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Guilty Gear -Strive- Is Big, Beautiful, and Risky as Hell

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This is weird to say in hindsight, but back when I was just starting to wrap my head around fighting games, Guilty Gear was my entry point. Despite how complex these games actually are, there’s something about the way Guilty Gear feels in motion, the way moves chain together so easily, that gives it an inherent casual appeal. That said, Arc System Works has been spending the HD gaming era exploring ways to erode the barrier of entry and raise the casual skill ceiling. After spending some time with the closed beta for Guilty Gear -Strive-, we’re seeing the biggest push in that direction yet.

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Despite worries going into this that Guilty Gear is changing on a fundamental level, it really isn’t. -Strive- is absolutely a Guilty Gear game, although it’s not as interested in inside baseball as much as previous games have been. The UI is heavily geared towards helping people learn how to play, which includes play style information on the character select screen. The command list, my favorite part, not only describes the use case for each move, but loads a little video of what it does right in the list. Elements like the health bar and special meter are also pretty enormous.

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That’s all subject to change of course, and that includes the most drastic-feeling choice with Guilty Gear -Strive- so far. For a long time, Guilty Gear (and ArcSys fighters in general) have had pretty lengthy fight times. Higher level play can involve huge combos, tons of back and forth, and ridiculous phrases like “Roman Cancel.” But for -Strive-, at least in its current state, rounds zip by in a flash. This is because damage, even for basic attacks, is huge. We’re talking noticeably bigger than launch Street Fighter V huge. It was hard to even get a feel for what characters could do on beta day one (vs CPU play) because games were over so quickly.

Naturally, the discourse online is thriving. A lot of Guilty Gear enthusiasts are not thrilled about the current state of damage, even though there’s a lot going on with scaling still. It didn’t help that the closed beta was bogged down with network issues and a bizarre matchmaking lobby that wasn’t a great experience even when it was functioning properly. (Also ArcSys had to encourage social distancing as a workaround which is just morbidly hilarious). But while nobody seems to have much of a problem with all the extra informative content, the big divide is absolutely over this new sense of pacing. It’s a dramatic adjustment to make for sure, especially in the limited play fields of a beta test.

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I’m not sure how I feel about all that yet, to be honest. Especially since I have no doubts the damage numbers will see some adjustment. But what I do know is that Guilty Gear -Strive-, in an era of ArcSys changing the game in fighting game visuals, is the most amazing-looking video game I’ve seen since, well, Dragon Ball FighterZ. Sometimes it feels like a bit much, such as when the camera gets real showy or the lighting interacts with stage backgrounds in weird ways. But from the way characters are individually lit and shaded, to how buttery smooth the animation is, I damn near had to scrape my jaw off the floor.

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The road to Guilty Gear -Strive- has definitely felt a bit odd, from the conversations the creators have had with press, to the more frequent ArcSys game output. But after actually playing the game, even with so much to adjust to as a long-time fan, I’m absolutely hyped for this thing. Even if I don’t get to play fighters as seriously as I’d like to anymore, I cannot understate how blown away I was by -Strive-’s visual fidelity. And as far as the way the fundamentals and special moves feel, this is still Guilty Gear. It’s far too early to really cast judgment on Guilty Gear -Strive-, especially since the netcode was far from final, but so far I’m more excited coming out of the beta than I was going in.

Guilty Gear -Strive- is aiming for a late 2020 release.

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Lucas White
Lucas writes about video games a lot and is a former Siliconera editor. Sometimes he plays them. Every now and then he enjoys one. To get on his good side, say nice things about Dragon Quest and Musou. Never mention the Devil May Cry reboot in his presence. Backed Bloodstained on Kickstarter but all his opinions on it are correct regardless.