Guilty Gear -Strive- is the latest entry in the long running Guilty Gear series of fighting games from Arc System Works. Published in Europe by Bandai Namco, it released on June 11th, 2021, for PC, PS4 and PS5. Billed by its director as a “complete reconstruction of the franchise”, it has big shoes to fill. Does it live up to its hype? Let’s find out.
The games story mode takes a unique approach, that being that there is no gameplay at all in it. The story is instead presented as an anime made completely in the game’s engine. It is split into 20-minute chapters that you can sit back and watch at your leisure. You can see the level of effort that has been put into this, it doesn’t feel like a mode that was just added on to the game. The story itself takes place a short time after the ending of the previous game. “That Man” hands himself over to the United States government for unknown reasons while the ever mysterious I-No plots behind the scenes. The game also includes a timeline, a glossary and correlation diagrams that serve as recaps of the story so far. While these are great resources as refreshers, I feel like it would be best for new players to the series find a recap online. Arc System Works uploaded the story modes for Guilty Gear Xrd -Sign-, -Revelator- and Rev 2 to YouTube leading up to the release of Strive.
The game has a fantastic visual style that really stands out amongst other games in the genre. Each stage looks fantastic and is uniquely themed. The stages are split into 3 distinct sections due to the new wall break mechanic; all 3 sections of each stage look consistently good. The character models also look great and well detailed. Each character has an incredibly unique design that fits their playstyle well. A great example of this is Faust, a 9-foot-tall doctor with a paper bag on his head who attacks with a giant scalpel is just as unique in design as he is to play. His design compliments his moveset perfectly.
The animation for characters moves look great and help get characters personalities across well. Attacks such as counters look particularly good due to the camera focusing into it in a way that doesn’t distract from the gameplay. The overdrive moves that serve as characters ultimate attacks are animated extremely well. However, the game can occasionally have a lot going on at once which can take time to get used to. The games counter message takes up a fairly large part of the screen, from a gameplay standpoint it can help you adapt from the counter hit more easily but can be distracting from a visual standpoint. Overall, I think the games visual presentation is fantastic and really helps the game stand out from other fighters.
The gameplay takes everything fans love about Guilty Gear and streamlines it, making the series arguably the most accessible to new players it has ever been. The games character roster has 15 characters at launch, with another 5 coming as part of the games season pass. The roster is made up mostly of familiar faces with 2 newcomers to the series in Giovanna and Nagoriyuki. The playstyles of these vary massively so there’s something for everyone in the roster. The gameplay itself is honestly the most fun I’ve had with the genre in years, it feels very fluid, and each character offers something different adding a lot of variety in terms of matchups. The games new mechanics change the feel of the game massively, particularly the dash roman cancel which opens up more combo opportunities. The wall break mechanic also allows for combos with massive combos.
The game manages to keep the complexity from older titles while making the game much more accessible to newcomers. One way this is done is through the games fantastic mission mode which teaches you everything from the basics like movement to more advanced mechanics such as whiff punishing and fuzzy guard. This is a great resource to learn the game regardless of your prior experience with the genre as it is a good primer for fighting games as a whole. I think everyone should at least take a look at this mode, even just as a refresher or to learn about the game’s unique mechanics.
The game has your standard single player modes: VS CPU, Arcade, and Survival. One notable exception here is the M.O.M mode featured in previous titles in the series. The online portion of the game allows you to enter lobbies to play against other players. The lobby system here is strange, being designed as a 2d pixel art environment. Besides this, the online experience is fantastic. I was able to play against players across the world with little to no lag. The games netcode makes a massive difference to the experience.
There are multiple types of lobbies: there is the Rank Tower which sees you put into a specific floor depending on your rank and does not let you access floors below your rank. There is also Open Park lobbies which function as the games casual match. There is also a Player match mode where you can make your own lobby to play with friends. You can bypass the lobbies completely and get matched straight into matches using the quick start mode which puts you into training mode during matchmaking. Overall, the gameplay is fantastic and should appeal to both veterans of the series and people trying the series for the first time.
Guilty Gear is a series known for its fantastic soundtracks and Strive is no exception to this. Each character has their own theme and each one of these themes is great and fits the characters well. Personally, I feel the soundtrack is consistently great and is memorable. My personal favorites are the games’ main theme, Smell of the Game and Giovanna’s theme, Trigger. Outside of the soundtrack, the game features both English and Japanese voice acting. The voice acting is good for both languages. Moves in the game also sound good and the game has good sound cues for things such as counter hits. Overall, the audio of the game is great with a fantastic soundtrack with good sound design to match.
Overall, I feel that the combination of incredibly fun gameplay, great visuals and a fantastic soundtrack make for one of the best games to come out of the fighting game genre in years. It is also the best time to jump into the series as the game is more accessible to newcomers than ever before thanks to its streamlined gameplay and it’s incredibly useful mission mode.
An absolute must play for fans of the fighting game genre and a great starting point to get into the Guilty Gear series.