Guilty Gear -Strive- has been out for a little more than four months, and fighting game fans have had ample time to play it over and over; to test their favorite (and least-favorite) matchups, and see what cracks the game may have in its glossy surface. That’s not to say that we can reach a final consensus on the quality of the game—for starters, good fighting games are always unraveling as players learn new tech.
But, also, the developer Arc System Works has been hard at work (ha) updating the game; adding balance patches, and introducing DLC characters, new and old. In fact, as I write this review, version 1.10 is readying to drop. As such, I’ll likely have to do another one of these next quarter. That’s the joy of fighting games, I suppose—the target is always moving, always fresh.
Until that time, we wanted to write a brief review telling you what the game is like roughly four months in. This review will be aimed at beginner and intermediate fighting game players, but the advanced members of the audience who’ve avoided news of it should find something to appreciate, too. We’re going to keep it simple and start with the good, before tackling some of the bad.
Clean, Fluid Gameplay and Movement
Nothing is worse than a fighting game that feels janky or “rough.”
Well, I suppose some things are worse. COVID and all that.
I digress. One of Strive’s biggest strengths as a fighter is the fluidity of the game. Not just the graphics, but the gameplay. You never feel like you’re stuck mashing buttons that don’t do anything, or that you’ve slipped into a crack in the gameplay loop. It feels like there are always options, and that the game is responsive to what you do.
The game is always moving.
As such, this enhances the player’s feeling of control, making for a more pleasant experience. Even movement is pleasant. It’s a hard science to learn, but its one that ASW has made a legacy of constantly improving upon.
Roman Cancels, Baby!
So, that header may have sounded like I need a trip to the E-R. But, I swear: it’s a thing. Roman cancels are a special mechanic in Guilty Gear that, despite their apparent simplicity, create a wild amount of flexibility. In short, so long as you’ve got half of your “tension” gauge charged, hitting three attack buttons at once creates a shockwave and a brief time-slow that gives you an opportunity to act. They come in four variations (each color-coded) and which one you get is dependent on what you were doing, and has its own unique properties. Yellow is defensive and gives you more time to get away. Red is done mid-combo and you can dash a short way in any direction just before activating it. Purple is when you whiff a move, and gives you a chance to recover.
This single mechanic—which can be assigned to one button and be used in a wide variety of circumstances—gives you the power to rapidly take control of the pace of the game. In a fighter like Strive, that can win you the match.
Also, Roman Cancels are just so cool to pull off and watch. They also lend to the next great thing about the game.
Low Skill Floor, Crazy-High Skill Ceiling, and LOTS of Opportunity for Expression
Yes, I’m grouping these all into one area because they’re related. Compared to other fighters—especially ASW fighters—Strive is somewhat easy to introduce. Part of this is the variable pace of the game and the smoothness of it all. Despite this, advanced players aren’t going to find themselves running out of viable strategies and tricks anytime soon. In fact, my usual fighting game partner and I are astounded that, four months in, we keep discovering so many new tactics.
Both qualities are founded in the same thing—the game’s flexibility. While a deeper dive into that would require a whole article, it’s sufficient to say that the game gives you no shortage of options without making them arcane or too difficult to understand. Often, they’re variations on a theme. The Roman cancels mentioned above are a perfect example. And anything you don’t understand can quickly be taught to you by one of the hundred-odd tutorials.
The result of this flexibility is that players are given a lot of leeway to express their main character. Take Chipp—he is a highly mobile character who excels at rushdown. But, there are many ways to play him. You can try to mix people up on approach, or take a hit and run strategy. Or, you can even go in recklessly and keep them from having an opportunity to recover.
Roman cancels accentuate that. An aggressive player would blow their gauge on a red roman cancel to continue a combo, while a strategist may favor a purple one on a whiff to regain control of the fight.
Whatever your style, the game’s flexibility allows you to zero in on the specific variation of your characters’ archetype that best suits you.
Soundtrack and Extras
Arc System Works is known for its stellar music, and this game is no exception. But the big draw, here, is that you have a lot of optional soundtracks you can unlock from the previous games. While some of my favorites are missing, there’s no shortage of songs available. The best part about this is that you earn the points used to unlock the music by doing just about anything in the game. Online matches, offline tutorials, you name it.
There are also a wealth of character artworks and cutscenes that are fun to scan through, to give you a sense of the developers’ creative processes.
While the lobby system has improved since the beta, it hasn’t improved enough. The regular lobbies are glitch ridden in a way they wouldn’t be if the developers had opted for a much simpler system. While these glitches won’t affect you in an actual match, they can make the process of finding one a gigantic pain.
Personal lobbies lack those glitches, but the “sprite-platforming” thing you have to do to find other players is still frustrating, and it feels like we’d be better served by just being able to queue up in a regular waiting room.
This is a minor gripe, but one worth mentioning. The game takes its sweet time to load any online features… just about every time you do so. You’ll get a “connecting to server” message that can last a couple minutes when you start the game, another couple when you jump into online lobbies, and again when you finally join. Mercifully, it won’t happen again while you’re playing.
Still, this is a frustrating inconvenience in an otherwise butter-smooth game.
Guilty Gear -Strive- is an incredible fighter that allows for flexibility and expression, with most of its problems located in the more “administrative” sections like lobbies and loading. The netcode is fantastic, so far, and I’m excited to see what improvements they make in the coming months.