I had an opportunity to play in the Guilty Gear Strive open beta and went toe-to-toe with server issues and resulting scheduling conflicts. That said, I enjoyed the game so thoroughly that had I not found a way to rearrange my schedule, I probably would have shirked my other obligations to continue the momentum. The game is thrilling, and a core reason is because the developers created the perfect environment for feeling incredible. It doesn’t even matter if you’re good. The fact that the netcode is noticeably better than past games certainly helps the sensation, mitigating uncool graphical stuttering and input lag, but that’s only a small part of the formula. It is the combination of so many other elements, each with an aim to manufacture exciting moments, that makes some of the genre’s other contenders look just a bit dull.
The experience is built atop a foundation of accessible controls. Techniques like canceling, which often require dedicated practice in other games, are naturally incorporated into gameplay. It helps that some of these moves are mapped to simple commands or single button presses. While the open beta did offer a tutorial, it was pretty bare bones compared to the exceptional tutorial mode in Guilty Gear Xrd Revelator. But again, this is an early version and the full release may expand on the basics. Even as is, players will quickly reach the benchmark where executing abilities efficiently isn’t dependent on how to do them, but when to do them. I’d suggest that, in most cases, the “how” is second nature after only a handful of matches.
The return of the tension gauge and the abilities it enables encourages a faster paced game, since it charges when the player plays offensively and utilizes what the game sees as aggressive moves. High jumps, double jumps, and aerial dashes, all a cinch to execute, get the game off the ground and thrust dodging, distance management, and aesthetic into the spotlight of every match. There’s a playfulness to utilizing these techniques. Strategies, like baiting attacks, are introduced to the player intuitively without a need for explicit lessons. It’s refreshing to get into the mind game aspect of a fighting game this early on. It’s even more refreshing that most people I played against were also embracing that.
The characters in Guilty Gear Strive are important to the atmosphere, too. The speed of the game and a few novel twists distinguish them from their archetypes. Leo Whitefang, for example, vaguely reminded me of Guile from Street Fighter at first, but I soon felt that theme song notwithstanding, Guile from Street Fighter is a boring version of Leo Whitefang.
All of the characters in the beta are distinct from one another. Aesthetically, they are detailed, stylized, and their personalities are conveyed at a glance. Their abilities feel so suited to their consistently rad design that it’s almost rare to be surprised by what they have in their toolkit. There are exceptions to this norm, though, like when the familiar May calls upon chubby dolphins, otters, and a plethora of whales to help her do violence. It might be absurd enough to be shocking the first couple times for newcomers, despite the fact that May is nautically-themed, swings a massive anchor, and has been using these sorts of moves for years. Because of this design philosophy, which marries aesthetics to gameplay, even basic combos are flashy. In situations where the player is losing miserably, which I consistently was, it’s likely that they’ll be a cool-looking loser. Additionally, even if players are entirely outmatched by an opponent, a victory still feels viable. There ways to turn the tide in a match, which is one of the most gratifying moments you can experience.
Guilty Gear Strive is, if the beta is any indication, guaranteed to be a frenetic experience that makes players look like virtuosos of violence from the moment they throw their first punches. It doesn’t even matter if they know practically nothing about the game. They can even be newcomers to the genre. My experience was that Guilty Gear Strive is faster paced than a lot of other games and so much of it clicks and makes sense. If you are really desperate to improve quickly, I recommend reviewing your library of replays, which are automatically recorded from match to match. In fact, even if you’re the best player in the world, you should still watch them, because there’s nothing wrong with a little bit of vanity. If this game can make me look and feel good, I can scarcely imagine what it would do for you.
Guilty Gear Strive will debut on the PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, and PC on April 9, 2021.