With the exception of Warner Bros' westernized Mortal Kombat and Injustice, which have their own distinct style, for decades the Japanese have held the reins of the most complex, but also ephemeral/depository fighting games. Beyond the genre giants Capcom and Bandai Namco (+SNK before), Arc System Works is a company that has, from time to time, delivered many quality fighting games. Undoubtedly, the Guilty Gear series is its crowning glory, and the previous installment Xrd Revelator was an accomplished yet challenging game of the genre.
Arc System Works, keeping in mind the popularity of that series and in conjunction with the commercial success of the simpler but highly enjoyable Dragonball FighterZ, has chosen to take a more down-to-earth approach to the new and highly anticipated Guilty Gear Strive. To avoid misunderstandings, Strive doesn't go to the other extreme like the aforementioned title: it's still a deep, complex and challenging fighting game, just this time there's less saturated "fat" in its mechanics. Something that has already raised the ire of Revelator's most ardent fans, but which most people, fortunately or unfortunately, won't share. This is because Strive is an extremely well thought out game.
The technical sector in particular is the one that steals the show right from the start. Without hesitation, Strive is the most impressive and the most beautiful 2.5D fighting game we've ever seen. Unreal Engine 4 gives it its due, with the cel-shading approach presented better than ever, with a style that's considerably more "adult" than other anime. The use of a slightly darker colour palette in turn creates a more serious atmosphere, while the huge-sized characters feature stunningly designed animation, combined with flashy effects that flood the eye with an impressive amount of information. Regarding the latter, you may be initially alienated and confused in terms of what's happening on the screen (especially that COUNTER with its 200 font), but in a short time you'll be able to fully grasp it.
Of course, directly intertwined with the Guilty Gear series is the hard rock/metal soundtrack. It goes without saying that the same is true of Strive, with the musical themes being not just variations of banal metal riffs (are you listening to Doom Eternal?), but actual songs, with vocals and lyrics. Not everything is on the same high quality level (this is of course a matter of taste), but they contribute significantly to the release of more adrenaline.
Adrenaline that rises without getting too tired, thanks to the beautifully implemented battle system. Although it moves at slower speeds compared to the dizzying Revelator, the battles remain fast-paced and prove to be intense and exciting. Implementing lengthy combos cease to be an end in itself to achieve victory, so it's possible to execute simpler combos that inflict increased damage without tying your fingers in knots. In fact, there are a few combos that are common to all characters (fifteen in number, with only two - for now - new additions to the roster). This is where one of the key gameplay factors comes in, namely the four different Roman Cancels.
While in the first few hours you'll hardly decide to use them in a fight, the truth is that once you get into a character (I personally chose all-arounder Sol Badguy to start with, though Ramlethal Valentine is a good choice), they're great for getting your technique away from common combos and expanding them or completely confusing your opponent and starting another one. Obviously, this can't happen overnight, so hours of practice on training mode should be taken for granted.
More generally, Strive rewards offensive play, filling up the Tension bar faster, which applies to both Roman Cancels and overwhelming Overdrive moves, but that doesn't mean there aren't defensive mechanics. Aside from the standard block, Burst (which has a separate bar) is excellent at breaking up the constant stream of hits or the dash block which is enjoyable against those annoying guys who spam projectiles non-stop. Also quite an interesting addition is the Wall Break, which is a bit reminiscent of the corresponding mechanic in Dead or Alive, where after a series of hits on the edge of the screen, the battle is moved to another stage, with the loser of that particular conflict being at a disadvantage compared to the now more powerful winner.
As you can see, Strive has equally deep content that is capable of keeping you engaged for a long time, without becoming a deterrent to new players. Unless you're one of the unrepentant devotees of the series, in which case you're going to have to rethink some things around the techniques you've known so far.
In terms of available modes, the game is not as rich as one would expect, at least in terms of offline/solo content. The story mode is just a 5-hour anime movie with the game's graphics engine, no gameplay, impressive technically too, but damned if you can make sense of it. However, if you're up for it and have the time to dig around, a glossary has been included with detailed information about the main characters and their historical backgrounds.
Then there's the more-classic-and-from-Beethoven Arcade mode, with the difficulty adjusted each time depending on your performance in the last match, VS against a human player or CPU, and finally Survival mode. Obviously, these modes aren't going to keep you busy for a long time, unlike Dojo, which combines free training and learning all the game mechanics through Missions. If you want to have any hope of crucifying a victory in the online mode, you ought to at least keep up with the basics.
An online mode, which in turn, offers something we haven't seen before. It applies the familiar lobbies tactic in a "cute" 2D retro-pixel version, with plenty of cosmetic items to dress up your avatar, whether we're referring to ranked or unranked matches (i.e. playing in a friend's/random player's lobby or creating your own). Remarkable and very true at the same time is the fact that ranked matches are divided into ten floors, where each floor only features players who are at the same or lower rating level as you. It's impractical for an experienced player to participate on a weaker floor, while a more inexperienced one can test their skills on the more difficult ones if their heart tells them to. However, what stands out the most, in terms of online play, is the amazing online code available.
Being one of the reasons why Strive was delayed by two months (originally due for release in April), the rollback netcode implementation is a benchmark for the genre and gives the feeling of playing offline. Lag is almost non-existent (I only noticed hiccups a couple of times), connecting with other players is achieved in a short time, at least in the region you reside in (obviously, you'll choose Europe), and as a result, engaging with the game's online mode is enjoyable and seamless. On the plus side, there are actually thousands of players available and willing at the moment, so Strive is an excellent choice for a few quick... slaps, any time of the day.
The bad thing is that there's no cross-play with Sony PS4 and PS5 players, so maybe in a few months this situation will change for the worse. It's also worth mentioning that, in my case at least, the game typically takes a long time to connect to the company's servers on first boot, a process that can take up to five minutes! Once completed, however, there is no disconnection, which is gratifying enough.
Therefore, Guilty Gear Strive is another great success from Arc System Works and one of the best fighting games you can choose for your PC. Of course, this is especially true if you plan to engage extensively with the competitive online game, because otherwise its offline material will only keep you occupied for a few hours. And it's a shame if that happens.