Guilty Gear -Strive- review (PC): A gorgeous and complex fighter

Fans will love the latest entry, but newcomers might not find enough game to graze on.

Gg Strive Hero
(Image: © Windows Central)

There's nothing quite like the thrill of beating your friends to a pulp with an over-the-top special move that defies gravity and logic. From the fighting game craze of the '90s to the genre's resurrection in the late aughts, the satisfaction of a hard-fought win or the maddening frustration that comes with a loss are the essential pillars that drive those who play these games.

While games like Street Fighter V and Mortal Kombat 11 enjoy the most mainstream exposure, games like Guilty Gear cultivated a cult following thanks to its soundtrack, complex fighting game engine, and absolutely gorgeous 2D visuals. Now with more than 20 years of entries under its belt, can Arc System Works finally push Guilty Gear into the spotlight it so deserves? It seems like that's the plan with the latest entry in the series, Guilty Gear -Strive-.

With a more accessible fighting engine, reworked training modes, and improved skill-based matchmaking, Arc System Works seems determined to make this the Guilty Gear that sticks in the consciousness of fans, casuals, and spectators alike, but does it work? Guilty Gear -Strive- is more accessible than ever before and is better for it and maintains the same visual flair and outstanding music the series is known for, but this is a fighter for fighting fans, so don't come in looking for compelling single-player content.

Guilty Gear -Strive-: Triumph or die

Guilty Gear I No

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)

The biggest change introduced in Guilty Gear -Strive- is the updated visuals. Now running in Unreal Engine 4, the game ditches the 2D pixel visuals for stylized cel-shaded graphics that look amazing. If you thought the work Arc System Works put into Dragon Ball FighterZ was impressive, you haven't seen anything yet. From the intros and outros, flashy finishing moves, and dynamic backgrounds, Guilty Gear -Strive's- visual style is unmatched, and the animations are slick and smooth. That goes double for the excellent soundtrack that accompanies each match. It all gives Guilty Gear -Strive- a cinematic flair that turns fights into confrontations straight out of an anime.

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TitleGuilty Gear -Strive-
DeveloperArc System Works
PublisherArc System Works
Minimum requirementsWindows 8/10 (64 bit), AMD FX-4350 / Intel Core i5-3450, 4GB of RAM, Radeon HD 6870, 1 GB / GeForce GTX 650 Ti, 1 GB
Game size17.6GB
Players1-2 players
Launch price$60

Aside from the updated visuals, however, the game is your typical 2D fighter. Players compete in a 1-on-1 contest, though occasionally a second AI-controlled partner will join you 2-on-1 battle in arcade mode. As I mentioned before, the developers worked hard to make the game more accessible than it's ever been, so even filthy fighting game casuals like myself can pull off combos and finishing moves with ease. There are 15 characters available in the game's roster (with five DLC fighters to come), a bit less than previous entries, but each character has their own unique designs as well as fighting styles. I particularly loved I-NO, the rockstar witch that gave me huge Bayonetta vibes.

There's also a wall break mechanic that's been introduced in Strive. Essentially, once you beat an opponent against the edge of the stage, and can send them flying into another section of the map. It's not something particularly new to the genre but definitely adds to the fast-paced nature of the game, giving it that epic anime battle feel that Dragon Ball FighterZ got right.

All about starting fights

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)

Now as a single-player game, Guilty Gear offers an arcade mode and a mission mode that helps you learn the game's basics as well as combos for each character, and a story mode that's just strictly cutscenes and no gameplay. It's essentially a movie that checks in with the various fighters that appear in -Strive-. I wish that this story had been integrated into the arcade mode more linearly, as the interactions between characters in Arcade are cool but insignificant in the greater scheme of things. I also liked that you could use credits earned in Arcade mode to go fishing, a very simple minigame that unlocks character portraits, icons, and other goodies to keep solo players interested.

The real meat and potatoes of the game — the online multiplayer — is where you'll spend most of your time.

But the real meat and potatoes of the game — the online multiplayer — is where you'll spend most of your time. Arc System Works seems dedicated to getting the online play right and has put together a very cool system that sorts players onto different floors of a tower by their skill. Once placed in the tower, players can move their 8-bit avatar around and start queuing up for fights at Duel Stations. You can even climb the tower to face stronger opponents, but you're not allowed to descend the tower to bully noobs, a clever decision that should make things easier for newcomers. If you're not interested in competitive sparring, you can also join casual fights in the park section, separate from the tower.

Unfortunately, at the time of review, the online servers were still under maintenance, and I wasn't able to get many fights in. Arc System Works seems dedicated to getting the online play right, they even cited that as the reason why they delayed the game from its April 9, 2021, release date. They've been listening to fan feedback and have held public betas leading up to release that have been praised by players. At the time of writing, no crossplay is planned between the PC version and the PlayStation 4 or PlayStation 5 version of the game.

Guilty Gear -Strive-: Not enough meat on the bone

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)

Now I'm not a fighting game aficionado, but even with the added accessibility, Guilty Gear may not appeal to everyone. It's not as easy as other simple fighters like Marvel vs. Capcom 3, and still requires you to put in work to get good. Sure, that's true of every fighter, but I wonder whether the scaled-down mechanics might alienate older fans while still setting the bar of entry too high for new players. It's a balancing act that Guilty Gear -Strive- will have to strive (heh) for as players start to discover the game.

Nothing would kill this game faster than constant network errors.

Most importantly though are the online servers, which were just were still being adjusted during my playtime. While I trust that Arc System Works will have any issues sorted out by launch, nothing would kill this game faster than constant network errors.

Prospective players should keep in mind that aside from the multiplayer, there's not much else to do. Each character's Arcade mode took about 20 minutes to complete, so if you're a fan of Mortal Kombat's single-player shenanigans, for example, you're gonna be disappointed here. And with a full $60 price tag, Strive might have a hard time pulling in that new fanbase it clearly wants to attract. It just doesn't have enough meat on its bones to appeal to those outside of the target demographic.

Guilty Gear -Strive-: Should you play it?

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)

If you're a fan of fighting games that lean on the more complex side or just a fan of the series, Guilty Gear -Strive- delivers another solid entry. It makes an attempt to even the playing field for new players who are joining in, and the combat was slick and fast-paced. I loved the visuals and the music, and I hope that the server issues are ironed out by launch because, without it, the game's lacking in content. Guilty Gear -Strive- is one of the best fighting games on the PC, and a must-buy for fighting game fans.

Guilty Gear -Strive- establishes a solid foundation for new gamers to experience the long-running series while offering the depth the series is known for. With a Season Pass already on the horizon, I expect Guilty Gear -Strive- to continue to evolve as time goes on. While fans of fighters will be happy with Strive's offering, I worry that newcomers might not have a reason to stick around.

With that being said, I enjoyed my time with the game enough to recommend it. Be sure to check out our picks for the best controllers for playing on the PC or best arcade sticks to ensure you have the gear you need to stand your ground online.

Zackery Cuevas

Zackery Cuevas is a writer for Windows Central, Android Central, and iMore. I like playing video games, talking about video games, writing about video games, and most importantly, complaining about video games. If you're cool, you can follow me on Twitter @Zackzackzackery.