Wait… what was Guilty Gear about again? A quick summary of its lore

Last Updated February 14th, 2022

Arc System Works has been releasing YouTube videos of the Guilty Gear Xrd story mode so that every fan can be caught up and ready for the plot of the upcoming Guilty Gear Strive.

“But wait!” you may ask. “This crazy heavy metal fighting game actually has a story?”

Oh, you sweet, sweet child. Not only does Guilty Gear have a story, but it also has one of the densest, insane, anime stories that has ever graced the world of video games. Move over Kingdom Hearts. Guilty Gear has you beat.

It would take days to dive into the specifics of every story for every character that has ever been in any Guilty Gear. So we’re not going to do that.

Instead, here’s a barebones skeleton of the important aspects of the plot, so you can at the very least watch the Xrd recap videos and prepare yourself for what Strive has to offer. A lot will be omitted along with filling in the blanks with our own interpretation of the plot, just so everything connects together. If you’d like something more comprehensive and objective, feel free to spend 500+ hours of your life playing through seven games, some with branching storylines, some with non-canon plots, and good luck at remaining sane after staring into the mouth of that abyss. We sure haven’t.

The Backyard

The first thing we have to establish is that the Guilty Gear world is the same as our world. The second thing we have to establish is that it’s NOTHING like our world.

The first way that this alternate universe diverges from ours is the existence of The Backyard. This is, essentially, the developers’ room for reality. It’s a realm where all the information and power of the universe is stored. Series creator Daisuke Ishiwatari described The Backyard as sort of like the code of reality. If you go to The Backyard you can fiddle with the code and basically do anything.

There’s only one problem: you can’t. Once again, all the information and power of the universe as we know it including everything that is, isn’t, can, and cannot be, exists in The Backyard. So if mere mortals like us step foot there, all that information gets downloaded into our brains, and our brains explode, and we die. Sucks to be us.

So, anytime you see something weird and supernatural in the Guilty Gear series, chances are it is tied to the backyard.

The Universal Will and the Dawn of Revival

The information in the backyard sort of ebbs and flows and, if you manage to go there at the right time in the right way, you can survive and, for a brief moment, fiddle with the code of reality. This is what happened with The Original, the first person (as far as we know) to visit The Backyard and survive.

Being a generally good dude, The Original takes his brief chance to code a new entity into The Backyard called the Universal Will. It’s basically an A.I. who is tasked with one goal: bring eternal happiness to humans without harming them.

And unfortunately The Original never watched 2001:  A Space Odyssey because, of course, this backfires.

The Original never actually defined what a human was, and thus the Universal Will was left to come up with its own definition. The definition it settles on is that all humans have free will, so it looks out into reality and sees that no one actually has free will. Everything in reality from other people to world governments to natural disasters to the circumstances of reality itself conspires to prevent humanity from truly being free and making their own choices. Thus, humanity doesn’t really have free will, as they currently stand, and therefore aren’t really human, but instead are faulty prototypes.

So, of course, it decides that the only way it can fulfill its purpose is by eradicating these faulty prototypes and recreating humanity in a way that guarantees them free will. There’s the loophole. It can hurt existing humans all it wants because they aren’t really human yet.

You silly genocidal A.I.s, always bending the rules.

Anyway, the Universal Will still exists in the Backyard, and entities in The Backyard can’t actually directly interfere with reality. They can just muck with its code. So it decides to manifest in reality through the use of mankind’s existing technology. In 1999, its consciousness began to manifest in every electronic device in the universe, which immediately began broadcasting the message “in a matter of days, humanity will crumble.”

Several days later, all electronic devices ceased functioning and mankind understandably freaks out. Luckily it was only temporary. Still, they decide that it’s too risky to continue using technology, lest the Universal Will attempt to manifest again, and thus all of our current technology is banned and dubbed “black tech.” Most countries comply with the ban, some don’t.

Oh, and The Original, he’s like “whoops, I screwed that up” and goes back into The Backyard to try and run tech support. We don’t really know what happens to him.

The Apostles and the rise of magic

Before The Original nopes right out, he teaches some of what he knows to five of his followers who became known as The Apostles. Primarily he teaches them convenient backdoors to draw energy from The Backyard into our reality. This allows them to perform miracles never before seen, feats that break the laws of physics. So of course they called this magic.

But magic is based on The Backyard and The Backyard is kind of like code, so this isn’t Harry Potter-style magic that can do whatever you want for whatever ill-conceived plot reason you want it to. No, Guilty Gear magic can be studied like a science and behaves by repeatable testable laws. It only breaks those laws if it’s, like, really anime.

Thus the Magical Theory of Science was created, a set of laws that categorize types of magic and ways to harness them. Very quickly humanity learns to build new technology relying on magic as its primary energy source. This technology is deemed fit and safe and soon everyone is rocking magic iPhones, and it’s like nothing ever changed, except people can throw fireballs now.

The Gear Project and the creation of Justice

A bunch of different stuff happened in approximately a 100-200 year span. Some countries rise, some fall, some just go by “A Country” now… it’s wacky like that.

Speaking of “A Country,” they get their scientific minds together and think “how can we make this magic thing even better?” They had elemental magic. The Japanese had ki, which was like a super special different kind of magic. But what if people had magic run through their veins? What if people… were… magic?

Time to make some genetic abominations.

Three brilliant scientists, Frederick Bulsara, Aria Hale, and… er… That Man.

QUICK TANGENT: For the majority of the series the third scientist was called “That Man.” Many revelations about “That Man” have happened including the fact that he was a disciple of the Original, that he’s had access to The Backyard, that he may or may not have caused horrible catastrophes, but the biggest reveal was his name: Asuka R. Kreuz.

… does that name mean nothing to you?

Yeah, that means nothing to Guilty Gear fans either.

Anyway, Fred, Aria, and Asuka come up with a plan. What if they integrated magic into living cells. They would call these cells “gear cells” and would call beings made of these cells “gears.” Originally the idea was that this could be used for medical purposes and generally help humans to evolve… buuuut it was eventually used for war. You know how governments do.

Now, this part is a little fuzzy, and has a bit of our own interpretation in it but…

Aria gets plot disease.  She’s going to die. Freddy and she are in a relationship, and while they seem content to let the disease run its course and spend their last few moments together, Asuka isn’t alright with this.

So he turns them into gears and makes them immortal.

Freddy goes berserk, turns into a monster, and destroys all the gear research. Then he goes into hiding and creates a magitech headband that limits his power enough that he still appears human. He’s still like, super-powerful though.

Fast-forwarding a bit again, eventually, the Gear Project is rebuilt and gears begin being mass-produced as weapons. The only problem is that gears have a tendency to go berserk and just destroy stuff indiscriminately. Thus, Aria is converted into “Justice,” the first mass command gear that can control all other gears. Now the world’s militaries can control gears simply by controlling Justice.

Sure enough, this is a bad thing, but we will get to that in a bit.

While gears are now being shipped across the world, someone is doing their best to destroy every gear and every gear research facility in existence. This is an unbelievably powerful terrorist of unknown origins who has come to simply be known as “The Badguy.”

It’s Freddy. Fred is Sol Badguy. He’s also kind of Daisuke Ishiwatari’s self-insert OC.

About this time Freddy creates a cool anti-gear superweapon, the Outrage, that is later split into a bunch of smaller weapons called the Eight Sacred Treasures, and it’s really just an excuse for his sword to keep getting cooler in each subsequent game.

So remember when we said that making a gear that can control all other gears was a bad idea? Well, when Justice is activated she goes berserk and wipes out Japan. It was later revealed that this was because the Universal Will was trying to come into existence again so Asuka ordered her to blow it up just to be safe, but at the time it was like… a really bad thing to do.

Asuka is branded a war criminal for, you know, using Justice to blow up Japan, and Justice is ordered to be dismantled and disposed of. Of course, Justice is an all-powerful gear, so she defends herself, plunging humanity into a war against gears known as…

The Crusades… and the Sacred Order of Holy Knights… and Ky and Sol’s rivalry

How will humanity fight back against a rampaging gear controlling armies of other rampaging gears? Through badass magic knights. Thus, the Sacred Order of Holy Knights was formed, bringing together the best warriors from all countries to form an independent fighting force dedicated to taking out the gears once and for all. The war lasts for a century.

Now there is this one real badass warrior named Kliff Undersen who was born in Switzerland. He wields a gigantic knife that would put Cloud’s Buster Sword to shame. Kliff is almost killed by a gear but is saved by good old Freddy. He’s inspired to join the Holy Knights and eventually becomes a commander.

Kliff also adopts a son named Testament who joins the order despite being a pacifist because he wants to live up to his father’s reputation. He eats it good and dies pretty quickly, though his body is never recovered.

Why do you ask? Well, there’s another shadowy organization called the Post-War Administration Bureau who saw all this mad science destroying the world and went “you know what we need? Even more mad science!” So they experimented on Testament’s corpse and turned him into a gear too. Testament is taken over by Justice and starts killing people, but Kliff fights him and takes him out. He then tells the PWAB to stop doing all the mad science and they are like “suuuuuure…”

Anyway, they do some more mad science. They use some forbidden magic (there’s like 660 spells cleared for public use and they used the other forbidden 6, 666, get it?) and they create six Forbidden Beasts, parasitic bioweapons that replace something their host has given up. Millia’s hair? That’s one of them. Zato-1’s shadow demon Eddie is one too. It lives in his eyes… er… lack of eyes. Anyway, they would be really cool anti-gear weapons if they didn’t always kill or damage their hosts. Shame that…

This whole time Kliff just keeps fighting Justice to a standstill. No one seems to be able to win. Around this time Ky Kiske joins the Holy Order after his mother is killed in a gear attack on France. Kliff also tracks down the guy who saved him so many years ago and asks him to join as well. Now Ky and Sol are members of the Holy Order together and the game’s main rivalry is formed.

Ky’s lawful good and Sol’s chaotic good, so Sol eventually breaks a bunch of rules, says “screw this” and peaces out, taking the Fireseaal, one of the eight sacred treasures with him (He also fights and loses to Justice beforehand, but what’re ya gonna do?). Kliff quits too, leaving the order to Ky cause he’s sick of the whole “using child soldiers in a war against superweapons” thing. Despite all the quitting, all three of them team up and fight Justice, and with their strength and the aid of a PWAB sealing spell, Justice is locked away… for now.

And believe it or not… this all takes place before even the very first Guilty Gear game!!!

Guilty Gear and the Second Sacred Order Selection Tournament

Before we go on let’s get something straight. The title is a reference to Sol. He created the gears and caused a bunch of destruction so now he is trying to kill them all. He is guilty and he is a gear hence Guilty Gear. Got that out of the way? Good.

Anyway, Justice is locked up in a cell and things are good for like, two seconds. The world is basically destroyed but things are good. A bunch of countries team up and create the United Kingdom of Illyria to try and rebuild society after, you know, gears destroyed it all. Japanese people are put in colonies to protect their ability to use Ki, the Sacred Order of Holy Knights is disbanded, the PWAB does some more shady stuff while rebuilding society, and it’s all good.

And then Justice’s seal starts weakening. Worried that she would eventually return, the UN holds the Second Sacred Order Selection Tournament to find warriors strong enough to defeat her should she break her bonds.

Ladies and gentlemen, we have a fighting game!

The rules of the tournament are really harsh. Killing is not only allowed, it’s encouraged. Criminals and children are allowed to enter. Basically, it’s a no-holds-barred slaughter-fest.

Turns out the tournament was actually a whole lie organized by Testament who is still alive and possibly under the control of Justice. If enough people die in sacrifice, Justice’s bonds will break and gears will be able to roam the Earth once more. Sol battles his way through the tournament and fights and defeats Testament, who then decides to use his own life as the final sacrifice to free Justice.

Sol and Justice fight and his limiter headband is broken. Justice realizes that Sol is in fact Fred, the prototype gear, and that’s why she cannot control him. With his limiter released, Sol wrecks Justice, killing her. Her dying words were “I wish the three of us could have talked one last time.” Sol realizes that Justice is Aria and swears revenge on Asuka… That Man.

Guilty Gear X and everyone’s favorite waifu, Dizzy

So it turns out that Justice had a daughter… explanation forthcoming.

Aria was cryogenically frozen when it was revealed that she had plot disease. It’s heavily implied she was pregnant at the time. She was converted into a gear while frozen… and while pregnant, with Fred aka Sol’s child. Justice lays an egg (gears give birth by laying eggs btw) and outcomes Dizzy. Oh, and gear children grow up at like a super accelerated rate, so she’s like, way younger than she looks.

Anyway, an old couple finds Dizzy as a child, adopt her as her own, she grows up in like three years, grows a tail and two wings each which have their own personality, and she gains terrifying world-ending powers, you know, basic puberty stuff. Also, she has the same ability to command all gears that her mother had, plus the ability to resurrect dead gears… so you might imagine that her existence is… kind of a problem.

So the UN puts a huge bounty on her head and tells all of the world’s strongest fighters to go kill her and fight each other if need be to get the bounty.

Ladies and gentlemen, we have a fighting game!

Sol and Ky battle their way through all the bounty hunters in order to fight Dizzy only to run into Testament again (wasn’t he supposed to be dead? Shhhh don’t ask questions). Testament is protecting her because he still feels as if he has a duty to Justice. They beat him good.

Dizzy fights Sol and Ky, but despite her massive power, she is a pacifist. So they decide to take pity on her and fake her death. She joins up with May and the Jellyfish Pirates under the command of Johnny (every character gets, like, five seconds to shine in the plot) and they give the bounty for her “murder” to Jam who then uses it to open up a restaurant. Everyone’s happy!

Except for Testament.

Testament is dead.

Guilty Gear XX and everyone’s second favorite waifu, I-No

Jam’s restaurant burns to the ground… oops.

More importantly, during all of these horrible events, mankind’s desire for a brighter future reaches the Backyard, and it was so strong that it created a brand new entity, a magical foci with the power to see and control the future. The Backyard saw this and was like “nope, that’s an error” gave it a human body, and kicked it the heck out. Thus I-No was born.

For the majority of this game I-No just kind of screws with people. Ostensibly it’s because she wants to avoid some sort of grim future… I guess. The point is, she teams up with That Man and does his freaky time-travel bidding, and because of that she basically has to screw with the whole roster.

Ladies and gentlemen, we have a fighting game!

The PWAB does some more shady stuff, people fight some robot clones of Justice, every so often That Man says some scary background narration… for one of the best games in the series there actually isn’t a whole lot plot-relevant going on in this one.

Sol eventually confronts I-No. It’s cool… and then the only actually important scene in this game happens, where That Man finally shows up and tells I-No that everything was actually going according to his plan all along. He also fights Sol off-screen. It’s literally just sound effects played over a still image of his face which is obscured by a hood. It’s kind of dumb.

Also, Sol loses and That Man warns Sol that something much bigger than Justice and the Crusades is coming.

Guilty Gear 2 Overture, the Cube, and the Valentines

At one point, That Man managed to get into the Backyard, much like the Original before him. There he created the Cube, a special piece of code that would allow someone to alter the code of the Backyard from inside reality itself, thus side-stepping that whole-brain explosion thing. However, to unlock the Cube you need a key, and that key just so happens to be the cells of Justice. Unfortunately, Justice is dead, but her daughter, Dizzy isn’t. Thus war breaks out for the Cube and for Dizzy, who Ky seals with a time spell in order to keep her safe.

One of the main actors in this war is Valentine, who is a valentine.

Yes… you read that right.

Valentines are the Universal Will’s latest scheme to push itself into reality and annihilate the human race. You see, it can’t alter anything directly, but it CAN create bodies in the Backyard, punt them into reality (much like I-No), and then give them orders. If one of these bodies managed to open the cube, then the Universal Will could rewrite the Backyard to do whatever it wanted, including manifesting itself in reality, and/or erasing humanity. So that’s exactly what it tries to do. It creates a number of emotionless bodies, who just so happen to be clones of Aria (since her cells were needed to open the cube and all) and these are the valentines. The main antagonist of this game is a valentine named Valentine, so she is Valentine Valentine.

You can’t make stuff like this up.

Anyway, Valentine creates an army using the dead gears all over Illyria and starts a war against the country and its defenders, which include Sol, Ky, and a new character Sin, who is Ky and Dizzy’s son and Sol’s grandson. Oh yeah, Ky, who is a king now, and Dizzy got married. This makes Sin a quarter-gear and it also means he too has Justice’s cells inside him, making him a potential key. Also he has a full adult body because gears age super quickly… kind of creepy.

That Man has an impressive amount of control over The Backyard at this point. When Valentine retreats into the Backyard, Sol fights That Man and is defeated pretty soundly. But it’s OK because it was just a test to make sure Sol’s brain wouldn’t explode when he entered the Backyard. He chases Valentine into the backyard, kills her, gets stranded there, and then That Man lets Sol loose leaving him with more ominous warnings about a future calamity.

You may have noticed that I didn’t say “Ladies and gentlemen, we have a fighting game!” this time because this was actually a Dynasty Warriors-style musou-action game… and it was bad. Luckily, Arc System Works immediately realized it was bad and stuck to fighting games from here on out.

Guilty Gear Xrd, the Conclave, and the revival of Justice

Guilty Gear Xrd introduces us to the Conclave. Remember the five apostles? Well four of them created a new super-secret organization that is pulling the strings behind the scenes of all the world’s governments. Their goal: resurrect justice and merge their leader, Chronus, with it. That way Chronus can command all gears and guide the world to prosperity with their might.

Sitting opposed to the Conclave is the one final apostle, Ariels, who is now possessed by the Universal Will and acting as its vessel here in reality. Also, she’s the Sanctus Maximus Populi who is kind of like, the leader of the free world. Looks like she was pulling the strings the whole time and her goal is also to merge with Justice, but she wants to kill everybody. Also, she attempts to turn every Japanese person into a gear made out of anti-matter, but the game kind of forgets about that.

Then, there are the Valentines who are still kicking around. The second Valentine, Ramlethal Valentine, has appeared and has declared war on all humanity. Meanwhile, Elphelt Valentine has been sealed away by Ky and the force of Illyria, and is fighting against the Valentines with the good guys. Also, there is one more Valentine, Jack-O-Valentine, who comes into the story a bit later. Valentines can apparently neutralize the power of other Valentines too.

All the heroes fight Ramlethal, but it turns out she was just a distraction, and a giant floating object called The Cradle, blows up a whole city. Turns out The Cradle is kind of a moving fortress for The Conclave. It can sometimes enter the Backyard but doing so causes energy to leak out and then stuff blows up. Ramlethal likes when stuff blows up. She likes it so much that she was going to blow herself up! But Elphelt says “no” and saves Sol’s life. Elphelt just seems to not want to destroy humanity. I guess Valentines can just choose to be good.

Then Sin gives Ramlethal a puppy, and she turns good too.

Now the Conclave has Justice’s body but to merge Chronus with it they need a ton of energy. Their goal is to use St. Elmo’s Fire, a gigantic magical lightning bolt that only strikes every so often, in order to do it. It’s very Dr. Frankenstein.  Anyway, Sol punches them really hard and it doesn’t work. Also, Dizzy is released from that whole time spell now.

And you’d think that would be the end, but Elphelt turns out to be a sleeper agent! Because once Chronus gets punched so hard that he can’t merge with Justice, the Universal Will decides it’s her turn to try and merge with Justice through Elphelt.

And Jack-O… OK, so when Justice was originally created That Man knew that the Universal Will was going to try and use her as its vessel. So he fragmented her personality, half corrupted by the Universal Will in Justice’s body, and half in Jack-O’s body, a clone of Aria with every part of her knowledge and personality that was missing from Justice.

A bunch of people fight each other because… you know… fighting game, but it all comes down to Sol, wielding the Outrage and attempting to destroy Justice. But instead of destroying her, Jack-O uses the energy to fuse with Justice, which merges Aria’s body with her severed mind and soul, resurrecting Aria again in a new body (presumably still with cool gear powers).

Thus, That Man’s plan has finally come to fruition. He, Fred, and Aria are all alive and well, hundreds of years after they first met. Aria’s disease is cured, and the gear project was a success… well a success. So, in a way, the entire plot of Guilty Gear was That Man, Asuka R. Kreuz, trying to save his two friends.

And he did…

And it only took dismantling most of reality to do so.

Guilty Gear Strive and the Future

This brings us to the present, with the looming release of Guilty Gear Strive. Where will the plot take us?

It’s not certain. We know that That Man might finally be playable. We know that the Forbidden Beasts have something to do with the plot since they show up in the pre-match fight dialogue. There are a lot of characters that we didn’t get to talk about, like the ancient vampire Slayer, or Chip Zanuff, president king of Ninjamerica, and the new characters Nagoriyuki and Giovanna are connected to both of them respectively. Not to mention Anji Mito is back, one of the only Japanese characters in the game that isn’t dead or turned into anti-matter. What do they have to do with the plotline?

We have no idea. All we know is that it’s going to be one heck of a wild ride.