Guilty Gear Strive review: Striving to be beautiful

Guilty Gear Strive
Guilty Gear Strive /

Title: Guilty Gear Strive
Developer: Arc System Works
Publisher: Arc System Works
Platforms: PS4 (reviewed), PS5, PC
Release Date: June 11, 2021

The Guilty Gear series has always been many things other than just a fighting game. It’s bizarre, featuring demonic doctors, animal people and edgelords that are literally named “Sol Badguy.” It’s fast-paced with characters that seem to be at their most comfortable running. It’s heavy in narrative with character stories ranging from Gum trying to keep her restaurant afloat to Dizzy trying to keep her life afloat as military groups try to use her body as a weapon.

It’s lunacy as pointed out by the sheer amount of weird text dialogue that will just hop all over the place. Fights start with “Heaven or Hell” or a paragraph of text suddenly popping up on the screen about the importance of a character resting on your ability to utilize them correctly. It’s so many things all at once.

But ask anyone who’s familiar with the series what the main thing is and the first thing they’ll tell you is how gorgeous the games are.

For years, Arc System Works has created the Guilty Gear series as a 2D platformer with a ridiculous level of detail featuring some of the most gorgeous and detailed art I’ve ever seen in a fighter. Everything from the characters to the backgrounds is just chock full of life.

Guilty Gear Strive is the best the series has ever looked too which is saying a lot. Built completely from scratch without carrying over a single sprite, Guilty Gear Strive is a 2.5D brawler filled with graphical pop. Each character is designed in a way where, no matter how insane the design they look believable.

May is a young girl who runs a band of sky pilots and fights with a giant anchor. Yes. Millia is a serious soldier who’s hair turns into weapons. I got it. Faust is a doctor who wears a bag over his head and seems to not really have a solid physical form as he can just reach into his face and pull out a bag of pills the size of the bag. Come on in silly. And one of the newer characters, Giovanna, is an angsty woman who fights with a beloved wolf spirit. I mean, I wasn’t looking to fall in love tonight but…hey there, Giovanna.

The beauty seems to have come at a cost though, especially as the studio was already feeling the hardships of COVID and everyone was working from home. You can tell that a ridiculous amount of work was put into the character. I mean, watch this fight here and look at just how beautiful the introduction alone looks.

And while that’s cool and all, it also means they didn’t get a lot done in time. Not only is the roster 10 characters fewer than the previous game (even when the first session DLC characters come out it’ll be 15 versus the previous game’s total of 25) but some features are just missing.

One of the modes that were talked about, a tag mode that’s featured in the Arcade version, isn’t coming to the game until a later update because the team hasn’t had time to perfect it. One of the biggest omissions, however, is the Instant Kill moves. One of the things that every Guilty Gear game has had are the “Instant Kill” moves. These moves are a gambit. They not only use up all your saved energy but also remove the energy meter for the rest of the match meaning that if you miss you cannot try again or do any of the other special moves. If it lands, however, no matter how much health your opponent has, they’re done for. A cool animation plays, May will fire the opponent from a cannon, Faust might do a bizarre operation on you, and Dizzy, well…just be happy she missed.

The Instant Kills, which are as much a staple of the series as Fatalities are to Mortal Kombat, are absent. Something that felt bizarre to me especially after I first started reviewing the game and I spent thirty minutes trying to do the move from memory, only to look up what I was doing wrong and finding out I couldn’t do it because the move didn’t exist.

Several fan favorite characters are also not here. The aforementioned Dizzy is not in the game. Bad-ass samurai Baiken. Jam, Johnny, Sin, Bridget so many are not here. I get not including some of the weirder characters like A.B.A. and Bedman (a literal man strapped to a robotic bed) but when long time characters like Venom are missing, it’s just weird. It was like when Street Fighter V was coming out and they did a character reveal for Ken and I was just like “well yeah, they better”.

But, to be fair, what they’ve added to the game is just incredible. The game is gorgeous, the controls are wonderful, the events that happen in mid-fight — where you can break the border of the screen or the angle of the camera sometimes changes to capture moves better — are wonderful.

And if you want story but hate the obnoxious story mode most fighting games have (where the stories don’t make sense because they have to break it up every couple minutes with people fighting?), guess what. Guilty Gear Strive has a story mode — a big story mode, and there is zero fighting. If you honestly want to get caught up on the story there is a beautifully animated series featuring over four hours of twenty minute episodes that you can just kick back and watch.

So despite missing content, there’s still a lot there.

The multiplayer is also surprisingly well done. I know the big trend right now in fighting games is to have an online lobby where you can walk around with your little character but Guilty Gear Strive takes that and runs with it. You make a little 8-bit avatar and can walk around and challenge other players to fight. Or you can occasionally go fishing to unlock more things to customize your avatar with.

There’s a huge wealth of things to do here.

So again, while the game is missing some stuff, it’s also completely solid. If you’re a fan of the series, I would still absolutely recommend it. Now, just to get yourself hyped up, here’s a fight I had where me (May) and Chipp (CPU) faced off against the final boss together.


. Guilty Gear Strive. 9. Despite some delayed modes and some missing features, Guilty Gear Strive is still a masterful fighting game filled with brilliant moves, perfect controls and some of the greatest art I’ve ever seen in a fighting game. All it takes is watching one fight in this game and you’ll need to own it. That’s how it was with me.. Arc System Works

A copy of this game was provided to App Trigger for the purpose of this review. All scores are ranked out of 10, with .5 increments. Click here to learn more about our Review Policy.