Overture and the future of Guilty Gear

By Alex Kierkegaard / January 9, 2008

I am going to start this off by dismissing as hogwash the notion that Overture is the true sequel to the original Guilty Gear. Apparently, at one point, series designer Daisuke Ishiwatari said that all games from X onwards were only side-stories, or something to that effect, though I've also heard he later did some furious backpedaling. Perhaps after seeing Overture's initial sales figures? I've no idea. The reader will have to excuse me here for not being able to quote his exact words or cite references or anything of that nature, as I generally ignore videogame "news", previews, interviews and all that other bullcrap. I just play games, and write about them. Sometimes though some bits of hype do manage to reach my ears, and sometimes I feel compelled enough to comment on them. This is one of those times.

But whether Ishiwatari made this or that statement and whether he later retracted it or not is beside the point, because there's that big-ass '2' on the cover of the damn game which says all there is to say, and which no amount of backpedaling can erase from all those covers and from our memories. So what are we to make of it?

First of all, that Overture's designers have no idea what the word 'sequel' is supposed to mean in the context of electronic games. According to the American Heritage Dictionary, a sequel is 1. Something that follows; a continuation, and/or 2. A literary, dramatic, or cinematic work whose narrative continues that of a preexisting work. Now perhaps Overture's narrative is a continuation of Guilty Gear's (honestly, I've no idea), but that's irrelevant because in contrast to literary, dramatic, or cinematic work, narratives are not the point of videogames (or at least, not the point of the kinds of games the Guilty Gear series represents). So Final Fantasy II is a sequel to Final Fantasy because it's a continuation of its mechanics, not its storyline. This is what a sequel is supposed to be in the world of videogames, and all the rest is marketing.

So marketing then. The reason for that number on the cover and the loony PR statements is marketing. Fair enough, that's nothing new nor especially noteworthy, so let the presses keep on pressing. Had Overture ended up the generic 3D hack-and-slasher I had originally assumed it would be, there'd be nothing more to say on the subject. 3D action is where the money is these days, and it'd be unreasonable to expect Ishiwatari to stand firm with his Guilty Gear franchise when so many other hallowed series have sold out. (Besides, it's not like GG hasn't already sold out: see handheld iterations.)

The problem though is that Overture is anything but a generic 3D hack-and-slasher. It is in fact one of the most original such games we've seen this generation, and in a way at least even preserves the versus fighting spirit of the real GG games, since there's a lot of one-on-one action in it (and even, on occasion, a little two-on-two à la Isuka), and since its focus is clearly on the online versus matches. Indeed, one of the reasons the game will get panned by reviewers in Western countries if it ever gets released there is that the single-player campaign and free missions are rather boring (which is to be expected, seeing as they are only meant to be tutorials). So perhaps Ishiwatari was indeed after the big bucks, but if so he didn't go as far as selling out his soul for them (which, incidentally, is why he won't get them).

So what's next for Guilty Gear? Back to the good-old "side-stories" and the security of the steady income from the arcade crowd? Perhaps, or perhaps 2 will start getting its own series of side-stories for the next decade, at which point 3 will be released, featuring versus fighting now in four dimensions, for the sake of consistency I guess.

But since consistency does not seem to be one of Ishiwatari's virtues, it's reasonable to assume he'll try again with yet another 3D Guilty Gear, more than likely scrapping the Herzog Zwei-inspired strategy model which, in its Overture incarnation at least, doesn't seem to really work that well. In my review of Overture I praised its highly technical fighting system and suggested that larger scale battles, as seen in the Kingdom Under Fire and Musou-style games, would be a better match for it -- assuming, of course, Ishiwatari was dead set on retaining the strategy aspect in future 3D games.

But what if he wasn't? He could of course go for a simple single-player hack-and-slash model, in which case he'd be going up against the likes of Tomonobu Itagaki and Capcom, and in that case bon courage and good luck to him, as he'll be needing both.

But if the series must go 3D, and if it has to lose the strategy aspect, it seems to me there is another way. Since reviewing Overture I've been going back to play more matches, trying to work out more ways in which the game could be improved. (Fun fact #1: At one point I fought that Muramatsu dude, Arcsys' PR guy (gamertag: PRmura) who stars in some of the match videos on the official site -- and yes, I lost. Fun fact #2: He's got the "win 100 ranked matches" achievement but hasn't even bothered finishing the campaign.)

What finally occurred to me was that since the game was more enjoyable in 2 vs. 2 mode than in 1 vs. 1, it'd probably be even more so in 4 vs. 4, or 8 vs. 8, or 16 vs. 16, et cetera -- the more the merrier. In other words, scrap the whole RTS "Servant" aspect, import every Guilty Gear character ever designed, and let the players pick their characters, split themselves up in two large teams, and slug it out between themselves as if there's no tomorrow (i.e. no lame timed rounds for christsake).

Moreover, by getting rid of the strategy aspect you also free up buttons on the controller, which could be used to make the movelists longer and hence the fighting system more complex. Add all kinds of FPS-inspired multiplayer modes for variety (capture the flag, king of the hill, etc.), as well as crunchy music, atmospheric locations and over-the-top hit effects (all of which Overture already has to a degree), and you'll have something really special. It would be hard work of course, it would require lots of balancing the characters and fine-tuning the controls, and it would certainly require a budget -- and therefore a commitment -- bigger than Overture's; but, hey, in contrast to the alternative, it would at least be something worth doing.