bodily harm has seldom looked so good. For long time fans of the series, Revelator is really only an iterative step up from the last game, but still well worth rushing to the PSN Store for. For newcomers, however, don’t worry about the history of the game or the nearly incomprehensible story (which is presented in a series of anime videos here), just bask in the glory of the crazy that is Guilty Gear.
Take my personal favorite character, Faust. He’s an insane and rather inhuman doctor with bizarrely long limbs, a bag with one eye-hole on his head, and a penchant for licking his opponents when not stabbing them with his pointy staff. Faust is a joy to play, hopping around on his staff like a pogo stick, throwing completely random items at opponents—sometimes actually helping them—and a super move that is literally a game of “cup and ball” where the opponent tries to guess which cup on the screen holds a bonus object. If they guess right, they get health and Faust suffers. Guess wrong and they get blown up.
Then there’s Bedman, an assassin who exists in two worlds at once. Hooked up to giant virtual reality headgear that links him to a kind of dream state, he’s actually bedridden in the physical world. As a result, Bedman is basically a combative blade and spike-ridden hospital bed. He’s an amazingly bizarre character that somehow fits perfectly into this insane world.
I-No is an S&M-laced rock ‘n roll witch who fights with an electric guitar named Marlene and is more than slightly sexually suggestive in both her design and moves list. Other characters include a gigantic, hard-hitting armored super soldier, a tiny pirate girl who wields a giant anchor, an arrogant swordsman named “Sol Badguy,” and other characters that are either completely original in design or twisted takes on fighting stereotypes.
Guilty Gear has undergone a lot of changes over the years. The character roster is at least somewhat different from game to game and the fighting mechanics get tweaked every iteration. One element that hasn’t changed is its dedication to the art of 2D animation, which makes the fact that Xrd Revelation is actually 3D incredible. Unlike every other fighter that has made the transition from 2D to 3D, it’s so seamless here that you won’t realize until the camera pans up and away after the round ends.
That legacy of sharp and defined hand-drawn art is just as strong now as it ever was and the result is a game that seems to magically shift between two dimensions when it’s cinematically appropriate. From the player’s perspective, it’s just another element that speaks to the quality of the game. Guilty Gear might not have the name appeal of Street Fighter, but it really deserves to. Try something new, off the beaten path, something uniquely crazy and Japanese. Try Guilty Gear Xrd Revelator.
Jason D'Aprile has been covering games and entertainment for the last three decades across a variety of platforms, many of which are now extinct. In addition to covering gaming (both obscure and otherwise), he also writes a bit of the odd fiction and tries hard to avoid social media.