I think it’s fair to say that I was more than a little bit excited for Guilty Gear Strive. I am aware it’s a big title for fighting game fans but not one most people will have heard of. I’ve reviewed the original games prior but it’s easily one of my favourite franchises of any genre. This was the first big game that got me to pre-order digitally so I was all ready to smell the game from day one! Hell I was up at ungodly hours to even get a taste during the fantastic Open beta. Then Chicory: A Colorful Tale came along and Guilty Gear who? Now that masterpiece is finished, I’ve had the time to get to grips with Guilty Gear Strive and was it worth the wait or is it just a smelly game? It’s time to rack up a few trophies and find out if it is Heaven or Hell.
If you’ve never played a Guilty Gear game you’re in for a treat with Strive. Every Guilty Gear game on the PS4 has had a cracking tutorial that not only teaches the basics of the game but gives a good class on 2D fighting in general. Guilty Gear Strive is no different with this being the most refined learning yet. There are roman cancels, instant blocks, bursts, dusts and more but as with the best Arc System Works fighters you can jump in, press some buttons and have a fun time. The new stage transitions that require wall breaks really amp up the pressure to go for rushing an opponent into the corner and the rewards for doing so are super satisfying. This is a much slower Guilty Gear than previous entries with damage being much more punishing. The button combos and reactions are a lot more forgiving and easier to perform and everything just feels a lot more robust. Guilty Gear Strive feels impressively punchy.
Guilty Gear Strive has all of the classic modes you’ve come to expect from a fighter; Arcade, Survival, Story and Online Ranked/Casual. It’s a shame the story is again relegated to an unplayable anime-like series using in-engine assets. It has its moments but can be quite mediocre in places (especially whenever the characters walk anywhere) Thankfully the story requires no input, is voiced and is broken into episode-like chapters so unlike previous games theres no walls of text to get through. There’s a lot more interesting dynamics between the characters in the Arcade mode. Each character will get an introduction, have an important fight before the end and then a tag fight with a super powered version of Nagoriyuki. The tag boss battle is a genius idea as it allows the usual nonsense overpowered hurdle you expect from the series without feeling unfair. Every fight starts with an eagle flying for the loading screen where it soars to the characters once it’s done but you’ll be sick of the “Mankind knew they couldn’t change society” speech which follows it and it’s infuriating that skipping this skips the character’s introductions.
Not a lot really needs to be said about the looks of Guilty Gear Strive. Everything is absolutely stunning in motion. The muted colour pallet on PS4 was a little disappointing to start with (I checked if it was any different on PS5/HDR devices – it isn’t) but it makes the flames, sparks and effects pop. Every character and weapon moves with incredible animation and the camera shifts around at every opportunity to give you a feeling like you’re really kicking ass. All the text is easy enough to read and the options simple to navigate. Guilty Gear Strive is so good looking that this is the first title in the series I’ve wanted to check out the story mode and not just felt obligated to. From the new character designs to the flair everything visually is next level and feels like a game that is very much pushing the limits of the hardware. In a thankful departure from Guilty Gear Xrd the hyper sexualising has been dialled back and it’s incredibly refreshing to see some cool redesigns such as Ino and subtle changes to Ramlethal.
I’m a Daisuke Ishiwatari fan so it’s no surprise I love the music from Guilty Gear Strive. It’s worth pointing out that I’m not alone in this with various musicians interested in Strive for its opening theme alone. From the rock metal thrashings for Sol to the pop beats for May; every character’s track fits like a tailored glove. The voice acting is some of the best the series has had with the lines of dialogue are delivered brilliantly. Unlike Xrd there’s not a constant barrage of banter to distract but the occasional quips in special fights like you’ve come to expect from other fighters. The title track is simply brilliant and fits with the action packed feeling of Guilty Gear Strive brilliantly. The only disappointment with the music is Holy Orders (one of Guilty Gears most iconic tracks) is relegated to an unlock in fishing and I suppose it’s about time we got to the worst aspect of Guilty Gear Strive.
Everyone hates the lobbies of Guilty Gear Strive and I have to admit, I do to. The 2D sprite handles like arse and it’s a faff to navigate the options. There is more to the online than the terrible lobbies thought; When you first connect online to fight you first fight the Ai a few times to get an idea of where you should start in Ranked and this is a great way of having experienced players skip some grind. There are also floors which act as skill levels and you can access any floors above your skill (except the top that’s gated by players of that level) What this means is you’re always striving to do better and climb the tower. It’s a great system that I’m really enjoying, the problem is each floor is a janky mess where you control a 2D avatar and try to hop around to find a fight. You can skip this with a menu button but even if you’re placed with someone to start a fight the connection isn’t guaranteed. Your avatar can be heavily customised by unlockables you pull from lootcrates by ‘fishing’ where you just tap a button and then get 10 random items. There are also other items hidden in the fishing mechanic and although it only uses in-game currency, when you get a duplicate item you get a token and 10 tokens unlocks a new item. Not a special one, just ‘an item’ and it’s just unnecessarily grindy.
Regardless of the lobbies, on PS4 Guilty Gear Strive has one massive flaw that really needs patching out. When you first start the game it has to connect to the server. Expect to see that “Communicating with server” screen a lot. It’s there every time you update anything. You change between single player and network? Communicating with server. You want to play the game even if it’s a single player mode? Communicating with server. It’s not particularly quick either and it’s the same for the lobbies. Changing between the floors or anything online will require a pause before getting back to the action. It’s incredibly frustrating because the actual experience of playing Guilty Gear Strive online is the best netcode of any game at the time of writing. I can’t stress this enough. The rollback netcode in Guilty Gear Strive is simply staggering. You can play anyone and even on a spaghetti connection it feels fine. If Arc System Works uses this going forward they’ve got the future of online fighting in their hands.
This leaves me with a hell of a conundrum to sum up Guilty Gear Strive. On the one hand this smelly game has action that makes your heart beat in your throat and netcode that is out of this world but on the other hand the lobbies are just not fit for purpose and the communicating to server issues are incredibly frustrating (even now with multiple updates after launch) It’s quite telling how lobbies for Guilty Gear Strive have plenty of players but despite the netcode being inferior Dragonball FighterZ is still crammed with more players. Guilty Gear Strive just doesn’t do enough to push itself out in front of the Street Fighters or Mortal Kombats that everyone knows. It really needed a crossover or guest to bring more people to the fold and despite being incredible to play Guilty Gear Strive is still a hard sell to non-fighting game lovers. It’s the best fighting game out at the moment but your mileage is going to vary depending on how much fun the genre is to you.
8/10 – Guilty of Striving to be the best Gear