Mankind knew that they cannot change society.
So instead of reflecting on themselves, they blamed the Beasts.
These are the words you’ll hear upon starting a matchup in Guilty Gear: Strive. Next, you’ll see your character and your opponent walking close to each other, and once they stop walking, you’ll get a nice butt shot of your character, and you’ll hear the words “Heaven, or Hell.”
Who are the Beasts exactly? Well, I frankly couldn’t tell you, because behind the Guilty Gear series is a ton of lore that I have yet to catch up on. I dabbled a little bit with Guilty Gear: Xrd, but otherwise I knew little to nothing about the Guilty Gear series prior to picking up this game. Regardless, Guilty Gear: Strive (I will try to refrain from using the acronym “GG”, as some might confuse it for “good game”) — it’s a game that I just can’t seem to give enough praise for. It’s not just the fighting mechanics — it’s the lighting, the artwork, the fluid animations, the stellar soundtrack, the rollback netcode, the deep, deep dive into the lore tour via the story mode, combined that makes this a gem worth paying the $60 asking price.
Guilty Gear: Strive is just one of many games in the Guilty Gear series that released on Steam, PS4, and PS5 on June 11. While it was originally slated for an April 9th release date, it got pushed back by a few months to improve the netcode/server stability. It’s developed and published by Arc System Works — you may recognize the name, as it is the developer of several other fighting games, including Dragon Ball FighterZ and the BlazBlue series. As you’ll see in the splash screen, the game is harvesting the power of Unreal Engine — but, as reported last week, it works almost flawlessly on Proton.
For those who are unaware of what Guilty Gear: Strive is, it’s a 2.5D fighting game — 2D in the sense that it’s a side-scroller, like most fighting games are, and 3D anime characters that will really shine when they perform their special move called Overdrive, due to the camera viewing the character at a different angle. From the other reviews I’ve seen, Strive is a little more casual-friendly than previous titles in the series; combos are easier to land and generally require less input/memorization. Certain attacks, such as grabs, can deal a lot of damage — single attacks like these and basic combos make it easier for newcomers who want to have a fighting chance against the more seasoned players.
The easiest way I can describe the visual appearance of these characters is by comparing it to Dragon Ball: FighterZ; they look 2D, but in fact they are 3D, and this is especially evident depending on the camera angle. Though I’m personally not an anime fan, the game is so good that I’m willing to overlook it’s anime-like nature.
Guilty Gear: Strive takes a lot of notes from other fighting games — like being able to block by walking backwards, pushblock by pressing two attack buttons at the same time, being able to extend combos with a special move, inputting said special move with a quarter-circle movement and an attack button, dash/air-dash by quickly tapping left or right twice, etc. etc. — but has a few of its own original mechanics. For instance, while in the middle of a combo, you can make your character perform a Roman Cancel — this will slow the opponent down for a few seconds, giving you time to extend your combo further. However, the opponent can interrupt your combo with a Psych Burst. Additionally, if you have your opponent cornered to the wall, by dealing enough attacks to them, they’ll hit the wall, and any attack after that will break said wall and will make them fly across the stage, dealing massive damage to them in the process.
Every character, despite their vast difference of playstyle from one to another, have 5 attack buttons in common:
- Punch (by default Square/X depending on what controller you’re using, abbreviated as “P”)
- Kick (Cross/A, “K”)
- Slash (Triangle/Y, “S”)
- Heavy Slash (Circle/B, “HS”)
- Dust (R1/RB, “D”)
By using a combination of these attacks, you can link a combo to your opponent. Picking your main character may take quite a while, since each character is vastly different from the other, so I recommend that once you settle on a character, you should watch a few videos of that character, learn their strengths and weaknesses, and find out their combos.
If you were to ask me whether the characters are well balanced, that I currently can’t answer. I haven’t played enough matches to determine which characters are cheap, which characters need a buff, etc. Add this to the fact that fighting games constantly get buff/nerf patches for specific characters, so even if I had an opinion now it could become outdated as soon as the next patch comes out.
Speaking of characters, the base game has 15, each having six different color palettes:
- Sol Badguy — the face that appears on the thumbnail of most Guilty Gear titles, the main character, if you will
- Ky Kiske — as one video that I watched put it, “the Ken of Street Fighter” and Sol as the Ryu, but even then, still very different in playstyle
- Nagoriyuki — African vampire with a sword. Slow mover but powerful
- Millia Rage — her hair is her primary weapon of choice, and she can “mold” her hair into basically any shape she wants. She’s very much into controlling the air with her vast array of air combos and dashes
- Chipp Zanuff — speedy ninja with a vast array of offensive and defensive manuevers, at the cost of taking the most damage out of any other character
- May — doesn’t seem to look any older than 16. She’s able to easily wield what is probably a several-ton anchor with one hand, and can spam dolphins to her opponents
- Zato-1 — Zato-1 is basically two characters in one package, with his ghost Eddie fighting along his side. The result of essentially having two characters controlled at once is he is one of the most difficult characters to master
- I-No — witch that wields a guitar. No, seriously
- Anji Mito — Japanese warrior who wields fans. As the character selection screen puts it, he’s the “Elegant Martial Dancer”
- Leo Whitefang — the twin-blade all-rounder. You can make him a berserker too, if you wanted
- Faust — underground doctor with a super large scapel. Both his appearance and moveset is nothing short of creepy
- Axl Low — useful character for zoning and/or keeping distance between yourself and your rival with his axes
- Potemkin — very large, very slow, yet very powerful character. You don’t want to get caught in any of his grab attacks
- Ramlethal Valentine — dual-sword wielder. She doesn’t even hold them; they just float by her side
- Giovanna — secret service agent with a dog/ghost hybrid. She’ll go into Hulk mode if her Tension gauge is fully built up, increasing the amount of damage she deals and reducing the amount she takes
You’ll notice upon entering the character selection screen, each character has a difficulty rating. The more stars they have, the easier they are to learn. So Ky, the only character having five stars, is the easiest one to learn — meaning, his moves are pretty straightforward, and combos are easier to link. Good for beginners. Zato-1, the only character having one star, will be the most difficult. Definitely someone I don’t recommend starting out with due to the fact that you’re basically controlling two characters at once. If you do learn him, though, he’s got a high reward in keeping opponents guessing.
I started out with Millia Rage. She’s got two stars. She’s someone I probably shouldn’t have picked with first, but I’m gradually learning her technique, and I’ve found out she’s very good at chaining air combos. I’ll probably pick Ky next and see if he actually is easier to play with.
Upon starting the game for the first time, you’ll be asked if you want to start the tutorial mode. I’d definitely recommend going this route, especially if you’re new to fighting games. Afterwards you can spend a good five or six hours in the Mission mode — this mode will help you learn every aspect of how the game works. It will start with the basics, like learning to dash or block, and then progressively it will take you to the more interesting concepts of the game, like how to trigger a Wall Break, or how to evade Valentine’s exploding swords. You’re given five tries with each mission — succeed three times or more, you’ll clear the mission. Fail three times or more, though, and the mission won’t be cleared. The good thing is, even if you fail, you’re not forced to keep on doing it until you pass; you can freely pursue another mission if the current one is driving you up the wall (which, yes, has happened on a few occasions for me personally).
Once you’ve grinded those five hours, you can head over to the Training mode and start learning your character. There’s a dizzying array of training mode options, including input latency, the opponent’s state, whether they block after the first hit or not, whether the first move automatically becomes a counter…but a few things that are missing, at least as far as I’m aware. There’s no combo list for your character; you’re forced to watch someone else’s video on the Internet if you wish to learn your character’s combos. I guess you can also refer to the Dustloop Wiki. There’s also no setting to change the speed of the game — I’ve found this useful in games like Them’s Fightin’ Herds where you can slow the game down to master a combo more easily. It’s currently not possible in Strive.
Now that you’ve spent ten hours or so learning the mechanics of the game and learning how to use your character, you can finally head to the single-player mode or play online. In single-player, you can do the usual that most fighting games have: an arcade mode, where you fight your way through various opponents, or just play a single match against a CPU player. The CPU’s difficulty can be adjusted, so if you feel like they’re not a challenge, you can gradually increase their difficulty. You can also play Survival mode: as the name implies, win as many matches as you can while staying alive.
In addition to single-player, two people can battle it up locally, or you can take things online with online multiplayer. In online mode, you’ll be able to create and customize a 16-bit avatar. You’ll then fight a CPU opponent, and depending on how good you play, you’ll be taken to a low floor or a high floor. Higher floors are the more competitive zones, while the lower ones are beginner/more casual-friendly. There’s 10 floors altogether. Keep winning matches against other players, and you’ll gradually rise up in the ranks, taking you to the next floor. You won’t be able to go back down to a lower floor, unless you lose repetitively. You can also freely move up to whatever floor you want, though I certainly don’t recommend going to the 10th floor unless you’re a seasoned pro.
Though the game is using rollback netcode, I’ve experienced a few hiccups trying to matchmake with someone. There’s been some times where the lag made the game painfully slow, even though I’m in the same region as my opponent. During the times that the netcode works, it’s great though. Arc System Works is aware of the issue, however, and they worked on server stability this past Monday. They’re continuing to work on improvements as we speak, both in the lobbies and adding 4K support, so hopefully the experience will get better over time. You definitely don’t need to worry about not being able to find someone to play with — SteamCharts has reported an all-time peak of nearly 31k players. Over 10k played just an hour ago as I’m writing this.
Want to take a break from fighting? Head over to the Story mode. The Story mode contains a good four-and-a-half hours of cutscenes, and there’s no fighting scenes in-between. Just sit back, relax, and enjoy the lore of Guilty Gear. You don’t have to watch the whole story in one setting; you can watch for half-an-hour or so and the game will ask if you want to continue watching or save the place where you’re at so you can pick it up later. Additionally, you don’t need to own the game to watch the story; you can watch the story on YouTube.
It’s Not Just the Fighting
As I mentioned earlier in this review, it’s not just the fighting mechanics that make Strive so good. There’s a beautiful variety of characters, not just in their appearance but also in the way that they play. This is coupled with a soundtrack that, should Arc System Works release as a separate DLC in the future, I would buy it. Each character has a unique theme, but the general genre of each is sort of this heavy metal thing going on. I don’t really want to admit this, but I’m a bit of a metal head myself, and I honestly think it’s important that such a type of music plays while in a match. It keeps the adrenaline pumping and helps you stay on your toes. Just take Millia Rage’s theme, for example, and tell me whether or not you think it’s appropriate for a fighting game:
I also praise the game for it’s 2D/3D hybrid nature. The game plays at 60 FPS, but character animations themselves play at 30. While that may not sound like a good thing, it actually adds a cool cinematic effect in a way that’s difficult to explain. You could keep the characters still and observe their idle animations; it sounds corny but to me even those animations are breathtaking to behold, especially when watching the character’s win pose. I have found absolutely no flaws in the animations whatsoever; you can tell by their quality that they were painstaking to make, and probably took a good chunk of the game’s budget, but it definitely paid off. Here’s a small sampling — observe each character’s intro and win animations:
I could go on and on about what I like about the game. The only small price to pay is you’d have to spend hundreds, maybe even thousands of hours to really master the game — not just the mechanics themselves, but learning each character’s strengths and weaknesses, and learning how to chain combos. Steam has recorded 15 hours of playtime so far, and I know I’ve got a long way to go. But that long way is good. It lets me know that the $60 I paid was worth every penny — this was something that I was worried about when I pre-ordered, but I’m relieved to know it was money well spent.
As for Proton compatibility, it runs out of the box. No workarounds or command line arguments are needed. You may want to force Proton 5.13-6 instead of the current 6.3-4, however, because Training mode crashed on me with the latter. Having access to the Training mode is very important — without it, you can’t practice your combos. There’s no media playback, so you can’t watch in-game trailers or demonstrations of character’s special moves in the command list, but that’s long been a staple of Media Foundation not working with Proton. Switching to Proton Experimental didn’t fix anything; in fact, every game mode that I tried immediately crashed after the character selection screen. Proton GE 6.10-1 actually played in-game trailers, but also crashed after the character selection screen.
As for controller support, though both the DualSense and Series X controllers I’ve tried have worked, it’s a bit finnicky sometimes. Sometimes I have to launch the game repeatedly before it finally picks up my DualSense. Sometimes the button icons with be Xbox-style, other times it will be PlayStation-style. If you need more info, check out the reports on ProtonDB.
- Beautiful animations
- Amazing soundtrack
- Colorful, wide variety of characters
- More beginner-friendly than previous Guilty Gear titles
- Missions can be repetitive
- Steep learning curve for each character
- Not so great netcode — though this is being worked on
- Lack of certain training options, such as game speed or combo lists
Strive recently sold over 300k copies across all platforms. It makes sense — the game is beautiful in every facet, and will continue to be a gold nugget for years to come.