When it comes to fighting games, Arc System Works has definitely made a name for itself. Whether they’re working on anime fighters like Dragon Ball FighterZ or mobile game spin-offs like Granblue Fantasy Versus, their output is incredibly consistent. Of course, regardless of their side projects, they always come back to their tried and true creation: the Guilty Gear franchise. The most recent game in the heavy metal fighting series, Guilty Gear -Strive-, takes a lot of their experience into account. With all that experience though, does it make for a better game?
The Guilty Gear franchise has a rich history of games, with over 20 years of releases and just as many titles to its name. It’s actually impressive how much lore there is to the series, with a lot of intricacies and details. Thankfully, Guilty Gear -Strive- offers plenty of resources to help players learn all about the story. The series plot spans several hundred years, but much of it has all come down to this: the final confrontation between Sol Badguy and Asuka R. Kreutz. We won’t get too into details due to the amount of lore, but the story of -Strive- involves a great cast of characters and an intriguing plot.
The year is 2187, and the game follows the events of Guilty Gear Xrd -REVELATOR-. This story starts immediately with “That Man”, aka Asuka, surrendering himself to the United States government. Asuka is known as the father of the Gear project, which holds him in a high regard, but also makes him a man that many fear. Gears being living weapons, they’re classified as dangerous, and it just so happens that Sol is a prototype Gear thanks to the efforts of Asuka. With Asuka in government custody, the pieces on the board begin to shift, new threats come to light, and things work up to a final climactic event.
For those that are interested in the story, Guilty Gear -Strive- offers it in a movie-like presentation. The story shifts perspectives between key characters, offering interesting plots that eventually all form together in the end. There is no gameplay, but those that love the characters get a feature length plot to help them see how the story pans out. They can even get the story with either an English or Japanese voice cast. It’s an interesting approach, but one that continues to work for the series. Players that wish to experience the story can choose to do so. For those that wish to fight, the game extends an invitation to enjoy the glory of battle.
Like many fighting games, you’ll have your typical game modes. Arcade will be one of the main sources of action, offering extra bits of character interaction between fighters. Players will choose one of 15 fighters as they battle through eight matches. As you reach the eighth and final match, you’ll go up against Nagoriyuki, the powerful samurai vampire. During at least one round, one of the opponents you fought will join you in a 2-on-1 match as well. Do well enough and this ally will even join you for the boss fight.
Moving away from the Arcade mode, you’ll have your Mission mode, which helps you hone your skills. This mode allows you to learn the basics and more complex skills that it takes the succeed in Guilty Gear -Strive-. The game is somewhat easy to pickup, but there is a lot to master. Gatling combos, instant blocks, Roman Cancels and more await you as you complete each mission. To effectively complete a mission, you’ll have to perform the task three times within five attempts. It makes it a bit more difficult than other fighting games, but repetition helps to make things stick. Dig a little deeper in the mode and it will even help to teach you how to counter certain characters.
While Arcade and Mission mode offer a lot of fighting fun, the real meat of the game for most players will be the online mode. Players can take on the world in ranked tower matches or casual park matches. You’ll join the lobby of your choice with your custom avatar and have a pre-selected character for your fights. Players can either standby for a challenger or they can look for someone to battle in the lobby on their own. I’ve never been a fan of Arc System Works’ lobby system for their fighting games, and I think Guilty Gear -Strive- may be my least favorite iteration. It just feels like there’s a lot of lag and delays in the lobby, but even the design is less appealing. Thankfully, it gets better when fighting an actual match.
Getting into a match, fights can range from smooth to complete lag-fests, though the former seems to be more common. -Strive- does have rollback netcode, but lag can still make a match slow down to a crawl. Win or lose, you’ll earn W$ to spend on in a fishing mini-game that earns avatar items and gallery entries. If you’re playing in the tower mode, then the match outcome can determine your tower level. Lose enough and the game will suggest dropping to a lower level. Do very well however, and the game will try to encourage you to move higher up the tower. If you prefer a non-competitive environment, then the open park will give you all the rewards without any of the risks.
Visually, Guilty Gear -Strive- definitely bleeds style in just about every aspect using Unreal Engine 4. The character models move with a certain rhythm that makes them fluid but still on a low frame count like traditional anime. Moves are extremely flashy with dazzling effects, delivering a satisfying impact thanks to the visual punch they pack. The environments also look very beautiful thanks to their overall architectural design and painterly colors. Thanks to the new wall-break mechanic, players can even hit opponents all over the stage in stylish transitions. Even the story mode is done entirely in engine with fully animated sequences, making the most cinematic Guilty Gear yet.
While the story mode does display full animation, it does falter a little bit with it. Some characters move with very robotic motions, making them appear awkward in translation. It also becomes an issue with certain objects as well, though beggars can’t be choosers. As for the gameplay, the game manages to hit 60 fps on all versions, even on the base PlayStation 4. The higher end hardware also manages to hit higher resolutions, with PS5 and PC looking great in full 4K. The PlayStation 5 version also benefits from much faster load times. Overall, the game performs admirably, no matter what hardware you’re playing on.
One of the biggest strengths of the game comes from the audio aspects, though mainly the music. The Guilty Gear franchise having a lot of heavy metal inspiration behind it, this isn’t surprising. Even so, the character themes are extremely catchy, offering fun takes on the personality of the character. As for the voice acting, the Japanese voices do great, but the English voices feel a little off. Some of the voices just don’t seem to fully match the character they represent, but it’s not a deal breaker. Some characters like I-No and Faust sound great, though others, even returning actors, just don’t sound natural.
One thing I did notice was the typos in a lot of the subtitles and texts in the game. Missing letters, question marks instead of commas, and other spelling errors are pretty abundant. It’s not as noticeable when playing with English voices and no subtitles, but that’s just hiding the problem. Fans that prefer Japanese voices or dig deep into the lore glossary will likely find much more. Aside from typos, the only other minor complaint is the lack of certain characters in the story. While most playable fighters play a key role, there are still a handful that don’t make an appearance at all.
When all is said and done, Guilty Gear -Strive- offers a bit of everything for fighting game fans. It’s not perfect by any means, but it’s full of style and that heavy metal spirit that will rock your socks off. Gameplay packs a mean punch while delivering rocking tunes to your ears. The visuals maintain the Ars System Works quality while also delivering fantastic new designs for the great cast of characters. Playing online could be a little better, but it’s still entirely serviceable. While there are some typos here and there in the text, the game makes up for it with extensive lore, timelines and character relation charts. If you’ve been meaning to check out the Guilty Gear franchise, –Strive– likely won’t leave you disappointed.
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