Guilty Gear -Strive- Review – Striving in Heaven or Hell

    Title: Guilty Gear -Strive-
    Developer: Arc System Works
    Release Date: June 11, 2021
    Reviewed On: PS5
    Publisher: Arc System Works
    Genre: Fighting

When you think about how the series first began, the original 1998 Guilty Gear was just one of several obscure 2D fighting games sandwiched between Capcom and SNK fighters. In 2021 the tides have most certainly shifted, as the name Guilty Gear is no longer an obscure niche, and the long-awaited arrival of Guilty Gear -Strive- no doubt marks the premier fighting game release for the next gaming generation.

After much pre-launch testing and player feedback, Guilty Gear -Strive- launches in the best state it could have. It goes without saying the best years of the game are ahead of it, what with the inevitable patches, updates, and of course, new seasonal characters, but it certainly helps that from day one -Strive- feels like the total fighting game package. Whether it is the single-player content, the robust online multiplayer, the menu presentation, and a whole range of other extras, this feels complete and leaves very little else to be desired until we’re graced with more DLC.

Right from the outset, Guilty Gear -Strive- is a sensory overload as the presentation is the absolute cutting edge of 2.5D graphics. If Guilty Gear Xrd established the foundation for the visual style, then –Strive- brings it to near perfection. The 3D character models meld seamlessly to resemble hand-drawn animation, only enhanced by the PS5 hardware. When the detailed character models enter the heat of battle, with all the particle effects and dynamic lighting intact, the graphical presentation becomes a joy to behold.

What ultimately helps bring the impressive graphics engine to life is the signature heavy metal-inspired Guilty Gear artwork. Classic characters return with a stylistic makeover, while new additions live up to the iconic style and themes.

The rocking soundtrack enhances this, and while -Strive- maintains the tradition of hard rock and metal, this time, virtually every background theme has been given a vocal touch, rather than solely being instrumental. The vocal trackwork sounds great, and it never dominates the instrumental flair of the music. The mix of vocals and intense dueling guitar instrumentals allow for a wider representation of rock subgenres.

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Right from the outset, Guilty Gear -Strive- is a sensory overload as the presentation is the absolute cutting edge of 2.5D graphics.

Guilty Gear -Strive- is a rebuild of the core Guilty Gear gameplay from the ground up. That’s not to say the fighting system is an unrecognizable departure, far from it, instead everything has been retooled after years of experience and player feedback. There are a fair few mechanical adjustments here. Fortunately, the comprehensive training and mission mode of -Strive- does an excellent job of walking players through the fundamentals, everything from dashing to the various types of Roman cancels.

Even before diving into the systems and mechanics, it’s immediately clear in the first few fights how Guilty Gear -Strive- is a hard-hitting affair, with the damage index being noticeably higher than what fans are used to. It’s almost similar to how things used to be in Guilty Gear X in 2000 (21 years!). The fighting and movement certainly feel much heavier, but in a way, this is a welcome change of pace for the gameplay.

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By no means does this mean that the flow of combat has slowed down, because make no mistake, -Strive- is faster and more visceral than any of its current contemporaries. Players can still look forward to blistering fast fighting with immense combination attacks. At the same time, the heavier damage allows for more back and forth, making fights interesting even when there is a skill gap between competing players.

If you want to talk about stand-out characters, look no further than the new badass, Nagoriyuki. Fans of the BlazBlue series will immediately notice the similarities to Hakumen, but Nagoriyuki is a whole other level of tank rampage. If his heavy-duty strikes weren’t devastating enough, the dude has a separate blood rage meter (almost a throwback to Samurai Shodown) in addition to the overdrive, which allows him to break off his mask and become even stronger. This vampire samurai is as scary as he sounds and just such a fun character to use.

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The rest of the roster shines through just as much, with returning fan-favorites like Sol Badguy, I-No, and May, as well as familiar faces from Guilty Gear Xrd. Each of the fighting styles presented here is imaginative and zany, and yet they immediately click from a gameplay standpoint, as there is something here to suit all playstyles.

The roster has you covered whether you are looking for an all-rounder, a ranged expert, a tank, or maybe you just really like May. The ever bizarre Faust is here too, and one of his overdrives has him running over his opponent’s foot with a… wheelchair? I guess that would still hurt a seasoned warrior?

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If you want to talk about stand-out characters, look no further than the new badass, Nagoriyuki.

The one radical thing Guilty Gear -Strive- does is feature multi-layered levels, and in an almost Dead or Alive fashion, opponents can be sent flying into a new section of the same stage. This involves a wall break combo, and with enough strong hits, players can break through the wall and send their opponent into a new area. This feature certainly had a polarizing reception, but thankfully it isn’t as frequent or intrusive as one would think. It adds a neat little visual touch while also helping the flow of action by allowing struggling players to shift the tide.

Guilty Gear -Strive features a pretty fun arcade mode with unique paths for each of the characters, along with plenty of story banter in terms of single-player content. Many of the paths end up in fun 2 on 1 battle scenarios (think dramatic battle from Street Fighter Alpha 3).

There is also a separate story mode, and this functions differently than anything players have seen from this developer. Here the story mode is a full-on motion video built using the in-game graphics engine, and players simply watch it unfold with no gameplay segments whatsoever.

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Surprisingly, this works out quite well, especially when the production quality almost feels like a CGI anime. It’s certainly a great showcase for the graphics engine, and the actual story delivery is engaging thanks to expertly acted dialogue, a range of set pieces, and awesome cinematography. The lip-syncing isn’t always on point, but overall it looks like -Strive- may have created a fun and creative way for players to digest the story of fighting games.

There is a ton of history and backstory to Guilty Gear, and while the story mode works well enough as a self-contained arc, players can access the entire history of the lore from the main menu. Here they can find detailed glossaries and even a family tree of sorts which illustrates the interconnections between the characters.

It’s great to have the entirety of the history preserved for those interested. Speaking of history, the game features extensive galleries where players can view and enjoy the artwork and soundtrack from the entire franchise and use the music during gameplay. -Strive- certainly has both newcomers and longtime fans covered.

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Guilty Gear -Strive- is the premier fighting game for the next generation of gaming.

Oddly enough, unlocking content in these galleries generally involves spending in-game currency on a fishing mini-game, where players can create their own 8-bit style avatar. Importantly, this avatar is the one that ventures into the game’s extensive online multiplayer mode, and much like the positive reports from the pre-release beta, the online multiplayer functions extremely well even at launch, with all the ranking and community features intact.

Multiplayer lobbies are organized into regional towers. Once the game gets a feel of your skill, you’re placed in the corresponding tower to match up against players of similar skill. Everything is organized efficiently, and there’s a bit of fun interacting with other players as an 8-bit character, but above everything else, the netcode is more than up to the task. Guilty Gear -Strive- utilizes the state-of-the-art rollback netcode, and the results are worth getting excited for. Naturally, it’s best to stick to your region as much as possible, but for the most part, matches between long-distance players go without a hitch.

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Guilty Gear -Strive- is the premier fighting game for the next generation of gaming. At launch, the experience feels complete with an in-depth single-player, robust multiplayer, and plenty of great extras. It has, without a doubt, the best 2.5D graphics featuring unreal fluidity in its animation. The gameplay is superbly refined and engaging, featuring a roster of imaginative characters with uniquely contrasting fighting styles. What once was an obscure fighting game has now become a genre leader, like a small-town rock band selling out stadiums.

A review copy of the title was provided by the publisher for review purposes

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Jahanzeb Khan

Old SEGA games will go up in value... you'll see!