Saturday, June 10, 2006

My problem with Guilty Gear

So yeah. Not long after its release in mid-April, I picked up a copy of the newest version of Guilty Gear: "Guilty Gear XX #Reload - The Midnight Carnival: Slash." Quite a mouthful, huh? Well, I picked up "Guilty Gear Slash" as I call it, because I'm a big fan of companies making constant revisions to their fighting games (It shows a big dedication to making the game great, in my opinion), and I decided that I should learn how to play Guilty Gear once and for all, since it was the last popular 2-D fighter I had yet to play thoroughly and make an opinion on.

Well, it's now June, and I think I've reached a verdict: I enjoy it, but it's waaaaaaaaaaay too technical. There are three big assets to improving in fighting games that all work in conjunction with one another: Game-Specific Knowledge, your Mind Game (being able to outthink your opponent), and Technical Mastery (being able to perform moves, combo sequences, make opportunities for setups, etc.). I should really write a blog on this some time, but for now, just keep that fact in mind. Guilty Gear is no different from other 2-D fighters in that it requires all three of these factors to be a really great player; but, the BIG difference is that it has a huge emphasis on the last factor - the one which I think should not ultimately be a crutch - Technical Mastery.

Now, forgive me if I seem biased against that particular aspect. I should throw this out there - I think I'm a pretty damn good player; however, based on people in my equal skill level, my level of Technical Mastery is comparably bad. I make up for it because I'm very good at reading people, and playing the game. I'm also very good at recalling lots of specific knowledge.

Now, obviously, I'm not a huge blunder at all things technical - I play combo-based games like X-Men Vs Street Fighter and Vampire Savior, and I can do lots of other Technical things with ease, like Kara Cancelling and Roll-Cancelling (A Capcom Vs SNK 2 - specific glitch, where characters that can roll as an evasive manuver can cancel the roll into a special move; the end result is a special move with the invincibility of the roll) with much ease. On the other hand, I've never personally been a huge fan of combo-based characters that have to consider their opponents heights, widths, weights, and other game-specific combo safeguards in mind (All these things exist in a lot of games, and trust me, they matter a lot!). For that reason, I don't play a lot of Street Fighter Alpha 3 or Capcom Vs SNK 2, where a lot of the best fighting styles revolve around doing outrageous custom combos, or 3-D fighters, where the combos seem oddly contrived and unstandardized.

Guilty Gear Slash (and incidentally, all previous installments) are very combo-based. They have a few basic principles that are the same from character to character, but there are so many various special game-specific features that lend themselves to comboing (and various safeguards to prevent infinite combos), that every character becomes outrageously complex because of it (because every character is made with the idea in mind that no oversight of theirs will result in something extremely broken). So what does this all mean? Basically, while you have a wide variety of characters that seem to play wildly differently, what you basically have in the end are an outrageous amount of combo-based characters that are only different in their combos. This isn't really a difference in how you have to play them from a strategic standpoint; it's just a difference in what you have to do while implementing (more or less) the same strategy: Rush That Shit Down! In fact, If you don't attack enough, Guilty Gear penalizes you by taking away all the Super Meter you've built up!

In fact, one of the best games in the genre - Street Fighter 3 - is so good because you have a variety of playing styles that aren't just based on what combos the character has, but what aspect of the games are your strengths. Are you a really technical type? You'd do well with a character like Yun, Urien, or Necro - characters whose best fighting styles rely solely on being able to do tough technical setups and combos that vary depending on the opponents you face. Are you really big on the mental games? Try Elena or Ibuki, characters that go defensive or offensive based on the situation, and rely on having very rough, unpredictable repetoires of normals that most their entire strategies are based upon. Are you interested in a character that tries your hand at both? They've got that, too - Makoto has her share of amazing technical combos she can do - including a 100% stun combo! But, to get the chance to do anything like that, she needs to mount an offensive, and the only consistent weapon in her arsenal is her randomness, and her ability to psyche people out. Hugo is a slow grappler that doesn't have a particularly amazing offense or defense, but relies on one powerful, difficult-to-perform move that does a lot of damage to psyche people out. He has to use his own built-in fear factor, along with a vast amount of knowledge to discern whether or not it's a good idea to make a move.

Now, I'm not saying that Street Fighter 3 is perfect (that's for another blog, probably), but if there's one thing it gets right, it's that it caters to several different fighting styles without relying on the gimmick of 'grooves' or '-Isms' (a fighting style that you pick before the match that gives your character access to certain universal features, like air blocks, evasive rolls, dash manuvers, etc.), where there's generally one best one for each character.

So, what's the point of me bringing all this crap up about Street Fighter 3 if I'm talking about Guilty Gear? Because, as David Sirlin brought up in one particular article (and he's probably right), Guilty Gear is a game that was made with so many different gameplay features in effect that there's virtually infinite freedom to make any character in any way you want. On one hand, it worked - there's quite a diverse cast, both in visual appearances, and what they can do; however, the big problem is that all characters basically revolve around doing outrageous combos and setups that they have leeway to do with all these crazy features intact.

Okay, so you might be saying "Well, Jamie, maybe Guilty Gear just isn't your game?" I don't agree. I think that the characters were intended to cater to different philosophies, similar to how Street Fighter 3 does. I think the combo-friendly features just sort of mess that up. In fact, what's worse is that this side-effect ALSO has a huge, glaring side-effect: Characters that have easy combos are generally the best characters in the game! I don't wanna sound too much like John Madden, here, but one big side-effect of having the game based around complex combos and setups is that the simplest characters in terms of combos are usually the best. Let's look at three of the best characters in the game.

"I think it's clear that the character with the
best combos is gonna come out on top, Pat."

First up: Sol Badguy. This guy has used to be notorious for one of his old combos, the 'Dust Loop', a simple, very damaging combo loop that could do a number on any character in the cast. Well, they took it out of this game, but he got something which, in my opinion, is even better: His staple move, Volcanic Viper, got increased damage. Based on the training mode in the PS2 version, where damage is represented in numerical value, I found that every character has 400 hit points; Sol Badguy's basic combos that involve Volcanic Viper do upwards to 140 damage; that's about the damage of a SUPER MOVE.

By the way, I swear it sounds like he says
"Give it up for White Power!" when he does this move.

With his bread-and-butter combos easily hitting almost every character in the game for more than 1/4th of their life, it's easy to see why Sol is one of the best.

Second on the list: Ky Kiske. Strangely enough, Sol and Ky are the Ryu and Ken of Guilty Gear, and they're definitely the best. It wasn't always this way, though; Ky used to be a rather mediocre character, because he had trouble mounting an offense, and his combos weren't exactly that devastating to begin with. The funny thing is, he's now consistently considered to be the number 1 / number 2 character of GG Slash. Are his combos now amazing and complex? No, not really; in fact, they're kind of the same as they used to be. So, what's the difference?

Better projectiles. Ky used to have one small projectile (which he could do in the air), and one large, slow-moving projectile. Now, he can do the large one in the air, which is sort of cool, but more importantly, he has two versions of the small projectile: one that recovers somewhat slow, but is outrageously fast, and his normal speed fireball, which recovers OUTRAGEOUSLY fast. Just to give you an idea, check out this video of Ky, the guy with the sword, using those fireballs to lock down his opponent, Axl, especially in the corner.

Ky had a few other positive changes, but this movie of a top level player versus one of THE best Axl players around highlights ONLY the one I'm talking about. All those combos you saw were a result of Ky being able to close in on his opponent, due to his now effective projectiles. Some of those combos might even be more difficult now - a lot of Ky's moves were actually given ADDITIONAL startup time, so his basic combos are now more difficult than they've ever been! But, now that he can actually get close to his opponent and USE them, they're good, regardless of how basic they are, or how much more difficult they might be to perform now.

Sometimes, Ky seems to say "Fuck off!"
when he throws his fireballs. You can
hear it in that movie I just linked!
Guilty Gear characters say the darndest things.

Last, but definitely not least: Potemkin. Potemkin is the grappler character of Guilty Gear. For those who don't know, grappler types are usually slow, strong fighters whose staple move is a throw attack which has a difficult motion to perform during the heat of battle; however, if you can land this attack, it does outrageous damage. Since the time that Guilty Gear started becoming a respectable competitive fighter, Potemkin has consistently been one of the top five characters in each installment. Why? My personal guess would be this: As a grappler character, Potemkin does heavy damage with all his normals, but his combos are not very advanced; even more, he really doesn't need to do combos to do damage. If you wanna get a feel for what this is like, check out how fast Potemkin rules on Dizzy in this video. I mean, seriously. The MATCH was seventy seconds. That's absurd.

In short, while I commend Guilty Gear in general for making a new, innovative game, and making several revisions of their game to try and perfect it (something I'd also like to eventually touch on), the game puts a HUGE emphasis on Technical Mastery, while lending itself to the characters that require the least amount of Technical Mastery to use. Now, maybe it's just me talking here, but I think when the best characters in the game are the ones that supercede the MAIN IDEA of the gameplay, it really defeats the purpose. Strangely enough, the characters that don't don't have complex or damaging combos don't have much of anything else either, and are low tier because of it (Robo-Ky, Order-Sol, Dizzy). The Guilty Gear series has come a long way, and I hope to see it evolve at least once or twice more before they call it quits, but when they do, I think that these are points that should be addressed.

-- Jamie (FYI, I use Axl, Ky, and Faust. GGPO.)


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for writing your observations up. I was watching some GG videos after reading Sirlin's article on it and I got the impression that it required a lot of game-specific knowledge and technical mastery. Maybe too much for my tastes. There's just a lot of "stuff" to digest in Guilty Gear, balanced game it may be.

I like your blog, hope you write some more articles that you mentioned, like your opinion/analysis of 3S, etc.

11:50 AM  
Blogger Xenozip. said...

Grand Viper = White Power? LOL

That's ok, admittedly I think Stun Edge sounds like Ten Inch.

9:13 AM  

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