…For Excellence

HIGH Hyperfast, hyperaggressive fighting in abundance.

LOW Stage 9 Nagoriyuki is a crime against humanity.

WTF The White House sure has some interesting quirks to its design.

I’ve always had a soft spot for Guilty Gear — it’s a fighting series that has somehow failed to achieve mainstream success despite looking fantastic, having a great selection of interesting characters, a killer soundtrack and interesting, kinetic action. However, it’s also known as a series that’s impenetrable for anyone not willing to put in a lot of effort to learn its systems, so for this latest entry developer Arc System Works have attempted something pretty brave — they’ve made a concentrated effort to make their work more accessible, while also trying to ensure that it’s deep enough for diehard fans.

Players can choose from one of fifteen characters right now, thirteen of which are familiar faces returning alongside two newcomers – Nagoriyuki, a musclebound vampiric samurai, and Giovanna, a special service agent who fights with a spirit wolf to beat her opponents at rushdown speeds. They’re polar opposites in many ways given that Nagoriyuki’s a precise (but rooted) fighter who’s unable to dash, and Giovanna relies on her quickness and mix-up game to succeed, but they’re both cool additions to the franchise.

The rest of the cast will be familiar to returning players, and it’s still a selection that offers a large amount of variety to suit nearly any playstyle. Ky’s a fairly basic Street Fighter ‘shoto’ type with a dragon punch and fireballs, whereas May fights with a giant anchor and chucks dolphins and tidal waves at her opponents. Axl Low can keep people at range with his chain and sickle via spacing techniques, and Potemkin’s a massive dude who can only waddle around slowly, but his special throw does more damage than some characters’ super moves, so getting into grabbing range can result in terrifying, game-ending consequences.

Looking at the actual fighting, in some ways it’s a soft reboot for the series, with mainstays such as the gatling combo system being restructured to be more accessible to fans of other fighting games. Damage output is up across the board, combo length typically reduced, and movement options (such as air dashing and the like) have undergone noticeable changes. Fortunately, it’s all resulted in an experience that’s still a blast to play and the aggressively bombastic spirit of the franchise is still purring away under the hood.

The online’s a little strange. Arcsys always tries to present new and interesting spins on their online lobbies, and they’ve done that again here with a weird (but charming) two dimensional tower system. Players are dumped into rooms and ready up at a battle station before taking on opponents. As they rack up wins, they begin ascending the tower. Start doing poorly, and they slide back down. This approach does make for slower matchmaking than the fighting videogame standard of just hitting a ranked or player match button on the menu and being hooked up with an opponent, but I think it’s kinda charming.

Less charming is taking almost three minutes to connect to the servers every time the game’s booted up. I used a stopwatch for this, and it consistently took two minutes and fifty five seconds. I can only hope this is a temporary issue, but putting that downtime aside, online matches tend to be smooth, even across different regions.

However, while the quality of these connections has been good, as time passes I’m seeing large imbalances across the roster. Naturally, I’m unsure how everything will shake out and ultimately evolve this early in the game’s competitive lifespan, but May’s dolphins and Sol’s 6S move are so abused online that they’ve practically become a meme at this point. It’s unfortunate because instead of being presented with skillful and varied play, a new player’s first steps online will likely be greeted by a Sol mindlessly spamming bullshit.

I was also slightly disappointed in the training mode and optional extras available. I couldn’t find any way to learn ‘example combos’ for each character and wound up having to hunt them down online — it’s not a huge issue, but for a developer wanting to increase approachability, why not have the tools for learning easily selectable in the training mode?

Fans of the series’ gameplay-free Story Mode will be happy to see that it returns once more, and it’s a great opportunity to catch up with Ramlethal, May, and Faust — except it isn’t because those three are completely absent this time out. The rest of the playable roster do show up, but about half of those have substantially less screen time than complete randoms we’ve never seen before — some of which are almost certainly destined to be DLC additions further down the line. Sadly, the dialogue hits anime levels of psychobabble too often for my taste, and characters are often left yammering on about obscure plot points and complexities that are hard to care about.

While that mode is a letdown, what’s not disappointing is the presentation of this entry — it’s off the charts and one of the greatest-looking fighting games ever made, with an incredible anime aesthetic and dynamic stage transitions that see characters getting catapulted like human cannonballs between backgrounds alongside a ton of neat stylistic features. For example, landing a counter hit causes the word ‘counter’ to flash across the screen in massive writing. Perform a homing jump from a dust attack, and the characters soar offscreen and into the skies as the combo continues. It looks beautiful, and remains easy to parse as the action gets hectic.

In summary, Guilty Gear Strive is an excellent evolution of a series that’s always provided players with a unique and interesting approach to weapons-based combat, and now it’s slightly less impenetrable for newcomers. It’s got room to grow, but it’s a stylish, standout fighter whose strengths absolutely outnumber its flaws.

Rating: 8 out of 10

Disclosures: This game is developed by and published by Arc Systems Works. It is currently available on PS4, PS5 and PC. This copy of the game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on the PC. Approximately 5 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode, and the game was completed. Around 15 hours were spent in the online multiplayer.

Parents: According to the ESRB, this game is rated and contains Blood, Language, Mild Suggestive Themes and Violence. The official description is as follows: This is a fighting game in which players engage in one-on-one battles using human characters and biological weapons called GEARs. Players use punches, kicks, and various weapons (e.g., swords, chain scythes, giant scalpels) to drain opponents’ life meters. Each character can execute special attacks that include bursts of flames, shadowy creatures, and blasts of energy. Impact sounds and cries of pain are heard throughout matches. Blood-splatter effects occur during combat, and one cutscene depicts a man’s hand and chest impaled by a spike, resulting in brief blood splashes. Some female characters wear revealing outfits (e.g., deep cleavage), and are depicted with exaggerated-sized breasts and/or brief jiggling effects; some camera angles focus on characters’ cleavage. The word “sh*t” is heard in the dialogue.

Colorblind Modes: There are no colorblind modes available.

Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: This game offers subtitles. The subtitles cannot be altered and/or resized. There are no audio cues needed for successful gameplay. This game is fully accessible.

Remappable Controls: Yes, this game offers fully remappable controls.

Darren Forman
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