|Developer||Arc System Works|
|Publisher||Arc System Works|
|Platforms||PC, PS4, PS5(reviewed)|
|Release Date||June 10th, 2021|
Though we can trace the history of Arc System Works back to the late 1980s, it wasn’t until 1998 that Arc System Works first introduced Guilty Gear. This franchise caught my eye back on the Playstation 2, and I was on board with this 2D anime-style fighter with strange characters. At the time, I didn’t know that I would be revisiting this series off and on for years. I even enjoyed Guilty Gear: Judgment and Guilty Gear: Dust Strikers, portable spinoffs on the PSP and Nintendo DS. Most recently, ArcSys released Dragon Ball FigherZ and Granblue Fantasy: Versus, some of the best in the genre. With the release of Guilty Gear Strive, they hold nothing back in evolving their series and continue to iterate on their formula.
Spiritual Themes: The premise of the Guilty Gear series is that scientists created altered people with magical powers called “Gears.” A group called The Sacred Order of Holy Knights was formed to fight them. The battle between the two is known as the 100 Year War or the “Crusades.” Some characters have supernatural traits, such as Zato-ONE, possessed by a demonic bioweapon, and I-No who dresses like a Witch and uses her guitar to perform magical abilities. Two of the new characters also carry similar traits: one is a samurai who wields a vampiric bloodsucking sword, while the other is a woman with a wolf spirit as a companion.
Violence: Guilty Gear Strive is a video game in the fighting genre. Characters face off against one another in 1-on-1 and sometimes 2-on-1 battles. They use a variety of weapons special powers in their arsenal to subdue an enemy to zero health. Blood splatter sometimes occurs during a fight, and one cutscene shows a man impaled with blood splashing out of his body. Players will participate in such combat in the various gameplay modes, and the game’s story also depicts some fights between characters in animated cutscenes.
Sexual Content: Many female characters in the game wear revealing clothing. They wear skin-tight outfits and bear deep cleavage. Camera angles sometimes specifically focus on a character’s cleavage. Jiggle effects will occur during animations as well.
Language: The word “s**t” is heard in the dialogue and in lyrics.
Aside from the many updated versions and spinoffs, Guilty Gear Strive is the seventh game in the series. The crazy character design, anime aesthetic, and face-melting soundtrack—all that we’ve come to expect from the series make a return. However, the mechanics and speed of the gameplay itself have seen significant changes. Arc System Works aims to impress yet again with their visual presentation by bringing us a fully voiced and animated story. These developers always find ways to improve and iterate on their previous work, and they have yet to disappoint. While some might not like this evolution, I believe there is still much for fans to be pleased with.
It took years before I understood what was happening in a Guilty Gear video game and who these odd characters were. It wasn’t until Strive released its first beta that I decided it was time to get educated and watch a YouTube video that explained the story well. “GG World” makes a return from Xrd and helps the player become acquainted with the lore, much like an encyclopedia. I enjoyed the game’s story much more than I had in the past because I finally understood some story elements and characters. However, I don’t think the same could be said for a casual player jumping this late into the series. The story is late in the lives of these characters and is meant to be an endgame. It is a hurdle to soak in all the lore that comes with this series, but it was rewarding when I did.
Know that the story mode in Guilty Gear Strive is not one you’ll be playing through like you would in Injustice or Mortal Kombat. In the past, players went through the story in a visual novel format; instead, it is now told through 10 fully voiced and animated chapters. I previously never bothered to experience the story because sitting through dialogue was rather dull. This time around, I applaud Arc System Works for creating what feels like an animated movie right in their own video game. However, since it was built in the game’s engine, it lacks a level of polish you might find in a typical anime movie or show. I was pretty comfortable with the quality, as it took me back to the early chapters of Rooster Teeth’s RWBY series. A plus side is watching the entire story in either subbed or dubbed format; all it takes is a simple change in the settings.
The gameplay has drastically changed since the series had seen a drop in new players. Specials moves and combos are much easier to perform, and characters now deal a ton of damage too. Many of the systems players of the previous games know and love are here too—Roman Cancels, Bursts, and Gatling Combos. The developers have encouraged veterans to rewire their brains when it comes to these systems. I never understood how all of the mechanics worked in a Guilty Gear game, and I’m still learning. Thankfully, there is a Mission mode for players to better understand all the mechanics. Although, this entry lacks the individual character missions that helped me immensely in Guilty Gear Xrd. It feels like a huge miss to omit such a feature that had so much depth and received high praise.
The roster of playable characters in Guilty Gear Strive is going to seem small for long-time players. However, I believe that the developers can give great attention and better balancing to a roster of only 15 fighters. It can be easy to pick up a character and learn some of their moves right away, but you’ll quickly find out that there’s much more nuance to each of them. In this current roster are two new additions to the series—Nagoriyuki and Giovanna. Nagori is a character for more advanced players with a blood rage mechanic that brings excellent risk and reward. Gio is the better option for new players, and she is ideal for rushdowns and getting in the face of your opponent. If your favorite character didn’t make it on the starting roster, there is still hope. We will see characters, both new and old, added through the season pass into the fall season. Thankfully, I was fortunate enough to receive the Ultimate Edition of the game to experience them when they release.
I avoided playing fighting games online until recent years, but eventually did so more often since the genre has shifted its focus into the competitive scene over single-player content. The lobby system is back again, but with a 2D retro aesthetic in which players can customize their avatar. Ranked and unranked options are both available, with the ranked lobby separated by floors. You have the opportunity to enter higher floors than your rank, but can’t go downward. Players can socialize and challenge one another, but players like myself who don’t care for lobbies have a Quick Start option. If you wanted to go some rounds with a group of friends, creating a private room with a unique code is a great option. I should note that I’ve rarely had any lag while playing online with friends and random opponents, and it only lasted for a few seconds during the time I did.
Players can also enjoy the Practice, Arcade, and Survival modes while offline. I spend much of my time in Arcade Mode, which offered a significant challenge. Some characters you’ll fight are more challenging in difficulty and require you to play to put in some work. Failing to defeat Nagori as Chipp because I couldn’t get close to him was very intense. Another fun encounter is against Potemkin since he can kill almost the entirety of your health bar in a few moves. Without the individual character missions, you’ll want to spend your time “labbing” in the practice mode and learning how these characters work in different scenarios and which of them best fits your playstyle. After a bit of time with a few, you’ll find a main soon enough.
I saved the presentation last because Arc System Works has yet again outdone themselves. I thought Dragon Ball FighterZ looked amazing and GranBlue Fantasy: Versus did as well, but Strive surpasses both. There were times when I watched the story in which I would forget that this wasn’t a movie. A well-crafted soundtrack accompanies the outstanding visuals, one that once again reminded me of RWBY, as Strive‘s soundtrack, like that of the show, also maintains a particular style throughout the experience. Though it may be less memorable, it was easy to tell that they used the same artists and musicians throughout each track and in various character themes. The combination of outstanding visuals and a distinct original soundtrack help make this game a complete package.
Guilty Gear Strive is an excellent addition to the series. However, I feel that there isn’t quite enough here to draw the number of new players that Arc System Works wants to gain. It has the looks that will draw people in, but it still requires more of a learning curve than Dragon Ball FighterZ did, and I doubt casual players want to spend $60 to spend most of their time in the training menus. However, Guilty Gear is such a popular series that they couldn’t leave the veteran players behind. There is a fine line to pleasing fans both new and old in this situation, and the developers handled it with great care—so while Guilty Gear Strive may not handle it perfectly, it is still the best option for new players to jump in for the first time. You may not understand who these characters are or what is going on at first, but it is a rewarding experience when you put in the work.
Review copy kindly provided by Strangely Compelling PR
The Bottom Line
Arc System Works is always striving for greatness in the genre, and they have done it yet again by making Guilty Gear a more accessible fighting game for players of all skill levels.