The highly anticipated Guilty Gear Strive had its open beta test in late February 2021. The beta was met with mixed reviews. While players adored the fighting system and character design, there were concerns with the lobby and the quality of the online play as well as some balancing issues.
In response, the developers have released another installment of their “developer’s backyard” series in which they directly address the community and discuss concerns and upcoming plans. As part of their continued efforts to create the best game possible, they’ve also announced a second open beta test to try out the changes they hope to make.
For those curious about the game, especially those who didn’t get the chance to dive deeply into it during the brief open beta, the developer’s backyard isn’t the only piece of information you need. You also need to know what it was like to play the game.
Luckily, I and a few other fighting game fanatics spent a good chunk of hours on the beta, and we can fill in the blanks.
In my last article on Guilty Gear, I mentioned that Arc System Works (ASW) was hoping to shorten combos to make the game more accessible to new players. In that, they most certainly succeeded. My friends and I felt that the high damage made small combos viable without lowering the game’s skill ceiling. While other fighters in this genre often require players to learn long combo strings for moderate damage, the high damage output of Strive, combined with the precision of its moves and varied defensive systems, allows new players to focus on the basics and learn to play the game without getting stomped.
Meanwhile, experienced players can enjoy a more intense battle, knowing there won’t be down time where one player is locked in a combo. You always need to be ready to turn the tide or have it turned, ramping up the excitement. The combat itself is smooth, fast and satisfying, somehow being energetic and exciting without ever feeling distracting or noisy. It’s amazing to feelthe pace of combat shift when someone catches you with a counter and turns the tide.
The characters themselves are a huge selling point. While Strive’s roster is shockingly small for an Arc System Works game, each character feels entirely different from the rest of the cast. ASW is skilled at differentiating the feel of their characters already, but they really outdid themselves here. Even movement feels different from one character to the next. Once you get into their skills, you realize there really is a fighter here for every type of player, from aggressive rush-down fans to people who love lumbering giants.
Add this to the game’s exceptional character design, and Strive gives players a golden opportunity to express themselves. Seriously, take a minute to dive into the detail work of each character’s design, and you’ll be astonished at the level of intricacy and attention that the designers paid to each fighter. Newcomer Nagoriyuki is a stellar example of this, with the honorable vampire samurai having a literal mechanical lock on his sword.
The biggest downside of the game was echoed by the larger community: the online play. There were two problems with it. The first was technical. Lots of people were dropped from matches, had trouble connecting or just dealt with intolerable lag. To some extent, this is to be expected. ASW was stress-testing the servers during the beta, and breaking them is part of that game. To make up for it, they extended the beta by a few days.
The second problem was less excusable. The lobby system was time consuming, confusing and more interested in aesthetics and novelty than practicality. To play with friends, players had to log in, coordinate to find the right region, room and floor, and then talk about where in the “area” they’d meet. Group lobbies weren’t present at all. Both problems will need to be drastically improved by the time the game releases later this year. Of course, there is good news on that front.
The Developer’s Backyard
The open beta was followed by a survey that helped the developers zero in on the community’s thoughts on the game. They got 51,000 responses across all regions, which is nothing to scoff at. I adored the game, but I was too busy to fill in the survey.
Between the survey and the beta, they have some good direction for where to bring the game next and some of the strong points they already see in it. Some details are small. For instance, the newcomer Giovanna was one of the most popular characters. It’s very unusual for a new character to be so popular in a fighting game.
Others are more important. Among the most extensively detailed issues mentioned in the article were, expectedly, the online play. While ASW did mention the server issues, which they want to work on, they also addressed the “difficult to use and hard to understand” lobby, saying they “realize that [they] let everyone down.” To that end, they’ve already listed the following changes.
- Changing to a system where players select a visible area where they want to have a match.
- After winning, players stay where they are in a battle-ready state unless their rating changes.
- Adding a rematch option
- Expanding the area, allowing players to hide news, and adding quicker movement.
They also mentioned the tutorial and training systems. The tutorial was criticized for being too “thin,” but ASW said it was just intended to get players started. While they plan on beefing it up for the full release, that full version will also have other tutorials available to explain more complex mechanics. The training mode was praised for its wealth of options, but players thought the menu was confusing. It and other menus will be reworked.
While ASW plans to reduce damage output, they still want to keep the current model, saying “part of the appeal of the Guilty Gear series is the tension and exhilaration felt during the fast-paced matches. In previous titles, however, the player could only experience this after practicing and learning complicated combos.”
There are a handful of other planned changes worth mentioning here. Much-loved music from older games will be available to earn in game. ASW also plans to remove some infinite combos, balance jumping and rework meter gain, so players can use the new systems more often.
All in all, it feels like ASW not only listened to fans but also paid close attention to the game itself. All the while, they have a strategy and a model for the game that they’re shooting for, which should serve as the framework to keep the whole thing strong.
I’m excited to see these fixes play out, and you can be sure I’ll be in that second beta.