Big Blast Sonic, That’s My Heart Beat Anew
“In order to create a whole new Guilty Gear, we embarked on a development that does not use past designs and old views”, Daisuke explains.
“Also, we needed to make sure the new elements we introduce are not just “different” – they have to be accepted as a part of Guilty Gear. Among such contents the idea of the vocal track is actually decided pretty early. Challenging something new, that’s what I want Guilty Gear to be. The vocals also have the merit that they help depict the character’s background story”.
Daisuke also stressed that the decision to change up Guilty Gear wasn’t one made on a whim- it was actually made while taking care not to forget what Guilty Gear is and makes it so beloved.
“The previous titles before Strive were all extremely high-paced fighting games. That is the concept, and the originality that those titles bear. For the fans that have been supporting our games from previous titles, I’m sure many have thought that these are the elements that they wish to experience in their favorite fighting game”, Daisuke says.
“However, from a developer’s point of view, we cannot ignore the fact that the number of active users dwindle with each release in the series. As a business, this trend could be very lethal, but as a development team we are looking beyond sales and numbers; as a fighting game, the ultimate killing blow is not the (lackof) game contents, or (bad) quality. It is the lack of friends around the user who plays the same game with them. Therefore, we hold the view that our primary aim, as the developer, is not “do something else since Guilty Gear isn’t selling”, but of “getting more people to play Guilty Gear” “.
“For that aim, we dissected the term “Guilty Gear” – to identify what are the components that define it, and arrived at the answer here as we all see it”, he adds
Akira also weighed in, saying that they also had to make sure they were really giving a new experience for Guilty Gear players with the newest numbered title.
“First we decide the general concept that encompass the entire game, then we build on the other factors on top of it”, he explains.
“Especially for Strive, we do not want it to be simply a ‘version up’ to the previous series, and want it to be a total new game, as such it was developed as a fresh start. We do not hold the view of ‘subtracting elements from the previous title’ at all in this development. From ground zero, we then decide what we would want to add to it, although we do admit at this stage, we did take reference from previous titles’ systems and techniques”, he continues.
It’s not just adding new things for the sake of being new, though. According to Akira, adding new blood into the Guilty Gear series with Strive was about giving players something new to master, so that legacy players wouldn’t automatically dominate either.
“One crucial point in the development of Strive is that, we made sure to have a completely new technique that all previous titles of the series did not have. We want a technique that rewards players for putting in hard work to train, but at the same time we do not want it to be something that relies too heavily on previous titles; it would not be a new title if that were to happen”, he notes.
And this development has paid off- Guilty Gear Strive dominated the Best Fighting Game category at The Game Awards 2021, in a year that also included a new Melty Blood as well as a revival of Virtua Fighter.
“If I were to be truly honest, I’d say we were gifted with the window in the timeline”, Daisuke says. “However, regardless of the reason, an award is still an honorable achievement to me, something I place valuably in my life. The development team, the company, my family and I all are greatly honored by this award. Moving forward, we hope to continue our development that would not tarnish this honor given to us.”
“Titles of the same franchise have each their own community, and to each community it is indeed very heartwarming to know they are all thriving” – Takeshi Yamanaka
Despite the popularity of Guilty Gear Strive, it’s far from the only Guilty Gear being played right now- Guilty Gear XX Accent Core Plus R has also seen a resurgent playerbase, following an update that saw rollback netcode and improved online infrastructure for the game.
“While we are most delighted to have players play our newest [Guilty Gear Strive], at the same time we are also very happy to hear players coming back to [Accent Core Plus R] and gathering online, with the introduction of the rollback netcode”, Takeshi says. “Titles of the same franchise have each their own community, and to each community it is indeed very heartwarming to know they are all thriving”.
Beta Testing Daisuke’s Vision
Of course, while many fans will throw around the term “Daisuke’s Vision” to describe a singular idea of what Guilty Gear is, that couldn’t be further from the truth. According to Daisuke, it’s just as much the product of working with passionate fans to get the Guilty Gear that everyone wanted.
“What shocked us most is that, during the beta test period, while we were doing various adjustments to correct the misalignments between us and the users, the users showed tremendous adaptability and became apt at the game really fast, and provided very valuable and sound feedbacks to us. With regards to the game tempo, high level users were quick to analyze and provide feedback such as “such implementations, while may appear slower (than previous titles) visually, in actual fact it’s actually faster than before, is that intended?”, as an example”, Daisuke explains. “Of course, not all feedbacks are positive, but nonetheless we are truly grateful that our fans are willing to take on the same journey with us to build a new Guilty Gear”.
Akira also echoed the value of the fan feedback on the game’s development- Guilty Gear Strive was the first major Japanese fighting game to have rollback netcode at launch, something that fans fought hard for to get in the game. Akira notes that this same fan feedback allowed them to continue working on Strive and make the game better for players.
“First and foremost, in terms of our development schedule and technicality issues, it was actually not intended in the development to be having beta tests and have us constantly work on the game simultaneously. However, we later found several issues that may have not appeared in our debug environment servers but arose in the worldwide public beta tests”, Akira remarks.
He also mentions another lesser-known technical advancement of Guilty Gear Strive- having its own independent servers.
“As a first challenge for us, we developed this game using an independent server service, unlike our previous titles where we mostly used the servers provided by the platforms”, he notes. “We have had experience with using independent server services for other OEM projects, but this is a first attempt for our own title, and naturally we were faced with many troubles. We are constantly working on improving the network infrastructure for the game, so please be patient with us as we continue to update the game”.
Takeshi also chimed in on the addition of Rollback, saying the decision to go with the netcode was indicative of the series pivot to target a more global audience:
“Japanese fighting games are generally developed in the geographically small country. Not too long ago, the main entry point for the genre was in the arcade, where users square off each other right in the same shop. As time goes by, the focus shifts to console, and then the main target for the genre also shifts away from Japan to Worldwide (especially to North America and Europe). Network infrastructure has also drastically improved worldwide, and the demand for console games to have better online netplay capability drove up”, he explains.
“[Guilty Gear Strive] is the first title that our company places the major focus in the global market, as such we placed huge emphasis on developing a new, better netplay environment, and worked on various approaches, from technical development, gameplay overhaul, and mindset readjustments”, he says.
While not directly related, Strive being the first major title to adopt rollback has certainly paid off well for it- aside from the game’s near unilateral praise for smooth online play, many more Japanese titles would later announce the netcode, such as Melty Blood: Type Lumina and King of Fighters XV. Fans even managed to pressure the Persona 4 Arena Ultimax developers to add better online in a future update for the game.
That being said, Takeshi says the team isn’t taking credit for the big shift in attitude:
“We made use of a core principle of our company; our light footwork, and managed to achieve our goal. We don’t consider ourselves to be leaders of the trend, but if our actions sparked a movement in the right direction, then we are definitely most flattered”, he said.
Heaven Or Hell, Let’s Rock
Challenging something new, that’s what I want Guilty Gear to be
– Daisuke Ishiwatari
Part of Guilty Gear’s longevity is due to its art design- the rock & roll fighter screams 90s era attitude, with characters carrying giant lighter-shaped swords or coffins that may-or-may-not have aliens in them. The Guilty Gear aesthetic is so loved that you could easily find live crowd reactions with audiences losing their mind at new character announcements.
“We are always delighted to see the reactions from fans whenever we announce a new title and character. It keeps the development team’s motivation high too”, Takeshi notes. “The pandemic has greatly stifled our movements and we are not able to meet with the fans directly recently, but we certainly hope for the day to come when we can hold events like we used to again”.
The series also sells its characters through its signature style of rock music. Strive in particular kicked this up to eleven with its vocal soundtrack, narrating the ongoing adventures of characters like Baiken or the mindset of newcomers like Happy Chaos and Goldlewis Dickinson. According to Daisuke, this was all part of the mission to make Strive a new game, not just another chapter in the Guilty Gear saga.
“In order to create a whole new Guilty Gear, we embarked on a development that does not use past designs and old views. Also, we needed to make sure the new elements we introduce are not just “different” – they have to be accepted as a part of Guilty Gear”, Daisuke says.
“Among such contents the idea of the vocal track is actually decided pretty early. Challenging something new, that’s what I want Guilty Gear to be. The vocals also have the merit that they help depict the character’s background story”, he notes.
It’s created a unique relationship between Arc System Works and its fans- from a personal standpoint even I’d been jamming out to Big Blast Sonic from the Xrd series long before I finally picked up a controller and played Guilty Gear for myself. Takeshi says they’re aware of all the different ways people get into Guilty Gear- and that the team is grateful.
“The Guilty Gear series has enjoyed fans of various categories: fans of the fighting game aspect; fans of the Guilty Gear world view; fans of the music, and etc. We are definitely most happy to have the fans enjoy the series in whole or part of, and we would like to take this opportunity to thank all the fans for their support”, he says.
That being said, one critique about Strive is that in a gameplay sense, there’s been less room for characters to express this personality- Strive is noticably missing the cinematic Instant Kills from the Xrd series, or the custom intros of the 2d games like Accent Core. There’s no poetic reason- Akira says it’s simply a reality of designing a game with a big roster of characters.
“The intros, character interactions, and visuals for moves and attacks is something we take careful considering, especially towards the character’s behavior, traits, relationship with other characters and etc., and we are aware this is something the users strongly wish for”, he says. “However, as we introduce more new characters into the game, such character combinations also increase exponentially, and it gets costlier with each new character. This is because for every character introduced, we have to go back and work on all existing characters again”.
“We ourselves do wish to have the characters of the game express themselves more, but alike most other development projects, priorities exist. Although the game is already released, we do hope one day we will be able to work back on this as an update”, he explains.
Takeshi also took the time to debunk a rumor that was going around the character Slayer- as fans continue to speculate on returning characters for Guilty Gear Strive, many fans had assumed that the character Slayer had been retired, due in part to the passing of the character’s original voice actor, Iemasa Kayumi.
It’s also not helped by the character Nagoriyuki- on top of sharing a lot of visual cues with Slayer, seems to refer to the dandy vampire in past tense, leading fans to assume the character had died between the events of Xrd and Strive.
While not confirming Slayer would be coming to Strive, Takeshi confirmed that the character’s appearance was not affected by Kayumi’s passing, and that they had recasted him as of Xrd Revelator .
“No, that is not correct”, Takeshi says. “For Slayer, after Iemasa Kayumi passed away, we had Hashita Kaya to take over the voice acting”.
A Relaxing Chat With Daisuke Ishiwatari
It’s hard to separate Guilty Gear from the public image of Daisuke Ishiwatari- the man has worked on multiple aspects of the Guilty Gear series, including the art, music and even voicing the titular Guilty Gear, Sol Badguy. You see Daisuke’s blood in the series itself- such as its reverence for his favorite music, or its esoteric philosophy on things like humanity.
Despite this, Daisuke is surprisingly humble, not seeing himself as a monolith for the game series.
“I don’t usually project my image from a third perspective, and I take feedback straight as it comes”, he says. “For feedback on the game contents, I do share it with the team and we see how we can make things better, but for music and art style, regardless of what feedback I receive, I can only do what I do…”.
“So to say, if there’s feedback on the game contents, we take it as “I see”, and try to connect it to see if we can arrive at any new ideas. Whereas for art, music and lore, if it’s positive feedback, it’ll just be a “yay”, and if it’s negative, “oh shucks”, simple as that I guess (laughs)”.
“Ultimately, what I’m trying to convey here is not something that can be derived from logic or calculations, I want people to “feel” my message, and that is why I chose Sol to be the main protagonist”
While Daisuke didn’t deny the character of Sol being a self-insert, he says it was certainly more a case of the entire cast of characters having a piece of him:
“Not limited to Sol, in fact, all characters in Guilty Gear have a part of me in all of them”, Daisuke says. “Whenever I’m confronted with a question, I always end up with more than 1 answer. For each of the answers I have on my mind, I “entrust” each of them to each character, then I develop their character and background and expand from there”.
He also explained that Sol isn’t based on him- but rather traits that he admires and aspires to:
“Taking Sol for instance, his decisiveness and unwavering spirit is something I actually don’t have, and I portray him as someone who I aspire to be with regards to those traits”, he says.
“Sol’s actions may be rough and at times bewildering to others, but people around him do take heed of what he’s been doing. That is because, they know there’s a sound reason behind Sol’s actions. The general theme of the Guilty Gear story is based on “What makes Humanity”, and of course, there’s bountiful answers to this theme”, Daisuke adds. “Ultimately, what I’m trying to convey here is not something that can be derived from logic or calculations, I want people to “feel” my message, and that is why I chose Sol to be the main protagonist”.
Due to the series being so tied with his own personal music tastes, I took the shot to ask what’s been on his playlists lately, too. After all, who wouldn’t interview Daisuke Ishiwatari and chat music with him? For anyone who knows anything about his music tastes, his answers were endearingly in-character:
“Sorry, I haven’t been listening to music much lately”, he says. “I generally rotate my interests heavily around many things, so when I take a liking to, say, movies or music, I tend to stick to them for a long time.
“I still listen to Queen’s first album, to “JAZZ”, even now, and also similar to Judas Priest’s “Screaming for Vengeance” till “Jugulator”. For newer bands, I’m listening to Megadeth and Lamb of God”, he says.
Our thanks to Daisuke Ishiwatari, Takeshi Yamanaka and Akira Katano for agreeing to do the interview and chatting all things Guilty Gear. The series is moving to new heights now following the success of Guilty Gear Strive, and aforementioned sheer reverence from other franchises shows that the series isn’t going away any time soon.
It’s really anyone’s guess where the Guilty Gear series could head next- but given how well the series has done for itself, it’s safe to assume that Daisuke, Takeshi and Akira are going to continue to show us something new and exciting.