Guilty Gear -Strive- Beta Impressions – Visually arresting and technically sound

The Guilty Gear -Strive- Open Beta will be coming out on the 19th, and fighting game aficionados have got to be itching to try it out. We used to be huge Guilty Gear enthusiasts a long time ago, so this latest entry has us excited to hop on the fighting game train again, despite our aging reflexes. If you’ve seen any of the many trailers, you’ll immediately notice the trademark Guilty Gear flair and edge that defined the series, and it’s back in quite a big way. Big effects, stylish moves, rockin’ soundtrack – they’re all here, and -Strive- could very well be one of the best looking fighting games out there.

Given an early access to the beta, it will give you a quick taste of what to expect once the main game comes out. For single player modes, there’s the VS CPU, Tutorial, and Training Modes. Arcade is there, but won’t be available in the Beta. Tutorial has Guilty Gear mainstays Ky and Sol walk you through the various mechanics of Guilty Gear -Strive-, while Training is the more extensive experience to help you hone your skills.

The Midnight Multiplayer Carnival

As far as fighting games are concerned, Multiplayer is where most of your time will be spent, and while there is an option for local scrims, Network is the way to go if you wanna really put your skills to the test. After choosing your preferred Regional Lobbies to join, Guilty Gear -Strive- puts a pretty quirky spin on the Online Lobby concept.

What’s going to immediately get your attention is how you’ll be in a retro pixelated lobby where you can customize your avatar with various clothing (including costumes of Guilty Gear characters), accessories, and weapons. After fighting an NPC you will then be assigned to a lobby according to your skill level. You can only take on opponents of an equal or higher level than you, which is a safeguard against beating up on those helpless newcomers.

There are also areas outside of the lobbies called Parks where you’re free to lounge about and interact with other players. The game does let you change your region, but you’re highly encouraged to stay in the region closest to your area for a better online connection.

Our time was spent playing against our good friends from Jagat Play, and as far as latency is concerned, the servers held up pretty well. Granted that the early beta access didn’t have enough players to really put the servers to the test, it is at least an encouraging sign that online play is fantastic when done properly.

One gripe we had while playing online matches was that we couldn’t arrange for a rematch right away. We both had to go back into the lobby and initiate a match again from there, which definitely kills some of the momentum that players in the community are used to. Despite that, getting in and out of matches is pretty painless and quick, especially when using a PlayStation 5. There are no extensive loading times even during online matches, and performance is silky smooth with no input lag whatsoever. -Strive- is a crisp experience, which only gets better as you play more of it.

Writhe In Pain

This is definitely a whole new level of Guilty Gear. Arc System Works has already proven their top notch pedigree in the 2D Fighting Game scene with amazing titles like Granblue Fantasy Versus and Dragon Ball FighterZ, but Guilty Gear -Strive- shows they can keep things fresh while also feeling familiar.

The usual Guilty Gear mechanics like the Tension Gauge, Faultless Defense, Roman Cancels, and Bursts are still here, though some like the Guilty Gear’s trademark Destroy Moves aren’t useable yet in the Open Beta (or they may have taken it away). On the other hand, some tweaks to the fighting mechanics come in the form of the modified Gatling Combo and Dust attacks, Wall Sticks, and Area Shifts.

Guilty Gear -Strive- still has the familiar P, K, S, HS, and D button layout, but the Gatling Combos no longer consists of stringing P until HS. At most, what we were able to string together is P to special moves of S to HS. In a more concrete example, Zato-1 couldn’t string P into K nor K into P. Stringing P or K into S or HS is out of the equation as well, so you’ll be playing it quite a bit differently compared to previous Guilty Gears, but by no means is the game any lesser for it. In fact, it feels a bit more cerebral now, as button mashing won’t be as effective and you’ll have to make use of pokes and learn attack priorities to make your way out of sticky situations.

Dust Attacks too have changed, where hitting an opponent will no longer launch them in the air automatically. Hitting an opponent with a Dust Attack will simply knock them down. Otherwise, jumping after a successful Dust Attack will make you follow your opponent to the air so you can perform an Air Combo and send your opponent flying into another area.

Speaking of another area, new to Guilty Gear -Strive- is the wall stick system which gives a whole new meaning to invisible walls. For players who love to do wall bounce combos, you’ll quickly notice that doing some hard hitting attacks on your opponents on the edges of a stage will cause them to stick to an invisible wall. Continuous attacks will show this wall slowly cracking until it finally breaks, causing your opponent to go flying to another area of the stage. Conversely, a successful Overdrive attack will also cause a wall break.

You may have already seen a similar mechanic in 3D fighters like Dead or Alive, Tekken, and Soul Calibur where fighters can suddenly move to a new area in a stage, so this feels like a logical progression for a 2D fighter such as Guilty Gear -Strive-.

Judging from the Beta, it already looks to be an intense, frantic, and technical fighting experience that the Guilty Gear series is known for, though there are some changes that slow down the pace a bit. There’s a very slight pause when counter hits occur, and there is also a very slight charge when characters air-dash. It certainly felt a little different, since previous installments flowed very smooth and continuous, so this is something that will change up your timings a bit.

Momentary Life

You’ll have access to all revealed playable characters except Anji-Mito, and what you’ll immediately notice is each is labeled with a different playstyles like Power, Speed, Tricky, or Balance. Guilty Gear veterans should have no problem knowing how each fighter plays as a lot of them are returning characters, but newcomers at least should get an idea on who fits their playstyle. And we did try out some of them.

Sol-Badguy and Ky-Kiske, for example, do still feel like the Ken and Ryu of Guilty Gear. They do deserve to be called Balance characters as they have the right balance of projectiles, anti-airs, and priorities. Obviously we also had to try out newcomers Giovanna and Nagoriyuki, with the former having a pretty solid rushdown style.

We gotta say though, for a Balance character, Nagoriyuki actually felt like someone that needs a lot of thought to his gameplay because he didn’t have standard dash moves, and you need to manage his Blood Gauge which increases when doing certain moves and once maxed out, causes him to have a different set of properties.

On the other hand, Giovanna plays her best when you rush her in, pressuring opponents with various mix ups and moves that can cross the opponent up, dealing maximum damage in a short amount of time.

Dr. Baldhead aka Faust also got our attention because for a Guilty Gear mainstay that had a pretty wacky fighting style, he gained a level of creepy in Guilty Gear -Strive-, with his erratic speech patterns and disturbing mannerisms. He’s still obsessed with afros though and he still requires some skill to use since he still has the random element about him. It’s just amazing how they were able to give a Guilty Gear veteran a pretty fresh feel.

Of course, one of our favorite Guilty Gear veterans May has finally grown-up after so many Guilty Gear games. She’s still rightfully labeled a Power character because she still packs a punch, and her charge moves may still feel familiar to players who mainly use May in the past.

Tricky characters like Zato-1, as the name suggests, will take a bit of more time to get used to. In previous Guilty Gear games, Zato-1 was more famously known for his pressure attacks that can completely zone out an enemy. He still plays the same, but Eddie has different attacks now compared to before, so he will need a bit of relearning.

Awe Of She

Visually, the game is an eye candy buffet. If you thought the developers’ work on their previous fighting games were already amazing, then you haven’t seen anything yet until you’ve played Guilty Gear -Strive-.

This is clearly still a 2D fighting game, but the introduction of the stages and the fighters entering the battlefield feel very cinematic that you’d be forgiven for thinking this was a 3D fighter like Soul Calibur. You can still skip these sequences like before but the visuals are amazing enough that you might forget to do so.

There’s even details like shadows casted on fighters if they’re fighting in a stage with a shade, which will change should they move to an area with more lighting. This was clearly noticeable when shifting areas and speaking of that these transitions also look so amazing that they need to be seen to be believed. Admittedly, we did spend some time during training just to see what the different areas in a stage looked like.

While the fighters do stand out a little compared to the backgrounds since they’re more brightly shaded compared to the NPC’s, the whole package still looks amazing visually. We didn’t even mind anymore how NPCs in the background don’t react when someone suddenly comes crashing down from the air during a fight just because everything just looks so good. In fact, this may be one of the prettiest fighting games out there, and the character models are really something to behold.

guilty gear screenshot 1

This is Guilty Gear after all, so it would be a crime to not talk about the fantastic soundtrack. Each round against an opponent is complimented by awesome heavy metal tunes, which is as catchy as they come. Just from the game’s main theme, “Smell of the Game,” you may already find yourself tapping your feet as you play.

Guilty Gear Xrd was already a big change for the series due to adding vocals to the soundtrack, and that tradition is continued here. Chipp-Zanuff’s new theme, for example, is still as fast-paced like his Suck-A-Sage theme but now there’s vocals. The effects and voices are no slouch either, as every character is well-voiced and the sound effects like the fire from Sol’s moves or the lightning from Ky’s are all impactful as they come. Guilty Gear -Strive- looks good, but plays even better.

Let’s rock

Overall, the Guilty Gear -Strive- Beta was a blast to play. True to its character, the game is visually breathtaking and is a technical fighting game that will demand a lot of you if you want to compete at a high level. Veterans in particular, may welcome the challenge to learn something new due to some of the changes.

The game may not as feel as fast-paced compared to the previous titles but at the end of the day, this is still a Beta. It’s very likely Arc System Works will be noting down player feedback, which will be very useful before the final release on April 19. Guilty Gear -Strive- is a solid experience, and if this beta is anything to go by, then Arc System Works may just have another fighting game masterpiece on their hands.

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