As an outsider looking in, the Guilty Gear franchise was historically defined by three things:
- Incredible anime art style
- Rocking soundtrack
- Gameplay mechanics so complex you needed a Ph. D. just to be competent
While the franchise’s core audience love it for those reasons, my limited time playing Guilty Gear Xrd was a real struggle. Even with my prior experience in other fighting games at a competitive level, its layers of gameplay systems and character-specific systems immediately overwhelmed me.
Complexity doesn’t necessarily make Guilty Gear bad. In fact, with fighting game design as a whole moving towards a more streamlined approach, Guilty Gear was one of the last bastions for 2D fighters with that level of depth.
As such, the reality of ArcSys streamlining the mechanics of Guilty Gear -Strive- in hopes of brining more players to fold is one that will ruffle feathers on both sides.
Let’s tackle the easy parts first. Guilty Gear -Strive- is a visual marvel. Building off of the technical framework that allowed for ArcSys to present its 3D graphics with a 2D-looking art style, the game looks like a playable anime. Characters animate smoothly and the way in which the camera pans around once the final hit is landed is quite the visual treat for the winner.
At times, its attempts at flare come at a cost. During counter hits, the game will momentarily zoom into the action with the word “COUNTER!” appearing on the screen. The more severe the counter was, the bigger the pause and accompanying text. As a spectator, it looks phenomenal! As a player, it’s going to take some adaptation, as the pause and camera movement will throw off your timing until you get used to it.
Beyond the treatment of counter hits, there’s a lot of mechanical adjustments for veterans and newcomers to adapt to. In an attempt to streamline the combat, move sets have been somewhat simplified, combos are generally shorter, the role of aerial combat has been reduced, and gameplay systems have been streamlined somewhat for ease-of-use.
“Somewhat” is the key word in that previous statement. As someone with experience in other fighting games, many of these adjustments help lower the barrier. With a little bit of training mode time, I could perform basic combos, have a general understanding of movement, and feel like I was having a good time.
Even so, there’s still so much depth to explore, from maximizing combos from various grounded and airborne states, to the nuances that come with different blocking options, to the revised Roman Cancel system that opens up a wild level of defensive and offensive possibilities.
When a Roman Cancel is activated, the game pauses for a split-second and the player that activated it unleashes a burst of energy. If used during an attack, you immediately cancel the attack animation, allowing you to create combos or pressure sequences that otherwise wouldn’t be possible. If you’re stuck in a block string, Roman Canceling their hits will push them away. You can even dash in different directions while activating Roman Cancel, widening its creative possibilities even further. While experienced players will likely figure out the bread-and-butter combos fairly quickly, the Roman Cancel mechanic will give pros tons of space to explore.
Generally-speaking, I’m grateful for the adjustments made. As someone with experience in other fighting games, I got my base footing in a few hours and can see the long path I need to take to improve. But let’s not confuse this for being a simple or accessible fighter. There is a ton to learn and master here, placing it well above the complexity scale over titles like Street Fighter V or Dragon Ball FighterZ.
But if you’re willing to learn, there benefits are quite tantalizing. The game is a blast to play and its current crop of characters varies wildly in play style. Even if the combat is a bit simplified, there’s still so much room for creative expression and skilled play. For players without experience in Guilty Gear but are familiar with other games in the genre, I’d describe it as something that plays like a cross between Street Fighter V and Marvel vs. Capcom.
For those that choose to take the dive, I’d recommend skipping the game’s useless tutorial and jump into its much better mission mode as a starting point, which teaches core mechanics, combos, and even provides specific match-up knowledge to help you overcome moves that may appear overly oppressive.
For the online warriors, Guilty Gear -Strive- is a revelation. ArcSys games are notorious for having awful netcode, compromising every match you play. Though they did not opt for the industry standard of GGPO rollback netcode, their own version of rollback is phenomenal. Having played hundreds of matches during the beta period and the final build, I can count on one hand the number of matches that didn’t feel like local multiplayer. Many have reported being able to play across continents with no issue. Being able to play online matches that feel as good as local matches will go a long way towards the player base continuing to support this game for the long-haul.
While ArcSys nailed the netcode, other aspects of its online experience are sorely lacking. Most notably, its Hobbo Hotel style matchmaking system is atrocious. In it, players navigate an avatar across a multi-floor 2D environment, searching for players at terminals to play against. Even if it worked as intended, I don’t want any of this. But on top of being an incredibly clunky means of navigating matches, connections frequently fail and the system gets confused when multiple people try to queue in a spot at the same time. Thankfully, you can passively queue up for a match in training mode, but issues with disconnects during matchmaking persist. I really hope that this lobby system is completely reworked or thrown out in a future installment.
Guilty Gear -Strive- stumbles in spots, but ultimately stands tall off the strength of the things it does right. You’d be hard-pressed to find a better looking game on the market across any genre. Combat is still complex, but some of the barriers have been lowered just enough for players of other games to establish their footing. And even if getting into online matches can suck, the initial struggle is worth it when seemingly every match is lag-free.
Fingers crossed that ArcSys will continue to refine the game’s quirks going forward. All of my issues with it seem to be things that can be finessed over time through patches. Nevertheless, the game we’re getting now largely nails the core. Fight fans who have always been too intimidated to try Guilty Gear, this is the place to start!
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