Guilty Gear Strive is the best the series has ever been – Hands-on beta impressions

The latest entry in the long-running fighting series reaches new heights, but its recent beta wasn’t all immaculate.

Guilty Gear Strive

Image via Arc System Works

Guilty Gear Strive is the latest entry in Arc System Works’ trademark franchise stemming back to 1998. The series is a cult classic among its dedicated fanbase and is considered to be one of the greatest 2D fighters of all time. Celebrated for its visuals, engine, and soundtrack, it also established many of the fundamentals of the “anime” fighting game that still influence the genre to this day. Its rock and heavy metal aesthetic interwoven into the music, setting, character designs also set it apart, culminating in the famous battle intro “Heaven or Hell — Let’s Rock!”

Strive’s open beta premiered to much fanfare, with players getting to try it out before launch. But how did it stack up? Was the promised rebooting of this franchise a reality or the victim of over ambition? We were there, and here’s where we thought the game reached heavenly heights — and where it went hellishly wrong.

Heaven

Guilty Gear Strive’s general director Daisuke Ishiwatari and director Akira Katano previously spoke on how they reworked the graphics and and even a cursory look at Strive in action shows how fluid, detailed, and downright gorgeous the animation, stages, and character models are. The silky-smooth movements lead into equally smooth gameplay, which has been polished to a fine sheen. And while hotly debated among longtime fans, characters are balanced surprisingly well for a pre-arcade beta version. There’s plenty of room for improvement, of course, but it’s clear the developers put considerable effort into each fighter’s tech.

Both basic and advanced techniques have been introduced and improved on, with a wide variety of mechanics that allow players to control attack range between fighters as well as break up an opponent’s offensive and create openings. Though the pacing of combat has been noticeably sped up from previous titles (matching closer to modern Street Fighter games), the strategic depth and precision required to pull off these techniques have been superbly implemented. And after the deluge of games such as Dragon Ball FighterZ and BlazBlue: Cross Tag Battle that prized auto-combos and special move spamming, it’s refreshing to see a 2D fighting game embrace the more technical side of combat.

Though a few technical hiccups persisted throughout, the rollback netcode itself was some of the best we’ve seen from most Japanese fighting games. Early access players demonstrated how matches between opponents in vastly distant countries worked nearly perfectly, with a difference of three to four frames at most during the live match.

Hell

The biggest issues with Guilty Gear Strive by and far were its server and lobby. The servers have been the subject of distraught, as many players found themselves locked out of the online mode and sometimes even the game itself. Once the beta opened up to the general public, it seemed as if the team found neverending errors and crashes to identify and work on, culminating in Arc System Works actually extending the beta period by two days. The good news is that this is an issue the developers can spend the next several months fixing before launch — that’s what betas are for, after all.

Lobbies are in serious need of reworking. Essentially, the lobby has a quaint and unique premise — instead of choosing from a list of players to match against, you’re sent to a 3D space and must navigate your fighter to another player’s. Then both players must get into the “Ready” stance until the match starts. This feature is meant to be a fun minigame, but in practice the process is long and overly repetitive. Not to mention that when the lobby lags your character is teleported away, and after you relocate them, the entire process must reset. There’s no rematch option, either, so if you want to face that same opponent again, you’re restarting the entire process. It’s mind-numbing and frustrating; the feature that needs to be done away with entirely.

Final thoughts

It’s clear that the directors weren’t exaggerating in the slightest when they claimed that Guilty Gear Strive is a soft reboot of the franchise. From the graphics to the mechanics to the pacing to the rollback netcode, it shows that Arc System Works overhauled nearly everything, striving to switch up and improve each aspect of the title. Though the admittedly creative lobby system fell flat on its face, the other changes have been more than a welcome change to a slowly aging formula.

Guilty Gear Strive will launch on April 9 for PS4, Xbox One, and PC via Steam. An arcade version is also planned for release in Spring 2021.