Update (17/11/2021): After a balance patch, a few character additions, and the game’s network being more than stable, we’ve decided to tweak the game’s score & review to reflect the effort Arc System Works has put to maintain the game. Plus, there aren’t any noteworthy fighting games to add to our GOTY list this year, so this will have to do.
Platform(s): PS4, PS5, PC
Genre: Really pretty-looking 2D fighting game
I do not claim to be a grandmaster in fighting games, far from it. But I do pay attention to the genre’s history and (mostly convoluted) lore even before the likes of Street Fighter 2 came into the picture. As far as I can remember, the PS1 Guilty Gear was born out of love for the genre, and its sequels & “tournament editions” dominated the fighting game scene by establishing its own rules and niche.
“Niche” is the keyword here, because the Guilty Gear fandom and its players are a dedicated bunch despite its size. And in the grand scheme of competitive gaming things, fighting games, unfortunately, make up a small fraction if you compare it to your MOBAs and team-based shooters. Yeah, it’s pretty small when you put things into perspective.
So if a renowned game developer -Arc System Works- wants to attract more players to its treasured firstborn, it will have to make a few concessions and major changes. But at the same time, it’ll need to do some attentive PR to make sure the inevitable changes do not piss off its current fanbase. Much.
Are these changes worth the hassle? In Guilty Gear Strive’s case, I’m personally down with it and I do feel it needs to have its established mechanics “streamlined” to get more people on board. Even with a gimped single player option, everything else about the game is worthy of putting this fighter in a prime space.
We can’t start talking about Guilty Gear Strive without bringing up how frickin’ gorgeous it looks. The 2D/3D art style here is arguably the best ASW has done since Guilty Gear Xrd and its plethora of updates.
While some may argue that the combo counter text can get obnoxiously big if you’re racking up the hits, as well as the counter-hit prompt can get intrusive and jarring, they personally did not deter the 2D fighting experience in the slightest. In a major effort to stand out while being aesthetically pleasing, ASW really did due diligence in integrating the stats & design well into a full-motion match.
Speaking of countering and punishing moves, Guilty Gear Strive‘s gameplay has been reworked here. As stated by series director Daisuke Ishiwatari years ago during the game’s production, this is not a revved-up version of its prequels. Rather, this game preserves the core of an anime fighting game but by making the characters feel a little heavier. Fighters can still air block and air dash, though the latter feels weightier and slower for most of the cast.
Compared to past Guilty Gear games, damage output is incredibly high and more impactful, especially if you land counter-hits. Don’t be too shocked if matches end fast because of a few strikes and from just a few mistakes.
The feeling you get from landing a counter-hit with a mid-ranged character like Ramlethal just feels really, really good.
Contributing to the heavy hits are Wall Breaks, a new mechanic in Guilty Gear. If you keep hitting your opponent at either the left or right wall, you can eventually put him/her in a wall splat state. Here, you can land an additional few hits and send them flying, leading to a cool stage transition and extra damage onto your fallen foe.
Some characters can benefit from dishing out Wall Breaks and using mixups and set plays to push enemies to the corner. However, that also means attentive players will learn not to back themselves into a corner, as well as use the patented Guilty Gear Burst to push opponents away.
Guilty Gear Strive also relies on neutral play a lot. There will be many instances where two players will start throwing out footsies and moves to get a poke in. Rushdown tactics are still viable (see Chipp and Millia who have faster airdashes than the rest of the cast), but if you drop your combos, you will die before the clock even goes past 20 seconds.
The Guilty Gear staple Roman Cancels (cancels from your moves so that you can be at neutral instantly) are back, but they’re done in a more streamlined fashion. Now they cost half your Tension meter, and can make you drift forward in some instances and inputs. There’s even normal Roman Cancels and fast Roman Cancels to factor in, along with different-coloured Roman Cancels that can either put you on the defensive or slow down your opponent. If you want to pull off a long combo using Roman Cancels, you can do that.
If your incredibly-unsafe move is blocked, you can Roman Cancel out of it so you can be at an advantageous position. Another GG staple, Dust Attacks, are now mapped to an exclusive button: use this attack to punish and launch foes who crouch-block too much, as well as style with your air combo of choice.
Perhaps the most divisive change here is the reworking of the game’s chain combo/target combo system, or Gatling in this context. Most of the character’s easier Gatlings are removed in this iteration, meaning that both newbies and veterans will not have a reliable weak-to-strong chain combo to rely on once they land a confirmed hit. You’ll need to head to the game’s training mode to practice and remember individual Gatlings.
Still, with the Roman Cancels, Bursts, and heavier damage output, the more technical-minded will find a way around this. And based on the online matches I’ve lost in, Roman Cancels are definitely the most important things to incorporate into your GG Strive play.
Somebod(ies) To Love
You can’t have great fighting game mechanics without a decent roster. And the 15 characters offered here hit all the fighter archetypes. Your balanced “shotos” Ky Kiske and Sol Badguy will have the best tools for you to get into the game if you’re brand new.
Expert level rushdown characters like Millia and I-No have their own skills that differentiate themselves from the cast like the former’s instant air dash and the latter’s “blink and you’ll die” Super Command Grab and air dash.
My personal favourites are the counter-savvy Anji Mito and the extreme grappler Potemkin. There’s just something so satisfying about keeping your opponent guessing with Fuujin mixups with the former character. Or baiting someone to just jump once at you and then surprising them with a Heavenly Potemkin Buster with the latter character.
New characters like Giovanna (rushdown) and Nagoriyuki have their own unique skillsets to separate themselves from the rest, with the latter possessing a unique Blood Gauge mechanic. The Nightless samurai has moves that cancel from each other and are intuitive in that sense, but he loses life fast if his Blood Gauge is maxed out. He relies on a command grab to lessen his Blood Gauge flow, but to do that players will need to find ways to mix opponents up to get that vampiric taste.
As far as unique characters go, Nagoriyuki’s one to look out for.
Guily Gear Strive is slower than past games, but it’s manageable and still retains its in-depth fighting game mechanics. The fact that online play uses rollback netcode for mostly smooth matches all across the world helps immensely. I had matches in Japan, Australia, and South Korea from Malaysia and they’re mostly good, with a few stutters here and there coming in.
Playing against US and Europe players may bring about a bad connection, but out of the 10 times I fought online, only one of them ended up being unplayable.
The online lobby system relies on a “Habbo Hotel” style avatar system where you control your custom blockhead character and move it around to initiate matches. If that’s too much of a hassle for you, you can just play training mode while searching for matches, or just park yourself onto one of the many terminals in the room you’re in and wait. Easy peasy!
Another One Bites The Dust
With the good comes the bad: for all of its new offerings for competitive play and its supposed method of enticing new players to the fold, there are not that many extras and content for players looking into the casual and semi-serious single-player experiences. There’s a Mission Mode that can train you to be good at the game, to prep you for the network experience.
Arcade Mode lets you fight eight opponents consecutively, contains some on-screen banter between some characters, and no special scenes & endings. There’s also the standard survival mode; if you’ve played one in a fighting game, you’ve played them all.
And there’s Story Mode and its huge-as-heck Guilty Gear compendium. Story Mode is basically just a 4-hour cutscene of how the Guilty Gear story ends. It involves a new character named Happy Chaos, Sol Badguy being in the middle of all this nonsense, and a White House Down scenario but in anime form.
If you’re into the Guilty Gear lore & like stylistic cinematic scenes with the occasional janky movement and facial poses, you’ll find a lot to like here. But honestly, ASW could have at least added in more gameplay elements here to break the monotony ala the Injustice and Mortal Kombat single-player campaigns. Hell, ASW’s own BlazBlue and Persona Arena games at least had branching paths with some fights and interactivity tossed in.
I also find it perplexing that for a title aimed to get more non-Guilty Gear fans on board, the game’s Story Mode focuses on the climax of an existing character in the franchise and thus is catered for hardcore fans who religiously followed the story. It’s a weird design choice to add something like this in.
Still, it’s a huge step up from Street Fighter V’s forced story campaign mode. The compendium and relationship chart in the game is a lovely codex option for anyone interested. And you can also save at any point in the story, and then load at that exact same spot and dialogue you stopped at. It is what it is: a bunch of talking heads laying out exposition for an anime story meant to appease its niche fans. Slim pickings, in other words.
I Want It All
I’m pretty torn with Guilty Gear Strive. On one hand, I appreciate that Arc System Works is taking a huge risk in streamlining the past game’s mechanics and create something kinda new but kinda familiar for both fighting game newbies and fans. I’m a firm believer in change if it means getting new blood into your game, and this kind is welcome.
For US$70+/RM300, you’re getting an amazing-looking 2D fighting game that’s easy to learn but definitely difficult to master. Yes, I know the standard game costs RM200 or so, but you’ll want the game’s Season 1 Pass for the additional 5 characters if you want to prolong your enjoyment of the title during the rest of 2021. If you’re a lover of anime fighting games and all things Guilty Gear, you probably bought the Ultimate version of the game.
If you’re new and interested in getting into fighting games competitively 24/7, this may be the title for you as the game has all the tools to make you understand how to get into Guilty Gear. So go ahead and add an extra 20 points to the score and fight away.
But for new players who want to get into fighting games and occasionally want to play competitively? That price tag is a bit too steep for that kind of player. If you’re like me and want the best of everything in both quality and quantity, the price tag and lack of additional content beyond a solid versus game may not be ideal for your wallet. Just wait for a discount or something.
I do acknowledge that GG Strive has great fighting game mechanics and a stable netcode. I do get the feeling that ASW is going to add in more content post-release. But if we’re judging on what we have currently and based on ASW’s past output, then we have a solid game and foundation that’s missing a few key things that put it above the likes of a complete package like a Netherrealms or Bandai Namco fighting game. For an apt comparison, a multiplayer competitive-centric game like Overwatch costs US$40/RM160-ish.
Keep in mind: this is from a development team and publisher that has been making fighting games since the past few gaming generations. ASW is not fresh off the boat; surely we can expect better & more from them than just pretty visuals and a reworked fighting game engine, right?
Until Guilty Gear Strive becomes a more fleshed-out content-packed game like Street Fighter 5 in its Season 5 state, this ASW fightfest will just have to settle for the bronze medal. However, over the past few months since release, ASW has been updating the game and adding in new and fresh characters with diverse playstyles to bump up the roster count, while also proving that its rollback netcode infrastructure is truly the gold standard for online fighting.
Even if the game’s full package is still missing a few things, you can’t go wrong with this generation’s new anime fighting game title. If you’re new to fighting games, Guilty Gear Strive is a must-play.
- Phenomenal art style & rocking music.
- The most accessible Guilty Gear entry in fighting game history.
- A helpful Mission Mode that teaches you the game’s ins and outs.
- Amazing netcode & lobby system for competitive play.
- Diverse and balanced roster.
- Pretty standard single-player & extra content.
- Story mode is just cutscenes; not playable & interactive.