Arc System Works’ anticipated new entrance in the Guilty Gear series is finally here. Guilty Gear -Strive- lands on both current and next gen consoles, as well as PCs this week. We playtested on a PlayStation 5, having been eagerly anticipating a new PS5 fighter since Mortal Kombat 11 launched alongside the console last year.
It’s hard to name a successful fighting game these days without resorting to some of the long-running series. Street Fighter, Tekken and Mortal Kombat have all been around for ages, as have SoulCalibur and Dead or Alive. Guilty Gear is no different with its first release dating back over 20 years, but it’s always held a bit of a niche appeal over those other games with deep gameplay and eccentric storylines and characters – and Strive might change that.
Long time fans need not worry though, because this is still very much a Guilty Gear game and it’s got a plot that will be completely lost on anyone not already invested in the series. The big change is that, in a number of ways, this iteration of Guilty Gear aims to be far more accessible in terms of gameplay – without becoming some kind of button masher.
The story mode is underwhelming though, because it feels like a giant (and we mean GIANT) cutscene rather than an narrative-driven fighting adventure. With a plot that’s high on fan service and low on pulling newcomers in, it feels at odds with the rest of the game, which is clearly aimed at bringing Guilty Gear to a larger audience and growing the online community in the years to come. Speaking of which, Strive also features a ‘season pass’ model that will introduce us to more characters over time, so it’ll be interesting to see what happens there. Hopefully they’re not going the Tekken 7 route, where new seasons keep coming out but many are just waiting for Tekken 8 at this point, rather than buying more season passes on top of an already expensive ‘ultimate/deluxe/complete’ edition. In the past Arc has re-released in new and expanded editions rather than going for an evolving platform, so we’ll see how this turns out.
The starting roster for Guilty Gear -Strive- has 15 fighters to choose from, with the usual amount of diversity between them – Arc System Works’ games always excel at making sure that no two characters feel alike, and this one is no different. That isn’t a big surprise though, when you consider that 13 of the characters are returning ones from previous games in the series. Vampire samurai Nagobiyuki and special ops agent Giovanna complete the roster.
If you’ve played a Guilty Gear game before, you’ll be instantly at home with Strive’s control scheme. From standard controls for punching, kicking and slashing to special moves and gauge-activated super attacks, it’s all here. There are more refined moves and tactics to learn over time, but even without diving into character-specific moves there is plenty to master here. For newcomers, the Mission Mode is a great way of doing so. It gives you a list of tutorials to check off as you learn the ropes, from the most basic of basics to being able to cancel moves and perform aerial combos. It’s a solid tutorial that gives players everything they need to head into battle, while still leaving more to figure out once you start focusing on specific tactics and/or characters.
Guilty Gear -Strive-, on the PlayStation 5, is also easily the best looking 2D fighting game so far. With large and well animated characters that all look extremely detailed, well-designed stages and flashy special attacks, this one oozes style and delivers it with gusto. Strive also introduced the kind of multi-tiered stages we’ve seen in other fighters as well, where the right attack at the right time can send your opponent flying out of the arena and into a new one.
The game is somewhat short on content though, perhaps to justify the existence of a season pass model. Besides the small roster, you also have a limited amount of gameplay option beyond the tutorial and practice modes. You’ve got your basic arcade mode, which features snippets of story and lore for your characters, and you’ve got a versus mode for one or two local players as well as a survival mode to see how long you last against a string of other fighters. Beyond that, it’s online where the action is, and the netcode for Guilty Gear -Strive- has been working great so far, which is promising in the week of a the big release.
The online system also lets you save replays so you can learn from them, as well as Arc’s new lobby system where you walk around a 2D environment rather than select your typical options from a standard menu. The jury’s still out on that one, but we’re willing to see where they’re going with it. If you’re been looking for a new fighter that plays really well on your next gen system, both off- and online, then Guilty Gear -Strive- is the next step forward for an already excellent franchise.