- Technical, but approachable design choices
- Colorful and vivid presentation
- A robust, unique roster
- Stable netcode
- A Story mode you will either hate or love
- Unnecessary online lobby design
Playing Guilty Gear Strive is a lot like going to an indoor rock concert that was moved outdoors for the first time in years. The whole band is still there, the energy and passion are still there, but the ambiance is better, the music travels farther, and curious onlookers can get a taste of what all the fuss is about. For a series that prides itself in fast combat and flashy moves, Guilty Gear Strive is still Guilty Gear but a few changes make it less intimidating for new fans wanting to enjoy the show.
Fast, technical, but approachable
Base controls remain unchanged and players can easily input combos using familiar commands. Every character can perform a punch or a kick as well as standard slash and strong slash attacks that together can be stringed together into unique attacks depending on the character. However, if you have played previous installments before, you will notice that these attacks do more damage and it’s a lot easier to unleash combos simply because they’re not as long as before. Skill is still involved, but you don’t need to input so many buttons to unleash devastating punishers to feel like you’re actually good.
That’s not to say anyone can just pick up a controller and be a pro. Not at all. You need to master techniques such knowing when to unleash your special move once your Tension meter fills up, when to do a burst attack to break off an enemy’s combo, or when to perform a Roman Cancel. The latter is a staple in the series, which lets you cancel the startup or recovery animations in a move, slow things down a bit, and continue on to a new combo string if you wish.
You can also use bursts or Roman Cancels defensively, too, and pull them off when one of your moves is blocked to avoid getting punished. Strive now lets you dash after a Roman Cancel, opening the possibilities to do even more combos and keep the pressure on your opponents. Knowing when or how to pull off each move takes practice, but it’s these creative touches that make matches fun and always changing.
Flashy moves and friendly faces
Strive also introduces various visual and combat effects which add to the unique charm the series is known for. A giant clock, for example, is displayed during a Roman Cancel letting you know how many seconds you have to make a move. Pummeling your opponent against a wall too much now causes it to break and transport your fight to another part of the stage. This provides some visual pow, but also means you want to avoid being cornered as much as possible and makes you more aware of your positioning. Even pummeling your opponent rewards you with giant numbers that take up the whole background screen and let you know how many consecutive hits you are landing.
Stages and characters, too, retain that weird charm about them but amp up the detail in some impressive ways. Strive is perhaps one of the best looking 2D fighting games out there and their beauty is augmented by impressive lighting effects that are responsive to your situation. There’s a stage that is constantly in the shade of a giant airship, but move to a different part of the location and your costumes will display their true colors under the glowing sun.
The game’s roster features 15 unique characters, 13 returning and two newcomers to the series who are vastly different. Giovanna, for example, is more of a rushdown character and uses quick kicks to put the pressure on foes at close range whereas Nagoriyuki is a slow-moving, yet dangerously powerful vampire samurai who can kill enemies at the cost of his own health. The beauty of these characters is that there is bound to be one that appeals to you and each one brings an entirely unique fighting style.
Modes that help you get better
Past games allowed you to test each character out in Combo Challenge mode, but this mode is no longer present and instead is replaced by Mission mode, an extended tutorial of sorts, that goes over techniques and how to play. Super insightful and helpful for all kinds of players, this mode starts off ridiculously simple and eventually goes over in-depth specialized strategies to counter various characters and their attacks. Still, having a Combo Challenge mode would have been a great way to showcase each character’s arsenal. Plus the added practice value that his mode often brought to a game is missed.
Another interesting cut is in the form of its Story mode. Earlier games allowed you to battle various characters to see someone’s path play out. But just like in its previous installment, Strive removes any form of battle and introduces an elaborate movie of sorts. This choice eliminates the fluff that often comes with story modes in fighting games and replaces it with an impressively detailed animated film segmented in various chapters to let you pick up where you left off. If you haven’t been following the series for a while, however, you may need a crash course in Guilty Gear to know what’s going on.
Win and get rewarded
Taking the fights online feels buttery smooth and a stable netcode means your ranked or casual matches won’t run into major issues. If you play someone with a bad connection, of course you will feel some lag, but overall, we felt our attacks register on time and didn’t run into any drops in framerate. One thing to note, however, is actually finding a match isn’t a simple process of picking a room or a player to battle, but instead involves customizing a pixelated avatar and making your way through various towers (lobbies) and hunting down other avatars to challenge. It’s a charming addition, but an odd one since it forces you to go through extra steps to simply start fighting.
Winning matches and completing Mission mode grants you money that you can use in a fishing mini-game for collectibles such as art work, music, and additional costumes for your avatar. It’s a cute concept, but fishing is more akin to a gacha game where you don’t know what you’re going to get until the end. It’s the only way to unlock extras, but the rewards such as classic music tracks from past titles are totally worth it.
Guilty Gear has always been a stylized series, but it’s a fighting game with a lot of depth that rewards those who practice and learn all of its unique quirks and techniques. Strive makes some smart changes that simplify some past techniques without sacrificing the soul of what makes it so much fun to play. Serious fighting game fans will appreciate its complexity and promising netcode, and everyone else will enjoy its vivid cast and rewarding, flashy combo system.
Giancarlo Saldana | Gamepressure.com