Now I must acknowledge and apologize that despite considering myself a fighting genre fan since the very first time I played IK+ on my Amiga back in the day, the Guilty Gear series is one I have not played until now. Which is more shocking when you consider that it is a system that has a full-on twenty-year legacy to celebrate and the developers at Arcsystemworks have been responsible just for Guilty Gear but a list of games any fighting game fan would instantly recognize such as Baz Blue and Persona 4 Arena to name but two. Guilty Gear Strive coming to PS5, PS4 and PC was my chance to have a first date with this series and I have to say, it was an intriguing introduction to the series.
I came to know the name of Arcsystemworks from their most recent success in Dragon Ball FighterZ, a fighting game that I absolutely adored and captured not only everything I loved about fighting games but also my favourite Anime series in Dragon Ball. The attention to detail in FighterZ made me want to check out their next Guilty Gear title and thankfully Strive was announced for PS5 so what better way to christen my new PS5 console than with the newest Guilty Gear entry.
I will say that after the first time of firing up the game and accepting all the usual agreements you need to “read” by scrolling down a very long wall of text in order to just get access to the game, each subsequent firing up of Strive lead to a good five minutes or longer of it “Connecting to the server” before you can get to the main menu became quite annoying after getting used to the incredible loading times the PS5 has only to have the traditional online networking part to take longer than it really should, I am hoping this is one of the first things to be improved in quality of life updates going forward in the game’s life.
Naturally my first stop in a fighting game is to check out the story mode, hoping to get some level of introduction into this world of Guilty Gear and its roster of 15 characters. But to my surprise, unlike fighting games like Mortal Kombat, Injustice, Tekken and Street Fighter this Story mode does exactly what it says on the mode…it tells a story. By that I mean it is a full length five-hour anime film, which has a clever feature that allows the player the option of taking a rest after each chapter therefore turning it into a mini anime series instead of a continuous five-hour film. The chapters themselves are not followed by any gameplay, so where the recent Mortal Kombat 11 for example would have a cutscene driving the narrative of the story mode but would end in the player then having some gameplay in the form of a fight before moving on to the next cutscene. So, this was quite the surprise to have a Story mode that is literally the story. It is also a story that completely lost me as a newcomer to the series as I had no idea who anyone was or what was happening.
The game does have a compendium of sorts that will teach you about the characters in the world, but I retreated out and looked up some “What happens in Guilty Gear” in order to research and learn the history of the series and the games to put me in a better position of understanding the lore and what was in the new story mode. I also must say that the animation in this anime movie essentially, is stunning and better quality than fully release anime movies I have in my collection. So there is a lot to take on board just from this Story mode alone and I could already tell that this was going to be a very different fighting game experience than I was used to.
Gameplay wise there are very minimal modes form the offline Tutorial mode which teaches you the basics of the fighting system as well as “Missions” where you continue the Tutorials but against other characters. Whilst I am more used to using a training room to practice combos and then using the arcade to try and find a character on the roster to start off learning, the tutorial missions do go some way to try and teach you the styles of each character as each character as you would expect, has a different fighting style from up close to a more ranged attack but it will be your experimentation in the arcade that along with the command list system to show you the moves of each character, will be the foundation especially for newcomers like me in getting to grips with Strive.
At the core, Guilty Gear is a 1v1 fighting game and if you have ever any experience with Street Fighter, you can easily get the basics with most of the roster of character in terms of their special moves which allowed me to find my way in. There are layers to this combat system that are going to take time to master or just get proficient in I have no doubt but finding this way in gave me the feeling that for this game in the series, to have some focus on allowing newcomers that way into the gameplay was a conscious choice which is a risky one. It is risky in that by making or changing a commonly known and embedded fighting system in order to allow folks like me a way in, those who know, love and are used to the traditional way may find those changes too much, but from the reaction I have seen online so far, now for the moment at least, that has not happened. The learning curve with some of the characters on the roster will still require putting time in to learning the move sets and combos and how to take on other players which with enough time in the Arcade mode, you will feel prepared for quickly.
Which is when you hit the remarkably interesting lobby system which instead of normal match making system you might instantly recognize in other fighting games. It uses this interesting 8-bit style choice, and you then have to move your avatar round to initiate a player battle which was also annoying in Dragon Ball FighterZ for that matter. It has only been a week since release and I did suffer some disconnections when I did find a match but like any new fighter, these issues can be resolved with title updates that can resolve the disconnections and often very long server waiting times.
My first time with a Guilty Gears game has certainly been interesting with Strive. It is one if not the best looking fighting games I have played with its blend of 2D-3D art style with such incredible attention to detail in the character designs and fighting animations with the Override moves and environmental transitions just stunning to see as well as the 3D win animation. The soundtrack is just kick-ass and the way the character look elevates this above other fighters especially on the PS5. With a Fighting system that has a nice way in for new players as well with enough depths to still provide a challenge when fighting other people, Guilty Gear Strive once server issues are resolved could be the best way to bring a new generation to this series.