Soundscapes: Guilty Gear Strive and the Smell of the Game
Updated: May 5, 2021
Written By: Andray Smith
Edited By: Shania Kuo
I adore fighting games and though I wouldn’t describe myself as an exceptional player or adequate, I find the style of play, the aesthetics presented, and the style of the community to be absolutely endearing. Finding your favorite character, theme, and stage to throw down with anyone locally or around the world form amazing moments. So when I got to sink my teeth into the Guilty Gear Strive Open Beta, it was genuinely surprising that it wasn’t the characters or setpieces that hooked me in it was the music that served as my point of interest and obsession.
I enjoyed playing prior iterations of Guilty Gear, but a lack of a significant hook, in the form of a character or theme would always leave me wanting more. Where games like Skullgirls pulled me in with an incredibly unique score composed by gothic extraordinaire Michiru Yamane, Guilty Gear teased me with its colorful cast and punk attitude. Creator, illustrator, and composer Daisuke Ishiwatari, made something that I undoubtedly saw promise in, and it’s only recently that he completely sold me on his vision.
With a heavy rock and metal influence at its core, Guilty Gear reflects that in its characters, their names and moves, it’s concepts and aesthetics, and, most importantly, its music. Allusions to Queen, Guns n’ Roses, and Led Zeppelin stand out among others, while giving the game a rich sound that oozes passion. Constant themes of self-questioning, nobility, honor, and a desire to fight are found in almost every track, but the instrumentation pulls out strong percussion and frenzied guitar licks to back up the individualistic flair that goes hand in hand with those ideals.
The soundtracks of Japanese games pose an interesting problem, especially for those who aren’t versed in the language. A casual English speaking listener will focus more on the instrumentation, tone, and overall sound. Choices in dictation and the vocal performance can easily go to the wayside, varying the reception of a song across different demographics. Conversely, Japanese-accented English can produce unique performances that provide a compelling quirk within a track.
Take a look at the character reveal for Giovanna, a hard-hitting character from Brazil that utilizes an odd mix of kicks and punches in tandem with a spiritual canine, backed up by her in-game theme “Eye to Eye”. It’s ridiculous in concept, but it’s presented seriously and it’s pretty cool. Still, the music is a big component of making a character's moments interesting and giving that boost in atmosphere and hype. A fighting game like BlazeBlue might take a similar character and play more into its fantasy elements, weaving keyboards into the background and forgoing any form of vocal presence. As a result the track does not stand by itself in the same way “Eye to Eye” would. Even if the lyrics aren’t deep, Ishiwatari, imbues an energy into the track that further props up this bold aesthetic he’s created while being very fun to listen to.
Honestly, I think Ishiwatari deserves praise for how hands-on he is with the aesthetics of the series. Though he has others to aid him in executing on his vision, few other directors can say that they’re putting out the lead vocals for their rock-heavy soundtracks. I think that’s why the music really works in Strive, it’s the culmination of Ishiwatari’s vision brought forth into 2021 and he’s still able to make more games and play with more ideas in those projects. He’s having genuine fun, similar to the thrill and excitement that a fighting game instills in its players, designers, and spectators.
Guilty Gear Strive is a reminder to have fun, that working to your goals, like nailing that perfect combo, or mastering your first 236S is supposed to be a moment of celebration and achievement. So when you fight, appreciate the entire package, not just the technical aspects, appreciate the sights and sounds that bring this game to life.
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