Fighting games come in all shapes, colors, and flavors. I think it’s pretty safe to say that Guilty Gear is one of the wildest, unmatched flavors at whatever store you buy it at. A historically wacky and intense fighting game series, Guilty Gear Strive brings all the intensity and craziness back to the table, only to feed further into its own insanity. Even while lowering the bar to allow the game to be more accessible to newcoming players, Guilty Gear Strive stays true to its roots and remains one of the strongest entries in the 2D fighting game genre.
Guilty Gear has always held a special place in my heart as one of the first fighting games I seriously got into, but it’s also known to be one of the weirdest. In older iterations, move and combo memorization were almost essential even to normal play, and there were special combinations to unleash even one-hit-KO moves. (My personal favorite of which being Slayer’s.) Guilty Gear Strive simplifies gameplay for the most part, and extensive combo strings are really going to be appearing at the higher levels. As a casual player, there’s still a ton to do with your friends or at a party. If you’re looking to go more in-depth with it, Guilty Gear Strive has an incredibly deep tutorial system, teaching everything from basic movement to Roman Cancels to counterplay against specific characters. If you choose to go down that path, the tools are certainly there, and to a much further extent than I’ve seen most fighting games go to. Online competitive play is incredibly fluid as well, with rollback making it feel as if you’re playing on the same couch as your opponent. Guilty Gear Strive really changed the game with how well the rollback functions, and seeing similar implementation in future fighting games feels essential after playing Strive.
On a similar front to how well the rollback works, the game looks phenomenal. The backgrounds, effects, and character design are all beautifully done. The new character designs and particle effects for attacks and projectiles are stunning as well. Characters like Giovanna fit right in with the rest of the cast and don’t feel like forced additions while some members of the old cast got cut. Even with a smaller cast than older games, everyone in Guilty Gear Strive feels like they have a place. The environments have a lot of character and are very memorable, and the environmental breaking feature makes matches feel dynamic, almost as if you’re playing an adventure game. This paired with some of the character’s super moves brings a cinematic quality even to low level fights, abilities and proper timing have weight and look fun. It’s a great way to describe the action in this game as well, it looks downright fun to the point where a controller is probably going to be passed around to people who don’t even play games usually.
Going further into the rabbit hole, Guilty Gear Strive has an incredible feature for story and lore lovers. While the story is essentially a series of cutscenes and that alone, there is such an expansive library of lore and terms and character relations that transcends anything I’ve seen in a fighting game. There are some long running novels that can use this level of organization and attention to detail, which is absolutely insane. If you’re not caught up on Guilty Gear’s crazy world and story so far, there’s nothing to worry about. Everything is in the game to read, from all the way back before the setting of the games. If that’s too confusing, there is also a tree of character relationships that defines who is related directly and indirectly related to each other, even if the character isn’t in the game. The sheer amount of information available is dizzying, but not unwelcome to those who genuinely want to know everything about the story.
Overall, Guilty Gear Strive really feels like the next step in fighting games. Everything about the game is incredibly well thought out and meaningful. With a lower barrier for entry, newer players are able to enjoy the game just as well as veterans. With the rollback working as well as it does they’re also able to play with friends across the globe from the comfort of home while feeling almost no delay. With a healthy DLC pipeline for more characters and story content and genuine care put into the fostering of a new generation of fighting game lovers, Guilty Gear Strive stands as an example to other companies looking to make 2D fighters going forward, regardless of how wacky they are.
Score: 9 out of 10
Reviewed on PlayStation 5