Guilty Gear was first created in 1998 by video game designer, illustrator, and musician Daisuke Ishiwatari and has since earned a reputation as one of the most hardcore fighting game series there is. Despite being very popular with dedicated fighting game fans, the series has never broken into the mainstream the same way other series like Street Fighter, Tekken, or Super Smash Bros. have, but the developers behind the Guilty Gear series, Arc System Works, certainly did back in 2018 with release of Dragon Ball FighterZ, which was basically a Marvel Vs. Capcom-esque Guilty Gear game with one of the biggest animated television series of all time slapped on the front cover. This brief twenty year history lesson culminates in the main topic of discussion for this review, Guilty Gear Strive.
Released on June 11th, 2021 for the Playstation 4, Playstation 5, and PC via Steam, Guilty Gear Strive is easily the most anticipated fighting game to come out this year after being delayed from it’s initially planned release in 2020 due to the global pandemic. Daisuke Ishiwatari and the devs at Arc System Works certainly set some lofty goals creating this one, promising to conclude the series’ main storyline, further push the boundaries of their signature animation style, and reconstruct the gameplay to be more beginner friendly while retaining mechanical depth for veteran players. I’ll be addressing all of these points and more so let’s get this show on the road!
Guilty Gear Strive features a roster of 15 playable characters. The 13 veteran fighters include Sol, Ky, May, Axl, Chipp, Potemkin, Faust, Millia, Zato, Ramlethal, Leo, Anji, and I-No with the 2 newcomers being Nagoriyuki and Giovanna. Compared to most of its contemporaries it’s a fairly small roster, but Guilty Gear has a long history of quality over quantity when it comes to its characters, and the roster of Strive is no exception. The cast covers a wide variety of playstyles so it’s worth trying out every character to find a few favorites because there’s something here for everyone.
The core gameplay of Guilty Gear Strive stays true to it’s arcade roots with players competing in one-on-one fights to reduce their opponent’s health bar to zero. The game has five primary buttons, Punch, Kick, Slash, Heavy Slash, and Dust. The first four correspond to attacks of varying speeds, ranges, and damage outputs. Dust is the most unique button as it’s used for throw attacks, a low sweep that causes a hard knockdown, and an overhead attack that bypasses crouching blocks which can also be charged up to launch the opponent into the air for a string of follow up attacks called an aerial rave. The control stick also provides great utility beyond basic movement with tools such as block, crouch, run, air dash, back dash, super jump, and double jump. Furthermore, by combining special motions on the stick with specific attack buttons the player is able to perform a wide variety of useful special moves and ultra-powerful Overdrive attacks. Additionally, there are advanced techniques to be wary of, such as Psych Bursts, which can interrupt the opponent in the middle of a combo (but need time to recharge after being used), and Roman Cancels, which can extend a combo at the cost of a portion of the tension gauge. All that sounds like a lot to keep track of right? Well that was just the basics!
There’s a ton more going on within the battle system that I promise not to bore you with because the game has training missions to go over the nitty gritty stuff if you really want to learn all the ins and outs. However, I would like to highlight some additions and changes specific to Strive. The wall-break mechanic triggers a stage transition if a fighter is hit by a powerful combo in the corner of the screen. Aside from looking super flashy, wall-break provides a boost to the player’s tension gauge (which means more Overdrives and Roman Cancels) and resets the opponent’s position, giving them more opportunities to fight back. Overall I’d say wall-break is a good inclusion that shakes up the pacing and dynamics of the fights in an interesting way. The biggest change, however, is the structure of combos which are much shorter than previous titles and as a consequence deal more damage. This change has concerned many long time fans who think the game might feel less like Guilty Gear and become something more akin to other games like Street Fighter which thrive on shorter, snappier combos. I will concede that in comparison to older titles in the series many characters feel more limited in certain situations, but overall Strive is still a very fast and aggressive game so it’s not a total departure from what came before.
The major gameplay modes to be found within Guilty Gear Strive include an arcade mode for single player, verses mode for local multiplayer, mission mode and training mode for practicing and learning new techniques, and an online multiplayer mode for long distance competition. Verses mode, training mode, and mission mode all function the way you’d expect them to so no complaints from me on those fronts. Arcade mode is interesting because the difficulty of the fights are dependent on the player’s performance, this is particularly important for players who can consistently win matches as their reward will be a final battle against an insanely powerful Nagoriyuki with more health, damage, and invincibility frames. It’s an incredibly one sided duel that I honestly love as a throwback to the quarter sucking boss fights of the 90s that few fighting games released these days would dare to include.
The online modes unfortunately have some serious issues as of time of writing. The servers are experiencing connectivity issues that turn finding an opponent into a frustrating chore. However I will give credit where credit is due because when you actually manage to link up with an opponent the rollback netcode Strive implements is absolutely phenomenal. These have been some of the most stable online matches I’ve ever had in a fighting game. Arc System Works has confirmed ongoing server maintenance alongside their plans for additional content updates so hopefully they’ll iron out all the issues I have with the online modes because it has the potential to be the best in the industry.
So the gameplay of Guilty Gear Strive is about as good as it ever has been, but if there’s one thing about this game I know is going to be turning heads this summer it’s the artstyle and animation. Ever since Guilty Gear Xrd in 2014, Arc System Works has been creating fighting games using 3D models that simulate the look of a 2D drawing, going so far as to break the traditional rules of 3D animation by hand animating in between frames and adding effects like smearing to create a greater sense of power and velocity in every strike. Strive manages to take this animation to new heights with highly detailed character models that look great from any angle, more dynamic lighting, and cinematography that turns every battle into an absolute visual spectacle. Considering how well Guilty Gear Xrd managed to age I have no doubt in my mind that Strive will still look amazing ten years from now. If I had to criticize anything about the game’s visual direction it’s that some of the new character designs like Ky and Faust are a little jarring since they are so wildly different from what they were before, but I suppose that’s just a personal nitpick and I’ll probably get used to it before too long.
One the most important parts of Guilty Gear’s identity as a series is its amazing heavy metal soundtracks. Daisuke Ishiwatari’s passion for hard rock and heavy metal has always been pretty transparent when creating characters and music with references to Queen, Guns N’ Roses, Enuff Z’nuff, Helloween, Meliah Rage, White Lion, and countless other bands all over the series. The soundtrack of Guilty Gear Strive pushes the series forward yet again with vocals and lyrics accompanying the instrumentation in every character’s theme song. The music has never rocked harder than it does here, making every fighter feel like the final boss of their own game. Whenever a new Guilty Gear game is announced I always like to joke about it by saying “Daisuke’s making a new album with a free video game”, but if Strive really was just an album I would give it 11 out of 10 stars.
For all of Guilty Gear’s larger than life characters, exhilarating combat, jaw-dropping visuals, and phenomenal soundtrack, it does have one glaring weak spot: the story. Guilty Gear’s narrative progression over the years hasn’t been a smooth one, as each game is constantly introducing new ideas that often retcon the backstory and events established by previous titles resulting in a convoluted mess of a storyline. Strive tries to rectify this by including a huge glossary of characters, events, and terms to catch up the newcomers, but I doubt most people will enjoy reading through it all because there’s a LOT to go through. The story of Guilty Gear Strive is told through a cinematic story mode that has no fights, quicktime events, or any sort of interactive elements, just a cutscene that goes on for nearly five hours and for a video game that is just baffling. Even if you somehow manage to remember all the lore while watching (and trust me I did) it can still be pretty hard to follow at times and on the whole just isn’t very good. The best thing I can possibly say about story mode is that the action scenes were kind of fun, but I can get that kind of action from a hundred other movies and tv shows that are far less bloated and pretentious. Considering the lengths the developers took to make the rest of the game more beginner friendly, trying to wrap up this mess of a storyline feels like a big mistake.
So what does a Catholic take away from a game like Guilty Gear Strive? Well throughout the Guilty Gear series you can really feel Daisuke’s passion for both fighting games and heavy metal in every aspect of the game design and presentation. As Catholics I think we should take our passion for God and put it into the things we create as well. Because when someone is passionate about something people will take notice and perhaps be drawn into it themselves. Our faith is like a favorite music album, don’t keep it on a shelf for yourself, share it with others and convince them to get their own copy.
In summary, Guilty Gear Strive continues the series’ legacy of exceptional fighting game action, made more accessible than ever before. The story might fall flat, but the gameplay, visuals, and music more than make up for it. There’s no better time to be playing Guilty Gear so I highly recommend anyone with even a mild interest in Strive to pick it up and get ready to rock!
Morality and Parental Warnings
The core gameplay of Guilty Gear Strive sees characters fighting each other in single combat using various kinds of weapons and superpowers. Most of these superpowers are brought about by using raw energy drawn from another dimension that the characters refer to as magic. There is a fair bit of fowl language in the game’s dialogue, basically using whatever they can get away with in a T rated game. There are some minor references to various religions and mythologies scattered throughout the game. Certain characters, both male and female, have suggestive outfits. Nagoriyuki is a vampire who has attacks that draw out blood from his opponent, but this is the only major instance of gore in the game and is often too fast to notice in the middle of gameplay. The character I-No uses a lot of sexual innuendos in her dialogue and wears a witch’s hat despite having no connection to any devil worship.