Guilty Gear: The Missing Link

                      Reviewed By: Michael Angelo C. Lee
     VOLUNTEER GUEST REVIEWER
GAME TECH INFO

Computer Platform: PlayStation (Sony)
Produced by: Arc System Works / Team Neo Blood
Price Range: $31-40
Learning curve time: 1-2 hrs.
Age level: Mature Teen to Adult
ESRB Rating: T (Teen)

Genre: Fighting Game
Christian Rating: 2 of 5
   (offensive)
Gameplay: 3 of 5
   (offensive)
Violence: 2 of 5
   (heavy)
Adult Content: 3 of 5
   (mild)

Guilty Gear, in its era (a time when 3D fighters were on the rise), was a little known 2D weapon-based fighting game with the most ridiculous features you've ever seen. Put together a ragtag band of futuristic pre-apocalyptic warriors in full anime design, some adrenaline-pumping music, a killer arsenal of combos and wacky specials, and you've got the making of…well…a pretty odd ball 2D game that, though infamous at first, grew in popularity with its sequels.

Granted, fighting games like these are not necessarily endorsed by Christians (I remember a skit a few years back with the intent to ban Mortal Kombat or something), by my intent in reviewing this series of games is to let Christians in on the psychology behind fighters, judge accordingly, and how to deal with it should it get out of hand.

Game Plot Summary

The background, unlike most other fighting games, is more in-depth and dramatic than usual (I mean, who'd expect a story line when the main objective of the game is to fight each other?), and contains an apocalyptic flavor. In the early 21st century, mankind has discovered an energy source--a friend once informed me that it's some sort of radioactive ore--so powerful and elusive in nature it was deemed "magical." Immediately some scientists endeavored to make use of this new power source and produced a technology for medical science that is able to cure all diseases, indefinitely prolong human life, etc by altering the composition of human bodies. This was called the “Gear Project,” led by Dr. Fredrick, with the intent to benefit mankind.

However, an entity called “That Man” has taken over the project and transformed what was a benevolent undertaking into a nightmarish plot for creating weapons of mass destruction. Dr. Fredrick became the first “Gear” and was subject to hours of physical and psychological torture. Eventually, he escapes, failing to stop the Gear Project from expanding, and a hundred-year battle between humans and powerful mutated Gears, led by a mighty entity named Justice and called the Holy War or the Crusades, began. Much of the planet, including all of Japan, was destroyed in the process. Eventually, Justice gets sealed in a dimensional prison by the Seishikidan (Sacred Knights) and peace begins despite the existing anarchy. However, all is not yet finished.

Several years later, there is news about a tournament to determine the 2nd Order of Sacred Knights, with the end goal to ultimately seal Justice once and for all. The prize: ANYTHING THE VICTOR DESIRED. Dr. Fredrick, now known as a bounty hunter by the moniker of Sol Badguy, joins in order to find out what was going on, as well as a few other weird contenders like Dr. Bald head, a psychopath doctor with a spear-sized scalpel, Millia Rage, an assassin who uses her hair as a weapon, and May, a kid pirate weilding a large anchor, among many others, in order to claim the mysterious prize. And so the story begins…

Gameplay and Graphics

Before I begin with the game's features, let me explain the basic mechanics of a fighting game for those who don't know how it works. Basically, you have at least two characters on screen (some fighting games have up to 4), and the goal of each match is to defeat your opponent. Each match consists of at least one round or more, depending on the setting of the game, and the main requirement for victory in one match is usually on a best 2 out of 3 basis (this is why the number of rounds in fighting games is mostly in odd numbers, usually from 1 to 9). On the top of the screen is your character's life bar; it starts off at full and decreases whenever you get hit by your opponent's attacks (the stronger the attack, the bigger the chunk of energy taken off of the life bar). When it runs out, you lose. To prevent this, you can block your opponent's attacks by holding the D-Pad or joystick back or down-back. A timer is provided to give the match a time limit, and when it runs out, the player with the longer life bar wins by default.

Having explained all of that, let me get on to the mechanics of Guilty Gear. The gameplay is good, but being one of the first few games by a relatively unknown Japanese company, it has its flaws. Control is OK though clunky at times: You have the D-Pad, which moves your character around the screen (in case of those with no fighting game experience, you can dash by tapping left or right twice, block attacks by pressing the direction your opponent is facing, jump by pressing up, and air dash by tapping forward or backward twice in the air, to name a few). Normal moves are divided between Square (Punch), X (Kick), Triangle (Slash) and O (High slash). There's a Taunt and a Respect button as well. You can execute special moves by pressing a set of directions on the D-Pad and pressing the corresponding button (for example, Sol's Gun flame, a projectile move, is performed by performing a smooth down, down-forward, forward motion + Triangle or O), and to aid the player some of the character's specials are listed on the Vs. screen between matches.

For combos, the game uses a “Gatling Combo” system, which allows you to chain normal attacks from the weakest to the strongest, sometimes even alternating between certain sets of attacks. For example, Chipp (a ninja) may create a combo by chaining X, X, Triangle, O, Triangle, O, Triangle for seven hits. You may even cancel normal attacks into specials for more damage, for example Sol does a combo with X, Triangle, O into down, down-forward, forward O, a simple chain ending in a Gunflame. You can even press Slash + High slash together for a Dust attack, launching the opponent high in the air. If you press up, you can jump and follow them for a damaging air combo. However, the flash ends there. Some character's combos are too quick or too hard to execute, and the controls in this wise can be too quirky for the average player.

Some more advanced options include the Chaos Gauge, an energy bar on the bottom of the screen which allows you to perform horrendously powerful super moves. Pressing the Taunt button while blocking allows you to use the Chaos Gauge to activate the Faultless Defense, making you take no block damage from special moves among other things. A defensive attack, called Dead Angle, may be performed by tapping forward + kick while blocking and can get you out of some hairy situations. You can even charge certain special moves by inputting their directional motion + the Respect button, which make those particular attacks change in effect and grow more powerful. Lastly, you can change the direction you are facing in mid air by pressing L1; useful for switching sides when your opponent gets behind you. On the top of the screen is your character's life bar; when it runs out, you lose, and when it gets cut down to the yellow part, you can execute super moves indefinitely (a feature either c considered “cheesy” or a “glitch” by many players). A timer is provided to give the match a countdown; when it runs out, the player with the longer life bar wins by default.

Finally, the controversial Ichigeki Hissatsu, the "One-hit Instant Kill" or “Destroy” move. This attack, considered a major source of frustration by most players, is activated by tapping Punch and Kick together. If the corresponding attack hits, the screen turns red, and in this mode you can input down, down-forward, forward + any button to execute a damaging attack that instantly wins a match for you. You can even pull this off by Instant Blocking the opponent's move, or blocking an attack just as it's about to hit you. The opponent can escape this, however, by inputting down, down-back, back + any button, and as a warning to any interested player, the CPU opponent can execute this death-blow with frightening ease.

Graphics-wise, I feel here's where people are divided. The sprite animation is good, but the relatively low resolution and the washed-out colors sort of give it that anime-on-an-old-TV feel. The speed, while spectacular at best and out shines then-formidable giants like Capcom's Vs. Series, tends to create a sort of imbalance in the game and suffers from occasional slowdown. The special effects look flashy and sometimes painful, but on the average aren't really anything spectacular (except maybe for the much-feared Justice Gamma Ray) and have this bad tendency to clutter up the screen, making it hard for the player to see what's going on.

Ah yes, another problem. While advanced players can pull off hard-hitting combos with some difficulty, the speed, clunkiness and clutter may cause a player to mash. I'm not kidding; the game is that chaotic in its structure that it led me to mash a lot of times before I got a hang of the combo system and have chosen a character that is, in particular, hard to combo with easily. Expect a lot of air dashing, running around, fast combos, Dust attacks, and reddenings of the screen, not to mention the flames, lightning, etc. While it all looks flashy, this is certainly not something to aid your technical skills. Because of the game speed and response, it can be frustrating to combo at times and the player may resort to random button bashing in order to dish out some damage.

I will not go too deeply into the glitch aspect of the game; while certainly not as expansive as MvC2's array of bugs and glitches, Guilty Gear has its own share of programming errors. Some are helpful, like the Charge Cancel (you cancel a normal move by charging your character's special attack, allowing you to combo otherwise impossible chains of attacks) or the Multiple Drill of Zato-1ONE, but others are more distracting like Testament's semi-game crashing Recovery glitch.

As for the sounds, they're certainly nothing to write home about. Oddly enough, unlike the Capcom series of fighting games, the sfx sound muffled and noisy. You have your standard fx of slashing, whacking, hitting, explosions, weird beam noises, lightning, flames, clashing metal-on-metal sounds, a very odd booming thunder effect, among many others. It would have been good, but the muffled, canny effect makes the game sound old and grainy. Character voices are also slightly muffled like the seiyuu (voice actors) were holding hankies over their microphones, and I once even thought Sol's "Ikazuze! (That's cool!)" respect was "Looking good!" The music is surprisingly good, but it has a tendency to sound canny on some speakers (especially the drums and lead guitar), and for some reason lacks a bit of bass for that extra kick. I guess they didn't have a hefty budget back then.

Offensive Material

Now, for this part of the review, and I'm sure many Christian parents and gamers would like to get the lowdown on this game. To start off, I would like to stress on the violence. This first installment in the series is, ironically, the bloodiest of them all. Not Mortal Kombat, Wu Tang or Killer Instinct bloody, mind you, but still disturbingly crimson enough for the a hardened gamer to wince at, probably at the level of Samurai Showdown. When you slash an opponent (this is a weapon-based game, after all), there's lots of blood. Super moves are painful to look at, and last of all the Ichigeki attacks are the most disturbing concept. To be certain, they're not like Mortal Kombat's Fatalities, where your opponent suffers most anything in the range of being scorched alive to torn apart limb from limb. But just because GG is slightly milder and has that wacky anime feel certainly doesn't make it an exception to the rule. Though not all of the Instant Kill moves are brutal, a large number of them are visually disturbing. There's one Instant Kill where Ky Kiske, a Sacred Knight with a lightning sword, slashes a CRUCIFIX into an opponent while glowing neon-blue lightning balls erupt around the screen. Another has Axl Low wrapping the opponent in chains and crushing them, blood erupting around the tangled mass of metal. Disturbing is the keyword.

Another is the personality makeup of the characters. Rarely any good guy characters here save maybe four or five people (Ky Kiske, Axl Low, Potemkin, Kliff Undersn, and May) among the 13 fighters present. There's Sol Bad guy, a trash-talking bounty hunter who even puts out the finger when you press the taunt button; Dr. Bald head, a skilled doctor-turned-serial killer because of the tragic death of a young girl patient during an operation (note: it wasn't his fault but he blamed himself for it anyway), Zato-1ONE, an assassin who performed a forbidden art of sorcery on himself to gain the power of manipulating shadows, sacrificing his eyesight in the process (there's more to it than simply this, though…more on that later); Chipp Zanuff, a drug pusher/addict who used to work for the mafia, but was later rescued and rehabilitated by a ninja who taught him Ninjutsu (until the mafia killed him, in which case Chipp is out for revenge--not good), and a few more odd ball people. To be honest, it would take me a lot of time to describe all of them here.

One more is the somewhat gothic setting of the game. Given the post-apocalyptic (pre-apocalyptic, actually) nature of the game, you can expect to find a few occult symbols here and there. Zato's stage seems to be a sort of sacrificial altar with a pentagram in the middle, with some grayish figures of people chained to the wall (yes, it's disturbing, I know). Testament, a sub-boss, is dressed in black gothic attire (thus contrasting with his corpse-pale complexion) complete with blood-red scythe, while a red moon hangs over his level background. Some others are less obvious, like Chipp's background with this multi-armed robotic statue (it seems to be a statue of Kali). I'm not even going to delve into the sorcery part or the “magical” ore used to create the game's weaponry, since this is a major subject of debate on many sides and has already been handled far too much for me to even talk about extensively.

Here's a part I'm sure many will object to: the game is rife with 80's-90's rock and heavy metal references. Axl Low, a British fighter from the 20th century who was warped into the game's era, is based off of Guns n' Roses vocalist Axel Rose. Sol Bad guy's real name (Fredrick) is taken from Freddie Mercury, and he even listens to Queen's album “Sheer Heart Attack.” Ky Kiske, whose name is based on Kai Hansen and Michael Kiske from the band Helloween, has a move name called “Ride the Lightning” which is a Metallica song, among many others. If that isn't enough the game's soundtrack is composed of instrumental heavy metal tracks that can be pretty addicting. Some are actually good to listen to, like “Beyond the Dark Life” or "Love Letter From…" but most are adrenaline-pumping Yngwie Malmsteen-style tracks that get the blood going, creating an aggressive atmosphere (the more obvious examples are Meet Again, A Fixed Idea, Writhe in Pain, Conclusion, Holy Orders and Keep Yourself Alive). To be honest, I listen to some of the tracks on occasion or hum them, but when I play the sequels I turn them off; they're THAT addicting. Personally I find nothing wrong with some of them, but I would like to respect the viewpoint of other Christians who do not like this kind of music. There is an option in the US version to turn down the volume if you'd like (or have) to.

Lastly, as for adult material like slight nudity, There's quite little in the game, except for Millia Rage's slightly revealing costume and Baiken's kimono (her cleavage is seen). Otherwise, this game isn't as offensive in the adult visual department as is its sequels. Still, I encourage players with the bad tendency of wandering eyes (myself included) to be very careful in this wise.

Commendable Material

Being a gamer who has learned to analyze my own mental activity (and that of other players) to a certain degree, I must say this game has very few commendable material compared to its followups. One thing that might interest the gamer is how the characters turn out, since they are practically the only things you can pick something out of here

(WARNING:Major spoilers ahead!).

Dr. Baldhead ends up repenting for his serial killer ways due to the spirit of the dead girl talking to him in his conscience, and runs away in disgust and shame for what he has done. He eventually restores his profession of being a doctor and goes around as a perpetual “doctor on call” named Faust, looking for and healng the sick while disguising his face in a paper bag (he is featured in the sequel, Guilty Gear X, as Faust, basically the game's comic relief). Zato-1ONE, with his excessive hunger for power, ends up getting possessed by his own shadow, Eddy (another rock reference, this time the zombie mascot of the band Slayer) and ultimately regrets his decision to sell his eyesight (and technically, his soul). In the end, he dies, leaving Eddy to control his body for a limited amount of time in order to find a new, living host (again, this is in the sequels). Chipp learns that his desire for vengeance has clouded his mind, and that he cannot go around doing good if he lets his anger and emotions dictate his actions and fighting technique. Ky finds out from a dying Justice that Gears have their own lives to lead, as well as their own thoughts, feelings and personalities, and realizes that his intentions, while generally good, were also racist. In the end he asks God if he was doing the right thing and vows to search for the truth behind the existence of Gears.

Otherwise, this game…really doesn't have much to offer in the way of commendable material. The content is more blatantly disturbing than psychologically helpful (my next review on the sequel will expound on this aspect), and I'm more than certain that any sensible Christian will find himself / herself second-guessing this title.

Conclusion

Guilty Gear was one of the more heavily criticized games in the past, and I'd suggest that players generally avoid this thing to boot. If anybody wants to check it out, be my guest, but you have been warned about the content. If you find yourself getting addicted to Guilty Gear I suggest turning off the console, applying the I John 1:9 remedy and going on a video game fast for at least 2 weeks. Also, as a general precaution in the case that you or any relation of yours is bothered or offended by this title, then please give it back immediately if it was rented, throw it away, burn it (in extreme cases), etc.

My suggestion before I go is: Try going for the next installment instead, it's (slightly) easier to handle and is a lot heavier on the strategic side.




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Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this Christian Spotlight review are those of the reviewer (both ratings and recommendations), and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Films for Christ or the Christian Answers Network.

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