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The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.
This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at Oswego chapter.

When you first listen to the soundtrack of the fighting game Guilty Gear Strive, it seems to perfectly reflect the nature of the game. The theme song for each character boasts intense guitar riffs and drum solos, loud and aggressive vocals, and builds on the dissonance and characteristics of hard rock and metal music. But despite the intensity and ferocity of these songs, the lyrics embody an intimate and candid look at the identity of the characters themselves, proving equally as heavy as the instrumentals. Though they may come across as simply being fun and hyperbolic interpretations of American rock music, the lyricism of the game’s theme songs is something that should not be overlooked by Strive players and gamers alike. Baiken, Leo Whitefang, and Zato-1 are all excellent examples of how Guilty Gear Strive uses theme songs in order to strengthen its characters’ development. 

Baiken – “Mirror of the World”

What sets Baiken apart from other characters in Strive is her nationality. Baiken is one of the only survivors of Japan, which is destroyed by another character in the storyline of the game. As a survivor of the country, Baiken has a perceived responsibility to keep her culture alive, and thus culture is intrinsic to her identity. In order to be true to her character, her theme song “Mirror of the World” is the only song with Japanese lyrics in it. All of the other theme songs have solely English lyrics. By having most of her theme song be in the Japanese language, Strive keeps Baiken’s integrity and reflects how she believes it is her duty to continue keeping Japan in her heart and in the world’s collective memory. 

She refuses to allow Japan, both its culture and what happened to it, to disappear from history. Beyond simply being in Japanese, the lyrics of her theme song are not just lyrics, but mantras. These traditional Japanese mantras are kept alive only through Baiken’s recollection of them. For instance, the lyrics in the first verse of the song are “Om abogya beiroshano makabodara mani handoma / Jinbara harabari tayaun waraku ni uta wo rokkon shojo.” These two lines are the Mantra of Light, a sutra recited in the Japanese Buddhism sects of Shingon and Kegon. The mantra is often recited in order to cleanse the spirit, or karma, of someone who has committed a sin. 

However, in addition to her perceived responsibility, Baiken carries a sense of self-condemnation. The lines that follow this mantra in the song are “If that’s what you call karma, I must be a demon / God knows, that no voice can be heard by the damned.” In referring to herself as a demon and “damned,” she is grappling with the theme of the mantra, resisting the idea that her spirit and karma can be cleansed. These lines characterize her as believing she will never be able to atone for the sins she has committed, leaving her “damned” and these sins intrinsically linked to her identity. This connection would have been difficult to make through the story mode of the game, so her theme song is an opportunity to dive deeper into the character and who she is outside of her relationship to other characters. 

Leo Whitefang – “Hellfire”

An accomplished knight and King of Illyria, a kingdom in the world of Guilty Gear, Leo Whitefang is the embodiment of pride. Loud and intimidating, he has plenty of female admirers in the series, but he displays excellent leadership and a level-headed personality when necessary. He is easily characterized as this prideful soldier and leader through his victory quotes; some of his outros from Guilty Gear Xrd include “The truth is painfully simple: You lost because you aren’t me,” and “The definition of “defeat” reads “The fate of those who fight me!” 

But this arrogance does not come without merit. Leo fought valiantly in the Crusades, a hundred-year long war between Gears and humankind, commanding his own unit of soldiers. Gears are genetically and machine-altered humans created by Asuka to be the next step in human evolution. However, they instead served as weapons of war, and so Leo fought as part of the Sacred Order of Holy Knights in order to protect and save humanity. After the humans won, Leo became one of the Kings of the United Kingdom of Illyria. The game could have easily continued to paint this surface level picture of him, but instead developers chose to jump on the opportunity his theme song presented to dive deeper into this character. 

Many forms of media fail to properly address the more personal consequences of wars such as the Crusades, but Guilty Gear is not one of them. Leo’s theme song reflects that although Leo is proud that his unit beat the Gears as part of humankind, he struggles with survivor’s guilt. One line from the song, “My people are all dead, but so are those bastards,” points this out, as it shows that they defeated the enemy but at the cost of losing lives of their own. Later on in the song are the lines “I am the Reaper / I took my friends to the netherworld,” where his survivor’s guilt is more evident. He likens himself to a Reaper, as he was the leader of his unit and thus believes that he led his men to their deaths. These are subtle details the game could have easily left overlooked, but instead it chose to address it and make Leo a much more dynamic character overall. I encourage you to give the song a listen, at the very least for the great bongo drum solo!

Zato-1 – “Let Me Carve Your Way”

One of my personal favorite theme songs, Zato-1’s theme boasts the same intense electric guitar and aggressive vocals as many of the other songs. What sets his song apart from them is the gorgeous ballad at the end of it. Zato is an iconic character of the series, with his long flowing blonde hair, all-black outfit, and red and black blindfold over his eyes. A cruel and intimidating assassin, Zato is the host of the Forbidden Beast Eddie, a parasitic creature related to the Gears that requires a host to survive. Though Zato was once in control of his body, after he died, Eddie took over control of his body until he was revived along with Zato several years later. 

Though Eddie no longer tried to take over Zato after their resurrection, Zato-1 became emotionless and unbridled, further feeding his cold and cruel personality. The first part of his theme song reflects this intensity, with lyrics such as “Drowned in pain, I lost my mind / There’s no good or bad in there,” that embody both his traumatic past and his now apathetic nature. However, towards the end of the song, the lyrics suddenly end and the drums slowly fade out, followed by the guitar. Replaced by a solemn piano, the vocals turn raw and almost heart-wrenching, as they symbolize the pain and sadness that Zato would feel had he not become the dispassionate character he is in Strive.

In particular, the line “TELL ME” yanks on the heartstrings as it is yelled, as you can feel the raw emotion behind it. You can hear the pain Zato feels in not being able to remember his memories from before his death and resurrection. Another line emphasizes this; “If there’s a man who can make anything / Give me the tools to live in the past,” reflects his futile cry to be able to return to his life before he died, before he made the mistakes and choices that led him to his current state. One of the last lines, “I’m a shadow, always…” further reflects how he has come to accept that he is unable to change his circumstances now, and so he embraces his connection with Eddie, making for a heart-breaking character development and conclusion to the song.

Allyson is currently pursuing a Bachelor's degree at SUNY Oswego, and is a double major in English and Broadcasting with a minor in Spanish. She is the CC of her college's chapter of Her Campus, as well as the Secretary of the Women's Club Ice Hockey team. She hopes to one day become an author of fiction novels and collections of poetry. When she is not writing or on the ice she enjoys spending her time reading, hiking, and watching anime.