Guilty Gear -Strive- Review – A BOTCHED REBOOT?
Being a quote unquote “reboot” of the series, how does Guilty Gear -Strive’s- over-the-top, anime brawling distinguish itself from its fellow contemporaries?
Well, from a neutral perspective, the majority of 2D-fighting games are all about catering to a specific demographic – the hardcore audience. So when Guilty Gear -Strive- casually rocks up and offers a grasshopper-friendly, yet very high skill-ceiling akin to Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, it comes as a big breath of fresh air.
The Approachability Factor of Guilty Gear -Strive-
The stylish attacks and combos that require hours upon hours of practise in other 2D-fighting games can be comfortably picked up in a matter of minutes here. And while there are plenty of mechanics to learn, it won’t take long before you’re throwing down some serious damage. There’s this constant sense of skill progression, as Strive’s special attacks and manoeuvres in particular, are super easy to memorise. With each fighter having their own distinct weight and mobility that you’ll naturally gravitate towards.
Though they all feel quite similar at the same time – and that’s a good thing! As you can quickly swap out and test what works best with your play style, whilst avoiding a lot of the awkward, in-between phase. Like when your barber cuts your hair a little too short and you just have to sit there, agonising if you have anyone important to meet that week – but anyway!
In the lead up to the release of Guilty Gear -Strive- there were two open betas to trial out and provide feedback to Arc System Works. Though the player base thought it was quite strange how basic the game’s tutorials were – and rightfully so! It seemed like straight-up, hot garbage. There wasn’t much detail about the game’s mechanics at all. And considering how well-implemented the tutorials were in Xrd Revelator, it’s absence felt like a glaring omission.
Bust Out Those Combos!
Thankfully, the tutorial in the demo was just a quick-start guide of sorts. The mission mode in the Dojo is the real area to learn all the ins and outs of Guilty Gear. Like the newly-added directional Roman cancels, where the player can move and cancel out of animations, or freeze opponents momentarily (which I still can’t master). And the wall break system, which after pinning an opponent to the edge of the stage, the aggressor can push them through to a new area for extra damage and a buff. You can even send your competition flying out of the map, like Team Rocket.
Not only does the tutorial run the player through all the mechanics, but it also contains visual examples of the more complex techniques and tips on their practical implementation. One particular mission displays all the specials on-screen, and this is easily the best way to learn each of them, quick-smart.
Same goes for the command list. All of the special attacks help the player in describing their ideal scenarios, like countering against air-based opponents or baiting out fighters that keep blocking. It even displays a short video sample of how the attack’s supposed to look. This honestly is such a life-saver. It saves SO much time from going into the command menu, exiting out, testing the move, going back again, then double-checking and wondering if that actually was the right move in the first place. Oh, and did I mention that specials can chain into each other? It’s these little details that make Guilty Gear -Strive- heaps of fun to play.
The Vampire Samurai of Guilty Gear -Strive-
One such detail is the aptly named blood-gauge for newcomer, Nagoriyuki. He is described as, and I quote “a noble vampire samurai who wields a bloodsucking blade.” Does it get any cooler than that? Though what makes Nagoriyuki so enticing to play is his risk-reward mechanic (I don’t even know what to call it) where using a certain amount of specials will top off the blood-gauge and remove his helmet, revealing the red-eyed vampire within. His sword length will then extend dramatically, increase in damage and allow him to use a second overdrive that wipes off 50% of the opponent’s health – and far out, the reach on this one attack is broken. I think it fully covers the entire ground on-screen! Crazy!
But with such great power, comes great responsibility. The moment his vampirical form is activated, Nagoriyuki’s health starts plummeting and he’s suddenly locked out of using any specials in his arsenal. He will revert back after a short time, but by then it might already be too late. Prevention is better than cure in this case, because the only way to lower the blood-gauge is by special grabbing an opponent. That being said, changing to his vampire state does have its advantages. Though Nagoriyuki is such a strong character in his normal, masked form, as he can teleport around the stage and conjure up phantoms of himself that charge straight ahead. Nevertheless, it’ll be interesting to see how Arc System Works balances these mechanics and the rest of the roster going forward.
The Game Modes
Now let’s talk about the Story mode and some of the other features. There’s the classic 1-V-1s, training, arcade, survival, mission mode and the online options, which I unfortunately wasn’t able to check out with my pre-release copy. Although, the net code rollback was already great in the Open Beta, so I’m very confident it’ll be great here. Arcade pits the player against a series of enemies with some unique character interactions, like a third fighter suddenly helping out during certain matches. Whereas survival has you taking on an endless wave of CPU opponents until your character gets KO’d.
The story mode itself basically just acts as a long movie, delving into the lore and characters of Guilty Gear -Strive-. A word of warning though, if you’re not familiar with Xrd and some of the earlier entries, a large chunk of concepts and names will fly right over your head. But all in all, it’s pretty entertaining to watch and is definitely worth a look for long-time fans of the series.
The Bangin’ Music & Presentation of Guilty Gear -Strive-
Speaking of Guilty Gear fans, the music in -Strive- is just as extreme as you’d expect. There’s an encore of hard rock and metal, but with a surprisingly high number of vocal-oriented tunes this time around. I think the community will really connect with this OST, as these tracks definitely help hype up the presentation. Once you get those counter and punish icons on-screen, or send an opponent flying into another area, the music just makes it so much more exciting! You can’t help but slap a cheeky grin on your face – it’s awesome!
The game runs super smooth on the base PS4 too and looks absolutely stunning at a near-constant 60FPS. The visuals have so much style and panache, and the attacks feel so satisfying to land. Especially when you get a wall break or pull off a clutch overdrive during an intense match, it’s actually epic. Arc System Works have such a unique 2D-meets-3D style and they truly knocked it out of the park here.
Hear me out. I haven’t been this pumped up for a fighting game in years. The way in which anyone can jump right in and not be overwhelmed by the sheer amount of systems and mechanics, whilst having an absolute blast with these characters is legitimately impressive. Each fighter is distinct but they’re all somehow so easy to pick up and play, as the developers have struck this near-perfect balance of approachable, yet hard to master formula which will bring you back, time and time again.
Guilty Gear -Strive- is an outstanding reboot of the series, tying in so many complex mechanics in an easy to digest format. The music’s hype, the presentation’s killer and the overall package is just pure entertainment in your hands. An extra game mode or two would assuredly make -Strive- the ultimate 2D-fighting game experience. Although, as it currently stands, Guilty Gear -Strive- is without a doubt one of the best games of 2021.
This game was reviewed using a download code provided by Bandai Namco. The Beta Network uses affiliate partnerships, however, this does not influence reviews or any other content published. The Beta Network may earn commissions for products purchased via affiliate links that are on the website.