When it comes to 2D fighting games, Capcom's Street Fighter rules. But for fighting game fans in the know, it is Arc System Works' Guilty Gear series that's best. In fact, for some, Guilty Gear is the greatest fighting game off all time.
Guilty Gear is long dead, a distant memory stuck in publisher limbo, but its spirit lives on in the superb BlazBlue series – what many consider to be Guilty Gear in all but character design and name.
Now with a foothold in the UK, BlazBlue continues to gain ground. Guilty Gear creator Daisuke Ishiwatari, alongside BlazBlue boss Toshimichi Mori, are currently hard at work on no fewer than three fighting games. BlazBlue: Continuum Shift II for the Nintendo 3DS and PSP, Arcana Heart 3 for the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360, and, whisper it, a super secret all-new BlazBlue game for home consoles.
Here, in an interview with Eurogamer, the pair explain the influences that underpin their oddball fighters. Read on for thoughts on character design, Kinect and more.
Eurogamer: Why is the Japanese fighting game community stronger than the western one?
Toshimichi Mori: Japan is a small country, and everyone speaks the same language, so it's easy to create a community to compete with each other. But in western countries, especially in Europe, people speak various different languages, so it's quite difficult to create one community to get everyone together to compete with each other.
Nowadays, some countries are still behind with broadband speed infrastructure. If it progresses then it will be possible to make online fighting a better situation and we could have stronger players than the Japanese players.
Eurogamer: In a 2008 interview you said you didn't believe reliable online play would ever be possible using current technology. Three years later, do you still believe that?
Daisuke Ishiwatari: It's still the same. The broadband speed nowadays is still not good enough for the perfect fighting game situation.
Toshimichi Mori: If a zero time lag online infrastructure is ready for online battle, then it would be the ideal fighting game situation. Now, it's still not possible.
Eurogamer: Will it ever happen?
Toshimichi Mori: Face-to-face fighting is the ultimate fighting game experience. Even though there is optic fibre broadband ready for all countries, you're still missing the face-to-face fighting experience. If in the future, like in The Matrix, people can plug the cable into the back of your neck to experience a fighting game, then it will be possible.
Eurogamer: I can't wait. When are you releasing that?
Toshimichi Mori: If we're still alive at that time.
Eurogamer: BlazBlue Continuum Shift 2 is coming out on the Nintendo 3DS in Europe. How have you recreated the visuals of the arcade version in the handheld?
Toshimichi Mori: For 3DS graphics, the first thing we thought about was to make it easier on the eye. So, there's not too much detail. When characters are moving you can just focus on the fighting by looking at the character, and you're not disturbed by the background movements.
Eurogamer: Why did you decide to make this game for the 3DS?
Toshimichi Mori: The main thing was to make BlazBlue available for more of an audience. Some people find the PS3 and Xbox 360 too expensive. But those people might have a handheld console. The 3DS is quite expensive, but buying a TV and a PS3 or Xbox 360 isn't something a lot of kids can easily get into, whereas most of them own or will eventually own a 3DS. It lowers the barrier to entry.
Eurogamer: Have you made the gameplay more accessible for the 3DS version?
Toshimichi Mori: On Continuum Shift we introduced a beginner mode, and a similar system called Stylish Mode is implemented on the 3DS version. If you press a button then you get to launch special attacks. But it's not an easy special. You don't just tap one button and then the special moves comes out. It's a middle ground between that system and playing normally. You still have to press buttons multiple times in order to execute combos, but it's not as difficult.
Street Fighter IV 3DS has an easy special attack launch button on the bottom screen. BlazBlue doesn't have that because we wanted to make it a pure fighting game and not too easy.
Eurogamer: You think Street Fighter IV 3DS is too easy?
Toshimichi Mori: Yes we do.
Eurogamer: PS3 and Xbox 360 owners want to know when a new BlazBlue game is coming for them. Is one in development?
Toshimichi Mori: We'd get booed if it doesn't release. That means yes. We're not saying when, but it will be coming out.
Eurogamer: Arcana Heart 3 is also due out for PS3 and Xbox 360. You've ported it to home console from the arcade. For those who have never heard of it before, how does it differ from your other 2D fighting games?
Toshimichi Mori: It's an all-girl characters fighting game. We just wanted to show European people there is a fighting game like this, which is quite unique. Arcana Heart 3 has BlazBlue's online battle system, so the online battle experience is as good as BlazBlue. The matching system is superb.
Eurogamer: You're known for your beautiful hand-drawn 2D sprites. How do you create them?
Toshimichi Mori: There's quite a long process. First we design the character. Second, we decide which skills they have and their background. Then we do content drawing – the pencil drawings for all the movements. Then motion drawing, including 3D models, then hand-drawn animations. After that, colouring. Then we put them into the game.
Eurogamer: That must be very expensive as well as time-consuming. Why do you continue to make games this way?
Toshimichi Mori: Because we want to make the best-quality 2D fighting games, and this is the way to make them.
Eurogamer: Street Fighter IV was 2.5D. Why is your way better?
Daisuke Ishiwatari: Arc System Works' fighting games are pretty much designed for anime fans. The anime style fighting game is the one we want to make. 2D drawing is best suited for the time being.
Eurogamer: You're known for your unique and varied characters. Where do you draw inspiration from?
Daisuke Ishiwatari: There is already a wide variety of characters that have appeared in other fighting games, such as Street Fighter. I want to create something totally different from them. That's why my characters are quite unique, and even strange to some people.
Eurogamer: How do you create your characters? What's the first thing you do?
Daisuke Ishiwatari: There are two ways of creating a character for a game. First of all I create the game system. Then I create a character that matches to that game system. Vice versa, some characters are drawn, and then the game system is adjusted.
Eurogamer: Are there any characters based on personal experience?
Daisuke Ishiwatari: The character called Venom, he uses a billiard cue. I got that idea when I went to play pool with my friends. That's from the real world.
Eurogamer: You've created many fighting game characters over the course of a decade. Which are you most proud of?
Daisuke Ishiwatari: Every single character I've created is a part of me. Everyone is equal. But if you want to say this is the character that's my favourite of all, then that would be Sol Badguy, because he most matches my personality and sensibilities. He is the real meaning of Guilty Gear.
Eurogamer: What ever happened to Guilty Gear? Why did you stop making it?
Daisuke Ishiwatari: Guilty Gear got too hardcore for some people, so we wanted to reset the level of entrance. BlazBlue was the answer to it. Also, the generation of Guilty Gear players has become a certain age – maybe a little bit too old for playing games. So making that reset brings in a new generation of fighting game players. Then they will be with us for the next few years.
Eurogamer: Will there ever be a truly accessible fighting game?
Toshimichi Mori: It is impossible to create a fighting game everyone can play. The basic rule of a fighting game is: one wins and one loses. As long as that's the basic rule of a fighting game, there will never be a perfect fighting game that everyone can enjoy.
Eurogamer: What about Kinect? Could that help developers create a truly accessible fighting game?
Toshimichi Mori: Well, first of all, Japanese houses are quite small, so playing a fighting game with Kinect is difficult. If there's a Kinect fighting game, then a real setting would be quite difficult. It could be a game where the person who performs the first hit will be the winner. The person who hits first will always win.
Eurogamer: Why is that?
Daisuke Ishiwatari: Motion fighting games could be random, determined by things like which player is faster. That could happen when a Kinect fighting game happens, but that won't be too much fun. The judgement of win or lose cannot be which one is stronger. If that's the point you want to judge, then you should play sports instead of a video game.
Eurogamer: Some fighting game fans consider Guilty Gear to be the greatest fighting game ever made. But which one do you consider to be the greatest?
Daisuke Ishiwatari: Street Fighter III: Third Strike. It's the nervousness between you and your opponent that gives me joy. You have to guess what the next move is by your opponent. That was the most fun thing about the game. It was so enjoyable.