‘Guilty Gear Strive’ deserved the Game Award for best soundtrack

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“Guilty Gear Strive” sells the player on the world of Guilty Gear, while delivering a timeless collection of music for the players and people who simply want to jam to some good music.

On Nov. 16, The Game Awards nominated “Guilty Gear Strive” for 2021’s Best Fighting Game, a category in which it undoubtedly destroys its competition. Unfortunately, the game missed another deserved nomination: Best Score and Music.

Since its release on June 11, “Guilty Gear Strive” has been met with high praise from not only the niche fighting game community, but the game industry as a whole. The jaw-dropping anime-inspired graphics and engaging moment-to-moment gameplay are at the forefront of that appeal. However, the true magic of “Guilty Gear Strive” lies in its music, which redefines the art of an original soundtrack (OST).

The Guilty Gear series is known for its heavy metal-inspired aesthetic, from the user interface (UI) to each character’s move lists referencing rock-and-roll history. The series’s discography comprises everything from bubblegum-radio pop to heavy-metal headbangers, but after almost 23 years composing for the series, Daisuke Ishiwatari perfected his musical formula with “Guilty Gear Strive.”

Graphic by Arc System Works.

From the game’s reveal at Evolution Championship Series 2019 (EVO 2019), the fans were met with the game’s promotional track, “Smell of the Game.” This song repeatedly shifts its momentum and tone; one moment, it’s a standard rock song, then it’s grating screamo, and finally, everything slows down for an incredible electric guitar and drum break toward the end.

This is all accompanied by the recurring lyrics “You…soon you will know, we already know the smell of the game” from the incredible vocal performance of the series mainstay vocalists, Naoki Hashimoto. “Smell of the Game” welcomes newcomers to jump into the game while ensuring that longtime fans already know the fun that awaits them with a new installment.

The rest of the soundtrack represents each playable character. My favorite track is Ky Kiske’s theme, “The Roar of the Spark.” Kiske is a virtuous fighter and king within the world of Guilty Gear that utilizes electric magic. “The Roar of the Spark” feels like a constant, shocking stream of electricity, with the vocals giving the listener that sense of a king’s intensity.

Another highlight is Leo Whitefang’s theme, “Hellfire,” which feels thick and burly to match Leo’s lion-like character. Not to mention, Hashimoto gives his most beautiful performance on the soundtrack with the antagonist I-No’s theme, “Requiem.” I-No’s feminine intensity is represented by lyrics like “We’re falling down slowly, like snow, led by gravity, fading away in the warm glow without resisting,” complete with Hashimoto’s striking vocals and a beaming electric guitar.

In previous installments, most tracks were instrumental. However, “Guilty Gear Strive” breaks new ground for the series by having an entirely vocal soundtrack. This change has made the OST feel like a heavy-metal album rather than a stereotypical game soundtrack.

Many game soundtracks serve as background ambiance to help establish tone, but when not done properly, ambient soundtracks don’t leave a memorable impact on players. I recently noticed this when playing “Metroid Dread.” Outside of the occasional boss fight theme that offers a sense of thrill, the game’s weak sci-fi soundtrack gets drowned out by the sounds of Samus Aran firing her arm cannon and the screeching of aliens.

“Guilty Gear Strive” offers both. It sells the player on the world of Guilty Gear, while delivering a timeless collection of music for the players and people who simply want to jam to some good music.

“Guilty Gear -Strive- Original Soundtrack Vol.1” is available to rock out to on Spotify and Apple Music.

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Jordan Parker
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