Guilty Gear has always been one of the crown jewels in the crown of fighting games, but one that has carried with it an almost imperceptible layer of complexity to its more nuanced ideas. Usually hidden behind stylish visuals and brash counter-attacks, Guilty Gear as a series has been seen as one of the best in its genre if you’re willing to put some elbow grease in to learn about its intricacies.
Guilty Gear Strive on the other hand, may just be the most welcoming entry in the franchise, a frantic and balls-to-the-wall blast of fisticuffs fun that doesn’t sacrifice anything of what makes the series such a treasure in the fighting game community, while still laying down a path for newcomers to follow.
After creating the definitive Dragon Ball Z fighting game, developer Arc System Works has returned to its beloved fighting game, and the ultimate result is a game that has something for everyone. Guilty Gear veterans can still dig deep into a wealth of explosive techniques, while newcomers won’t have to feel too overwhelmed as the overall pace of the game is slower and more methodical.
Every single move packs a punch so to speak, but a number of more subtle elements allows for every match to have a balanced mix of high-impact offense and room to breathe between those moments. Combos may have taken a backseat in Strive but that doesn’t mean that they’re out of the equation entirely, as the new Dust overheads, Dust launchers, and Dust sweep mechanics provide the perfect window of opportunity to land some heavy damage on an opponent.
Another interesting mechanic is Guilty Gear’s stage transition system, which essentially stops a match from looking like a one-sided beatdown once you corner the opposition. Once enough damage has been dealt, players will be slammed through the screen into a new level, essentially resetting player positions to the neutral phase and once again providing a brief chance to catch your breath.
Gatling, Roman cancels, and Overdrives are of course part of the usual Guilty Gear bag of tricks that veterans can once dip into, but Arc’s design for Strive has made it one of the hardest-hitting games in the entire series. It sounds paradoxical to say it after preaching about the more tactical decisions, but Strive is both slow and fast, with some matches being over before you can blink should you find yourself on the end of an overwhelming flurry of hard rock offense.
It’s arguably where Strive feels at its best, because Guilty Gear has always favoured the bold when it comes to competition. Every character has a unique style that can only be described as relentless, a mad combination of back-alley surgeons, vampire samurai, and lightning-fast ninjas who don’t have a single conservative bones in their digital frames. Guilty Gear has always been more rewarding for pushing forward, and once again you’ll find that doing so is the best way to play considering the penalties you’ll accrue if you start turtling up.
A fighting game is only as good as its cast though, and once again Guilty Gear delivers on that front with its mix of old and new faces. Potemkin is still a slow-moving tank who can slap you into the stratosphere, mah boyee Chipp Zanuff is the fastest ninja alive, and series mascot Sol Badguy is an inferno poster-child for Guilty Gear’s push-forward strategy.
Out of the new faces making an appearance, Nagoriyuki has to be one of my favourite additions to the roster. Deceptively slow at first glance, this blood-sucking bushido-acolyte combines blistering attacks with killer agility and a unique vampire mechanic to stand out from an already crazy cast of heavy metal witches and the most lethal marine biologist to ever sail the seven seas. Giovanna and Ramlethal Valentine also provide wildly entertaining new twists, although I admittedly still need to spend some time really digging into their builds in the 15-fighter strong roster.
There’s also a meaty story mode to dig into this year, and it’s absolutely bananas. I’ve honestly got no idea what’s really going on and I can’t say I’m even arsed enough to really care about it, when I can rather focus on arcade and survival modes to get my blood pumping. Speaking of which, Guilty Gear Strive is a gob-smacking gorgeous game to look at and listen to as well.
When Arc announced that back in the day that Guilty Gear Xrd was making the jump to Unreal engine and leaving the classic animated look behind, fans were dismayed. Then the product came along, and it looked like a million bucks. Having created a Dragon Ball Z experience where even the most standard match makes the recent films look like children’s scribbles, Arc has built on that experience to make Strive look like a colourful explosion of anime-influenced anarchy.
It’s a game that blurs the line between traditional 2D and 2.5D fighting game aesthetics, and it’s never visually boring. With a strong contender for the best soundtrack of the year, Guilty Gear Strive hits a hat trick of style, substance, and excitement.
Where the game falters though, is perhaps in the most crucial department for longevity: Online play. Playing an actual match with someone across the world is an absolute dream thanks to the incredible netcode that should be the standard for all fighting games. Getting into an actual match, is another matter entirely.
Strive’s lobby system is a cute slice of retro design, but one that aims to create a literal waiting game as you wander around a corner and wait for someone to come challenge you while you play around with customisation options. It’s nice, but superfluous. I can appreciate the effort to do something different, push a system where you’re fighting your way up several floors to hang with the best of the best while making certain that newcomers aren’t thrown into bouts against EVO contenders, but Strive’s lobby system definitely needs more work done to it.
There is a “quick” match option, but like the Lobby castle, it seems to take several centuries to find someone willing to engage with you. A pity, because I’ve had some fantastic matches so far that have pushed me to use my favourite characters in new and exciting ways, real white-knuckle rides that shine with the game’s abundance of cool style.
Should Arc find a way to improve on its currently dismal matchmaking services, I have a feeling that Strive is going to remain a longtime fixture in my current games library.
Guilty Gear’s latest chapter is its most accessible one yet, a righteous display of power and attitude that unleashes the sickest of heavy metal guitar licks and unrelenting style. Its online matchmaking may still need some work before it’s ready for the main event, but Arc System Works has delivered a captivating display of coolness and action.
Last Updated: June 15, 2021