Big fan of Japan, whiskey, and loud music.
PS4, PC, PS5
June 11, 2021
Arc System Works
Arc System Works
I consider myself a bit of a tourist when it comes to fighting games. I have dabbled across many different fighting franchises and achieved a fair level of competency in each one, without ever really putting in the hard yards to master any particular game. Guilty Gear -Strive-, from Arc System Works (Dragon Ball FighterZ), might just be the game to ensnare me into trying to reach a competitive level in a fighting game, because this game bloody slaps. From the striking visuals, robust and diverse character set, and rocking soundtrack to the immersive story, accessible combos, and deep tutorial systems, Guilty Gear -Strive- goes above and beyond to be both an accessible entry point for newcomers and an explosive step forward for veterans.
Guilty Gear is a series I have had a passing interest in for a while now, without ever seriously getting my feet wet. The striking cel-shaded characters, flashy special attacks, and richly diverse fighting arenas always grabbed my attention, but for one reason or another, I never committed. With the latest entry, I can firmly call myself a Guilty Gear fan.
Let’s start with the aforementioned cel-shaded characters; the cast of Guilty Gear -Strive- are among the most visually striking roster of fighters in any game since the glory days of Tekken and Street Fighter. From the quintessential anime tropes of brooding long-haired pretty boy to the hulking mech titan and quirky kawaii girl, the roster has something for every style of player and every aesthetic taste the player may have.
Paired beautifully with the characters are the combat effects, which give weight and purpose to every combo or defensive burst the player pulls off. Some of the special “Overdrive” moves are some of the most visually impressive destructive techniques since Injustice 2, resulting in some truly epic arena transitions. Each character has a range of unique Overdrives that vary from demonic infernos to flurries of samurai blades to summoning a killer whale to devastate your opponent.
“Rest assured that the story in Guilty Gear -Strive- is a rollercoaster you won’t want to get off”
The story mode delivers a rich and engaging story that will, at first glance, leave newcomers dumbfounded and scratching their heads. Luckily, there is a robust glossary and “Character Correlation Diagram” feature that provides pages upon pages of descriptions and backstories for even the most cursory of characters. This, along with a quick YouTube recap, equipped me with enough to follow the events of Guilty Gear -Strive-’s story mode, which stands out as a forerunner when compared to other games in the genre. I won’t spoil any events in this review, but rest assured that the story in Guilt Gear -Strive- is a rollercoaster you won’t want to get off.
Sound-wise, Guilty Gear -Strive- exceeds across all fronts. The dialogue, in terms of both scripting and performance, is top tier – rivalling other Japanese video game productions and high-quality anime as well. The Japanese voice actors are spot-on for each character, and each performance is emotive and convincing across the entire gamut of game modes. The story scenes are punctuated with effective sound design that immerses the player as if they were watching a long-running anime. I can’t forget to mention the absolute banging soundtrack. Each character has their own battle theme in the Arcade and Dojo modes, and each track is a thumping riff-fest that reminds me of a blend of Rob Zombie, Dark Horse-era Nickelback, and modern metalcore bands like Miss May I.
The actual gameplay of Guilty Gear -Strive-, in my opinion, is truly standout when taken in context with other modern fighters. Especially against the other big anime fighting games, such as Dragon Ball FighterZ and BlazBlue, Guilty Gear -Strive- manages to take the “easy to learn, difficult to master” concept and fine-tune it in a way that should please both veterans and newcomers alike. Within minutes of jumping into Dojo mode, I was familiar with the control scheme and able to pull off some devastating combos.
A trip through the brief-yet-essential Missions mode taught me everything I needed to feel confident in battle and set me up for success in a very enjoyable way. Additional to this, there is a cute avatar editor and dress-up function that looks to be further implemented in online play. While I only spent a few minutes dabbling in this mode, I kind of love how my little guy turned out!
The flashy animations and smooth movements of every character is a real joy to experience and makes the moment-to-moment action feel fresh and engaging even after many hours with the game. I found combos and Overdrive moves in Guilty Gear -Strive- much simpler to execute than in other recent fighting games, and that definitely helped keep me engaged and interested in exploring the varied roster of fighters.
“The story itself is top tier anime, but as a game, I was expecting a bit more immersion…”
My biggest complaint in Guilty Gear -Strive- is the lack of combat integrated into the Story mode. At first, I was eagerly anticipating transitions between the cinematic drama and frantic combat, much like Injustice or Dragon Ball FighterZ, but quickly realised that Story mode literally is just that – a story. As mentioned earlier, the story itself is top tier anime, but as a game, I was expecting a bit more immersion and engagement with said story.
The other complaint I have is the lack of variety in both narration and character dialogue in Arcade mode. Initially, there are some cool interactions at the start of each fighter’s run, but once you’ve completed a few matches you really have seen it all. There is also a small introduction before each encounter, which never changes; “Mankind knew that they cannot change society, so instead of reflecting on themselves, they blamed the beasts. Heaven or Hell”. A cool line to be sure, but after the 30th time hearing it, I was ready for some variance.
Guilty Gear -Strive- is a very competent modern fighting game that will appease both veterans and newcomers alike. With a gripping plot, enjoyable cast of characters, and steady learning curve the game is set to be one of the series’ most popular entries. I know for myself, I am keen to get stuck into the nitty gritty as I get deeper with the game, and will eventually take my skills online for the real test against actual human players. While I am disappointed the story side of Guilty Gear -Strive- is relegated to a cinematic story, the plot is rich with drama and stands toe-to-toe with actual anime productions made for TV. Some variety in the battle dialogue and narration wouldn’t have gone astray, either, but in the grand scheme of things is a minor ding against an otherwise brilliant fighter.