Hands-On: Guilty Gear -Strive- is more accessible, easier to learn

Arc System Works was nice enough to let us get in on the Guilty Gear -Strive- open beta a little bit early. This build of the game is near completion and gave us a taste of what’s soon to come. You can say that we “really know the smell of the game” now. How does it smell?

Let’s take a whiff.

General Feel

Overall Strive feels much slower than previous Guilty Gears, in a good way. It’s no less technical, with lots of characters each with special mechanics and gimmicks, each feeling like they are playing a totally different fighting game. But combos are much shorter and moves do a bit more damage.

The best way I can describe Strive is: heavy. Every strike feels like it has weight to hit. Hit-stop and screen shake are super exaggerated, making every single hit feel like it has explosive force. You might have also seen the ludicrously big “COUNTER” text or the combo counter that takes up the whole screen. Or maybe you saw how dust combos now cause you to go flying through the air almost as if you were in an anime cutscene. All of this adds to the feel of each individual move being a big deal. Even small punches and kicks feel like massive game swinging attacks.

This is clearly done on purpose. Arc couldn’t do much to make Guilty Gear, one of the most notoriously complex fighting games, more inviting to newbies. So instead of introducing auto combos or easy specials, it simply gives newbies more time to press the buttons that anyone else would press. More hit-stop means combos are easier. The special wall-splat animations allow you to be creative in a corner without having to memorize long optimal damage strings. Shorter combos also mean that you have to do less memorization, while bigger damage puts a heavier focus on fundamentals. That said, this still feels like Guilty Gear but it feels like a Guilty Gear that newbies actually have a chance to learn.

This is sure to make a good portion of the die-hard fanbase angry, especially if they are used to the blinding speed of earlier Guilty Gear games like +R. However, personally, I think this change is good. The absurdly high damage generates massive amounts of hype in every match you have. Seeing the large “COUNTER” flash across the screen when you land a counter hit makes all of your senses wake up, ready to improvise a visually impressive combo at a moment’s notice. The slower speed makes matches feel more tactical, more cerebral, and less like a curb stomp, especially if there’s a disparity in skill levels.

In short, Arc System Works wanted this game to be more accessible to the general public without using any of the modern fighting game shortcuts that pro players always complain about, and they succeeded. There are no shortcuts here. You have to learn Strive to play it, but it’s much easier to learn, especially if you never touched a Guilty Gear before in your life.

Characters

For the most part, characters retain their identities from previous Guilty Gears, just with a couple of changes here and there. Sol has a new super, Ky can Dragon Install now, Eddie’s drill no longer hits low, everyone has a few tweaked moves and a few changed mechanics.

Some characters have undergone bigger changes than others. Ramlethal plays nothing as she did in Xrd. In fact, her entire ability to set her swords remotely is gone, and now they are just projectiles that weaken her normals when she uses them. Leo’s “rekka” style moves are completely gone and instead, he gets a command grab in their place. Both of these changes were made in service to the gameplay feel I talked about before. They keep combos shorter and less complex, making both of these characters easier to learn.

This is also the first time we got to play with Nagoriyuki and Giovanna, the two new characters to enter the roster. Giovanna is a simple character, with only four specials and a very simple unique mechanic. As her super meter builds, all her moves get better. You need to choose between spending meter for cancels and supers or keeping the passive buff. She’s perfect for very new players and actually feels somewhat like a Granblue Fantasy Versus character which will be great for anyone transferring over from Arc's other popular fighter.

Nago, on the other hand, feels like a Samurai Shodown character who can break the rules of Samurai Shodown. When he isn’t using his specials he is big, slow, has lots of range on his moves, and does a lot of damage. He can’t double jump, air-dash, or even dash on the ground. All he can do is play a wicked poking game. It’s Samsho all over. However, he fills his “Blood Rage” meter by breaking the rules and canceling his specials into other specials, creating huge damage output. The catch is that overusing this mechanic will make him go berserk, which costs him half his life bar and disables all his specials, and leaves him open temporarily in return for increasing the range and damage of his normals. Or, in other words, if you keep breaking the rules of Samsho, the game will force you to ONLY play by the rules of Samsho. It’s a unique design and he feels very powerful.

Online

Honestly, I am happy to report that Arc System Works finally did it. They made a netcode that works. We haven’t seen a good rollback netcode from a Japanese publisher yet, and Arc System Works broke the barrier.

What does this mean? Well, it means you have to think about your connectionless. It means even if you are on wi-fi you can have some smooth matches. It means if you are wired, you might have smooth matches all the way across the world. It’s such a welcome change from the delay-based netcode that we are used to in Arcsys games.

That being said… the matchmaking is horrible. While the servers were pretty sparse due to it being a closed press period and matchmaking should be easier when more people flood in, finding a match was needlessly complicated. Waiting in quickmatch did nothing. Going into my region’s open lobby also did nothing but meet me with empty floor after empty floor. I had to manually go around to every region and check out every skill level I could to find a match. It was agony.

This bodes ill for the post-release period when the servers are less populated. With no way to search every region and every skill level for the first match you want, online play is going to die off quickly. Arc System Works did say that more matchmaking options will be available in the full version and we can only hope that these issues will be addressed by then.

Controllers

There is one major downside to the beta which I feel needs to be expressed. The PS5 version does not allow you to use PS4 arcade sticks - at all. I tried every single arcade stick that I owned, including self-made ones with several different PCBs, and PS4 controller converters and not a single one worked on the PS5. It simply said the generic message “the controller you are using cannot be used to play PS5 games.”

This is an UNBELIEVABLE disappointment. Sony assured us that PS4 specialty controllers would work on the PS5, even for PS5 games, and it’s simply not true. That means any lucky PS5 owner out there is going to have to buy a TOTALLY new arcade stick just to play Strive, and PS5 arcade sticks are super rare right now.

It’s a shame because the PS5 version of the game looks amazing, markedly better than the PS4 version. However, I still spent most of my time on the beta so far on the PS4 version just because I wanted to use my controller of choice.

Tutorial

The tutorial mode is nowhere near as interesting as it was advertised on the website. While, yes, it is “adaptive” observing your play and freezing time to teach you any skills that you may not already know, those skills are limited to basic movement and button functions. It doesn’t go into any deeper mechanics or move-lists. It doesn’t even teach you how to Roman Cancel, which is the central mechanic! The tutorial ends in barely over a minute, saying more detailed lessons are available in mission mode… which wasn’t available in this beta.

Training

Training mode, on the other hand, was fantastic. It’s honestly one of the best training modes in fighting games yet. If you can think of an option it’s here. Recordable dummies now allow you to program in several layers of A.I. You can now program in your own custom combos and practice them, complete with a combo rhythm display. You can save and replay game positions to practice setups. I spent hours labbing out characters here only to find another option to fool around with.

We only got a short time to fool around with the beta so far but it will run through February 21, 2021. We will be sure to keep testing out the netcode, fooling around the roster, and bringing you any important updates. Arc System Works said they will have some pretty big news when the beta period finishes, so stay tuned.