It’s hard to believe that the Guilty Gear series is over 20 years old at this point. A franchise from a relatively unknown developer that once turned the fighting genre on its head, Arc System Works has become one of the biggest names in fighting games thanks to the success of this series. We wouldn’t have classics such as BlazBlue and Dragon Ball FighterZ had Guilty Gear not hit the scene in 1998.
Surprisingly, Arc System Works has managed to keep turning heads with each release from the series. While the 40,000 different variants of Guilty Gear XX might be a lot, each installment in the main series has tried something unique from its character selection, visual style, hard-rocking soundtrack, or extremely technical gameplay. One look at Guilty Gear Xrd -Sign- will have you questioning whether or not you’re looking at 2D or 3D in action.
Due to all of the extra mechanics and depth added over the years, Guilty Gear can be practically unapproachable for newcomers. That’s what likely prompted the development of Guilty Gear -Strive-, a title you could almost call a "back to basics" iteration from Arc. It certainly has made the series approachable, but does it come at the cost of the mechanical execution fans have come to expect? What about the amount of content on offer? Let’s find out!
To get things out of the way up front, the story mode in Guilty Gear -Strive- is basically a four-and-a-half-hour-long movie. Taking a page out of Xrd’s playbook, you won’t be participating in any battles while the story plays out. Over the course of nine chapters and countless amounts of pre-rendered cutscenes, -Strive- weaves a tale of finding yourself in this unpredictable world and fighting for what you truly believe in. It’s not original stuff by any means, but a pretty decent way of fleshing out the roster of fighters.
The general writing is good, though can often lean heavy into exposition. The events of this game also pick up after Revelator 2, so those with no knowledge of Guilty Gear’s convoluted plot will be completely lost. Arc System Works has provided all of the cutscenes on its YouTube channel, but there isn’t any kind of recap in-game to catch you up. A glossary does give you background information on certain events that are important to the overall story, at least.
So where does that leave solo players? Those expecting some extensive single-player content will likely take this next bit to heart: -Strive- is pretty lacking with regards to keeping yourself occupied. There is an arcade ladder (that has different outcomes in certain fights should you win or lose), survival mode, training, and a rather solid tutorial, but there isn’t much here to call a campaign. The trials-esque "Mission Mode" will teach you combo strings and certain Guilty Gear-specific techniques, but that won’t even last more than an hour or two if you have any experience with fighting games. It’s kind of barren on this front.
That also extends to the roster. While everyone is unique and well worth digging into, there are only 15 characters to select at launch. To Strive’s credit, this is actually in line with previous games, but it does make the initial $60 price a bit hard to swallow considering DLC has already been announced. A few mainstays are absent due to story reasons, but what’s on offer provides a varied roster that has checks and balances for each type of playstyle. It’s hard to say anyone is bad, even, leading me to believe tier lists will be mostly even once tournament play starts happening.
What’s more curious is that certain characters are present on the roster despite having no presence within the story. Faust, for example, isn’t featured in any capacity and I question why he’s included. It’s great that Arc System Works didn’t limit the roster to simply relevant characters, but then it makes me question why someone like Jam or Dizzy isn’t selectable. For that matter, the main antagonist of the story mode isn’t a character despite having a pretty fleshed-out set of skills. Obviously, DLC is going to fix these issues, but it still hurts the overall launch version.
Thankfully, things get better from here. The visual design, for instance, is on another level. Over the course of three different games, Arc System Works has seemingly perfected its ability to create a hand-drawn look with 3D models. -Strive- looks absolutely breathtaking in motion, especially when playing at 4K resolution. The colors pop, animations have stilted movement in the vein of anime, and things just look gorgeous on screen. You might be disappointed in the amount of content here, but your jaw will likely be on the floor when watching matches play out.
Just as amazing as the visuals, the netcode for Guilty Gear -Strive- is the thing of legends. The review period for the game didn’t give me extensive time with it, but I did play both of the previous betas and the few matches I had were comparable to that. With a world-class implementation of rollback netcode, -Strive- is the benchmark against which other fighting games will be measured in the future.
It’s hard to explain everything without getting too technical, but rollback netcode works by making predictions based on your current movements. Should there be a lag spike in your internet connection, the game will seamlessly rollback to a previous state and both players will be completely unaware. It helps smooth out connections across longer distances, allowing users from across the globe to have near flawless battles with anyone anywhere.
Even after just one match, you’ll understand why members of the fighting game community are screaming for developers to implement rollback in newer games. Delay-based netcode can work in certain circumstances (the recent release of Virtua Fighter 5 Ultimate Showdown has surprisingly decent delay-based netcode), but there’s really no going back once you’ve experienced Guilty Gear -Strive- online.
Even with its brilliant online infrastructure, not everything is perfect with Strive’s online experience. The controversial lobbies from both betas are still intact and remain as strange as ever. A slight tweak of providing dedicated cabinets for players to meet at should help alleviate some of the troubles players faced, but it definitely does not beat a traditional lobby system. Just a simple screen to select a specific player would improve things immensely, but that could eventually come in the future.
As far as the gameplay goes, I actually really like the concessions Arc System Works has made here. You’re hardly going to find a mindless and dumbed-down game, but things like Roman Cancels and Dust attacks work much better now. With movesets also not relying on overly complicated movements to pull off specials, it does allow those with less experience to jump right into the fray. Characters lack some of their previous specials but do retain all of their personality with the moves on offer.
I have to wonder if different moves will be added back in the future via updates. It wouldn’t be the first time Arc System Works has done so. We already know modes like Tag-Battle are coming, but I think it would be neat to get players used to a relatively basic style before reintroducing the more complex techniques. That’s all speculation, though, and nothing something I can currently rate.
In fact, that sentiment is something I feel applies to -Strive- in almost every regard. Its future seems bright and Arc System Works will likely continue to improve things with updates, but that doesn’t really help those that want to play right now. For $60, I can’t say that -Strive- is the best deal around. You can buy the previous Guilty Gear for cheaper with more characters and content, though you’ll have a much worse time online.
Conversely, other fighting games on the market also offer far more for less money. I understand that brand new games go for higher prices, but to get 20 characters, you’re looking at spending $90 today. That we don’t even know which five characters are coming can mean that $90 gets wasted as no one you want is added. That’s not even bringing up how Arc System Works has a history of doing numerous versions of each Guilty Gear, potentially meaning -Strive- will get left behind in a year or two.
I must also mention that on the PC version, I experienced some bizarre issues every now and then. For one, changing resolutions requires you to cycle through each available one before you get to yours. To access 4K, you’ll also need to set the game to 1440p, exit out, then reboot it and continue up the list. As well as that, dealing counter hits during matches will occasionally drop the framerate to 10 fps and slow everything down. I did make this known to Arc System Works, so I would expect an update is in the works to address this issue.
Those little issues aside, what is currently available is solid and very enjoyable, and Arc System Works does always deliver with its DLC. Whether or not potential means more to you than reality is something you’ll have to decide. In my eyes, I like Guilty Gear -Strive-, but wish it could be more. I do feel those that know nothing of the series would be served well here, but veteran fans might be a bit disappointed with certain decisions Arc System Works has made.
On the flip side, the online mode in Guilty Gear -Strive- 100% lives up to the hype. The worst thing that happens to most fighters is that players jump off the game due to shoddy netcode. -Strive- does not have that problem at all and will likely continue to attract newcomers because of how smoothly everything feels. It’s a shame there isn’t cross-play between the PC and PlayStation versions, but both platforms are bound to find a dedicated niche that will be playing this for years to come.
TechRaptor reviewed Guilty Gear -Strive- on PC using a copy provided by the developers. The game is also available on PlayStation 4 and PlayStation 5.
- Amazing Netcode
- Jawdropping Visuals
- Varied Roster
- Lack of Single-Player Content
- Non-Interactive Story
- Some PC Port Related Issues