I remember walking into EB Games on one of those days when you're just browsing around in an attempt to find something to do. It was before they got really organized and every once in a while, it was worth sifting through their used game section because you may just come across a copy of Lunar Silver Star Story Complete that someone traded in because they were a fool. It was there, browsing through various PS2 titles, that I came across Guilty Gear. The box art was weird enough to catch my attention, but the back of the box was what really got me. Some guy shooting fire all over the place, another man with a bandana that was tossing around what appeared to be chains. I had never really gotten into fighting games before, but I felt as though I had stumbled upon some ancient secret. I had to know what this game was all about. A few months later, my friends and I were all thoroughly addicted to the series, which was good news because Guilty Gear X2 was just around the corner.
The series officially began my love for the fighting game genre and I have never looked back since. An extremely memorable cast was what drew me in, but how unique each individual character played absolutely blew my mind. Ranged characters didn't just have one or two skills dedicated to playing 'keep away', but an entire moveset from basic attacks to specials, as well as ultras that were built for the job. Some had unique dashes, double or triple jumps, and what greatly appealed to me was the fact that air combat wasn't just possible, it was encouraged.
Guilty Gear X laid the groundwork, but X2 was what really solidified the series as a favorite for years to come. Most of the game-breaking bugs from the first title had been rectified and in a time where patches and DLC weren't around to fix things, this was quite important. It also added a character to the series that I've grown to appreciate more so than any other, Zappa, who was a testament to the game's technical complexity in how many various movesets could be attached to a single character. Each fighting game today maintains individual levels of complexity, but back then, things really had yet to become too complicated. Street Fighter was considered to be the staple tournament game of that time, with many focusing on 3rd Strike as being the go-to for any serious players; but that was more a series about timing and precision rather than speed, and coordination. Guilty Gear was far more advanced.
There was simply no room for mechanics like Roman Cancel or Burst, which was what made X2 so special. Learning the moves and when to time them simply wasn't enough. To be really good at the game, one had to know exactly when to back off and try again or, alternatively, when to use Burst to knock back an opponent and throw down a reversal. Super attacks having a priority isn't anything new, but the sheer volume of potential movesets in the series meant that there was a lot of room for mistakes. There was a lot to learn in Guilty Gear, but what made it so satisifying was how rewarding the entire experience was. Anyone who really mastered the art of improvisation would excel at the game. If your opponent was to somehow get off a solid setup against you, things wouldn't go very well for very long.
It was also an audio and visual stunner at the time and, quite frankly, its score remains to be a favourite to date. The all-rock soundtrack did wonders for pumping everyone up for a good fight. Considering the speed that most matches held, having some fast paced music was more than welcome. In motion, Guilty Gear was something else to behold, with some gorgeous sprite animation that really became more vibrant the better players got at it. Watching two tournament ranked players go at it was a treat in and of itself, particularly as there aren't too many 2D sprite games left on the market.
Naturally X2 has been expanded upon over time, with Accent Core adding even more to the table. What started my focus on the fighting genre was always the original; and despite how vastly improved successors like Accent Core are, Guilty Gear X2 will always remain a favorite. It's a title that I recommend to any fan of the genre, particularly knowing that spiritual successors like Blazblue fail to capture the same essence that made Guilty Gear so much fun. I hope that one day Arc System Works eventually decides to revive the series, keeping true to the original values with as little alteration as possible. Until then, I'll just have to settle for what's out now.