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This week, the Guilty Gear Strive beta has officially ended, after being extended for two extra days due to server issues. Now that the beta period has wrapped up, we finally have an idea of how the final product will play.

The most important thing to discuss about the beta is the netcode. For years, fighting game fans have been begging Japanese development teams to implement proper rollback netcode into their games. While some games have adopted such a system, like Fighting EX Layer, none of the big names ever took it to heart. Street Fighter V does have a form of rollback netcode, but its in-game clock syncing issues have been known since the game’s beta over five years ago. This means that Street Fighter V’s netcode is not actual rollback netcode, more a cutback version of it.

There were signs of life last year, when The King of Fighters 2002 Unlimited Match and Guilty Gear XX Accent Core Plus R were both re-released on Steam with amazing rollback netcode. It’s safe to say, these releases were met with extremely positive fan reactions. Well, if you don’t already know, then let me be the first to tell you. The rollback netcode in Guilty Gear Strive is absolutely fantastic. The netcode held up when I played others on the East Coast of the United States where I am located, the West Coast, Europe and even Japan. During matches, the game will show you your ping and amount of rollback frames.

Finally, some good netcode

Now, to alleviate some confusion that sprang up because of this, rollback frames is not the same thing as input delay. This number simply shows how many frames the game will rollback to catch up with the action on screen. When playing others on the East Coast it was zero and with a friend in Japan it was only four. Even when playing against that friend in Japan, the connection was super smooth. I was able to air dash, combo, and space my moves out with no noticeable lag issues.

This is the netcode we as series fans have been waiting so long for. It provides players with consistently reliable matches against others around the world. Having such good netcode will also likely lead to the overall skill threshold of the player base being raised. This is another benefit of proper working netcode. The more good players, the better it is for everyone involved.

Moving on from netcode, let’s talk about how gorgeous the game looks. Arc System Works really outdid themselves with the visuals here. Somehow, they look even better than in Guilty Gear Xrd, which already felt like you were controlling an anime. Then, there’s the soundtrack, which is an absolute banger. Every song in the game represents the character it is attached to incredibly well. It fits the rock and roll aesthetic of the game perfectly, while mixing in influences from other music genres.

Now, about the gameplay itself. If you are familiar with other games in the Guilty Gear series, this could feel quite different. The gameplay is much more streamlined and less obtuse than it was in Guilty Gear Xrd. It’s also not as fast as a rocket-ship-on-caffeine like Accent Core. Strive manages to strike a delicate balance of still feeling like Guilty Gear, while making some modern concessions. The game is a bit slower overall, and there is less emphasis on aerial mobility and combos. That isn’t to say these elements are completely removed though, they’re just not as prevalent as they were in other games in the series.

All of the Gear, none of the Guilt

Strive is simply a much leaner version of the game we have played for years. The basic moves are the same as previous entries with punch, kick, slash, and heavy slash options. Many of the complicated and numerous systems of previous games have been removed, but you can still burst and roman cancel like previous games. Bursts let you escape from offensive pressure, and smart opponents can still bait bursts out of desperate opponents.

Roman cancels now come in a few distinct varieties, each indicated by a different color. Yellow roman cancels will be the most familiar to classic Guilty Gear players. These let you automatically cancel whatever move you are doing and return to neutral. Yellow works on moves that hit the opponent and can let you extend combos for crazy damage. Purple roman cancels let you cancel moves on block, so you can react to your opponent and choose your next option carefully. Finally, blue roman cancels activate when you aren’t doing anything. Blue can be used to bait a reaction out of your opponent too. For example, Potemkin can throw out a move, roman cancel to see if you jumped, and use an anti-air throw accordingly.

Roman cancels and supers both cost 50 meter each, and you only have 100 meter to work with. As roman cancels are so critical to every aspect of gameplay, meter management is of the utmost importance in Strive. The other big change to Strive is the wall splat mechanic. When you corner your opponent, after a certain amount of hits, the wall will break and send your opponent flying to a different part of the stage. This grants the aggressor some extra meter, and resets the neutral. There are some positives and benefits to this mechanic. Giving a player on the defensive some breathing room is a smart move, especially considering the oppressive offense some characters had in Xrd.

Back to back against the wall

The wall is very fragile though. One full combo in the corner will break it, while supers also automatically break the wall. This means ending a combo in the corner with super is often very advantageous, especially since you’ll gain some meter back after the wall break. My one gripe is that because the stages are so small, and the camera is much closer than previous games, you are often at the wall before you even know it. Combos with little carry will have you at the wall very quickly.

These are minor complaints when compared to the overall feel of the game though. As a fighting game Guilty Gear Strive feels great, controls well, and the roster, while small, is full of unique and interesting characters. It also plays well online, and the music slaps. This all sounds perfect, right? Well, not entirely. There is one giant blemish on the overall experience that is impossible to avoid. That being the god awful lobby system, which is a major pain.

When you first enter the lobby in Strive, you start by making a custom avatar and begin to travel around various pixel art locales. You then must brandish a weapon, and either wait for somebody to come to you, or find somebody who has already whipped out their sword. While I am sure this concept worked on paper, in practice it is a nightmare. It takes so much effort to get around the lobby, find a person, sync up with them, make sure they don’t teleport somewhere else, and finally connect to actually play a game.

Just let us play the game please

It feels so counterintuitive and frustrating to have this amazing netcode held back by such a poor lobby system. This new system is somehow worse than what Arc System Works already had in Guilty Gear Xrd, Dragon Ball FighterZ and even Granblue Fantasy: Versus. So much time is spent wasted in the lobby when you just want to play. While you can wait for a match during training mode, I desperately hope a direct challenge feature for friends is added, or at the very least, an instant replay option.

It is far too late in development to give the lobby system the complete overhaul it needs, but I sincerely hope that over time, effort is put into making it easier to interact with. Games with great lobby systems like Power Rangers: Battle for the Grid and Marvel vs. Capcom Infinite may not be flashy, but they get the job done. Just give me a menu where I can hit a button and watch or play a match, that’s it.

Despite the horror show that was the lobby system, the overall experience of the Guilty Gear Strive beta is something I already miss. That longing comes just a day after the beta ended too. The month long wait for release is going to be rough, so that’s a sign I’m already hooked. Guilty Gear Strive will release on PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, and PC on April 9, 2021.