The fighting game community, although spread among various titles, is quite united when it comes to events and the like, and new game launches are not different. Many content creators from other fighting games take the time to learn and invest some hours into new titles from different franchises, expanding their own knowledge and exposure in the process, before reverting to their original game after a couple of weeks. The amazing launch of Guilty Gear Strive however risks changing this train of thought, as few games before have had this big of an impact on the FGC.
Strive is the latest title from the Guilty Gear franchise, developed by ArcSystem Works and published by Bandai Namco, who by now needs no introduction to fighting games being the publisher of Tekken, Soul Calibur and Dragon Ball FighterZ, the latter also developed by ArcSys, among others.
What is distinguishing Guilty Gear Strive from all previous releases however is the insanely positive feedback from everyone who played in the 2021 betas, be it February’s or April, and one major feature stood out – how amazingly smooth the connection is. This is the best netcode ever implemented in a fighting game, without any exception, and this online experience is what propelled it to the popularity it has gained ever since the first beta.
Many fighting game players and influencers were going on and on about how great the online side of the game was, and even myself who never played a Guilty Gear before was intrigued. Trying out February’s beta, I was immediately hooked, as the game is not only its online experience, but it plays beautifully too. Guilty Gear Strive is a 2D fighter, and your basic inputs are jumping and five attack buttons – Punch, Kick, Slash, Hard Slash and Dust.
To these, more complicated mechanics such as Roman Cancels, the game’s unique mechanic which permits the player to cancel moves to make them safe or get combos, and super moves with DP motions are added to the mix, making the game relatively easy to get into if you have prior fighting game experience, but still welcoming enough to even the newest of entrants to learn the basics without too many issues.
In terms of game modes, Guilty Gear Strive does not disappoint, with plenty of options available. Arcade mode is the typical fighting game mode, where you fight a number of characters with some minimal story aligning the aim of the battles just enough to make it feel like you are fighting for something.
The difficulty in Arcade mode may change depending on your previous result – instead of a rematch option, a loss can mean that the opponent’s difficulty can be lowered a notch. Conversely, you may win all your encounters and the opponent may be ramped up to Hard or even Extreme difficulty, which is a nice change of pace to the usual difficulty system.
Apart from the Arcade mode, a run of which can be finished in around 15 minutes if you clean up without a single loss, there is also a Survival mode, and as the name implies you go through a gauntlet with one life, trying to win as many battles as possible before one loss ends your run.
This mode is score-based and not win based, meaning life deficit and time will play an important factor on your way to the top of the leaderboard. It is not a game mode which many will be very keen on considering the ability of online play, but it is quite good for testing your skills against a variety of characters, especially for new players.
Before talking about the online component of Guilty Gear Strive, it is mandatory we go over the Dojo modes in Strive. These modes, split into Tutorial, Mission and Training, compile some of the best elements in learning a fighting game in recent years, helping this latest Guilty Gear game be a great starting place for players who never tried their hand at a 2D fighter before.
The tutorial is the bare bones section of the Dojo, going through the most basic of mechanics in order to show you the ropes of the game. Finishing the tutorial will then take you to Mission Mode, which provides you with a plethora of tasks where players can really get to grips with the ins and outs of Guilty Gear Strive.
Mission mode starts from the easiest parts of the game and starts adding things at a very slow pace to help new players ease themselves into the game. This mode has however five different areas, each one more complex than the previous one, with Area 5, appropriately named Hell Area, offering high-level techniques in order to shape beginners into veteran fighters, ready to brave the online portion of the game.
Mission mode covers pretty much everything one needs to learn about the game – using its Roman Cancel mechanic to its fullest potential, cancelling moves into supers and even studying match-ups by learning to work around a move in particular. Understandably there is only a couple of moves per character in Mission Mode, but it is still very useful to learn to deal with these moves.
Training mode then is the most freeform of options to practice, with full control over your character to learn new combos, record options with the training dummy to figure out counters and also record combo videos, of which I’m sure we will have plenty of compilations over the next few weeks. In training mode, you can also access your character’s move list, and Guilty Gear Strive even provides a description of the move and how it should be used. Arc System Works have definitely studied hard to come up with such an amazing training mode experience, and it is one that hopefully is used as a base for future fighting games as well.
The online portion of the game revolves around one word, and one word only; rollback. The implementation of rollback netcode has taken Guilty Gear Strive from a good game to a great game, as apart from the exceptionally well-made animation and moves, the game feels great when playing. The controls are responsive, and with minimal, if any, delay, you will never blame lag again for your losses.
A handy ping counter at the top of the screen displays the latency in ms between you and your opponent, and also how many rollback frames Guilty Gear Strive currently uses. Keeping in mind that frames are a sixtieth of a second, these can never be perceived in real-time, unless some game mechanic makes it obvious that it happened, such as a move appearing to have hit only to be blocked at the last second.
Online game modes are the same as every fighting game out there – you have a Quick Start option, where the game puts you in practice mode while it searches for an opponent to be matched with; there is the Ranked lobby, where you will battle through ten floors of increasing intensity in order to reach the famed Celestial Floor, and Player Match, the latest feature added to Guilty Gear Strive which was not available in previous betas.
Player matches happen in rooms, and these are literally rooms inside Guilty Gear Strive. You can set up the different settings when creating the room, and there are quite a number of options to help you filter out any areas which you do not want in your lobby, such as player limit, region or even target player rank, which will take your tower floor into consideration. The absence of a direct invite is quite underwhelming, but this is easily overcome by giving your room’s code to anyone you want to join your session.
The ranked experience in Guilty Gear Strive is structured well, but offers little longevity to people who reach Celestial floors early, at least for the moment. Basically, the Tower where ranked matches happen has ten floors, and operates through a hidden ELO system where a number of wins will take you to the next floor. You can also get “demoted” from your current floor into a lower one if you accumulate enough losses, so this works both ways.
You can explore floors above your current ranking to find a higher-ranked opponent, but players are forbidden from going into the lower floors unless demoted, as that would get you wins against supposedly inferior players.
Upon reaching the tenth floor and registering a streak of wins, you are then prompted to try the ascent to the Celestial Floor, basically an eleventh floor which features the best players in Strive. This Stairway to Heaven gives players six matches with the task to win five, meaning only one loss is permitted.
Lose twice, and your progress is reset and you are sent back to floor ten, trying to trigger the ascent once again. It makes for a great objective for mid-level players, but experienced fighters are definitely reaching Celestial Floor in the first few days, if not hours, meaning reaching it will not have big meaning, at least in the current state of Guilty Gear Strive.
The biggest issues with the betas was the lobby system, which was not very practical, and although retaining pretty much the same form of the last beta in April, it works better and is far less buggy than its previous iteration. Finding matches will still mean roaming around your tower floor searching for someone on a battle station to challenge, but the process is smoother.
If no players are available to fight in the Guilty Gear Strive lobby, you can still sit on a battle station and standby in “battle stance”, and you should be matched with someone who is in training mode matchmaking, which as the name implies lets you use training mode while the game looks for an opponent for you.
Apart from looking for opponents, the floor also lets players change the looks of their avatar or even fish for items or collectibles. Fishing will cost you the currency earned while playing, but given there is no other use for it, you might as well spend your earnings there. You can obtain Artworks, Soundtracks, Game Trailers for Strive or Avatar customization options, ranging from new weapons to hair colours, to outfits altogether.
The Guilty Gear Strive Artworks, Music and trailers can be viewed in the Gallery from the main menu, under the Collection tab. For players keen to regularly change the appearance of their avatars every so often and keep it fresh, fishing is imperative.
The lobby floor also features a replay theatre, where players can check out their own replays of their past fights. Players may also search for others’ replays as well, to learn new tricks with their character of choice. The search function for replays is quite varied, and with the correct filters you can search for the best players who main your character.
Once there, you may even follow these players so that you can find their replays more easily. It is another step towards giving players all the resources they need to get better at Guilty Gear Strive, which is great from ArcSys.
Guilty Gear Strive also features a rather unorthodox story mode, one which has been already in previous instalments in the franchise as well. This mode is pretty much around five hours of cutscenes which form the basic story for Strive. It is not a mandatory mode by all means, but taking a break from fighting by watching at least a chapter regularly can fill you in on the story of the game world.
The franchise has always been known for having amazing music, and Guilty Gear Strive is definitely no less. The character themes are all great and are sure to get your adrenaline pumping in the midst of battle. There is a large variety of music in the game, a big part of which can be obtained through fishing. There are even tracks from previous titles in the Guilty Gear series, making the gallery a great place to enjoy all your favourite GG tracks in one place.
The launch of Guilty Gear Strive has been unprecedented in the Fighting Game Community, more so specifically because of how established streaming on Twitch.tv has become. Influencers and well-known Guilty Gear players had thousands of viewers ever since the first day of early access on June 8th – a staggering 45,000 concurrent viewers for a fighting game launch is gargantuan, given how niche the genre is when compared to FPS or Sports games.
Comparing these numbers with a fairly recent launch as well, Virtua Fighter 5, which was also free with PlayStation Plus compared to the £70+ for the Deluxe Edition for Guilty Gear Strive which included early access, VF5 barely made the rounds, with the most notable of European FGC streamers averaging a couple of hundred viewers at best.
All this translates to probably one of the biggest fighting game releases in recent history. Somehow, the game was able to live up to the massive hype generated from the betas before. It plays insanely well, it looks beautiful to watch and rollback netcode is exceptionally smooth. These ingredients have made Guilty Gear Strive a fantastic addition to the series and to the FGC as a whole, and hopefully, this becomes the standard for future fighting games to come.
Arc System Works have already even discussed some details about its Season Pass, which is future content about to hit Strive in the coming months. A brand new, original character will be added to the game in July, while a returning character from previous Guilty Gear titles will be released in August, although no more details about this return have been given.
Three more characters, as well as two new battle stages and a separate story mission, are also part of the season pass, although no information regarding release was given. Still, a detailed roadmap, as well as the changes which have already been implemented from beta feedback, are big signs of how much Arc System Works are willing to take their newest game to the next level, and if this dedication keeps up, the sky really is the limit as to how far Guilty Gear Strive may go.
Guilty Gear Strive overall thoughts
Guilty Gear Strive is an absolutely incredible addition to the Guilty Gear franchise; a game that has so much going for it that it is hard to imagine this hype dying any time soon. Offline tournaments have already registered massive interest for the game, so much so that the CEO announced a tournament happening in December, filled out the available 512 player slots within one hour.
At the time of registration, the game was not even out yet, so one can only imagine the anticipation around Guilty Gear Strive. Only time will tell about how well it actually does, but for the time being there is so much excitement around it, that it is very, very hard not to get excited too.