Over the last three years Arc System Works has been working on overdrive when it comes to putting out new fighting games. After the stellar success that was Dragon Ball FighterZ and the releases of Blazblue: Cross Tag Battle and Granblue Fantasy Versus the developer has returned to one of their oldest series, Guilty Gear, to bring out Guilty Gear Strive as their fourth major fighting game in such a short time-span. With Guilty Gear Strive landing not only on a new console generation but also experimenting with a few adjustments and a new netcode, will this latest entry continue to show how overlooked this series has been in the past?
In an interesting fashion, unlike many other fighting games that attempt to work a story mode into their game, Arc System Works is continuing with their rather unique approach to storytelling. While there is an arcade mode, it is only set before the events of the main story and barely features any actual interaction between characters with only the first and last fights featuring any form of dialogue before leaving players with a “To be continued” message. This is because the actual story in Guilty Gear Strive is portrayed as a lengthy movie broken down into chapters.
Rather than attempting to force fights into the storyline that either wouldn’t make sense or result in strange breaks in pacing the entire story plays out through cinematics that generally last for twenty minutes a chapter. This means that players can simply enjoy the well-animated and quite interesting storyline at their own pace but it is also worth noting that, unless you’ve been keeping up with the series, and even if you have, many things may be a bit confusing from time to time.
Thankfully the game features an exhaustive amount of reference material accessible at any point during the story or at the main menu. These include a timeline of events from before modern-day to the current day in the series, outlining major world events and situations affecting the main characters, a glossary of nearly every proper noun, terminology, and more, and finally a relationship chart and biography that covers every character that has even appeared in past games allowing players to do their best to understand why certain characters hate/like one another, why certain characters have changed entirely since we’ve seen them last, or why certain battles are happening.
This may seem like it is a bit complicated and that is certainly the case but it also makes for some great storytelling, especially since the story of Guilty Gear Strive continues after the events of Guilty Gear Xrd REV 2. While we won’t go into detail about any of the specific story segments, it is worth noting that longtime fans of the franchise, especially those who are deep into the series’ lore, will not be disappointed here.
One element of the Guilty Gear franchise has always been how stylish and deep the fighting mechanics in the game are and that remains mostly true for Guilty Gear Strive though a few things have been changed to make the series a little bit easier to get into and this is primarily due to the way combos work now as well as the fact that the game does play a bit slower than some of the more previous entries. This isn’t a bad thing however as, if anything, it is easier now to perform high damaging combos as long as players know what they are doing but certain canceling techniques have been removed, making things a bit more balanced.
It is also worth noting that while it is possible to juggle an opponent against the edge of a stage it is no longer possible to constantly punish them in these areas. Instead Guilty Gear Strive has implemented a stage-break mechanic that sends the struck fighter flying and resets the stage while rewarding the attacker with a boosted tension gauge. Players can still make use of the Roman Cancel system to continue to pressure their opponents or recover from a missed attack at the cost of their own tension meter. Roman Cancels serve as a way to immediately cancel the animation of any attack and can be used both offensively and defensively as a result and there is even now a display showing how long players have to enter into a new combo during the cancel. This modified mechanic allows for players of many skill types to get a hang of things and they will need it as the fifteen characters available at the launch of the game all come with their own unique quirks and styles.
Of these characters thirteen of them have made their return from previous entries and while a number of them have been given modified combos or a few new attack strings alongside some removed moves for most fighters, players will likely know what to expect here outside of the missing instant kills that were in previous releases. The two new characters come in the form of the rushdown styled Giovanna, a female fighter accompanied by a spirit wolf that is one of the quicker higher damage dealing characters in the game with a number of fluid attacks that string together well, especially when combined with her aerial Overdrive while the other addition is a vampire samurai named Nagoriyuki that deals explosive damage with his blade but is incredibly slow moving as a result and damages himself at the cost of using many of his special skills.
As far as single player content goes, Guilty Gear Strive is on the simple side as it only features the aforementioned limited arcade mode, survival mode, a versus mode allowing for local fights or battles against adjustable AI, and a number of training modes making it rather anemic compared to past releases. This includes the standard tutorial to learn the mechanics of the game, free training, and a “Mission Mode” that allows players to complete specific tasks while still learning aspects of the game. These Missions range from being completely mind-numbing at times to being quite helpful as a number of them can teach players the best way to use certain characters’ supers and overdrives to their advantage.
Of course the bulk of the players’ time will be spent in the online multiplayer mode and there is some small bad news and some great news in this regard. To interact with the online multiplayer players will have to make use of a charming but aggravatingly annoying 8-bit lobby regardless of playing a ranked or player match. Thankfully once the matches actually begin that is where Arc System’s embracement of rollback netcode truly shines. Even during long play sessions online nearly every match has played out flawlessly with there being little to no lag and no dropped matches.
Visuals & Audio
Over the last few years Arc System Works has been mastering their craft of using 3D models to create gorgeous looking 2D styled fighters and nowhere is that more evident than here in Guilty Gear Strive. Every detail on each stage, all elements of the characters themselves, and even the story mode feature some great animations and intricate details making even the slightly slower combat still feel nearly as fast as it was before especially when two of the faster characters are duking it out.
The game features both the original Japanese voice track as well as a brand new English voice track that works for both standard gameplay and the entire story mode, making it a rather extensive dub though players can choose the voice track of their choice at the main menu. One thing that has always been a fact about Guilty Gear is that it will feature an amazing hard rocking soundtrack and once again Guilty Gear Strive truly shines in this regard. Everything from character themes filled with hard rock and vocals to standard rocking background themes are available and really stand out as they are almost all perfect sets to battle to.
Guilty Gear Strive comes in as strong as ever with a rocking soundtrack, the best visuals that the franchise has seen so far, and incredibly polished fighting mechanics that make it a bit easier to learn but still just as complex as before for longtime fans of the series. Sure, there are less single player modes, the online lobbies are a hassle, and the launch roster may not be the largest but the diversity of their playstyles mean that players will have fifteen different tools to play with while partaking in some of the best online netcode that is available for a fighting game to date.
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