This page is full of UNMARKED SPOILERS, be warned. It also needs grammar check.
In the 21st century, mankind discovered Magic and set science aside. But people, out of greed for power, used Magic to create mindless magical biological weapons called Gears and used them for warfare. However, one Gear with consciousness led her race and waged a war against humans. The conflict lasted a hundred years and destroyed the majority of the world. Yet eventually, the Holy Knights finally defeated the leader of the Gears and the war came to an end.
Gears are evolved animals that resembles mythical creatures, most of them designed for war. There are human type Gears who are physically identical to humans except that they have reddish eyes and have abnormal magical abilities. Since their leader died, mindless, dormant Gears lay around like litter and surviving ones are hunted.
Analysis of moral-societal themes that are found in Guilty Gear
Guilty Gear has a plot that can be associated to many moral concepts as it features many flawed characters.
Who is to be punished? Who deserves justice? The title is a huge clue; the guilty Gear is actually the main character, Sol, who has spent a hundred years of his immortal life correcting his mistake. On the other hand, a girl named Dizzy who was born after the war gets a death sentence just for being a Gear. GG shows different people with different intentions and views about morality.
Many characters in GG have sad, harsh, broken or shameful backgrounds: Dr. Baldhead was a serial killer, Ky was a child soldier, Millia was an assassin and was emotionally manipulated, Testament slaughtered countless people against his will, Potemkin was a slave, Venom is a homosexual who is hopelessly in love with an evil person who will never love him back, Chipp was a drug addict and Eddie is a beast struggling to extend his very short life while looking for a purpose. But despite all of these, most GG characters do not live in the past and looks forward to the future.
Testament: But that nightmare ended, and now even though a Gear he wants to live as a human... and that Gear Testament was reborn.
Some characters atone for their past crimes (Sol, That Man, Testament,) some, who are innocent, suffer from the evil of others (Baiken, Dizzy, Ky, Marina, Solaria) while others set aside their past to move on (Chipp, Millia, Johnny, Venom.) Here are the specific concepts associated with the characters:
Guilt and Atonement – Sol, Testament and Faust. They have committed mistakes that cost the lives of many people, and these three live to atone. Sol travels in search of That Man to have his revenge and hunts Gears to make up for his involvement in their creation. Testament protects Dizzy and his forest, as he came to the conclusion that living would be harder than dying. And Faust travels the world to cure people of all kinds of sicknesses, whether it is physical or emotional. Regarding That Man, his plan and real intention is still a huge mystery.
Innocence- Dizzy, Ky, May, Josephine, Marina, Solaria, and the children shown in the series. There are a few instances where an innocent person is spared from death precisely because they’re innocent: Dizzy and Solaria by Sol, and the 2-year old king of Calroni by Millia.
On the loss of innocence, we have Millia and Venom. Both were orphans and it is stated that Venom is kind and pure, making him unsuitable to be an assassin. However Zato’s charm worked its way on the two and their devotion to him led them into committing crimes for his sake. Baiken also witnessed the death of her parents by the Gears, and her life is now bent on revenge. Ky’s relationship and fatherhood to a Gear can also count as his human need for love restricts him of freedom he barely had.
Justice- Ky, Justice. Two sides of the same coin, both think that obliterating the other race will bring justice. However, Ky was young and has changed his views after hearing Justice’s last words and meeting Dizzy. Now, Ky is searching for the meaning of justice but in doing so, he comes closer to dangerous truths.
Hope – Ky, Chipp, Millia and Venom. Ky’s favorite word is “hope” as he clearly carved it in his belt, and his belief in it inspired the knights to win the war. Although Chipp is simple and absolutely funny, he was a former drug addict and his master who saved him from that kind of life is killed. After this, we see in AC that Chipp wants to run for presidency to help the populace. It is hilarious and stupid, but we see how optimistic he is despite the world’s state. Millia, despite having a lot of guilt, fights for her life and treasures it so the people she killed will not be forgotten. She is similar to Testament and both of them are inspired by children and the future ahead of them.
Testament: (Father... after escaping the control of Justice, I think that maybe I will live for children like this one...)
Drama CD 2
Millia: (Forgive me...Zato...I...chose to bet on the future of this child!)
… I am the wager. An Assassin that was born to sorrow, an Assassin destined to die...That was never predetermined! I want to exist in the future I believe in! With no doubts!
Night of Knives
Religious-Spiritual elements and symbolism
"HEAVEN MADE MAN FOR ITS REASON. MEN RESPECT MEN FOR THEIR OWN SAKE."
These visual or conceptual symbolisms greatly contribute to the aesthetic of the overall theme, complements the moral aspects and ties the fantasy world to reality. Intentional or not, there are many examples of religious and spiritual elements:
Testament seems to have elements of voodoo, paganism, witchcraft and primal religious blood ritual incorporated into him. He has killed a lot of people in the past and is atoning for his schemes. His Gear conversion can be used as a metaphor for a deal with the devil.
Millia and Zato obtaining Forbidden Beasts may also count as a form of a deal with the devil. The two of them have to give up the thing most precious to them in exchange for the power. Zato lost his eyesight and it is unknown what Millia gave up.
The Gears parallel demons, with the Gear conversion in general paralleling a deal with the devil. They are lead by Justice, who represent Satan, are hunted down by the Holy Order not unlike how exorcists hunt down demons, and sometimes even possess a demonic-looking appearance (such as Sol's Dragon Install form and Dizzy's Instant Kill form).
Zappa is possessed by a malevolent spirit because of his good looks and affinity to ghosts.
Raven fought in the 11th-13th century Crusades, meaning that he was once Catholic. But currently he sees that his life's purpose is to be fully loyal to That Man and his cause.
Ky Kiske is Catholic, wears a golden cross, and has a blue-white outfit. He is charismatic, honorable, and idealistic and has contributed greatly to mankind’s victory. He can represent young individuals who have faith in God in the dark parts of man’s history.
Dizzy is dual nature in a sense that she is both human and Gear, has a named mother but has no definite father, has 12 female friends, and has a 3 year existence similar to Jesus’ ministry. This can signal Dizzy’s role as some kind of messiah in the future. However, Dizzy also represents opposite elements as modesty and profanity, light and dark, and innocence and corruption as she is shown to be evil in an alternate future where Ky is dead.
In contrast to Ky Kiske, I-No, who is an evil character, wears a witch’s hat and a revealing red outfit. Arguably, she’s a bisexual and loves seeing people suffer. She also likes to torment Dizzy, a kind and pure-hearted character and she manipulated and has flirted with Ky in the past.
The aftermath of the Crusades mirrors the Dark Ages where the pursuit of science apart from the Church's standards is a crime. Moreover, the police and the UN are directly involved in upholding a "Magic Only" rule.
Given that Justice was sealed, which ended the 100-year-long Crusades, and unsealed, ultimately leading to her demise, she could be parallel Satan from the Biblical book of Revelation in the aspect that he was sealed for 1000 years and unsealed to deceive all the nations, ultimately losing to Jesus and his forces and thrown into the eternal pit of fire.
The trailer of GGX took some passages from the Bible, notably, from Revelation which is a prophecy on the end of times. In the story, the Gears were given a "humanity extermination" order by Justice.
Then I saw another mighty angel coming down from heaven. He was robed in a cloud, with a rainbow above his head; his face was like the sun, and his legs were like fiery pillars. He was holding a little scroll, which lay open in his hand. He planted his right foot on the sea and his left foot on the land, and he gave a loud shout like the roar of a lion. When he shouted, the voices of the seven thunders spoke. And when the seven thunders spoke, I was about to write; but I heard a voice from heaven say, “Seal up what the seven thunders have said and do not write it down." Then the angel I had seen standing on the sea and on the land raised his right hand to heaven. And he swore by him who lives for ever and ever, who created the heavens and all that is in them, the earth and all that is in it, and the sea and all that is in it, and said, “There will be no more delay!
This series offer some subliminal messages that favors religion and spirituality against science. The Gear Project's purpose is to further man's evolution, however it only resulted into a 100-year war called the Crusades because humans used it out of greed. A Christian group, particularly Catholic, led by a boy with the word "hope" carved in his belt, ended the war by sealing Justice away, making this game one of few fictional works that puts the church into a good light. Also, certain technology is banned and is labeled as "Black Technology" since it harms the environment. Axl even nearly got arrested by the IPF when he mentioned Einsten's formula when he got drunk.
One may find a lot of aspects in the game that puts Christianity in a favorable light, but it is shown that the ones with special powers are the Japanese. It is speculated that it is so because of their highly spiritual lifestyle, despite not being monotheistic.
In That Man’ story, he and Frederick debated for five hours about the origin of species. That Man theorized that species cannot possibly be created from random natural processes and they do not evolve by their own. He concluded that a “God” and an third party dubbed as the “Apocalypse” must be responsible for the way creatures are directed into a certain path.
That Man: Aria... is everything in the natural world, including mutations, produced by accident, then?
Given these, we can see that Guilty Gear is a game that discusses religious, spiritual and philosophical queries under the layer of being a fighting game with bizarre characters.
There are instances where the controversial issue of playing god is shown, though it is not discussed. The most notable example is the Gear project which aims to control evolution by using magic to modify both animal and human genes. However, these creatures eventually rebelled against their masters and a hundred-year war begun. This shows that scientific advancement can bring disastrous results when used for human greed. Intentional or not, this mirrors the real life issue of creating genetically modified organism and cloning on which religious groups are against.
One character however saved the future from doom by playing god, which is very ironic. I-No used her power to travel through time and saved Ky Kiske, the person who is necessary for the victory of humans against Gears. However she does this out of amusement and curiosity, as she wants to "set the stage" of history. In the alternate timeline, I-No actually led Ky Kiske to his death and amused herself with it. Counting her actions, one can say that she is manipulating both history and reality.
This shows how the plot of Guilty Gear can be used as an aesop against playing god, but the story also presented that playing god can ironically lead to good results. A scene in the Drama CD mocks Ky’s faith to God:
Ky: Even if mankind has several paths, I only have one. And if there is grace in that, then God shall save me!
I-No: God? Justice? Hahahah!
Ky: What's so funny?
I-No: I see. So the one that saved you is God. That's a good one.
Ky: Here I come!
I-No: Revolting against God? How foolish. Die!
Politics, society, economics and history
Guilty Gear is a fantasy world which is heavily based on reality. The game takes liberty in using factual entities to connect the events in the 22nd Century to the past centuries. Some of the real-life entities like the United Nations, and events like the advancement of genetic engineering, is essential for the plot and story of the game.
Old Crusades- Raven's backstory reveals that he was a German Crusader during the Holy War in the middle ages(11th-13th century). He was shot by multiple arrows but got revived afterwards. This is when he finds out that he is immortal.
World War I and II - These wars led to the formation of the Post-War Administration Bureau. The PWAB is said to have finished its purpose and is supposed to be disbanded, but it continues to operate in the shadows. If whether the PWAB in this game or the real-life PWAB is the same entity is unconfirmed.
United Nations - Since their formation, they have been active for more than a century. In the game's story, it holds more power as it acts like a world government
Human Genome Project- Though not out-rightly stated or specified, this real-life project coincides with the development of the Gear project in Guilty Gear. The Gear project is also most likely to have taken place in the USA, the leader of the Human Genome Project. That Man's backstory revealed that the facilities that they are using for the Gear project is American.
The population is recovering from the war that ended five years prior to the first game. It seems that only European countries were able to recover well or protect themselves more effectively. In Ky Kiske’s story, it is stated that Europe organized itself into three main kingdoms to unify the fragmented groups; also, Europe becomes a melting pot for different races, cultures and religions. Countries like the USA got dissolved or restructured while others have vanished. The United Nations becomes a world government, granted with political, economic and judicial power. It established an International Police Force that has the authority over any nation or area to exercise international laws and regulations like the banning of old technology or "Black Tech." The Post War Administration Bureau, which has been hiding from the public even during the war, has allies from the UN, has strong ties with the Assassin's Guild, collects Gears and Japanese people and experiments on them. The nation of Zepp, wanting to preserve science, isolated themselves in a floating continent away from the UN's influence.
It is also revealed in Overture that Gears that has escaped from Justice's control and remained conscious after the war formed their own nation in an island called Ganymede. They stay hidden from the UN as they are in a constant threat of being discovered and exterminated.
Specific Real-Life Issues in Guilty Gear:
Racial segregation- The Japanese are forbidden to leave their designated colonies and concentration camps. Those who try to escape are punished and those who are successful in doing so are hunted to be detained again. Even though the threat of Justice's genocide is long over, the international community continues to treasure the Japanese' special attributes while other national groups aren't mentioned at all.
Human Experimentation- Zepp enslaved people and modified their bodies by the use of enhancement drugs- Potemkin an example. And it is also hinted that the Japanese are detained for the purpose of experimentation, since they have a high and natural affinity to "ki." Testament is unwillingly turned into a Gear by the PWAB, possibly for research on empowering a human's magical ability. Solaria is converted into a Gear by a private drug company who is attempting to control dormant Gears, her sister, Marina, was saved before she suffered such fate. The Assassins themselves are experimenting on their members with Forbidden Beasts, anti-Gear species.
War, refugees and state formation- During the events of the first game a successful revolution was led by the now-president Gabriel in Zepp. This revolution freed slaves like Potemkin, and established a democratic and transparent government in the process. The Crusades left people state-less and Europe is the ideal place for migration. In response to this influx of migrants from different cultures, the UN reorganized Europe into three kingdoms, Illyria being the capital. Another possible reason for the reorganization of Europe is to uphold democracy through elections, as various kingdoms apparently do not hold them.
Illegal trade - Piracy, prostitution and illegal trade is rampant (GG Drama CD.) Sol even refused a prostitute who needs to feed her children, instead, he just handed her a huge sum of money. Considering this environment, Johnny can be considered truly noble by taking in several girls who can be exploited by others.
Police and political corruption - The United Nations tolerates the presence of the Assassin's Guild on the political arena and it is highly possible that they ally with each other depending on the purpose. One instance where the Assassins are directly interfering with a national affair is when Erica Bartholomew is appointed to be the president of a certain country. In Ky Kiske's short story, it is revealed that he gave in into accepting the position as the puppet king for Illyria since the government already knows about his wife(who was pregnant that time) and could possibly use her as a hostage. The police force is hardly effective on mitigating crimes as seen by the amount of illegal activities and is unsuccessful against assassins. Also, there are police officials who abuse their position for self-gain. There is an instance where Ky’s subordinate betrayed him and attempted to shoot him take a Black Tech tablet for himself.
A part from the ‘’Night of Knives’’ shows how assassins in the GG world view the end of the Holy War:
Zato: When the Holy War is over...what happens next?
Venom: The War economy will convert to a Common economy. The political power structures will chafe during the transition, and we, the Assassins' Guild will be in high demand.
Zato: Precisely. And that growth will give birth to "market competitors.”
Venom: "Market competitors?"
Zato: Soldiers can return from the battlefield, but we who function as Assassins are shunned by public opinion. If someone could grasp our destructive nature in battle, the seeds of battle would spread, sown, and be cultivated. New techniques would develop for a new generation.
Metaphysics, Science and Philosophy
Guilty Gear melds real scientific theories, philosophical queries and fictional elements.
Time travel and Multiverse- Guilty Gear taps into the theory of a multiverse by including two characters that have the ability to travel through time. It is illogical and impossible for two unique beings to exist at the same time, like Axl and Sol fighting themselves but this could be because of the possibility of two universes meeting at a focal point. I-No can travel back in time without meeting her other self, but rather, she can take her original spot in the event. When Order-Sol is killed, either Sol is erased from existence or continues living. Sol surviving implies that there is a separate timeline where he is killed while his timeline remains unaffected.
Genetic engineering, environmental ethics and bio-ethics- Since modern technology is deemed to be destructive to the environment, magical science is strongly advocated. Eventually, the shift from science to magic was successful, However, nations also used magic to wage war with others and the creation of Gears is the result. Gears are originally for the advancement of evolution, possibly a more radical genetic modifying. But the utilization of this technology reaches the point where humans are also modified to be weapons. Human modification is taboo in real-life while cloning and stem cell research remains controversial.
Non-natural biological and physical database in a parallel dimension - Parallel to the world of Guilty Gear is an alternate dimension called the "Backyard" where the entities of the universe manifest as data. Magic is the process of tapping to the Backyard and manipulating real world data, however advanced skills and talent are necessary since magic is divided into chords and data has complicated mappings. Magically adept species like Gears have a higher capacity in utilizing the Backyard, and likewise creatures can be born in the dimension. Valentine, the antagonist in Overture is born from the Backyard and makes up for her lack of raw power with very advanced magic and her innate capacity to rewrite data in the Backyard. Given enough time and preparation, she can disable human magic and cast huge area spells like the Gear sublimation.
Causal evolution - That Man debated with Frederick about the existence of a third party in evolution. He theorizes that species are led to take a certain path and a supernatural entity is responsible for the missing links in evolution. The possibility of an extinction event is also mentioned as creatures become extinct when the next stage arrives, through the will of an "Apocalypse."
Trichotomy in Sol, Ky and Dizzy
One can note huge differences and similarities alike with the two main characters, Sol and Ky, and the characters who's considered the female lead, Dizzy. But it's interesting to point out how each of them embodies important story elements or concepts that can be found within the story.
Born before the war
Associated with guilt, atones for his past mistake and seeks revenge
He is a Gear
His element is fire, which is associated with the earth or even hell
He has lived a long time, has a huge store of life experience and knows reality
Born during the war
Associated with justice, wants to find the true meaning of the concept
He is a human
His element is lightning, which is associated with the heavens
He is a young man, knowledgeable and mature but tends to be naive
Born after the war
Associated with innocence, yearns for family and identity
She is half-human, half-Gear
She controls both light and dark elements
Has only a 3 year existence, has a high mental capacity and is currently learning about the world.