We finally know the smell of the game!
Launch is always a dangerous time for any multiplayer game. If the servers don’t work and the game itself isn’t fun, their life cycle could be cut significantly down to size. Nailing that first step is essential in the longevity of any multiplayer game.
Of course, the rest of the game needs to be just as good. If the offline and single-player offerings aren’t worthwhile, players will be stuck with the multiplayer. And if that multiplayer works, great! If it doesn’t, oh no!
Guilty Gear: Strive almost nails that first step. Although it does stumble quite a bit in the attempt.
This game has three identities: an anime visual novel, a badass rock album, and a cool fighting game. Unfortunately, the first identity isn’t really worth your time. Thankfully, the other two are absolutely worth the sixty dollar asking price.
The story is problem #1. Most, if not all, fighting games have bad plots. But Guilty Gear takes that to a whole new level. If you thought Kingdom Hearts was a nightmare to decipher, you have seen nothing yet! Shit is all over the place! You’ve either got to read pages and pages of text or decipher several games, comics, audio dramas, and pachinko machines (not a joke) worth of lore.
Or you could just watch this playlist. Make your life a helluva lot easier.
Three weeks after the events of Guilty Gear: Xrd, the witch I-No appears before an imprisoned Ariels and extracts a strange being from within her named Happy Chaos. Meanwhile, Asuka (AKA That Man AKA The Gear Maker AKA Who-the-fuck-named-this-guy?) has turned himself in to the United States in order to protect the Tome of Origin. And caught in the middle is Sol Badguy, our hero. The time for the final battle is nigh, and with it: the end of his story.
Go to that playlist and watch all those videos and you might just understand what the hell any of that means. Trust me: you’ll need to.
The actual narrative on display here isn’t the worst thing ever. It’s like an anime version of White House Down (remember that movie?) with a whole bunch of Guilty Gear nonsense. If you’re familiar with GG lore and the story so far, you might get a kick out of it. But if you don’t, you will have no idea what is going on. Hell, you still might not understand; I know I barely did.
If it were actually playable, it would be far better. But it’s not. Because ArcSys.
You’d think that the story mode would look amazing; ArcSys has always had a knack for making their models and environments look amazing. Surely the story mode is just like watching a 3D anime movie. A really long but pretty 3D anime movie.
However, presentation wise, the story mode is a mixed bag. There are plenty of shots that look impressive in terms of lighting, shot composition, and model quality. But for every one of those, there are three awkward shots where the characters move in really unnatural ways, like stiff walk cycles or robotic arm movements.
Now we can talk about the game.
Bro. ArcSys had already proven themselves the masters of 3D anime with Guilty Gear: Xrd, Dragon Ball Fighterz, and Granblue Fantasy Versus. Those games really looked and felt like a 2D anime TV series that you could actually play. And if those were anime shows, Strive is an anime movie!
The game itself is gorgeous! The stages, the characters, every single battle animation, all of it was hand crafted using 3D tools and 2D techniques. And it’s all god damn gorgeous! Out of all the 3D anime games ArcSys has cranked out since Guilty Gear: Xrd, this one is easily the best looking of the lot!
And the music! No game series has better music than Guilty Gear and this one is no exception! Every single character’s theme is like a song you’d find on a heavy metal album! And May’s sounds like a cute anime opening! The amount of variety between each song is incredible, and all of them are a joy on the ears!
Except for Zato’s theme. But I’m biased against Zato, so… take that with a grain of salt.
At last, we come to the game itself. It’s pretty and it sounds great! But is it an actually good fighting game?
This game has fifteen playable characters. That may not seem like much compared to games like Smash Bros or Mortal Kombat or Street Fighter, all of which have large rosters of playable characters. But it more than makes up for it in sheer variety. Every single one of these characters plays completely differently from the others. So much so that they all feel like they’re from totally different games from one-another! You’ve got the all-rounder Ky, the grabbing monster Potemkin, the fast and fragile Chipp, Anji the parry master, Giovanna the combo master, Ramlethal the giant sword thrower (my main), and the almost completely random and insane Faust! No two characters play alike, despite having mostly similar button inputs and motions!
However, at the point of writing this article, the game’s balance is a little rough around the edges. Sol and May are just objectively better than everyone else in the cast, capable of some absolutely insane tech that you’d need to play out of your mind to overcome. Sol’s offence is so fucking crazy that it’ll be a miracle if you can get a single move out! They still require some skill to use; they’re not just the instant win choice. But the other characters are definitely in need of buffs.
Especially poor Faust. I’ve seen more Faust players kill themselves rather than get killed by me.
Combat is really easy to learn and challenging to master. You’ve got five basic buttons: punch, kick, slash, heavy slash, and dust. Dust can be used to grab enemies or send them flying while all the others are basic attacks. You can string these attacks together in short and powerful combos, which you can extend by Roman Canceling (we’ll get to that). And if you’re caught in a combo, or your enemy is getting too close, you can use your Burst to send them flying and give yourself a bit of breathing room.
Roman Cancels are the most challenging but important aspect to learn about Guilty Gear. These come in four different colors: red, blue, yellow, and purple. Red RCs are used to extend your combos. Purple RCs are used to instantly recover from a missed attack. Yellow RCs are used while an opponent is attacking to slow them down and escape/counter attack. Blue RCs are used when you’re not doing anything else and can be used to briefly slow down your opponent and set things up. Each of these takes up one half of your super gauge, which is the equivalent of one super move. This adds an extra bit of strategy to combat; do you save the gauge in case you need to RC or do you use it to add a super onto the end of your combo and squeeze out extra damage?
The game promotes being smart and aggressive. If you spend too long running away, you’ll be penalized and have your super gauge sucked away. But if you play well or knock an enemy through the wall (which causes a screen transition, which is badass), you’ll get a positive bonus, which boosts the rate your gauge charges.
All of this combines to an insane amount of combat variety. Each character’s move list is pretty small, but the sheer difference between each one leads to each match being completely different from the last. Once balance has been restored and the characters are on a more even playing field, it’ll be all the more addictive!
Although I do mourn for the features lost from previous games. Shortened move lists and no Instant Kills make me sad. Oh well. Maybe a future update…
It’s also got a fairly good tutorial. Not the tutorial itself, that one is bare-bones. But the Mission mode is pretty strong! It teaches you some of the more complex mechanics of the game. It can be super precise and frustrating, but it’s a must-do if you want to stand up in an online match!
Speaking of which: online play is split right down the middle. When you get into the game itself, it’s a ton of fun and it runs incredibly well! The netcode this game has is genuinely one of the best in any fighting game on the market right now!
But the lobbies still suck absolute ass.
It’s still a stupid 2.5D minigame where you walk around as a custom avatar. If you want to get into a match, you need to wait at a station for someone to walk up and challenge you, or you could walk up and challenge someone else. Not only does this extend the downtime between matches dramatically, it doesn’t even fucking work! The sheer number of ‘Failed to Connect to Opponent’ I saw is enough to drive me insane! And did I mention how making a custom lobby literally doesn’t even work?! AT ALL?!
Guilty Gear: Strive is everything I had hoped and everything I had feared. It’s a gorgeous and addictive fighting game with incredible online play! Unfortunately, the depth has been reduced in comparison to the previous games in the series and the lobby system is one of the worst I’ve ever seen in an online game.
Luckily, the future of the game looks bright! We’re getting a DLC character this month and another one next! Not to mention a ton of free updates later down the line! I guarantee that, one year from now, the game will be even better than it is now!
Although I am sad that this game probably killed support for Dragon Ball Fighterz…
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