Guilty Gear Strive Review: A Veteran Fighter That's Built Better for Beginners

Arc System Works is one of the most notable fighting game studios to this day due in large part to the success of the Guilty Gear franchise since its inception back in 1998. Through the years, fans have seen that first game expand with several different updates, sequels, and spin-offs culminating with the release of Guilty Gear Xrd -REVELATOR- in 2016. -REVELATOR- did get a few updates since, but the franchise has been largely dormant while the studio experimented with new series such as Dragon Ball FighterZ and Granblue Fantasy Versus. Now Guilty Gear is back with a vengeance.

Guilty Gear -Strive- brings the franchise's story and presentation into the future as it offers a fresh take on the characters and the way the fights feel overall. While the franchise has always been a feast for the eyes and ears, something about -Strive- just feels bigger overall. Carrying familiar mechanics over from past games while adding an extra bit of flair to make it feel a bit more three-dimensional, fights are just fun to play. By baking the cake so well, the rest is just icing.

Guilty Gear Strive
(Photo: Arc System Works)

Guilty Gear -Strive-, like its predecessor, seems like a difficult game to jump into from the outside. There's great care, however, to make sure that new players don't feel alienated. It admittedly is a bit esoteric in some ways with its story, but because the story continues to build on the previous entries it's a great inclusion for fans. This time around the story mode is an entirely cinematic experience (meaning no fights to break it up) built within the game's engine. So it's a fun way to jump into this world for new fans, and an even more thrilling offering for franchise veterans.

The fantastic tutorials return as well as there are not only in-depth tutorials to get you started but specific missions with full detailed explanations of how each move works available to see from the command list that break down the more complicated parts of the fighting system. So anyone who might look at the wild package and be deterred by flashy moves and meters could go through each mission or tutorial -- together with a tutorial that gives you plenty of options for the dummy opponent and more -- and learn how to fight well.

Special move commands are easy to pick up as well with the same kind of quarter-circle rotations and button presses that you can find in say, Street Fighter. There are lots of little differences in how the characters from past games move and fight, but the most notable changes from the past are the ones that also bring a three-dimensional feel to the rounds. Everything is just a little more cinematic and dynamic. For example, hitting characters in a corner can eventually result in a wall-break that shifts the fight to a new stage. It does shake up the speedier rhythm of some of the fights, but in a way that will feel favorable to newer players.

Guilty Gear Strive Wall Break
(Photo: Arc System Works)

This dynamism is a franchise staple, and -Strive- excels in all of the ways you hope. Character designs and models are gorgeous, impacts look fantastic and feel heavy, series creator Daisuke Ishiwatari's soundtrack shreds, and it's the best Guilty Gear has ever looked. Sometimes it can go a little too far as combo counters are generally much larger and can even be in the way if you're not paying attention, but it just all looks cool. Veteran players will be putting this presentation to the test in the coming months, however, and that also applies to online play as well.

As of this writing, I've tested out quite a few matches online and the rollback netcode is seemingly holding up very well. But this admittedly could change as players continue to dig into it. The lobbies are a little too complicated in their set up too. It's not like it's hard to navigate, but you create an avatar to walk around in a particular lobby (which is separated by initially tested skill level and region) and challenge others at specific waiting points. It's an unnecessary extra step that feels especially egregious if you want to play several matches in a row. You can circumvent this through the Quick Match option, but it will most likely bounce you to the lobby eventually. Couple this with any potential wait times, and it's a little clunky.

Guilty Gear Strive Online Lobby
(Photo: Arc System Works)

If you don't want to take it online, there are Arcade and Survival modes available, but that's also something one has to consider before diving in given how much more of the experience opens up with multiplayer options. For fans who have been waiting to see how Guilty Gear evolves, Guilty Gear -Strive- is an intense experience that should ultimately exceed the expectations of veteran players. For those curious about this franchise and are looking for a great way in, there's no better time to do so than now as the fighter is more welcoming than ever. Guilty Gear is back, and it wants everyone to party.

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Rating: 4 out of 5

Guilty Gear -Strive- launches on PlayStation 5, PlayStation 4 and PC via Steam on June 11th. The Deluxe and Ultimate Editions are now playable, however. A PS4 review code was provided by the publisher, and it was reviewed on a base model PS4.