Hey, it’s Patrick. I’m trying out a short blog series about character design in competitive video games! Simple format — five things I like about a character, and one thing I’d like to fix. Check it out and let me know if it’s a thing you’d want to read more of! Also see: Pharah (Overwatch).
I started playing Guilty Gear in 2003, and once I started playing Chipp Zanuff, I never really stopped. It’s something of a curse — no matter how hard I try, I simply can’t find a character I like as much as I like him, which sucks because he has high highs and low lows, and I find it frustrating sometimes to know that I’m kind of stuck with him whether I like it or not.
If you’re new to Guilty Gear: Chipp Zanuff is a super-fast ninja character who relies on quick attacks and lots of mobility to confuse his opponent and find openings. If you catch him, you’ll hurt him big.
(Move animation GIFs are from fightersgeneration.com, play footage is from a Samitto compilation.)
#1: Pixie character done right.
The fast-moving squishy is a popular archetype in fighting games for a reason — it’s fun to be faster than your enemy, and it’s fun to catch that fly and splat them. However, the more power you give a character in speed and attack options, the more power you have to take away in health and damage, and often you can end up with a character that is balanced and playable but just feels like dog shit. (Seth in SF4 is the worst offender in recent memory — he has basically every useful tool in the game, but none of it does damage and he dies in a few hits, so the Seth player basically wins by putting the enemy in a bunch of situations where the enemy has one right answer and five wrong answers, and Seth has to guess right 6 times before the enemy can guess right twice.)
Guilty Gear is a crazy game across the board, but Chipp’s mobility options (triple jump, double jump after air dash, four teleports, an advancing command grab, wall jump, and some other stuff) are unmatched. He can navigate the entire screen with ease, and it feels great! But he’s tuned to feel just potent enough and just durable enough to feel like he gives up something important for that speed, and it ends up being a satisfying exchange for both players.
#2: His mobility gives him more power in neutral than in set play/mixups.
Fighting games can be roughly broken down into two phases: “Neutral” refers to a state where both players have unfettered control over their characters and are trying to obtain a positional advantage that can lead to a successful attack, and “Set play” refers to a state where one player’s options are significantly broader than the other’s. For example, when one character is taking time to get up from being knocked down, the other character is free to approach with a series of attacks that are hard to defend and often force the recovering character to guess at the proper defense.
It’s pretty common for fast fighting game characters to use their speed to create situations where the proper defense is hard to determine in time. (Guilty Gear’s own Millia Rage does this very well, since she has a lot of left-right-high-low mixups.) Chipp is a little unusual in that all his attacks with mixup potential are fairly “honest” by Guilty Gear standards — it’s not all that hard to see whether he’s coming at you with a high attack, a low attack, a throw, or a crossup, and his crossups in particular aren’t nearly as hard to deal with as other Guilty Gear characters. They’re fast enough to be tricky and damaging enough to feel worthwhile, but they all have relatively clear answers, and if Chipp gets caught using the same stuff too often, he’ll pay for it dearly.
So, Chipp isn’t that oppressive when it comes to set play and mixups! Instead, Chipp’s mobility is mostly useful as a wide variety of tools to engage the opponent in a neutral state, find an opening, and turn it into a little bit of damage, then use another tool to find another opening. Not only does this feel fair and satisfying, it feels like a core part of the ninja fantasy. When Chipp wins, it’s because he’s so much faster and smarter than you that he can read your movements, and that’s exactly how I’d want to be if I were a ninja. (Hilariously enough, his winquotes often allude to him having a harder time with fighters who swing randomly, since he can’t anticipate them — and that’s actually a pretty good summary of how it feels to be a Chipp player.)
This also leads to two rather magic outcomes in fighting game design. First, the huge variety of neutral approach options give Chipp players a way to express their different preferences, which is pretty rare — in most other fighting games, different players using the same character tend to look a bit more same-y in neutral and differentiate themselves in their mixups. Even the pace and rhythm is different; if you watch Bears’s Chipp, his action patterns tend to be a bit more consistently high-action compared to Samitto, who fluctuates between higher and lower levels of activity. Second, Chipp vs. Chipp mirrors are a lot of fun!
#3: I love the look of his fighting style.
Chipp’s main weapon is a giant curved blade that runs along his arms — kind of like a bladed tonfa. It’s a weird one, to be sure — since the blade doesn’t really extend far from his arms, it doesn’t grant the immediate range advantage a bladed weapon normally does. If I were designing him, it’d definitely take me a while to figure out what to do with that thing, especially in a 2D perspective where horizontal slashes simply don’t look as cool! But Chipp makes it work in combination with some spinny punches and kicks, and it works for me much better than I thought it would. For comparison, Strider Hiryu has a somewhat similar weapon, but his fighting style mostly just looks like he’s got a regular-ass sword.
I particularly like the look of his standing far S. Check it out.
Teleports in fighting games are usually not what you want them to be; you want to fight like Nightcrawler from the X-Men, BAMFing all over the place, but they’re usually so slow that you mostly use them to escape bad positions, because fighting a dude that can teleport around you while kicking your ass is no fun.
I’m convinced that Chipp’s teleport was the starting point for his design; someone was like “I want to play like an actual Anime Ninja, and in order to do that he’ll need a teleport that is fast enough he can use it to attack, just make everything else work around that.” It’s fast enough and tricky enough that I always want to do it, but it rarely leads to Big Payouts, and if you do it too much you’ll eat shit. You know you’ve got a compelling character when you’ve got Tempting Power, and putting that temptation in mobility options always feels good.
Also: The fact that the teleport that keeps him in the same place is faster than the others is genius! This thing is SO MUCH FUN TO DO as a misdirection tool to bait your opponent’s anti-teleport reaction (or as a mini-taunt, too).
#5: Wall-cling corner mixups give him much-needed situational power.
I keep talking about how well Chipp works as a speed-power tradeoff character; it’s a delicate balance, and when it’s disrupted, it feels shitty. However, for most of Guilty Gear history, Chipp’s overall power ranking has generally been mid-tier at best; Chipp players often joke that he’s the best character in the game until he gets hit. This feels like you’re working a little harder than other players have to in order to achieve the same competitive result, and while it feels worthwhile when you win, it can also feel more discouraging than usual when you lose to random Sol players (or any Potemkin that happens to be in your pools).
In Guilty Gear Xrd, they fixed this rather brilliantly with his new wall-cling mechanic. Basically, if Chipp is in the corner, he can hang onto the wall, and while he’s doing that he can perform a few different actions — drop straight down, throw some knives, do a command grab, or air-dash away. That’s a lot of stuff, but it basically breaks down to this: If he gets you in the corner, he can use the wall-cling stuff to extend combos without spending resources, or put you in mixup situations to create more damage opportunities. If you get him in the corner, he can now escape by jumping up, wall-clinging, and air-dashing away. So now he has more attack and defense options, they don’t require any resource spend (which is absolutely huge in GG — meter is VERY valuable), but because they’re only accessible in corner situations, they don’t tremendously disrupt his overall power budget. Smart stuff!
Thing that needs fixing: Character debt.
You’ll often hear about “tech debt” in games or other software engineering fields — basically, you want to build something that will let you get people using it quickly because that way you can iterate faster based off of actual user experiences, but doing that often means sacrificing quality of engineering, so eventually you’ll need to go back and rebuild stuff to make it not suck.
Chipp has “character debt”; he’s a weirdo, and not in the good way that Guilty Gear characters are all weird. Basically, his thing is that he’s an ex-drug addict/dealer who became a huge weeaboo, trained in the ninja arts, and later decided he wanted to become the President.
Honestly, I’d take any single one of these. Weeby ninja would be hilarious; Presidential Ninja could be cool too; drug addict ninja actually works surprisingly well (Chipp is less of a wine pairing character and more of an amphetamine pairing character). But the three of them are all there, and all kind of co-exist simultaneously. It’s super weird to hear his in-game attack VO, where he yells a lot of Japanese gibberish like “Sukiyaki!” and “Fujiyama geisha!” and then when he wins, he reminds you that voting is your civic duty. Guilty Gear characters don’t ever seem to lose personality traits, just gain them over time, but perhaps Chipp could use a little pruning.