In a world occupied by two kinds of 2D fighters (Capcom's and everyone else's), you have to be cut from a different kind of cloth in order to survive in this hostile environment. In development for almost three years, Guilty Gear is just that - a 2D fighter with enough originality and flavor to earn its own place in this once-dominant genre. Let's explore.
In Guilty Gear you take control of one of ten characters, which are available from the outset. These fighters are a mix of the usual Ken/Ryu/Zangief ilk, with a little Samurai Shodown thrown in for good measure. The difference here is that these characters are designed with a flair not usually seen in a "serious" fighter. Character artwork is fantastic and lends the game an incredibly manga feel without being too derivative. As with Samurai Shodown, most characters utilize a weapon of some sort, ranging from the usual Excalibur-type sword, to some futuristic-looking blades, to a sickle and chain. Some characters, however, fight with only their fists and/or hair. It's this sort of diversity that keeps Guilty Gear fresh and not too confined to one particular premise.
Gameplay is confined to the usual fireball motions, double air jumps, super moves (called chaos moves), and counters. The difference in Guilty Gear, as opposed to something like, say, King of Fighters, is that the GG fighters move with an ease that rivals even Capcom's elite, and in some cases, even surpasses them. It's surprisingly agile for a PlayStation fighter, and you'll find the control impeccable. In addition, you won't be hampered by choppy animation; instead, each character has a wealth of moves and supers, each rendered in stunning detail, which complements the pinpoint control. In fact, the PlayStation handles so many frames of animation, with very little slowdown (except when doing screen-filling chaos moves), you'll wonder how Arc Systems fit it all in the meager amount of RAM available - transparencies, multiple blue shadows, fast and fluid animation at little cost to the gameplay. The only noticeable defects in the presentation are a fairly high amount of pixelation in the super moves and very little background animation. Even so, you'd be hard-pressed to even notice, since everything moves so fast and furiously.
Sound-wise, heavy metal style is the order of the day - a choice that is a nice contrast to the techno-heavy soundtracks of games like Tekken 3 and the nondescript music that litters most of Capcom's fighters. It certainly adds an aggressive edge to the proceedings. Sound effects are extremely well done. On a good sound system, your house will quake each time a hit lands or two swords meet. The soundtrack and the crunchy sound effects combine to create a truly awesome sound experience. Thankfully, Atlus hasn't messed around with the voices as it had been contemplating. Everything has basically remained intact from the original Japanese version.
The downside to this great fighting game (especially when you consider how long Arc's been working on it) is the lack of options. OK, there's a training mode and an options screen, which lets you mess with things like match time, but there's little else. You can't set the number of rounds or adjust the difficulty, things that seem peculiar by their exclusion. Another problem with Guilty Gear, and it's not the only one, er, guilty of it, is the extremely cheap bosses. Anyone who's played a Fatal Fury or X-Men: Children of the Atom knows about cheap bosses. Same thing applies here. Fortunately, you can continue as much as you'd like and switch characters after each defeat, so you can find someone who'll get you past the last boss. Unfortunately, once you unlock the secret characters, you can only use them in vs. mode, which is a bummer since Baiken is such a cool boss. It's always better when you can use them in one-player mode.
To summarize the Guilty Gear experience is to look to the best parts of other four-star fighting games. Fast, furious action, with truly awesome characters and moves worthy of the Darkstalkers series, Guilty Gear is one of the few non-Capcom or SNK 2D fighters to make any sort of impact on the genre. If you like 2D fighters with a little flair, GG comes highly recommended. With its excellent gameplay, surprisingly good graphics, secret characters, and kick-ass aural experience, Guilty Gear (minus some spit and polish) is as good as it gets.