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Guilty Gear -Strive-

Platform(s): PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X
Genre: Fighting
Developer: Arc System Works
Release Date: June 11, 2021


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PS5 Review - 'Guilty Gear Strive'

by Cody Medellin on June 28, 2021 @ 1:00 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.

Buy Guilty Gear Strive

If you're a fighting game fan, especially one who loves anime-inspired fighting games, there's a good chance that you've played a game from Arc System Works. Whether it's something deep like the Blazblue series or tied to a popular franchise like Dragon Ball FighterZ, the developers have always worked on something with a built-in fan base. Its flagship series, Guilty Gear, is the one that started the developer down this path, and almost every entry has been known for being loud, technically sound, and serving as a flag bearer for 2D fighting when everyone else moved toward 3D. After a few delays, Guilty Gear Strive is finally here, and it's quite good — provided you keep it patched.

The Guilty Gear series is difficult to get into nowadays. The 2D fighter uses five attack buttons: punch, kick, slash, a hard slash, and a dust (grab) button that eventually transforms into a way to start air combos. There's a tension meter to build up super moves, and those who have played some of the more recent games in the series will be familiar with a burst move that acts as both a defensive and offensive maneuver, since you can knock back enemies while inflicting a tiny bit of damage. Longtime series fans will be familiar with the combo system that heavily rewards those who can execute long combo chains with perfect timing. The various Roman Cancel systems ensure that you can jump in and out of combos if you can sacrifice some of the tension meter. This is also a fast fighter, as everyone can dash on the ground and in the air to the point where even the goliaths like Potemkin can easily close the gap to get in a hit.

Speaking of characters, the game sports the same eclectic cast with wildly different techniques. Sol Badguy may be the initial favorite due to his definitive hits and easy-to-learn moves, but Axl can frustrate opponents with his ridiculous range. Millia is great at controlling the area, while Faust's unpredictability makes him a favorite for those who love the goofiness of fighters like Voldo in SoulCalibur or Yoshimitsu in Tekken. While the cast is mostly the same, there are two new fighters. Giovanna is a brawler, preferring to go weaponless and get in close to pummel the enemy to death. She has a spirit dog by her side, but the canine acts as an extension to Giovanna's move set rather than a separate character/move. Nagoriyuki, on the other hand, is essentially a samurai version of Potemkin; he's a large guy who moves and attacks slowly, but his attacks hit much harder than everyone else's. Despite all that power, he feels better suited for advanced play rather than a character for a newcomer.

The only complaint one can levy against the roster is that there are initially only 15 fighters, with at least three missing from the Guilty Gear Xrd trilogy of titles. DLC will likely bolster the lineup by bringing back some older fighters, but it's a shame that some of the work done in the last series isn't here.

A new gameplay mechanic for the series is Wall Break, which may be familiar to 3D fighting game fans but relatively alien to the 2D space. First seen between matches in Dragon Ball FighterZ, the Wall Break stops players from staying in a corner during the majority of the match. For the one getting pummeled, the Wall Break allows both players to reset their positions when it occurs. For the one doing the punishing, the maneuver allows them to deliver one uncontested hit before that wall breaks, since the opponent stays pinned to the wall to receive it. It is a great mechanic, and it's a very nice touch that it adopts the Dead or Alive style of showing new portions of the level's background per wall break.

The addition of another mechanic adds to the idea that Strive is dense, but the game seems to alleviate that feeling for newcomers. For starters, damage has been increased for everyone's basic moves and combos, so new players can feel like they can make an impact against seasoned pros. The mission mode is a good tutorial for all of the game's mechanics, and it does a better job of explaining what each mechanic does and why you'd use it. It lacks the ability to learn character-specific combos, but you can watch videos of the moves and combos, so it's not a bad trade-off.

The effort to make this entry more welcoming to newcomers is always appreciated, but what initially drives newcomers to the game is the presentation, which is absolutely over the top. Graphically, the game has taken the style of Guilty Gear Xrd and greatly amplified it. The characters are a little larger than before, and the extra detail is significant enough that you can read the words printed on belt buckles, gauntlets and swords. The animations are smooth, but the intentionally dropped frames for some of the animations can seem odd unless you tell yourself that they're trying for a more anime-like aesthetic. The explosions are grand, and the sparks are plentiful, but the more noticeable change is in the camera and HUD. For the former, any special moves come with a camera system that loves to swoop and pan, making each fight feel rather dynamic. For the latter, executing a successful counter splashes large "Counter" text across the screen, and getting big counters means absurdly large numbers displayed on the screen. It is perfect for spectators, but some players might find it distracting, especially because there's no option to tone it down.

Like the graphics, the sound is unexpected in a good way. In particular, they've doubled down on the rock and orchestral soundtrack mix in this entry. The menus get sweeping tracks reminiscent of a big-budget anime series or movie, and the fights go with the classic hard rock that the series is known for, and every song has lyrics. It's an unexpected thing, but like the graphics, it is striking when you hear it for the first time. Another thing of interest is that the game only has Japanese voices now as opposed to the addition of English dubs as heard in Guilty Gear Xrd. It feels good for the series to go back to what it had in the 2D era.

Aside from the training mode, Strive sports a few modes for the offline player to enjoy. Versus mode is exactly what you'd expect from a fighter, but the presence of a decent analysis of each fighter's performance in the bout is a nice touch for the more technically inclined. Arcade mode is a standard fight through a litany of other opponents, but it comes with a twist in that you can't initially select a difficulty. Instead, you hit the first fight at whatever difficulty the game sees fit. Winning the fight sees you move on with the rest of the opponents set at a higher difficulty level, and losing means going forward at a lower difficulty. The final fight bumps up the difficulty, but you do have a partner: your opponent from the first fight. It works out fine overall, but the lack of cut scenes to bookend the mode is disappointing when you consider that the mode ends with, "To be continued." In lieu of the expected M.O.M. mode, the game features a Survival mode, which is better because it's much easier to work with and you don't have to worry about collecting coins or dealing with adversaries with long life bars.

The real surprise comes from the Story mode, which shouldn't be a surprise for those who checked out Guilty Gear Xrd. Instead of having a bunch of cut scenes with playable fights, what you're getting instead is an anime for the game split into several episodes. The whole thing is done with the in-game engine as opposed to being a hand-drawn or computer-animated thing, and while there are still moments where the intentional lower frame rate of character movement over a 3D space can look awkward, it remains a great way to show off the strong graphical engine. That sentiment is further exemplified by the fact that the text box is now gone, so the subtitles are superimposed on the scene without covering up anything. The story requires you to have some intimate knowledge of the game's lore, and while there is a comprehensive glossary that covers minute details and relationships, it is more beneficial to seek out an overall summary of what happened up to this point.

That may feel short overall, but based on some interviews from the game's director, this is an unfortunate side effect of the pandemic. There were modes that were supposed to launch for the game, such as a Combo Challenge mode, a digital figure viewer, and even something exclusive for the PS5 that was teased but never fully revealed. The good news is that these modes are still in development, and their eventual release will be free for everyone. The bad news is that we're faced with a situation where owners of the physical version aren't getting something complete out of the gate. During the review period, we received two patches, with the first containing the character I-No and the second containing the online mode and the rest of the Story mode beyond chapter one. If you don't connect your console online much, you'll need to make an exception for this title, or you'll get an incomplete experience compared to those who went digital.

Like many modern fighting games, there's a significant portion dedicated to online play, with the various closed betas over the years giving out a sampling of what to expect. The good news is that this is solid stuff. Thanks to the implementation of rollback code, the actual online performance is solid with no hint of lag or lost inputs. The game also goes the extra mile, giving you an active latency meter to gauge network performance. You can also view loads of fight replays, which load up quickly. More importantly, similar to the tutorial modes, you see visual representations of joystick movements and button presses, so the videos can also be used as learning tools.

The bad news is that the sprite lobby that was ridiculed by players is still present. The idea is fine, as you can actively choose who you challenge for ranked matches. You can also try your luck and fight against anyone in the floors above, and those who crave customization will love the simple sprite aesthetic and the litany of customization options. The process is slow, as you always need to go to a pedestal to even attempt a fight. Your character isn't that fast, and with three levels per floor and the fact that you need to draw a weapon all the time to get into a fight means that you'll spend more time navigating than actually fighting.

Strive has the option to constantly search for enemies while you're in practice mode. It's only available for Ranked Play, and while it affects your floor placement in the tower, it seems to pull from a different pool of players instead of those in the actual lobby. It's too early to tell if this will affect the overall player pool, but at least players aren't forced to use the feature unless they're playing in ranked matches.

Guilty Gear Strive continues the series' legacy as a flashy fighter with loads of depth, but it also does its best to shed the idea that it's inaccessible. The tweaks and new mechanics make for a fighter that's still a blast to play, and the upgraded presentation, along with the fast load times for the PS5 iteration, make it eye-catching. Provided you don't mind the online lobby system, Strive is an excellent fighting game. Just make sure to keep it patched if you want a decent offline experience.

Score: 8.5/10

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