Guilty Gear -Strive-

Platform(s): PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5
Genre: Fighting
Publisher: Bandai Namco Games
Developer: Arc System Works
Release Date: Early 2021

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PS4 Preview - 'Guilty Gear -Strive-'

by Cody Medellin on April 21, 2020 @ 12:00 a.m. PDT

Guilty Gear -Strive- is the latest entry in the fighting game franchise, and upholds the series’ reputation for groundbreaking hybrid 2D/3D cell-shaded graphics and intense, rewarding gameplay.

For many players, Arc System Works is a publisher and developer that ranks among some of the best in the fighting game genre. Whether it's original works, like the Blazblue series, anime adaptations like Dragon Ball FighterZ, or its work helping out smaller developers like with the Under Night series, any announcement of the company's involvement in a fighting game is met with a positive fan reception. Of course, all of this goodwill comes from its initial creation, Guilty Gear, which did a great job of showing that someone other than Capcom and SNK could do well with 2D fighting. In preparation for its latest entry, Guilty Gear Strive, Arc System Works has released a closed beta to test out the online system.

When you start the mode and get through all of the legal agreements, you'll be asked to create your online player. You'll create a simple sprite avatar with some of the expected options, like different glasses, hair styles, hats, and so forth. The system isn't very deep, but there is enough to create some interesting-looking avatars and a few doppelgangers of famous anime characters.

Finish that, and you're taken to a tutorial of the new lobby system, which has you waiting on one of eight different floors based on your ranking. You can punch above your weight if you wish, but you can never go below it to rack up easy wins. Either way, each floor is set up in a three-level room where you can chat with anyone, but you'll need to wield your weapon to indicate that you're ready to fight.

If you're coming from the trio of Guilty Gear Xrd titles, you'll notice a few major changes. The first has to do with character size; everyone appears a tad larger than before. Fighters like Faust and Potemkin take up a great deal of screen real estate, but the camera is zoomed in enough so normal-sized guys like Chipp Zanuff and Sol Badguy also take up a good deal of the screen. The game also incorporates some of the lessons the team learned from Dragon Ball FighterZ. The special moves are now peppered with more particle effects to make them more dazzling. There's also the mechanic where hitting enemies multiple times against a wall causes the wall to break, so the fight can continues in a different part of the environment. Aside from being flashy, it also acts as a reprieve from getting stuck in corners and taking a beating there. This is such a great gameplay mechanic that I hope other 2D fighting games will also adopt it.

In Strive, movement speed is slower compared to other fighting games, but hard slashes have a much wider range, so players can tag people almost halfway across the screen. There's some debate at the moment concerning damage output, since some characters can easily wipe out a good chunk of an opponent's health meter with a few combo hits. One thing that helps newcomers is the moves list, which shows you what each of the described moves is supposed to look like, so you won't need to guess whether you pulled it off correctly. Also, characters are labeled based on specialties, like whether they're for distance fighting or more well-balanced. There's also a rating to judge how easy a character is for newcomers to pick up and learn.

The overall presentation is mostly excellent. The heavy anime style is present, animations are fluid when fighting, and special scenes have that anime frame rate that isn't smooth. The amount of flash has been turned up greatly; combo numbers are displayed in big, stylish fonts, and counters get freeze frames and even larger text.

The music in the preview build tends to clash with itself. Some screens feature classical music or an epic movie score, but other screens play the series' signature rocking guitars or rock vocals. The shifts can be jarring, but we'll see how the audio is arranged in the final retail version.

The new lobby system still needs some work. You'll see crowds of people fighting, but you'll also see other avatars walking up and down invisible stairs or floating through floors. Brandishing your weapon and walking up to someone who is doing likewise should instigate a fight, but that doesn't always happen. Sometimes you'll get a message that you're being set up for a fight, and you're frozen in place before another message appears to notify you that the connection failed, and you'll have to wait a few more seconds before you can move again — only to get caught in another connection/failure loop. If you wanted to target someone specific to fight against, the 2D side view makes it impossible for you to do that. You'll wait for a while before someone initiates a fight with you. Compared to just about every other lobby system for every other fighting game in this console generation, the one in Strive looks the prettiest but functions the worst. If the problems persist in the final retail build, the lobby system will be the game's Achilles' heel.

The actual online performance can vary. After about an hour of maintenance, bouts wouldn't suffer from disconnects, but there were some dropped inputs and pauses to the action to compensate for network conditions. It didn't happen too often, and the beta was specifically made to identify such issues, but here's hoping that Arc System Works will get the online performance into tip-top shape when Guilty Gear Strive ships later this year.

Based on our time with Guilty Gear Strive during the closed beta, the fighting remains as solid as ever, and the game has enough flash to make every fight a visual spectacle. However, the poor online lobby functionality and spotty online performance do a disservice to the solid gameplay, so we're hoping that Arc System Works has a chance to tighten that up in the remaining months. We're looking forward to the game's full release later this year with cautious optimism.


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