The Guilty Gear series is an extremely popular sprite-based fighting game with musical scores that focus heavily on implementing rock compositions. In fact, the entire Guilty Gear Sound Complete Box is just that: a timeline and evolution of tracks throughout the span of the series. The creator of the game, Daisuki Ishiwatari, is also the composer for the majority of the series. However, he has on occasions received compositional assistance and he also regularly uses rock arrangers and instrumentalists to enhance his compositions. How does the series progress over time and what is the overall quality of the music?
Guilty Gear was the start of it all. In this album, you'll hear many of the rock themes you'll come to know in future iterations, such as "Keep Yourself Alive" and "Holy Orders (Be Just or Be Dead)." However, they aren't nearly as refined as their successors. Don't get me wrong, though. They are still highly enjoyable! Guilty Gear has many of the cornerstones found in subsequent soundtracks and is a great way to hear how it all began!
First up on my list of the tracks that didn't make it is "Unidentified Child," the theme for the sailor May. This theme has a very bubbly touch in addition to the rock. This helps to portray May for the child that she is and I think it's quite a fitting theme. "In Slave's Glory," the theme for Potemkin, incorporates rock and choir, giving it a haunting feeling. The guitar solo in this one is one of my favorites! Axl's theme, "The March of the Wicked King," has a heavy focus on guitar riffs and some keyboard work can be faintly heard in the background. It's a pretty motivating piece. "Fixed Idea," the theme for Testament, is probably my favorite piece of music from the original Guilty Gear. The focus on rock, piano, synth chorals, and organ makes it stand out more so than some of the other pieces. All in all, this is a ver dark theme with a motivating edge!
Guilty Gear X
Guilty Gear X saw the first push in terms of evolution. May's theme was no longer "Unidentified Child" and became "Blue Water, Blue Sky." Potemkin's theme became "Burly Heart." Testament's theme became "Bloodstained Lineage" while Axl's theme became "Make Oneself." As for these tracks, "Blue Water, Blue Sky" retains that bubbly feel the original held, but it has a much heavier focus on the electric guitar portions. "Burly Heart" probably changed the most. It opens up with a soft synth lead with piano. Once the rock portion comes in, it's heavy on the bass and blends together nicely with the synthesized sections. "Make Oneself" is also a pretty drastic change. Featuring saxophone and piano, in addition to the electric guitar, it has a softer feel than the prior representation for Axl, but it's still pretty good. The focus on the riffs is still present. "Bloodstained Lineage" is a track that I have mixed feelings for. I like how the focus was kept on a multitude of instruments, with a much heavier focus on the electric guitar, but at the same time, I don't think the melody is nearly as good as "A Fixed Idea." It's still enjoyable, but it lacks that edge the other had.
As for the remaining tracks, I'll briefly mention some of them here, as they only receive minor upgrades in future releases, and this is the defining game for the series' themes being kept constant. "Holy Orders (Be Just or Be Dead)" has been in the Guilty Gear series since the beginning. Perhaps one of the most popular pieces of all, it has a very elegant sound to it. The combination of organ, electric guitar, and harpsichord help to give it this aura of holiness, which describes the character rather nicely, but at the same time, it also gives the piece an edge. "Writhe in Pain" is another piece that focuses on combining softer instruments with the guitar. For this piece, piano and organ are the primary additions. It's one of my personal favorites and the melody is quite strong. "The Original" focuses primarily on using a very rhythmic beat, adding some jazz elements into the rock, and in doing so, it creates a nice fusion of sounds. The softer sections contrast nicely with those that feature the electric guitar prominently.
However, jazz isn't the only new style you'll find on this album. In addition, you'll hear some Asian influence in "A Momentary Life," with the inclusion of the shamisen and shakuhachi into its composition. It helps create a nice atmosphere with a bit of contrast to the heavier elements. In addition, you'll also hear piano take a major role in the ending themes. "Calm Passion" can be considered a nice rock ballad, but it features piano in various sections, helping lend to the title's calm demeanor. It's quite the relaxing piece. In addition, "Walk in the Dusk" is a piano composition with some accents in the strings and woodwind department. This is a really soft piece, and although it contrasts with the whole of the album, it's a nice addition. There are many other guitar pieces on this album as well, each with their own unique flavor, and many of them are great listens; however, I won't be covering them in this review.
Guilty Gear X Heavy Rock Tracks
This section will be pretty brief. Many of the tracks featured on this album are just upgraded versions of those found in the original album. For example, many of the elements in pieces like "Holy Orders (Be Just or Be Dead)," "Burly Heart," and "Writhe in Pain" are accented. The true focus, however, is the raw sound of the guitar, as all of these are played live. It's a nice "arranged" album and demonstrates how they were meant to be before downgraded with arcade synth.
Guilty Gear XX
Many of the tracks featured in Guilty Gear XX bear close resemblance to those in Guilty Gear X Heavy Rock Tracks. Although a bit subdued in sections, the guitar is essentially the same. I'll spend this section looking at tracks that are just now being featured in the Guilty Gear series. "Simple Life," the theme for Bridget, is a slower rock composition, with some piano accents here and there. The overall melody is rather strong and is a great addition to the series' music. It helps to create this feeling of bliss. Another character, Slayer, has a theme that resembles "The Original" in terms of instrumentation. "Haven't You Got Eyes in Your Head?" is a nice combination of electric guitar and saxophone. The overall jazzy feeling is even stronger in this piece.
One of my favorites, "Good Manners and Customs" belongs to perhaps the most interesting of characters, Zappa. It's an awesome combination of electric guitar, complete with solo, organ, and some nice synth work. It has the most infectious melody of all the character themes, and helps go nicely with the nature of his character. I-No's theme, "Kagematsuri (Festival of Shadows)," is rather standard for the series. Heavy focus on the electric guitar, with very little development in other instruments, it still provides a nice listen. Absent from Guilty Gear X, "Pride and Glory" makes its return in the bonus tracks for this album. Rather than regular piano, electric piano replaces the piano portions of this piece, while the remainder of the piece is the classic electric guitar found in the original. There are also four other bonus tracks featuring music from Guilty Gear X Plus.
Guilty Gear Isuka
If I could sum up this album in a few words, it would be "an album with a heavy focus on guitar solos". Almost every single piece on here has a guitar solo, in varying degrees, and they are all pretty good. This album also introduces new composers to the series, unfortunately, their tracks are fairly short and, for the most part, the weakest of the bunch. Ishiwatari still shows off his dominant skills in this one. "Sheep Will Sleep (if they become fatigued)" is easily my favorite piece on the album. Featuring piano, nice synth chorals, and an excellent melody, I could listen to this one for days. The combination of these elements helps to create a very exhilarating piece of music. The guitar solo is really nice as well, with hints of distortion. "Exceptional Routine Work" is another excellent piece, and one that could describe Ishiwatari's overall involvement in the composition for the series. The piece is much slower, but employs some interesting rhythms that the guitar solo seems to compliment nicely.
The Guilty Gear Isuka disc also features a selection from Guilty Gear XX Drama CD "Night of Knives Vol. 1, composed by Masaomi Kikuchit. His themes vary greatly from some of Ishiwatari's. For example, Kikuchi combines electronic with rock in "Rift in the Clouds," creating a very refreshing atmosphere, and in "Quicksilver," which mainly has a very quirky feel. "The Blue Practice" also has an Asian feel to it, but the overall atmosphere has a much more evil sound. "The Out of World" is a nice example of orchestral rock with a hint or two of electronica in the mix. It's one of the weaker Kikuchi compositions, but it's still very pleasant. Certainly a fascinating insight into the otherwise underexposed multi-instalment Guilty Gear Drama CD series.
Guilty Gear Arrange Tracks Plus
The last disc in the box set is mainly arranged versions of former pieces only featured in the first Guilty Gear, such as "A Fixed Idea" and "Pride and Glory." The key differences in a lot of these pieces are the emphasis on electric guitar, similar to that in Guilty Gear X Heavy Rock Tracks. "Pride and Glory" replaces some of the piano sections with a higher pitched electric guitar, and while it's still enjoyable, I prefer the piano version. Unfortunately, the best parts of "A Fixed Idea" are drowned out by the heavy emphasis on electric guitars. It's still pleasant, but it's lacking the depth I love in the original.
This album also features two character themes from Guilty Gear XX: Slash. One of these was composed by veteran Daisuke Ishiwatari, "Get Down to Business," while the other was composed by Masaomi Kikuchi, "Keep in Gates." Out of these two, I much prefer Kikuchi's theme. It's got a nice blend of organ, strings, synth chorals, and some heavy emphasis on guitar riffs. There are also some very nice rhythms employed in the bass in certain sections. Definitely an awesome ride and makes me hope for a Guilty Gear XX: Slash release. As for Ishiwatari's composition, it features a nice blend of strings, vocals, and electric guitar, but I don't really find it all too groundbreaking. Although the vocals do irk me a bit, it's still enjoyable though. The last piece, "The Zandakai" is a 30 minute Japanese interview with some of the people behind the series, including Daisuke Ishiwatari, with musical backing.
In the end, there are pros and cons to this box set. Some of the things going for it are the various compilations of the progression in the series, but at the same time, there are many repeat tracks. The new tracks featured in each album are very nice, and the inclusion of Isuka is a nice contrast to the sameness of main series. In the end, it's really up to personal preference. If you really enjoy the music, I'd try to find one of these box sets before they become hard to find, mainly due to their limited production. However, if you only like a couple albums, I'd try to find those instead. The inclusion of two Guilty Gear XX: Slash pieces is nice and something you won't find elsewhere. It's a nice voyage into the series, features some excellent compositions, and is overall very exhilarating with few boring moments.