Guilty Gear is back and feels like it has gone back to its roots in a lot of ways. Don’t take that the wrong way though, it is absolutely on form and perhaps the best it’s been in along time. The changes are far from BULLS*** BLAZING.
The story of Strive surprised me in many ways, I was enthralled from beginning to end. It is razer sharp and focused, as this is the end of the current GG story. Not a lot of our beloved characters are in it, but the ones that are generally used extremely well (with a few exeptions), with Sol and Jack-O Being stand outs, but even the US president gets a lot of time and was really well written. It is also full of quite a few twists, the trailers did not actually tell us who the main villain is, and the revelations of that man are something I never expected.
At just over 4 hours long, there was a lot of absurd work put into it, narratively and visually. The animations are sublime, and the story truly feels like a perfect ending. Once I hit the credits, I took in how unexpectedly awesome the story was, and how clean the ending felt. You can feel love from Daisuke in this, and I do not think fans could have asked for much more. I also particularly liked getting to know Giovanna in the little time she had, I feel we really got a good understanding of who she is as a character, she is now one of my favourites.
It is no surprise that Visually GG is yet again top tier and unrivalled. ArcSys somehow keep on manging to level up in every release with their unique visuals, there are clear concession in shadow rendering in the story mode, but they are very minor. The lighting is fantastic, the shading is sublime, and the animations are absolutely fantastic. I also immensely appreciate the changes in the art style to proportions and especially eyes, they are absolutely welcome and perfect the style born in XRD. The new character designs are also fantastic, I-no in particular has never looked better. This is a visual masterclass. It is also native 4K on PS5, and this style just scales so incredibly well with resolution.
Another area ArcSys have always excelled in is sound, and this is another case of them levelling up. Majority of the character theme are absolutely fantastic, and the ones that are not are still very good. The sounds on the moves are weighty and feel exactly right, everything just gels together incredibly well. The environmental sounds and the sound effects, the voice overs the music everything is just sublime. I have to say that Sol’s theme in particular makes is last theme look like child’s play.
The shift in genre with Giovanna is also perfectly played off, it’s nothing like anything we’ve had in GG before and it works absurdly well. The only complaint I have is I have a weird popping static sound when any character does a move no matter what sound system or output I use, this was not present in the BETA. I do however seem to be the only one with the issue.
This will as any FG does, be a case of extreme debate, but I have to say the accessibility has not harmed the game that much, in fact a lot of the changes are for the better. The game is now very neutral and is slower, but it is also very defence heavy. In fact, the defence side of the game is the toughest part, instant blocks have been reduced to 2 frames (from 3 in the beta), and there is a lot of focus on the defensive options in the game. Sure, some things have been dialled back, but there are still a lot of options on the table.
The game is significantly less combo heavy than previous GGs and much more neutral, but flashy combos are still possible, and I have seen some nuts stuff with KY in particular. The changes to the walls will be a hot topic, on one hand it takes away the fun of getting an enemy in the corner, but on the opposite side, no longer are you getting pounded with little options of escape, the wall breaks ensure that. RISC Meter and Burst are still present, but what I really like is the change to RC. You see, a lot of people liked the old system, and the biggest problem GG had was the skill wall was extremely high and only veterans where at that level. The RCs being full screen slowdown was damn stupid in XRD and was a huge flaw in the game in my opinion.
I will get hate for saying this, as people already hated the simplification of RC in XRD compared to previous entries. The reality of that system was however, people would just maintain their distance, wait to get in a cheesy hit then full RC get in and go ham with the absurd combos they labbed for hours.
Sure, that is a big part of a lot of fighting games (including GG) and taking that away lowers the execution barrier and “simplifies” the game, but that’s thinking of the perspective of being the one giving the beat down, if you were not a veteran, you were always on the receiving end, and it was not fun. In fact, it was infuriating. The table has been reset with Strive, and gives newbies a fighting chance, especially if they get the fundamentals down.
The new RC system has a very small AOE, the enemy has to be close to give you that frame advantage, no more cheesy full screen nonsense. This system is so much better for the flow of the game and makes using RCs more skilful than before in my opinion. There is also brilliant RC Cancel options, and RC Dash options, which give the opportunity for some nutty combos if you take time to learn your character and perfect movement. You must really think about them now though and using them effectively in the heat of a match is no easy feat, and as time goes on, I expect to see some nutty things.
You see things on the surface may seem much more simplified, and while they are simplified, there is still a lot of depth and options in here. What Arc has done is reset the table, so the veteran advantage is much lower, and the base they have built can slowly be added on. I can see what Arc is doing here, Strive is going to be a project for them. The table has been reset, but options are still on the table and the skill gap is still quite big, it is simply different to XRD, there is fewer systems but using them all perfectly will take a lot of time and effort and more systems will definitely be added over time.
The biggest issue the game has if anything, is there are a lot of fan favourites missing from the roster, and I expect a lot of people will not be happy with it and will struggle to find a character that feels right for them, or just not buy the game at all, until their favourite is added. This roster will naturally be added to over time, but some veterans will be looking for characters that simply are not here mechanically or physically.
This is a mixed bag for me, there is the horrible new lobby system which is just a regression in every way imaginable. They should have just refined what DBF and XRD had, instead Arc was obsessed with making something more casual for newbies but made a system that is not friendly to newbies or anyone really. Why they stuck with this system after all the hate is beyond me, and how they ever thought this was a good idea is beyond my comprehension. There’s also player match, and you can search for matches in training.
Single player wise, you have training, Mission mode, tutorial, arcade, and survival. Arcade mode is somewhat lacking, as there are no unique character cutscenes in strive, just a couple of lines of text. Mission mode is also a bit lacking in some regards, there are no combo missions to learn bread and butter combos for your character which is a bit jarring.
Also moving from mission to mission often requires a re-load. On PS5 This is fine as it loads very quick, but still jarring, and I would have preferred to see a smoother transition with a reload not required. I also imagine on PS4 with the slower loading this will be more frustrating. Mission mode still does an incredibly good job at teaching the game and dealing with each char, far better than any other FG, it is however lacking compared to XRD.
As many others have said the netcode is borderline flawless, this is the best netcode I think I have seen in an FG personally, there may be better, but this is top tier. Yes, it is rollback, however rollback can suck if not implemented well, something ArcSys has avoided entirely. They have utilized rollback incredibly well, and hopefully is a sign to come for their other FGs.
Even playing with other regions is nowhere near as frustrating as it is in pretty much every other modern FG. This is the key to what will make Strive a success, what kills an FG is bad netcode, no matter how good a FG is if the netcode is bad, the game will die. Sure, there will be the diehards that play in tournaments and local arcades but that is a small population of high skilled players, which is not sustainable in the long run. Samurai Showdown was a perfect example of this.
The netcode in Strive should ensure a solid playerbase maintained and thus Strive should be a much better financial success for Arcsys in the long run, as more people will stay and buy the DLCs. The only real complaint is the lack of crossplay, given this is UE and UE supply the tools to achieve this, while I appreciate work still needs to be done by devs, this seems like a glaring omission.
Guilty Gear -Strive- is a success in my book overall. It tells the end of a story for veterans very well, it ushers in a new era of standards for netcode in modern FGs, it has reset the skill bar while still maintaining enough depth thus making it enticing to newcomers and old alike. All wrapped in an incredibly beautiful package, its soundtrack and visuals will turn heads and draw people in, but it’s netcode and gameplay will keep them.
While I still have some reservations about some of the changes (I miss the old gatling system), I think Daisuke and ArcSys have achieved something commendable here. They were never going to get this more accessible title to appeal and keep all veterans (at least not with its first iteration), but they have strike about as much of a perfect balance as I think you can get with making a title like GG accessible and enticing to all. I also look forward to the new PS5 mode with tag mechanics that are due to be added. I recommend everyone gives this game a try and I take my hat off to Daisuke-san.