Guilty Gear Strive is the most fun I’ve had with a fighting game in quite some time. Arc System Works’ latest high-speed, anime-inspired, 1-on-1 2D fighting game is easily one of the best on the market. It is only hampered by its agonizingly painful lobby system.
In terms of sheer mechanical depth, Strive has either consolidated or peeled away many of its predecessors’ systems. Your “normals” (basic attacks) don’t chain like they used to; there’s no Blitz Shield or Force Breaks or Slash-backs like in previous titles. Instant blocking no longer changes frame data. Air techs and dead angles are gone, and throws both have a whiff animation and start-up in two frames instead of one.
That’s a lot of jargon that won’t mean a lot to people who are new to the genre. Basically, the path to competence is a lot shorter. There are fewer mechanics to understand, so once you climb over the ones that are here, you can focus on improving your decision-making and execution.
Guilty Gear Strive feels like Xrd and Accent Core’s close cousin. The game is obviously Guilty Gear; its over-the-top aesthetic and obnoxious amounts of text on screen make that excruciatingly clear. If you enjoyed the demanding execution and knowledge checks of previous Guilty Gear entries, you might be disappointed by how much has been peeled back. What is here, however, is an accessible fighting game that still emphasizes creativity and quick, split-second decisions through its expanded Roman Cancel system.
Roman Cancels have been a keynote feature of Guilty Gear games for more than two decades at this point—you spend half of your super meter in exchange for the ability to stop the animation of anything you’re doing. In the Xrd series this was accompanied by a screen freeze, and Strives’ has a hitbox that can hit the opponent and the ability to reposition yourself while your foe is stuck in time.
That being said, just because Guilty Gear Strive is more accessible than predecessors doesn’t mean that new players will suddenly be able to compete with veterans. If anything, the changes to the Guilty Gear formula help people who already speak the language of fighting games get into a series that was notorious for having a lot of mechanics. Understanding situations is easier because the options are all very visual—you’ll know what moves have advantage because the game will, quite literally, scream “counter” at you every time you get blown up for mashing.
So playing the game is good, and it’s fun, and it runs on Rollback Netcode, so you’ll actually be able to play with people who don’t live down the street. That’s good and nice—but if you’re not looking to play other people, there isn’t much here for you. There’s an arcade mode and a four-hour-long story mode that is basically just a CG anime. It’s fun and it’s dumb, but nothing really world-shaking. If you’re interested in the series’ lore, you’re better off diving into Wiki pages and Youtube videos than reading all of the charts and documents in-game.
Really, Guilty Gear Strive’s cracks are with its paltry alternative modes and mind-boggling lobby system. Once you’ve dug your teeth into the story and mission modes, there’s nothing else to do but play matches. And in order to play those matches, you need to go online.
To get into matchmaking, you need to go into this lobby full of Habbo characters. In order to start a game, you need to walk over to one of the setups, stand there, and hope that someone walks over to you. This is about three steps too many—other games would just have you go into a ranked or casual queue, but Guilty Gear makes you platform to your match for some reason (Quick Match just has you skip the platforming part). Not to mention once you actually find a match, you can see your opponent’s character but not their connection, meaning that you can dodge match-ups you don’t like on the ranked ladder but not people with bad internet. While the net-code is insanely good, the actual matchmaking system isn’t; I’ve probably spent more time wrestling the game’s lobbies than actually playing matches.
But when you get to play, the game is insanely good. I hate playing against every character on the cast—even the mirror match—and that’s a beautiful thing.
[A review code was provided by the publisher for the purposes of this review.]