Guilty Gear: Strive – Daisuke Ishiwatari and Takeshi Yamanaka Interview

Guilty Gear is a long-running fighting game franchise that takes inspiration from various Rock and Metal music genres and blends it with a striking anime art style and gameplay that’s fast and frantic at its core. From Guilty Gear on the PS1, all the way to Guilty Gear Xrd which nailed the transition from 2D to 3D in the most stylish way possible the series has evolved over time and built a loyal player-base.

The newest entry to the series, Guilty Gear Strive released earlier this month. It’s an amazing game that retains the rocking feel of the series even with the changes to the fast and frantic gameplay from the earlier iterations and nails the implementation of rollback netcode which allows for smoother online play between players from various regions. You can check out the review if you missed it.

We had the opportunity to interview the series general director and creator of the Guilty Gear franchise Daisuke Ishiwatari along with producer Takeshi Yamanaka about the game, the new characters, and the future of the franchise.

Heather De Boer: Guilty Gear Strive is the latest game that features the patented 3D anime visual style that the series had since Guilty Gear XRD -Sign-. This technique was also used for games based on licensed IPs such as Dragon Ball FighterZ and Granblue Fantasy Versus. How has the shift to 3D affected the development of the series, and what did you pick up from the previous titles developed in this style?

Takeshi Yamanaka: The transition from 2D to 3D has had an impact on the development of the Guilty Gear series in that it has completely changed the composition of the team. We also hired more 3D staff and had people who had worked as 2D staff in Guilty Gear XX and BlazBlue study 3D and convert their work.

It was also necessary to change the mindset that the camera could always turn during battles, which was a concept that did not exist when I was working in 2D. The 3D animated visual style started with Guilty Gear Xrd, and was carried over to Dragon Ball Fighterz and Granblue VS, and now to Guilty Gear -Strive-, and I think it’s a continuation of this style in terms of technology and sense of direction. If you were to ask us what exactly we incorporated into this game, I would say that the Guilty Gear -Strive- team learned a lot from the good and not-so-good points of Dragon Ball Fighterz and Granblue VS, and based on that analysis, we were able to differentiate and separate each title.

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HB: The inclusion of the Rollback Netcode has been well-appreciated. Was this something that was planned to be used from the beginning of development, or was it implemented based on community feedback?

TY: Yes, we have been discussing rollback netcode support internally since the previous series (Guilty Gear Xrd). We were aware that there was a particularly strong demand from North American players.

In Guilty Gear -Strive-, support for rollback netcode was included from the early planning stages, and the game was designed on the assumption that rollback netcode would be available. We were not able to implement it in time for the closed beta test, but after the open beta test, players actually touched the game and gave it a high evaluation.

HB: The console release of Guilty Gear Strive will include PS4 and PS5. Were there any noticeable challenges when developing for the PS5? As a developer, do you see these more powerful systems being a way to facilitate better performance across the fighting genre?

Yuuki Kawakami: For this question, we brought in our Technical Programmer Yuuki Kawakami: PS5 is called the next-generation console, but the development environment itself is not much different from PS4. If you are a developer with experience in PS4 development, you will find few difficulties, and the new features in PS5 are very easy to implement. However, the network functions have been migrated to a new library, and there have been a lot of changes to the game specifications due to differences in the specifications of the PS4 API. Guilty Gear -Strive- was originally developed for the PS4 generation, and it was very difficult to create a game that behaved similarly to the old API. As the generation change progresses, we can expect to see performance improvements in resolution and frame rate.

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HB: The two newcomers, Nagoriyuki and Giovanna, are both incredibly fun characters to play as. Were there any influences while creating them in terms of their lore, design, and fighting styles?

Daisuke Ishiwatari: As for Giovanna, there is no particular model for her, but the setting is inspired by actual Brazilian folklore. Nagoriyuki is actually based on a real person who once existed in the history of Japan, but we don’t dare to mention him by name so that users can freely imagine his universe. As he is a samurai, for the animations, we have tried to recreate actual sword fighting manners in small details, such as the “Chiburui” after swinging the sword, and the manner of sitting on the ground in one of the victory poses.

HB: The soundtrack has been well-received since its debut, especially May’s theme. Was this soundtrack created before or after the game entered development? I’m only asking to know if it inspired any of the character’s designs or if the characters themselves inspired the music.

DI: All character theme songs are created after the design, setting, and specifications have been decided. And since they are all vocal songs in Guilty Gear -Strive-, the melodies and lyrics are created to express the character’s emotions and the background they are carrying. In other words, the characters influence the songs. Also, for the songs of returning characters, I always try to incorporate the characteristics of the songs from the previous series. This is because I wanted to incorporate their history, present or future. Some of them are easy to recognize with quoted phrases, while others have elements that only I can probably understand.

Guilty Gear Strive

HB: Can you let us know how you’ve seen the fighting game genre and community change over the years? How does this affect developing a modern entry of this iconic series compared to the first entry released in 1998? Does it come with trying to meet fans’ various expectations or simply doing what you feel is required for this series to stand out?

DI: At the time of the original Guilty Gear and Guilty Gear X series, the user community as I knew was only limited to Japan. In the earliest stage, it was a very analog culture such as strangers would gather at arcades and make friends, or write down their impressions and techniques in a notebook at the store for others to read, and sometimes going out of their hometowns to expand their community.

However, after the Guilty Gear Xrd series, I started to experience EVO at the event site, which gave me the opportunity to come into contact with users from all over the world. Seeing the expressions on their faces and learned about the online communities, I realized that fighting games are not just a competitive tool, but have the potential to connect people around the world.

I believe that each user living in each country or region will have a different perception of the game and its universe. That’s why it would be very romantic for me if a single game could create a place for players from all over the world to interact with each other. At this point, Guilty Gear -Strive- is finally at the starting line, but in the future, I hope to come up with ideas for supporting a global community, which is possible to make it real because of the current online culture.

HB: With the team planning to release 5 DLC characters a year post-launch, are there any characters you’d personally like to add to the roster?

TY: Additional characters are already decided for the first season pass, so I can’t get into the details on them… However, if Guilty Gear -Strive- is well received and we can continue to add characters moving forward, I’d like to include more returning characters users have been waiting for, and also new characters with a battle style and feel that hasn’t been seen in fighting games before, while keeping the overall balance in mind.

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HB: Guilty Gear Strive has a large fandom supporting it. Would you be opposed to bringing the series to new mediums such as anime or manga? Or even a visual novel adaptation that explores these characters further with a romance route for Sol Badguy.

TY: I’d love to do it all for adaptations for animations, comic books, and novels! Visual novels are tougher nowadays because we have a Story Mode in the main game, which looks already like an anime or movie. I really want to make it into an anime, there are many high hurdles we need to overcome though.

HB: Ishiwatari-san has worked on this series as a director, composer, character designer, and even the original voice actor for Sol Badguy. Looking back at the last 20 years, are you excited that this entry is meant to be the conclusion of this story arc? What does that feel like?

DI: The theme in the story of the Guilty Gear series has come to a conclusion through the perspective of the main character, Sol. I didn’t originally think of the game of having a universal fighting spirit of the fighters, so I am very excited to be able to settle the story I started 20 years ago, and feel an accomplishment in being able to provide an answer to it.

However, every character in the game has their own lives, and each of them can be a protagonist for the users who love them. Even if the story that originated from the name “Guilty Gear” has ended, their world and story may have a new beginning. At the very least, I’d like to create something for the characters, who didn’t appear in the story this time, were doing behind the incidents as short episodes.

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HB: Do you have a message for fans of the Guilty Gear franchise?

DI: In the previous question, I talked about “completion”, but that was only about the story. Guilty Gear -Strive- a new flagship title from Arc System Works with a lot of trials and experiments and is just getting started. We believe that we can deliver new experiences and excitement to both existing and new players. We also hope to support creating a broad community in the world through this game. If you are interested in the game itself, the characters, or the story, I would be happy if you could share it with as many people as possible. Thank you for sticking with me to the end of my long-winded response.

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Heather De Boer

Been around the block as a Games Journalist for a year. Loves JRPGs, Fighting Games and Action games a lot but loves to dabble in adventure, horror and visual novels as well.