By Isaac Espinosa
“Mankind knew that they cannot change society… so instead of reflecting on themselves, they blamed the beasts.” This is the intro that’s the prelude to every battle of Guilty Gear Strive, which was developed by Arc System Works and released to PC and PlayStation in June, 2021. The decades-long series premiered in 1998 and Strive does its best to keep up with Guilty Gear’s core philosophies, while also introducing fresh elements to attract a brand new audience to the game. That’s working because it’s now sold over 500,000 copies.
One of the most important aspects of Guilty Gear Strive is its fast-paced, high-octane gameplay. Yes, in other fighting games, the goal is to bring your opponent’s health down to 0 and win each set of rounds. But you have to understand the aspects of Guilty Gear Strive’s gameplay if you are to earn your victory. The Guilty Gear series has always rewarded players for aggression, and for overwhelming their opponents, and Strive is no exception. You’ll enjoy unique mechanics such as Roman Canceling which allows you to use your meter to eliminate the cooldown period after an attack, and burst, a way to get an opponent off you or keep them in the corner. Strive emphasizes knowing what options your opponent wants to use at certain points and striking them when you have an opening.
But these mechanics aren’t as simple as they first appear. There are four different types of Roman Cancels, so each of them has its own implementations in your combo game. Red Roman Cancels, for example, put opponents in slow motion after hitting them, allowing you to continue your combo. Yellow RCs act as a second “get off me” tool at a cost to your health meter. Burst can even be used as a way to gain full meter if you’re not blocking an opponent’s attacks; this is called a Gold Burst. The freedom to integrate these different mechanics into your style of play – in so many ways – has always been one of Guilty Gear’s best qualities.
The series has always been known for its metal heavy soundtrack and beautiful, anime-style graphics. From the bombastic energy of May’s theme (“The Disaster of Passion”) to the main theme of the game (“Smell of the Game”), each song of Guilty Gear Strive is meant to pump up the player and make them ready for battle. All the visuals of Strive help to imbue this same feeling as well. The highly detailed character models and stages help to set the stage of each climactic fight, while small visual aspects of the game like the combo counter, increasing in size with every continuous string you pull off, help to emphasize the power you feel from keeping up such a long combo.
Guilty Gear Strive’s newest elements also add to the aggro gameplay that each iteration has showcased over the years. One of these is the Wall Break, in which a continuous combo in the corner will send your opponent flying, netting you a positive bonus that rewards you with a gradual health meter increase. This feature also resets, so that each player is back where they started at the beginning of the match. This might not seem like a good thing, since players aren’t able to keep up their advantageous position. But the benefits of Wall Break are more than worth it. Having a full meter offers you many more options, such as RCs, and the opponent will have to respect that.
Wall Break also nets you an increase in damage, which can lead to a victory much sooner than you’d expect. While this feature isn’t exactly “new,” counter hits feel much more potent in Strive than in previous entries. Counter hits, which can happen if your move ends up beating out an opponent, will punish the opponent with considerable hitstun, leaving them more open to a combo than they would be under normal conditions when they can move freely. This means you have to place your strikes carefully, and understand the specific times when you should be trying to hit your opponent in order to take your advantage back. Both these features are compelling in their own ways, but they can feel pretty overwhelming to fight against if you’re on the receiving end.
Strive isn’t a perfect game, though, and the main thing that needs to be fixed is its lobby system. While battling online is a much smoother experience due to the rollback netcode, the actual lobbies are faulty. It can be extremely tedious to try and initialize a match with an opponent, which often prevents people from even playing the game because another player disconnected from the machines, or because the game disconnected you from the other player. This is not only extremely irritating, it is a frequent problem. At times, my friends and I lost interest in playing because of these issues. The recurrence of these lobby problems is simply unacceptable, especially considering how much feedback Arc Sys received about them in the last two beta tests for Strive.
Another – smaller – complaint is that while there are bursts and Yellow RCs that act as defensive options, the game lacks a real reversal option that allows for the opponent to turn the tide of battle in their favor. There’s no universal parry option, not even a button to punish an opponent for going in too much. This lack of a true reversal makes being stuck in the corner much more frustrating.
Overall, though, and despite its annoyingly inconsistent lobby systems, Guilty Gear Strive has been a great experience for me. It’s rock heavy soundtrack, gameplay aspects, and outstanding visual art style, create an experience that any fighting game player should be happy to their hands on. Beyond its competitive aspect, Strive’s changes made it easier for people who are new to fighting games to pick it up and play without feeling alienated. It should be emphasized, however, that if you’re looking to get into Strive competitively, or are a newcomer to the FGC in general, you will lose. A lot. And that’s completely okay! Because in the end it should just be about having a wonderful time with the community, and getting better together. Improving at Strive should feel fun, something to work toward because you want to. And with Strive being the newest game on the block, finding people to learn the game along with you is easier than ever.
Bronx native Isaac Espinosa is a senior intern at the New York Videogame Critics Circle. Recently, Isaac was named the Circle’s first assistant mentor.