Ahead of its official release on April 9th, we were treated to a beta for Guilty Gear -Strive-.  The window of the beta included Influencer-Only access, Closed-Beta early access, and Open-Beta access.  While I was given a Closed-Beta access code by Arc System Works, I live in Texas and had to deal with power outages due to our brutal snowstorm we had state-wide while also having a 12-hour-a-day weekend job directly afterwards.  Needless to say, my play time was limited and I only got to around level 70 on Sol and within the 20’s with Ramlethal.

This piece will cover Tutorial, Training, Online Lobbies, Gameplay, and the Netcode.  Feel free to discuss anything you want in the comments below.

 TUTORIAL 

Tutorial is what you are first introduced to when loading into the game, and also what newer players will need to understand what Guilty Gear is all about.  However, this is just basically “Read and mash” rather than something elaborate and purposely teaches newcomers the fundamental things they will need in matches.  It is very hard to call this a “Tutorial” mode when I feel it’s hard to miss even the basic things that are necessary as you can just beat up Ky without learning anything. 

While they do mention things like Psych Bursts, they should FORCE the player to perform it perfectly at least once in a real-life situation.  Even if someone wants to get into the action as quickly as possible, having to perform something to get to the next point will be beneficial to them in the long run as they will remember what it’s good for.  More so, if someone was watching when only influencers were allowed access to the beta, then their watchers would be exposed and you’d educate tons of people at a time who may be interested in the game.

Do not get me wrong, it’s not like there aren’t any official resources out there to help players.  Hell, Arc System Works has an entire YouTube playlist composed of different things to help newer players get into Guilty Gear -Strive- with 14 “Starter Guides” composed of every character on the starting roster (except I-No) and a video covering “Basic Actions” like Roman Cancels, Instant Blocking, and Dust Attacks.  However, these videos should have been available in-game if they were not going to do a full tutorial right off the bat.

 NOTE  — NOTE – Here’s the link to the playlist containing the Starter Guides.
 TRAINING 

I love that they had videos for every move in the game

The training mode is pretty standard with tools to help you lab against certain opponents or situations by giving you the ability to set things like Life Bars, Tension Gauge, Record & Playback opponent’s actions, etc.  So while it is nothing completely revolutionary, it does at least have to give you the option to create scenarios you see in-game and allow you to find ways to either beat them, avoid them, or prepare yourself to defend against them should you recognize it is coming.  You do not need to reinvent the wheel here, and thankfully they stuck to the tried and true quote, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!”.

One thing that I do have to praise is the in-game video which demonstrates how the move can be used and a small synopsis of what to do with it.  I feel this will help newer players who may not understand the nuances of when we say, “This is an anti-air” or “You can chain a command normal after a regular normal”.  The video I believe creates a way for visual learners to get the same information those who are veterans within the community have from understanding the concepts from experience.  Though, I do feel they should have done what Mortal Kombat 11 did and include frame data, but you cannot have it all.

 ONLINE LOBBIES 

I definitely had to customize my ready message, lol.

Arc System Works decided departing from the typical lobby types we have seen in Granblue Fantasy, Guilty Gear Rev 2, and even Dragon Ball FighterZ was a good idea.  However, nearly everyone I have spoken with believes that the lobby was actually the worst part of the Guilty Gear -Strive- beta because of how absolutely trash it was.

Starting off, you have a pixel avatar which you are able to customize with different heads, body types, outfits, and weapons.  You then can select your desired region and then their “Floor” system which acts as a clever way to do ranked matches, or select places such as “Parks” which are casual lobbies.  This isn’t bad, except that the ability to fight other players is a massive hassle due to the way you ready up AND due to having a hard time distinguishing landmarks because of the amount of people, along with the lobby itself lagging.

Holding square to ready up teleports you to the nearest “matchmaking spot”, which is just designated areas the designers have made all across the stage to ensure their system works.  However, this means if you’re right next to a friend that they may have to find you since it can zip you anywhere.  Also, the placement of your online profile (R-Code), can be mistakenly pushed which costs a ton of time as it has to load.  In Dragon Ball FighterZ it was easy to say “Meet me under King Kai’s planet”, but it’s very difficult to say that here since you’re telepored and could easily be stacked on top of another player.  More so than that, you have to do this every time a match is finished with no option at all to “Rematch” your opponent.  Arc System Works could at least do best 2-out-of-3 matches like in BlazBlue: Cross Tag Battle.

The Floors mode is similar in a way to Granblue Fantasy: Versus, in that you have to win a certain number of battles to promote to the next floor.  While you can travel to any floor you want (up to Floor 10), you cannot travel to any floors that are below your currently recognized skill level to prevent players from crushing newbies if they’re extremely good.  Doing well on the 10th floor earns you a spot in “Heaven”, which is known as the “Celestial Floor — Final Frontier”.  This is a place that can only be selected if you’re promoted past the 10th floor, and in order to stay up there you have to win matches constantly to earn the right to inhabit it for 1 month.  

“Heaven” is the ultimate goal and it is incredibly difficult to maintain that status.  Soon as I got to the Celestial floor I began to fight opponent’s who were well beyond level 200 and had probably played the beta every single moment that they could.  I was tested harder than I ever was in my 10F run and started discovering loads of things about the game.  Even after I was “Kicked out of Heaven”, I continued to fight and climb my way back up to once more fight those elite players who were already on a different level.

In conclusion, I think the lobby system as it stands needs some more work.  While it probably doesn’t need a complete rework (and I do not think they would regardless), it does need some tweaks to feel more complete and less jank.  We need an option to rematch our opponents and to matchmake wherever we want (which they had in the very first beta, but I suppose due to matchmaking issues they switched it to this new one).  I think the floor idea is a nice way to disguise rank, but ultimately we are going to need some major improvements to get everyone to believe this lobby system doesn’t suck.

 GAMEPLAY 

Me vs a fellow player who was using Potemkin

I have always associated Guilty Gear with intense action governed by wise use of the “Roman Cancel” mechanic, smart defense, and debilitating setplay.  This game slows things down and makes the approach to things like neutral more methodical while limiting the uses of RC by increasing the tension necessary to perform it from 25% to 50%.  Also, I feel like Overdrives were only used to finish life bars while Strive seems to have a lot more people using them as Reversal Supers (Ramlethal’s “Power Geyser”-esque one is not punishable) and combo enders.

The damage is also something that is incredibly crazy compared to previous entries, which is one of the reasons I decided to use Sol.  While the R.IS.C. gauge being built up in Rev 2 could earn you counterhit status and crazy damage, that type of damage is already present on nearly every character’s moveset (except Chipp, lol).  Combos also are not as crazy as in the Xrd series or the Accent Core series either, making them more akin to something that combines Guilty Gear and Street Fighter.

Starting off I was not a fan as things felt awkward and sluggish compared to what I was used to; air dashes were slowed down, both P & K buttons only chained into command normals, and Wall Breaks seemed to benefit characters like Axl and Ramlethal by returning them to neutral despite giving the person who initiated it a “Positive Meter” bonus.  However, after playing a good while I became addicted to the gameplay once I figured out how everything works.  The main saving grace was the netcode, allowing me to react to certain things and play patiently despite some of the things I encountered.

To be fair, I think the Wall Break mechanic to stop the harassment of characters in the corner is interesting, but does not help when fighting against certain characters who excel at mid or long range.  Also, some characters who have a hard time getting in or locking down someone has to re-win the neutral for a little bit of meter gain.  I think the damage is way too high as sometimes all it takes is a one good combo to eat an incredible chunk of life, meaning you need to win in the neutral less..but neutral in itself is a big focus so I guess that pans out to a degree.  I think the combat is beautiful to look at, I’m in love with the HUD, and the music adds atmosphere to the overall experience.

All-in-all, the gameplay is definitely fun but needs some tweaking.  It feels good to completely shut down an opponent, but I feel some things need to be scaled back and things like air dashes need to be sped up.  This game has a feel of catering to newer players while simultaneously keeping technical ability and fun high enough to intrigue skilled players to learn the depth hidden behind the accessibility.

 NETCODE 

The ping and current rollback are displayed above the life bars

The FGC (Fighting Games Community) has known about Rollback since the days of GGPO (Good Game Peace Out).  We have talked about its superiority to Delay Based Netcode for years now and yet we have not seen much in the way for it.  Japan constantly released their fighting games with either Delay Based or a Frankenstein mixture of both (Street Fighter V).  Everyone praised Killer Instinct on Xbox One for their implementation and fantastic netcode, but nobody took notice.

The pandemic has forced in-person tournaments to come to a standstill out of health concerns, and we have begun to see the ugly truth regarding netplay because of it.  Dragon Ball FighterZ has switched nearly all of its competitive play from Playstation 4 to PC because of how bad their netcode is AND the input delay; opting for tournaments like “Next Level Battle Circuit (NLBC)” or “The House of Crack (HOC)” to only allow players from certain regions on ethernet connections to participate due to lag concerns.  Many companies took notice and we are starting to enter an era where Rollback will be mandatory across the board.

TEKKEN 7 updated its netcode and saw massive improvements in matchmaking quality across all regions.  Guilty Gear Accent Core +R made massive waves and was the flavor-of-the-month after a beta of the game went love with their experimental rollback netcode that was implemented into the game, garnering critical praise from everyone within the fighting game community.  We also began to hear more things across other fighting game crowds, like Project Slippi for Super Smash Bros. Melee which also saw netcode improvements once rollback was implemented.

Guilty Gear -Strive-’s Open Beta was addictive because of the greatness of their rollback netcode.  It allowed you to play people, even US to Japan, on virtually “lagless” feeling matches.  Did not matter if they chose to play on ethernet or netcode, I barely experienced a match that I thought was absolutely horrible.  Sure, ethernet will greatly enhance the experience along with connection speed and how close you are to your opponent.  However, it raises the quality-of-life for all players and makes people want to play the game from that alone.  Many people who never had an interest in Guilty Gear at all want to play because everyone hates the feeling of, “I could win if not for this damn lag!”.  I think the reception will now make this Arc System Works’ standard going forward, as they realize that this is something worth taking the time to implement.

 FINAL THOUGHTS 

I have played the Guilty Gear series since XX.  I have dabbled within the game in nearly every iteration but have never played the game on a series level.  Even when I played Guilty Gear Xrd -REVELATOR- and made my Elphelt Combo Video “Waifu’s Gotta Shotgun”, I was only merely more than casual (despite receiving some mentoring from LostSoul).  Hell, I even mostly skipped past the first beta because my interest was not that high because I genuinely did not have a real attachment to most characters (which is the same issues I suffer from in Mortal Kombat and Dead or Alive).  However, I found myself utterly addicted to this beta.

I enjoyed Sol Badguy immensely and the combos that were given.  Sure, most might consider Sol to be an “easy mode” character, but his style fits mine perfectly and I’ve always had a fondness for him because of the “Dust Loop” he had in previous games.  The netcode and graphics were absolutely breathtaking, I loved the music and experience it gave me, and winning and losing felt like it was more on me and less about “online gimmicks”.  I feel like I need to lab more and that things will get harder as newer players drop off and diehards remain, but I think I can be committed this time around to making that happen.

Originally I took off from work the weekend that Guilty Gear -Strive- releases because I wanted to get in some genuine time with the game without interruptions.  However, before this beta I was thinking about cancelling it and saving my PTO for more important things…but I will definitely be at home playing when Strive drops.  I am more confident than ever that this can be a Guilty Gear I will get into, and that Arc System Works will support it for the long term with better tweaks to the lobby system, character buffs/nerfs, and additional DLC support to enrich and extend the experience.  Only now to see if the final game keeps the hype going!