Release Date: June 11, 2021
Platforms: PlayStation 4 · Microsoft Windows · Arcade game · PlayStation 5
Series: Guilty Gear
Designers: Daisuke Ishiwatari · Hidehiko Sakamura
Developer: Arc System Works
Publishers: Arc System Works · SEGA · Bandai Namco Entertainment
"Review Copy Provided By Arc System Works"
Guilty Gear has been around since 1998 when it launched exclusively (at the time) on the PlayStation and was heavily regarded back then as one of the absolute best hidden gems in the fighting game genre that received no recognition. It was a franchise that dared to be different and buck the trends of not only visual aesthetics for its overall look and character designs, but also in how it told it’s story through effectively using both the series staple arcade mode and also the visual novel aspect that was massively popular in Japan at the time (and still very much is today) to flesh out these fighters and give them more reason to clash than a simple fighting tournament that gathers the worlds strongest. Guilty Gear also was incredibly inspired by Daisuke’s love of Rock n’ Roll which is evident in almost every characters’ themes as well as their visual designs and more. Look at Sol Bad Guy (yes that’s the main protagonists name) and Ky Kiske’s belt buckles and you’ll see “FREE” and “HOPE” carved into them giving you an idea of their personalities.
A few years after the original’s release we saw releases on the Sega Dreamcast, PlayStation 2, and even the original Xbox and this entry that kept getting updates was known as initially known as Guilty Gear X. The franchise continued to release updates, spin-offs, and sequels in this franchise alongside manga and even pachinko machines that continued to progress the plot established by the 1998 original. While the franchise continued to grow, it also remained to the mainstream as an incredibly niche series in the FGC or Fighting Game Community that didn’t rapidly grow the way most traditional fighting games tend to do. All that has changed with the newly released Guilt Gear -Strive- or GGST which has gained global attention with its sensational graphics that look like you’re playing a anime, easy to get into yet difficult to master mechanics, and a massive marketing push unlike any other title in the series’ history. With everything that series creator Daisuke Ishiwatari has put into this seeming finale of the current story arc and the massive marketing that Arc System Works has put into the game; will it be HEAVEN to play for new and returning fans or will it be HELL for all parties involved? Let’s ENTER THE MAYHEM and find out!
Guilty Gear -Strive- follows the events of Guity Gear Xrd/Revelator/REV 2 and is set to wrap up the story of main series character Sol Bad Guy aka Frederic Bulsara.
You want me to do a story deep dive on Guilty Gear to get you up to speed in this review? That’s not happening as even Arc System Works themselves on the Guilty Gear website have a whole tab where you can read the comments and synopsis and also watch several YouTube videos in order to be caught up on everything that is going on in this games world. Long story short………this plot isn’t easy to follow in any sense of the word. For those who are curious about the story, you can go here (STORY | GUILTY GEAR -STRIVE- | ARC SYSTEM WORKS) and find out as much as you and also check out the encyclopedia in the game.
To say that this isn’t one of the smoothest feeling fighting games would be a MASSIVE lie. GGST plays so buttery smooth with it’s simple control layout and easy to grasp yet difficult to master mechanics. The buttons are punch, kick, slash, heavy slash, dust, taunt, dash, Roman Cancel, and Psyche Burst. You can combine any of your attacks to chain together combos and even include the various special moves that each character has. For me, I’m a Ky main so my play style can flow between being a rush down player or a zoner with the offensive options available at Ky’s disposal as he is a very versatile character as is the series other main character Sol Bad Guy who has a similar albeit more powerful playstyle to Ky which makes since given their connection to one another.
The roster is admittedly smaller than the last several entries and honestly is the most comparable to the 98 original in its size although many more characters will be returning with the upcoming season passes. I do wish it carried over the roster from Xrd Rev 2 alothough this game and it’s engine were built from the ground up and didn’t reuse assets from that entry. You have your returning mainstays like Sol Bad Guy, Ky Kiske, May, Zato-01, Chipp Zanuff, Axel Low, Faust, and a few others while also bringing in a few new characters like Giovanna and Nagoriyuki.
GGST is incredibly easy to pick up and play and yet can be difficult to put down and has a large number of modes for you to dive into and has the single best in-game tutorial in any fighting game ever that teaches you every aspect of the game including the complicated Roman Cancel and Dust mechanics.
If you want to dive into the story mode, then you will be treated to some of the best presented fighting game story cinematics any Japanese fighting game company has ever put out that goes so far as to even rival NetherRealm Studios efforts in the Mortal Kombat and Injustice franchises. The story, albeit hard to grasp if you haven’t played almost all of the franchise, is enjoyable to sit and watch especially with the return of the English voice cast. There is the traditional Arcade Mode which sees you fight your way through 8 fighters. There is a training mode which will teach you everything you need to know along with a Mission Mode that gives you various objectives to complete.
The online mode is definitely the star of this game as it has honestly the absolute best netcode featuring Rollback Netcode which nearly eliminates all lag and latency and gives you an almost arcade like in person feel with next to no drops in quality. The way online works is you check into the hotel and are assigned to a floor based on how you do with defeating one of the scripted fights. I ended up on the 7th floor given how well I performed and as I level up and win more battles which lets me earn the chance of ranking up and moving on up to the next floor of the hotel. You walk around the hotel with a fully customizable Minecraft-esque avatar and you can go from floor to floor and walk around interacting with the NPC’s and even other players which is how you can initiate online battles.
This game is one of the most graphically impressive games I’ve ever seen. The engine that was founded in Xrd has truly evolved over the last 6 years amongst the various Xrd revisions, Dragon Ball FighterZ, and GranBlue Fantasy Versus and is showing how far TEAM RED have been able to take this engine to the next level. If you thought the engine made Xrd look amazing, then GGST will put Xrd to shame with a substantial increase in graphical fidelity and details in the characters.
The game looks and feels like you are playing an anime and at times it’ll be hard to not think that the character models aren’t hand drawn as they are effectively 3d models that have the character designs layered over them with a cell-shaded affect which leads to them truly coming to life. The environments and stages you fight in all have a very metal and steam punk aesthetic to them which really brings the fights to life as the characters both fit in the arenas they are fighting in while also standing out from the background and it just works.
There are moments during fights when you hit an enemy and stager them causing the Counter status to hit which will cause the gameplay to slowdown and the font for counter will popup and blend behind the fighters while also distorting the audio with a time distortion effect.
This soundtrack is METAL AF and I LOVE IT! The main theme of GGS being “Smell of the game” is nothing short of being a MASTERPIECE and gets you amped to dive into this game. Each character has a theme that perfectly suits them such as Axel Low’s “Out of the Box”, Chipp’s “Play the Hero”, and especially our main heroes’ themes being Ky’s “The Roar of Spark” and Sol’s “Find Your One Way” which harken back to their classic themes from older entries yet brings in a new fierceness and tenacity culminating in the events of GGS.
The voice acting is top notch with every character sounding as they should in this game with their English voice actors. Admittedly, I was taken for a loop when I first heard the English launch trailer as I had gotten conditioned to not hearing English voices since they introduced them in Guilty Gear 2: Overture and Xrd and then dropped them for Revelator and REV2; so hearing them again really was an awesome thing.
The voice of Sol captures his detached and aloof yet tormented and pained existence as the prototype Gear while the voice of Ky showcases the young man’s growth over the franchise into a confident young hero no longer clouded by doubts.
The sounds of all the attacks sound like they HURT! Everything just has a punchy crisp sound to them that makes you feel like you’re in the midst of the battle and that’s exactly how a fighting game should sound.
So, with all the praise I’ve given the game, I do have to be honest about some of the issues the game has and honestly it comes down to the fact that I’ve run into issues with the game crashing on PS5 after an hour or more of playing it which is annoying and I’m hoping a patch will fix that over the coming weeks.
The other issue I’ve run into is the game locking up once you rank up in online as in my experiences, I’ll be in the middle of restarting a match with an online opponent and then the game will shift me to the hotel floors and state I have ranked up and to wait and ultimately the game just locks up here and you’re unable to do anything other than force closing the game and relaunching the game.
Aside from those two above issues, I’ve not run into anything else that would hamper my time with this game.
The fighting game of 2021 is hands down Guilty Gear -Strive- as there’s really nothing that is touching this game when it comes to graphics, gameplay, audio design, story mode, and ease of accessibility. GGST just nails it on so many fronts and only has 2 minor issues that need to be fixed to make it the ultimate fighting game of the year. While it could’ve used more characters to play is initially, Guilty Gear -Strive- is one of the absolute best games to release in 2021 with tight controls and is seriously content rich. Don’t pass up this gem!