Guilty Gear Strive PC Review

Arc System Works have been busy bees over the last few years, becoming the go-to developer if companies are wanting to get their intellectual properties into the fighting genre. This is while also working on their own fighting games, such as Guilty Gear Strive, the latest entry in Arc’s long-running anime fighter that started back on the Sony PlayStation in 1998. Guilty Gear has never hit the popularity of fighting games like Street Fighter, Tekken or Mortal Kombat, but it has a fanbase that keeps the series alive. The developers wanted to change this and bring more people in, especially after new eyes have seen the developer’s work in Dragon Ball FighterZ, Persona 4 Arena and Granblue Fantasy Versus. To do this, the developers felt something had to change, as Guilty Gear is known to be a complex fighting game, and so the developers had a target, which was to make Guilty Gear Strive more understandable and for the less hardcore fighting player so they would be willing to give it a try. We will not know for a while if they were successful, but it has made this Guilty Gear different from previous entries, so let’s rock and see why.

Let us get the story out of the way first, as while these are not the most important element of a fighting game, story modes, and single modes in general, do well to keep the less hardcore fans interested in playing. Story modes in fighters have been improving over the years. The masters of this are NetherRealm Studios with their flashy cutscene-filled stories in the recent Mortal Kombat and Injustice games, blending fun cinematic scenes with the game’s fighting mechanics, seamlessly transferring between them. Guilty Gear Strive has a story mode, but there are no interactions with this, no fights, no quick-time events, it is literally watching a show. It is even broken down into around 20-minute chapters, offering around 4 hours of Guilty Gear done in the game’s engine. Guilty Gear has done this in the past, but it would often be more like a visual novel, with animations between sections of dialogue delivery with small facial or body movements. This time, it is completely fully animated. It does feel a bit strange to not have to fight, but it seems the developers wanted to get the story told without having to adapt to bringing in gaming elements or fit in pointless fights.

One thing coming from watching the story is that I do feel that I understood Guilty Gear and its characters better. If you have never played the series before, then some things will feel a bit lost – thankfully there is a database where you can read up on information or watch the previous games’ stories on the Arc System Works’ YouTube channel. There is a lot of character and world-building done here. The story is the closing chapter for cover hero Sol Badguy, and so he, and The Gear Maker are central to the story, along with I-No and a couple of others getting a big share of the screen time. Other characters pop in and out, but those mentioned are the true frontrunners. The plot centres around the Gear Maker handing himself over to the President of the United States before the start of the G4 summit. The Gear Maker wants to bring peace to the world and has a plan to do this while in the safety of a secure room where no one can get in without the President. Of course, this is all over the news, and so certain characters want to get the Gear Maker and his Tome for their own needs. This story funnily becomes an alternative version of something like Olympus has Fallen/White House Down but set in the world of Guilty Gear. The story is rather entertaining enough that I watched it all in one sitting.

Talking of single player options, there are not many modes to take part in. There is the mentioned Story Mode to watch, there is Arcade Mode, Survival Mode, Versus Mode (for local and CPU play), Tutorial Mode, and Mission Mode. The latter two are the most important, as it teaches players how to play the game. The tutorial is the very basics, learning how to move, jump, block, but the Mission Mode is where things become much more interesting.

Mission Mode delves into the deeper mechanics of Guilty Gear Strive. It is broken into five groups, with each group demonstrating more complexity. Mission Mode begins with topics like throwing, dashing, bursting, special moves, and some of the Guilty Gear‘s unique mechanics, like Gatling combos. Things begin to get more intense further into the missions, as topics like Yellow, Blue, Red and Purple Roman Cancels, how to look out for hit confirms, frame advantage, wall tech, fuzzy guard, and even throwing in matchup tutorials, which help you in fights against characters, something often missing from fighting games. This is one of the better tutorials in a fighting game, and video demonstrations are added to each one to help people follow what needs to be performed. There is no dedicated combo trial mode, but some basic combos are learned with characters in Mission Mode, as the game lets some trials be done with any fighter. It will be interesting to see if these are updated in the future when new characters are added to the roster, as the developers have mentioned that some downloadable content will add new modes. One of these sounds absolutely brilliant, as it allows users to upload combo trials to the internet that people can download, which means if someone finds a new combo string, this can be shared within the game for people to attempt it themselves. I cannot wait for this mode, as it means I no longer have to scourer the Internet for new Giovanna tech, but until then, YouTube is my source of cool combos.

Mission Mode shows that complexity is still in Guilty Gear Strive – there are plenty of mechanics to learn – but the main core of the fighting has been changed thanks to the revamped fighting engine and philosophy, which means goodbye to some of the mechanics we have enjoyed, such as Blitz Attacks, Danger Time, Instant Kill and Dead Angle Attacks. One of the biggest changes is the focus on damage and how that impacts the combos. Strive has tried to move away from remembering long combos for maximum damage. That does not mean combos are dead, not at all, because fancy combos can, and will, still be performed by the pro gamers, thanks to mechanics like the Roman Cancel, but decent damage can still be done by smaller combos.

Arc System Works has felt that turning up the damage from shorter combos keeps players engaged, and in a way, it does give the feeling that less skilled players are doing something good against another player. The new wall break mechanic also helps less experienced players by breaking up the pressure from an opponent, as often corner pressure can be a big impact on the outcome of a battle. Guilty Gear Strive prevents this issue by having a wall break after so many hits in a combo that sends the characters into a transition to another part of the level, in essence resetting the distance of the two fighters back into the middle of the screen in a neutral stance again. This is sort of a get-out-of-jail-free card as they no longer have to predict what the opponent is going to do to get out of the corner.

Guilty Gear Strive is a tad slower than previous games, but fights will still be quick, due to the high damage. Plus, the movement in the game is still fast compared to other fighting games. There is plenty of moveability available from high jumps, double jumps, and air dashes. This plays into the game wanting its players to be aggressive, so much that it rewards for doing so. Hitting a counter is met with a meaty effect that slows the game down for a quick instance to give time to follow up with inputs. The developers have made it key that opportunities to attack are made very clear from these slow-motion or stun animations, which promotes being aggressive. This is rewarded with the Tension Metre, a bar that is used for Roman Cancels and Overdrive special moves (think Street Fighter‘s supers) to build up faster, but if a player defends for too long then metre building is reduced. That is not to say defending is frowned upon, it is instead presented as the best defence is offence, as using Roman Cancels is not only for combo extensions, but can be used to slowdown opponents, recovery from frame animation, and even get out of blockstun. I found a good use for having full Tension Metre, as misusing an Overdrive special that ends up whiffing my opponent would leave me with 50%, which I could use then to Roman Cancel out of it to get myself save before the opponent applied the punishment for my poorly performed Overdrive move.

It was mentioned this has all been done to help the less serious fighting game players, and yeah, it does help in that sense because it gives them some essence of being able to deal some damage to other players without constantly getting perfected every round. I do think that the design has aimed at making the game fun for any level of play. I mean in the end, a good player is still going to beat a bad player, especially if they dig deep into the Roman Cancel system, but players, no matter their skill level, will feel they are more involved in the battles and may just want to invest more time as they feel that they might be able to get somewhere in the game’s community without having being touched of death’d in every battle online.

Which comes to Guilty Gear Strive’s biggest strength, the online is absolutely amazing. Their netcode is one of the best, possibly even rivalling Killer Instinct‘s, thanks to the use of rollback netcode. I even jumped from the European servers to the American coasts and could still play the game well, as the rollback updated its frames to compensate for the 150ms+ ping. I’ve had over 200 matches online and I can only think of two matches with issues, one where there was a slightly weird jerky feeling to the battle and another where it kept popping up a quick connection issue warning. That is a good result, and if this is the representation of the game going forward then people are in for some brilliant battles online.

One thing to note is that booting the game and getting it to connect to the network takes like 1-2 minutes, slowing down jumping straight into the game. Also surrounding the online code is this bizarre lobby system that has the player running around as an avatar and having to initiate a search for a match at a terminal inside one of these lobbies. It is not ideal, and sometimes I have run into issues trying to enter a lobby. As a few days passed, these lobby connection issues began to become less often, so I imagine that they are becoming more stable with each patch released. At the end of the day, as long as the fighting itself remains as fantastic as it is, then Guilty Gear Strive is going to be a quality game to host online tournaments on. It is great to finally see a Japanese fighting game developer embrace the rollback feature in a new title.

And let us not forget the sheer beauty of the game’s visual style. This takes Arc System Works’ use of the Unreal Engine to the next level. Guilty Gear Xrd Rev 2 was already a wonderful game to look at, blending the illusion of 2D anime art with 3D models, and Strive takes this to the next level to bring a simply gorgeous game. This is easily one of the best looking fighting games on the market, which has a rock-solid presentation all around, if a bit loud on the visual front with its UI during fights, but no one can deny that Guilty Gear Strive is not a looker. The story mode does reveal some of the weaknesses as that still uses the in-game engine, and so from some angles, the characters do perform some rather strange animations. In the actual battles though, everything is flawless. It keeps the action fluid no matter what special effects are on screen. Music is quality as well, with banging tunes suited to the action on screen. May’s theme has become an Internet meme, poppy and catchy, while the main theme and Sol Badguy’s tune blasts out those typical Guilty Gear rock songs. There is some mixture of rock styles here, ranging from Metallica to Bon Jovi, making for quite a versatile soundtrack

Versatile also can be said for the cast of characters, which there are currently 15 at launch, not too big or small, and all come across as rather unique, even having some different mechanics. Newcomer Nagoriyuki is special since he has restricted movement in exchange for a high damage berserk mode. The other new character, Giovanna, is a rushdown beast who gains more damage as her Tension Metre fills up. The game is sadly missing some fan favourites, which will most likely come as DLC in the future.

Guilty Gear Strive is a beautiful game to witness in action, with banging tunes, quality and well thought out mechanics, and netcode that is some of the best in the business thanks to the acceptance of rollback. Change can often take time to adapt to, and whenever a series changes its mechanics it can be met with negative feedback from the hardcore fans because it is not like something before.

In all seriousness, what is here in Guilty Gear Strive should not be sniffed at.  This is still Guilty Gear, and so there are still crazy mechanics here to learn that the lab rats will discover and abuse in high level play. The thing is that now the game is easier to understand, which is a huge positive, as trying to push too much complexity can become a detriment to the game. This, in turn, makes Guilty Gear Strive such a bloody blast to play, so many matches have been intense due to the push for aggressive combat. This is some of the most fun I have had in a fighting game since the rebirth of Killer Instinct. Overall, Guilty Gear Strive is a fantastic entry in the series that should be given a shot by anyone who enjoys fighting games or wants to get their fingers on some hyperactive 1-on-1 action with friends or the online community. Now I’m jumping back online as I just cannot get enough of the smell of the game.

9 out of 10