Guilty Gear is coming back, after an extended period with no new updates in the long running anime fighting game series. The most recent title, Guilty Gear XRD REV 2 (that’s not even the most bizarre name for a GG game. Looking at you: Guilty Gear XX Accent Core Plus R) released in 2017, and received its final patch in 2018. Since then, the game has not changed, but managed to maintain a dedicated community.
Fans’ wishes for something new were answered at EVO 2019, when a teaser trailer for a new Guilty Gear was shown off. Social media was on fire for the next couple of days with first impressions. The discussions mostly divided between talking about how handsome series deuteragonist Ky Kiske looked, and wondering who the mysterious dreadlocked swordsman was.
The game had playable builds shown off at events like the ARCREVO Tour Finals in October of 2019 as well as EVO Japan and Frosty Faustings XII at the start of 2020. Later, developer Arc System Works announced a closed beta test which would give more players access to the game to explore its systems.
1. Style keeps evolving
When the first trailer dropped, Guilty Gear -STRIVE- looked beautiful. Arc System works has mastered the “anime come to life” aesthetic of its video games, and the new fashion choices for the cast were a sight to behold. On the other end of the graphical spectrum is the game’s User Interface. To be blunt, initial reception to the UI was very poor. People who had hands-on time with the early build of the game, which was taken to various tournaments, decried it’s unimpressive looks pretty much unanimously.
Arc System Works heard the fan outcry, and confirmed that they would update the UI in future builds. The beta was the first look at one of these revisions, and the general consensus was that not enough had changed.
“I wasn’t a fan of it before, but I was like, oh you know, it’s just a placeholder. It’s definitely not staying… Then I read that they were actually intending that to be the finished product,” says DEB.
“It’s kind of rough in the sense that the character portrait moves with your health bar. Same with your R.I.S.C. bar. It’s a little disorienting to even look at it. It just feels way too simple.”
DEB told us she thinks it’s hard to dispute how great the game’s graphics look. However, in future versions, anything that conveys information from the match UI to the character select screen needs to be cleaned up so they stop negatively impacting player experience. ArcSys has shown that it’s willing to listen to fans this time around, but we’ll have to wait and see which items they actually decide to fix.
2. Lobbying for better systems
The UI wasn’t the only aesthetic overhaul in -STRIVE-. The lobby system looks completely different from other ArcSys games. If you’ve netplayed Guilty Gear XRD REV 2, Granblue Fantasy: Versus, or Blazblue: Cross Tag Battle, you’re used to running around with your chibi avatar, finding opponents, and getting some games in. They look great, and they’re functional.
The lobby system in -STRIVE-, however, has switched to a more old-school, 8-bit style. If you’re into the art, the lobby looks good and has interesting additions. Whether or not the lobby looks nice is subjective, but its functionality is a totally separate matter.
When it debuted on April 1st, people thought it was a joke, because it was April Fools Day.
“At its core, I just don’t know what they were thinking. I’ll give credit where credit is due: they did come up with some ideas that I think are good, like having a customizable character. I thought, okay, maybe I won’t hate this lobby. But then I actually tried to find a match and, man, say what you will about the aesthetic, but the lobby’s actual functionality is just terrible.”
Betas are meant to test a game’s performance in the wild, so stress testing online matchmaking is often at the forefront. In a -STRIVE- lobby, there are several floors you can walk around on, depending on your rank. When you rank up, you can no longer visit the lower floors. This created a problem for players trying to play long sets because, mid set, someone could rank up, and become unable to continue playing against their opponent without waiting for them to move to a higher floor.
That only became an issue if you were actually able to find a game, though. Unlike previous ArcSys games where you would make a ring, or sit down on a little arcade cabinet adjacent to your opponent, you have to raise your weapon to signify you’re ready to fight in a -STRIVE- lobby. With crowds of players mobbing all over each other, it was unnecessarily difficult to connect with your intended opponent.
Once in game, it played about as well as any game with delay-based netcode could. Since rollback netcode is planned for the final product, it’s not fair to judge the actual meat of the netplay experience at this point. For many who tried the game, fixing the broken lobby system is near the top of their update wishlists.
3. (Air)dashed hopes
The core gameplay has already undergone significant changes from earlier builds. The most noticeable alteration is to how air dashes work. PepperySplash qualified for the ArcREVO finals in 2019 and got to try Guilty Gear -STRIVE- while he was there, and said it was the first thing he noticed in the beta.
“[At ArcREVO] air dash was still as it was in previous games. I thought, overall, movement felt really good. It felt like Guilty Gear until you actually hit someone, and then it kind of got really constricted,” said PepperySplash who found the more streamlined gameplay of Guilty Gear -STRIVE- to be a pretty big departure from previous titles.
“Air dash and how they changed it to have additional startup felt very strange. As soon as the startup finishes, depending on when you press your button, your trajectory changes. Instead of one fixed trajectory for air dashes, you have many that you can go with.”
The new air dash changes neutral. ArcySys fans might be having flashbacks to when they first had to deal with superdash in Dragon Ball FighterZ. PepperySplash even said -STRIVE-’s new air dash had “superdash energy”, explaining that now, if a defender doesn’t anti-air preemptively, the aggressor wins the exchange. Guilty Gear vets hoping to rely on reactionary anti-airs after coming from XRD are going to be a little shaken up by the new status quo.
4. Roman cancel culture
A new game means new mysteries, and one enigma the GG community is trying to figure out is how the new Roman Cancel system works. In XRD, there were 3 kinds of RC: Yellow, Red and Purple. They each had different uses, and were integral to match flow.
-STRIVE- contains 4 kinds of RC: Yellow, Red, Purple and Defensive. If you’re trying to find information about these mechanics online, you’ll have a lot of trouble since nothing, not even the naming, has been made official yet. ArcSys has released very little information (at the time of this writing) about how the new RC system works, so player speculation has been rampant.
“I think it was a huge oversight on their part to not include some kind of primer on how the new Roman Cancels work. They're trying to make it accessible for newer players, but they’re introducing a mechanic to new players which also happens to be a huge departure from what established players expect,” said GlacialReign.
The developers put out a series of primer videos for new characters and how they play, but neglected to explain the core system mechanic. For now, it seems as though:
- Yellow RC no longer slows down the entire screen like in XRD (it’ll slow your opponent down if they’re close to you, though). There’s also a drift mechanic that creates an afterimage of your character while shifting their position in different directions.
- Purple RC appears to let you cancel frames on a move where the opponent is not in hitstun. It seems like it could be used in pressure situations like when throwing a fireball, and then running behind it to mount offense.
- Red RC is used while actually hitting the opponent. It pops them up in a predictable way, leading to reliable combos.
- Defensive RC takes the place of the previous game’s Dead Angle mechanic. Whereas before, every character had different dead angles which they could use on defense (think alpha counters from Street Fighter) the new Defensive RC is pretty strong across the cast and allows for more homogenized defense.
A lot of this comes from player speculation since very little has been explained. A lot can change, including the names of the concepts, as new official information is released.
5. What’s your damage?
When a new fighting game is released (or when an existing one gets a patch), the Twitter tech monsters come out to play: posting clips of situational, max resource corner combos and complaining about high damage. Betas can’t escape from crossing this fate, and social media was flooded with -STRIVE- footage of Chipp Zanuff getting his health bar obliterated in a matter of seconds.
Damage is very high in Guilty Gear -STRIVE-, this much is true, but it’s important to look at why it’s that way before finding a matching torch to go with your pitchfork. Many of the combos you’ll see involved a full R.I.S.C Gauge, used a bunch of resources, and were performed on Chipp who has notoriously low health.
“Damage in Guilty Gear has always been insanely high. That sort of thing doesn't surprise me but I think, for the game to be more free form, they'd have to Lower the damage,” Says DEB about the reaction to -STRIVE-’s high damage.
A key difference here, is that these bouts of explosive damage were a little less common in previous entries. System level changes, like a faster filling R.I.S.C gauge contribute to more instances of high damage. R.I.S.C is like a punishment for not being on point defensively. The longer you block regularly, the more it fills up. If an opponent opens you up with a full gauge, they’re going to get in a bunch of unscaled hits and do a grip of damage along the way.
For DEB, if damage is to be reduced, she wouldn’t want it to be by directly nerfing individual attacks. She says, “I’d mostly like to see it through [changes to] other systems. I would like it if they did touch R.I.S.C because Chip would block like two things then just get instagibbed by May or Potemkin.”
High damage isn’t a huge issue on its own. No one told you to get hit. However, it will be directly affected by the tweaks made by developers to adjacent systems, and is another way future builds of the game could differ.
6. Goodbye gatling
The gatling system was so ingrained into Guilty Gear XRD, that players trying to smoothly transition to -STRIVE- have been forced to rewire their muscle memory. The gatling system allowed buttons to chain into each other (for example: punch, kick, slash, then heavy slash), and were the basis for a lot of combos.
Gatling, I think, is the biggest initial change that you'll hear about from Guilty Gear players because it's so ingrained into our muscle memory.
Players who couldn’t try the old builds were, at last, able to see how gatling was implemented in -STRIVE-, and it is completely different. Instead of being able to rely on buttons that easily chain together, there are a sub groups of buttons that only chain into each other, similar to the idea of target combos in other games. This is a huge departure for Guilty Gear.
“Gatling, I think, is the biggest initial change that you'll hear about from Guilty Gear players because it's so ingrained into our muscle memory. Not being able to do those kinds of gatlings feels really weird,” says PepperySplash.
“It comes up a lot [in previous games] where you buffer a button inside another. So, if your 6P is a really good poke, then you might buffer it into a slash or something. You can't do that in -STRIVE-. It hurts your confirms as well because your options are so limited. If you try to anti-air someone with 6P, then you can't significantly combo off it on non-counter hit since you can’t gatling into anything besides special moves.”
While some players would like to go back to the old gatling system since it’s familiar, many agree that the new way is part of the -STRIVE-’s identity. Veteran players diving in will probably need to make peace with the more toned down chaining system. A beta test doesn’t allow a lot of time to fully explore a game, so it will be interesting to see how players innovate within the new combo system’s confines.
7. The ones who keep watch over the wall
The wall break mechanic is probably Guilty Gear -STRIVE-’s most defining feature. Many of the previously mentioned high damage scenarios occur once your opponent has been forced to the wall. In other games, the corner/wall was a place to pin your opponent and force them to eat your setplay while they struggled to return to neutral.
In -STRIVE-, you can bounce your opponents off of the wall until they splat, before breaking the wall and sending them flying to another screen. Both characters are returned to neutral on the new screen and this is one of the biggest problems many players have with the wall. After working so hard to box in their opponents, the wall breaks, and they lose their positioning in favour of cashing out on damage.
“It's a core part of how they designed the game. If they're going to keep it in, I hope that they at least make it so your opponent can't forward tech back to mid screen so you can decide to either break the wall for damage, or go for oki,” says GlacialReign about the mechanic which he, in his personal experience, found to be an extremely jarring change to the Guilty Gear formula.
“I’m not sure how they're gonna change that or what they could possibly do. I think that it’s just part of the game.”
As it stands after the beta, you have to use the wall as intended. While you could just stop your combo so the wall doesn’t break, players can just flip out into a less disadvantaged state, so there’s really no point in giving up the extra damage.
In a series usually praised for the creativity it affords players, having the game’s defining mechanic be so strict only pigeonholes competitors. These issues are why betas and demos happen, so hopefully it will be something ArcSys pays attention to as they continue working towards a final build.
People have had a lot to say about the beta test. But when it all falls down, it is an artistic vision from a very talented development team. They can only take so much outside suggestion before they’re no longer making the game they wanted. It’s important to continue to be critical of in-development games, but with so little information available, the only ones who truly know the game’s planned identity will be Arc System Works themselves.
“ArcSys is very set on what they want -STRIVE- to be already. The fact that they've kind of listened to some criticisms about it, but not others, kind of shows that. I look forward to seeing how it changes in the future,” says DEB.