I’ll admit it, Guilty Gear Strive is my first real venture into the popular fighting game franchise. I’ve dabbled with previous entries in the past, but I’ve never got stuck into its fast-paced action for the long term… I’ve just had one or two fights. With the stunning visuals and positive reception from the beta though, I simply HAD to play through Guilty Gear Strive. I’m glad I did too, with it standing out as an experience that’s both fun to play and amazing to look at.
Check out a gallery of screenshots down below:
One thing I need to get out of the way at the start of this review is just how STUNNING Guilty Gear Strive looks. It is without a shadow of a doubt the best-looking fighting game that I’ve ever played, with its anime-stylised 3D character models (that actually look like 2D sprites) looking perfect against the startling background designs. It has got some fluid character animations and glitzy visual effects that help emphasise the power behind the special attacks too, with everything about the game’s presentation simply oozing with vibrant style. The screenshots don’t do it any justice… you’ve got to see the game in action if you want to appreciate just how eye-popping it is.
Oh, and there’s an absolute KILLER soundtrack, though what else would you expect from the Guilty Gear series?
“It is without a shadow of a doubt the best-looking fighting game that I’ve ever played.”
Ok, now I’ve covered how beautiful the game is, let’s talk about the story. Much like other entries in the series, Guilty Gear Strive‘s Story Mode serves up… well… a story. It plays out much like an anime, but it all takes place in-engine and looks fantastic. However, you won’t get involved in any of the action, with no combat situations for the player to face off against rivals. Instead, you just see the story unfold and that’s it.
Whilst this has been typical of the series in the past, I couldn’t help but to see it as a little bit of a missed opportunity. Fighting games have served up some fantastic Story Modes over the years (just look at the Mortal Kombat and Injustice franchises for example) and I think that implementing battling into the storytelling would have made it more involving for the player. Of course, it might not allow the developer to tell the story exactly how they want to, but it would have been nice to get to do something in-between sequences – especially since the Story Mode itself is pretty meaty.
It’s worth noting that the plot might be hard to follow for newbies too. I tried to do some reading up to acquaint myself with the characters and what was going on, but yeah, I got pretty lost fast. It’s definitely for die-hard fans of the series who have been following the story and its characters for some time, so those who are dropping into the series for the first time with Guilty Gear Strive might be better off sticking with the fighting. Fortunately, that’s an area where the game really shines.
“I think that implementing battling into the storytelling would have made it more involving for the player.”
A lot ofGuilty Gear Strive’s mechanics will feel familiar to anyone who has played a fighting game before. You’ve got your standard array of punches and kicks that can be each performed with simple button presses, whilst the two slash attacks that utilise each character’s weapon just take a button press too. You can mash together some decent combos using these, with quick-paced attacks coming out with ease for even newbies to the genre.
More experienced players will want to utilise each character’s special moves, which require you to move the control stick in varied directions whilst hitting some of the attack buttons. See your Tension gauge fill up? That’ll allow you to perform more powerful special moves, with its use a good way to deal out some heavy damage when in a sticky situation. Again, nothing is too complicated here, though you’ll need a bit of genre know-how (or at least check the move list) in order to pull off the more complex manoeuvres.
“A lot of Guilty Gear Strive’s mechanics will feel familiar to anyone who has played a fighting game before.”
Guilty Gear Strive also brings with it some unique actions that players will want to learn if they hope to get REALLY get good at the game. Take the Roman Cancel for example, which allows players to cancel their attack mid-motion and unleash a shockwave on their foe to slow them down. Given the quick pace of the action in-game, this can give players an advantage when they want to pull off a more powerful combo in order to catch a foe off-guard. Then you have the Psych Burst, which allows players to hit a burst of energy on a foe to knock them back, leaving them vulnerable to attack or potentially helping players break what might have been a battle-ending combo. Knowing how and when to use these manoeuvres can be game-changing, with each allowing the player to change the tide of the battle in their favour.
There’s a real learning curve to be found in Guilty Gear Strive, though it does feel newbie-friendly at the same time. A lot of attacks deal out a high amount of damage, so it can be pretty easy to pull off some victories against the AI even when you’re learning the ins-and-outs of combat. There’s also a deep training system to be found in the Dojo that doesn’t only cover the basics, but challenges players to complete missions based around each character’s move set. It’s certainly somewhere players will want to spend some time in if they hope to, uh-hum, ‘git gud’ at the game.
“There’s a real learning curve to be found in Guilty Gear Strive, though it does feel newbie-friendly at the same time.”
It feels really good to play though, whilst the fifteen fighters that are available each bring something fresh to the table. As a Guilty Gear newbie, I don’t know TOO many of the characters, though familiar faces like Sol Badguy, Chipp Zanuff, Millia Rage, and May stood out as recognisable characters. Some are easier to use than others, but learning their move sets and seeing some of the spectacular abilities they have in their repertoire is certainly satisfying. I mean, May even has a dolphin help her in combat… how cool is that?
It comes together to make for a fighting experience that is, and excuse the cliché, ‘easy to play but difficult to master’. It makes for a really good time though and I’ve already hit the double-digits with my hours spent fighting. Whether it’s when playing through Arcade Mode with each fighter (which neatly alternates its progression branch based upon whether you win or lose), Versus Mode in on- off battles, or Survival Mode against an onslaught of foes, there’s a lot of fun to be had. I do wish that some of these modes had a bit more meat to their bones, but it should have just about enough to keep those who prefer single player happy.
“Some characters are easier to use than others, but learning their move sets and seeing some of the spectacular abilities they have in their repertoire is certainly satisfying.”
Of course, a fighting game’s long-term appeal ultimately comes down to its competitive play, so how does Guilty Gear Strive hold up online? Well, I’m happy to report that I’ve run into no real issues, with battles playing out with pretty much no problems at all. Whilst I’ve had a handful of fights that suffered from some lag, they were few and far between and it has otherwise been a pretty smooth experience. Don’t get me wrong, my online battling has taught me that I’m not very good at the game, but it’s cool to see some of the tricks others use and then bettering myself to strive forward.
The online lobbies with the customisable avatars, though? I actually kinda like them. Yeah, it does unnecessarily complicate the process of finding a fight and facing off against other players, but there’s something so quirky and charming about it that I didn’t mind. Whether that charm will last in the long term is another thing altogether, but it’s not as bad as others might say.
Guilty Gear Strive looks absolutely stunning and feels great to play, with the slick ‘easy to learn, difficult to master’ combat perfect for both newbies and series veterans. The only thing that really lets the game down is a lack of meat on its bones as far as single player modes are concerned, with the Arcade Mode lacking depth and the Story Mode offering no gameplay at all.
Those who are looking forward to competitive play will be happy to see that the netcode is solid throughout though, whilst the online lobbies can actually be pretty charming – even if the cutesy avatars won’t be for everyone. Overall, it’s just a really impressive fighting package and one that I’m looking forward to coming back to for more brutal beatdowns in the future.
Developer: Arc System Works
Publisher: Arc System Works, Bandai Namco
Platform(s): PlayStation 5 (Reviewed), PlayStation 4, PC
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