Guilty Gear – Strive – Beta Impressions

More Heaven than Hell

Developer Arc System Works, whose contributions to the fighting game genre can be traced back to well over two decades ago, may have finally broken through to the mainstream with their long-running Guilty Gear franchise. In 2018, Arc System partnered with Bandai Namco to release DragonBall FighterZ to commercial and critical success. It was the first time in their long-running history that a fighting game title had seen both, as generally, almost all of their fighting game titles are well received critically. The Guilty Gear series in particular, have seen a number of iterations and they have found critical success because of how differently these titles play from every other fighting game on the market, none have broken through to the mainstream.

If the beta is any indication of how Guilty Gear Strive is going to play moving forward, this potentially could be the one that breaks through. The series has always been known for its unique roster and mechanics and has developed a strong cult following as the years have gone along. But its high skill floor and poor online performance acted as barriers to its success. This series required commitment, there were so many unique mechanics such as the roman cancel and burst that players had to perfect if they were going to become successful in the game. Couple this with awful netcode and a game that required quick reflexes and perfect timing was a chore to play online.

Strive has leaned out the experience a bit by making the game a more traditional in the sense that there are far more neutral abilities and you can no longer continuously juggle players into infinity. It levels the playing field and the lowers the skill floor just enough to be more accommodating to newer players. While mechanics like the roman cancel, burst, or perfect blocking still exist, they aren’t required to be competitive when you first start begin. You will however, need to learn and master these mechanics if you want to be successful later on as dashing in head first with no regard will get you countered and destroyed.

For series veterans, hearing that the title is more accommodating might sound like aa negative, but in reality the skill ceiling still remains incredibly high. Characters still retain unique mechanics that make all of them differ from one another. Newcomers, such as Giovanna and Nagoriyuki, are welcome additions with their vastly different playstyles. Giovanna is a rush-down character with a number of ways to mix up and pressure the opponent and will remind many of Cammie from the Street Fighter series. She is able to close in a hurry and can cross up opponents within a moments notice. Giovanna is incredibly fun to play and is perfect for those just getting into the game.

Nagoriyuki on the other hand is probably one of the most unique characters I have ever seen in a fighting game. Besides looking amazing as he is a vampire samurai, playing him requires both skill and patience as while his movement is relatively slow, his damage output can be borderline insane. He has a unique blood gauge that increases over time as you utilize abilities, once that gauge has reached as limit, Nagoriyuki goes into a frenzy-like state in which his move set is limited, he’s constantly losing health, but his damage output and range has been increased. He is the ultimate high-risk, high-reward character that I feel will become incredibly popular as time goes along.

While the Guilty Gear series has always felt faster than its contemporaries, Strive feels like the fastest the series has ever been. Matches can go by incredibly quickly because of this quickened pace. When you counter your opponent, you’ll deal more damage and be able to follow-up for a combo, which depending on the character can deplete damn near 60-70% of their health. This greatly contributes to the speed of the matches as they can be over in under a minute. That’s not to say playing patiently doesn’t yield any benefits, but seeing your damage output may make you get a bit overconfident. I know I did and against more skilled players, I was punished immediately for it. Take it as a learning experience even if you end up in someone’s highlight reel.

With all of this being said, there was only one real downside to the Guilty Gear Strive in its current form. and that was the online lobby system. I believe the best and nicest way to describe this system is that its clunky. The ranked system for example is now a tower system in which you’re grouped with players with similar skillsets on different floors of said tower. While you’ll to choose what floor you’d like to be in, I would recommend heading into the lobby that the game places you in. It will allow you to learn with other players and become proficient with your character of choice.

Now, while I would like a more traditional ranking system, the tower system isn’t a bad idea in concept. At the moment however, it’s the worst part of the game because of the interface and the amount of time it can take to get into a match. This is a shame, because playing this game online is a real treat. To any and all fighting game developers out there, use rollback netcode and nothing else. Even with ping and distance, the fights are enjoyable and far smoother than if they were peer to peer. If, you happen to want to maintain your online community, make sure the experience is a relatively smooth one so that even in losses, the player base doesn’t feel cheated because of the persistent frame drops and awful lag.

Arc System Works has been working on Guilty Gear games since the late 90’s and that type of commitment is noteworthy as the series has been more than deserving of a spot next to the biggest names in the genre. Strive feels like a step in the right direction and if the online lobby is cleaned up and the rest of the package is as good as the beta then there is no reason why this game isn’t going to be a success. This is easily the most accessible title in the franchise and on top of all of that is flat-out gorgeous. The game is a work of art in motion and I am personally rooting for it after spending time getting lost in its beta.

Guilty Gear Strive drops on April 9th.

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