Review – Guilty Gear Strive
Guilty Gear is one of the oldest fighting game franchises around, but it has always lacked behind the more popular titles in the genre, like your Street Fighters or Mortal Kombats. However, Guilty Gear has a devoted following of those who did take the time to sit down and learn its wild mechanics and crazy fast pace. Combined with its very metal and hard rock aesthetic, Guilty Gear was able to carve a niche of its own in the fighting game space. With a brand new entry in the series Guilty Gear Strive, though, more people than ever have their eyes on the franchise. The developers over at Arc System Works became a household name overnight with Dragon Ball FighterZ. And now they look to introduce a whole new audience to their flagship franchise.
The first thing you’ll notice immediately with Guilty Gear Strive is the visuals and the incredible animation. Arc System Works has perfected the 2D style with 3D models and their visuals only get better and better with each game. Strive looks beautiful regardless if it’s in still images or in motion. Every character exudes personality during a match. This visual presentation extends to the game’s story mode as well. There are numerous close up shots of its varied cast of characters where you can appreciate little details that you normally may not see during game play.
Guilty Gear has always worn its music influence on its sleeve, so it should come as no surprise the music of Strive aims to make an impact with each track. The soundtrack is full of absolute headbangers and toe tappers. Some stand out right away with fan favorites like Potemkin or Chipp’s theme. Others are a little more hit or miss and will come down to personal preference. But I believe all of Strive‘s soundtrack will eventually go down as well loved. And if none of the songs in the original soundtrack tickle your fancy, you can unlock tracks from previous Guilty Gear entries.
All of that is good news, but thankfully I can report that playing Guilty Gear Strive is an absolute blast too. Arc System Works took care to make this the most approachable game in the series without sacrificing the depth to learn more complex strategies. Some major changes to the combo system will be felt by longtime players, no doubt: gone are full gatling combos that let you chain all five attack buttons (punch, kick, slash, heavy slash and dust). Instead, you can only gatling chain slash to heavy slash so you’ll need to pick your spots a little more carefully as these are still slower then punch or kicks. Short but damaging combos are easier to pull off then ever.
All of this could make for a simple fighter but what makes Guilty Gear tick is, without a doubt, the Roman Cancel system. This system allows you to cancel your normals, specials and all kinds of moves at the cost of 50% of your tension meter. And when you cancel these moves in relation to your opponents offers different types of Roman Cancels. What this creates is an environment that allows for combos not normally possible and juggles that are not present otherwise. Roman Cancels as a mechanic opens up all kinds of possibilities for Strive to evolve over time.
In total, Strive features 15 playable characters at launch, which sounds small compared to other games, but the cast more than makes up for it. Strive features a welcome mix of longstanding mainstays and returning fighters alongside two brand new ones. Nagoriyuki is a hulking vampire samurai with slow movement but long, hard hitting attacks. He has his own blood gauge which when full puts him in a berserk state that increases his range and damage even more at the cost of lowering his health. Giovanna, the other newcomer, fits on the most straight forward end of the character spectrum. She uses her spirit dog companion for a variety of strong kicks and ground pressure. Both are definitely winners and welcome additions to the expanding cast of Guilty Gear.
Single player offerings of Strive are mostly standard affairs. You have Arcade, with a total of eight battles for each character, but unfortunately, it doesn’t offer any kind of special character endings. There is a survival mode to fight an endless run of opponents. Tutorial mode is a bit of a disappointment as it only teaches you the bare minimum (ie; this is how you move and attack. That is it). Mission mode is a mixed bag as well, but only during the early stages. There are well over 100 mission,s but a lot of early missions would better fit in the tutorial mode itself. Instead, where Mission mode shines is later on, where you learn more advance techniques and real game applications like dealing with particular characters offense and how to escape it.
There is also the aforementioned Story mode, however, it is not one played, but seen. Like Xrd before it, the Strive story mode plays out like an anime series seen in a single viewing. If you like that sort of thing or not is entirely up to each player but i prefer to play my story mode. It allows a chance to preview every character in the cast.
I wish this is where i would say Strive is absolutely perfect but it is not. Anyone who got to play the previous two betas knows but the lobby is just not very good. It is a case of novelty over function. The pixel art loses its charm when it comes at the cost of getting into and out of matches quickly which is ultimately the biggest problem. When it comes to playing online, you want to spend most of your time actually playing online against people. Not navigating lobbies. This is offset however by Strive‘s stellar netcode itself. This one of the very best implementations of rollback netcode in any fighting game out there. Matches feel great and distance feels like no issue at all. Also, if you do not want to navigate the lobbies at all, then you can also search for matches while in training mode so you can avoid the lobby altogether.
I do want to give special praise to the ranking system in place. You are placed within one of ten floors to determine the level of players you’ll be facing. So far these levels seem a fair indicator of finding evenly skilled players which is important for the length of your fighting game. However what’s so interesting about Strive is the high ranks. After floor 10 is a “secret” 11th floor known as the Celestial Floor or if you prefer, Heaven. To keep your place in Heaven you must win 5 matches before you lose 2 or you’ll get kicked out. So the idea of the ranking system is to fight out of Hell (floor 1) to reach Heaven (Celestial Floor). It’s a very cool system for ranking players.
Guilty Gear Strive is an overall excellent package with a few bumps, but nothing to derail it off the tracks. Many consider this the first true next gen fighting game for the 9th generation of consoles. By all accounts then, things are off to a fantastic start.
Guilty Gear Strive looks as fantastic as basically any other Guilty Gear or anime-influenced Unreal Engine game developed by Arc System Works.
Arc System Works took care to make this the most approachable game in the series without sacrificing the depth to learn more complex strategies.
Guilty Gear Strive‘s soundtrack is full of headbangers and toe tappers.
Fun Factor: 9.5
The terrible online lobby is one of the very few things that hinders a game with great controls, characters and pristine netcode from being borderline perfect.
Final Verdict: 9.5
Guilty Strive is available now on PS4, PS5 and PC via Steam.
Reviewed on PS4.
A copy of Guilty Gear Strive was provided by the publisher.