Guilty Gear Strive review: The exquisite smell of Heaven or Hell

Arc System Works' latest Guilty Gear isn't just a new generation for the franchise. It's a new bar against which every other fighting game should strive to meet.


I’ve been hanging out with the Guilty Gear series since it rolled out in 1998. I’ve watched it grow from slightly obscure heavy metal-inspired weapons fighter into a more and more incredible franchise with each entry. At this point, mainline Guilty Gear games don’t just come out. They are the barometer of some of the best visuals, mechanics, music, and competition that 2D and 2.5D fighting games have for us. Announced at EVO 2019, we've been waiting through two blistering years for this one. 2020 was a tough year for everyone, Arc System Works included. However, in 2021, at long last, Strive has arrived, and as a long time fan, I truly feel it’s a magnum opus and gold standard of fighting games from which there is no going back.

Rebuilt from the ground up

One of the most important parts of mainline Guilty Gear games is that Daisuke Ishiwatari, Akira Katano, and crew go hard to the paint on upgrading the game in ways that mark the cutting edge of fighting games. From the previews, betas, and trailers alone, it was easy to see just how pretty the game was already going to be. The characters, moves, music and stages are incredible, but it's going under the hood that really shows how incredibly impeccable this machine truly feels. For my tastes, Guilty Gear Strive is both the most technically incredible and similarly approachable game I have yet to play in the series. What do I mean by that? Well, for one, I really do believe that Guilty Gear Strive guides newcomers into its mechanics better than any other game in the franchise has done.

A part of this is the Mission Mode. Guilty Gear Strive’s Mission Mode is a checklist of guided tutorials that takes you through literally every single mechanic the game has in store for you, whether it’s as simple as how to run and do simple combos or as in-depth as dash cancelling and learning the timing of air throws. Unfortunately, it doesn’t have the character-specific combos mission lists that appeared in previous Guilty Gear and BlazBlue games which would allow you to learn a character’s strings from simple to complex. I lament that, but I still think this is one of the most inviting tutorials yet in terms of understanding what the game can do and how to apply it to your character of choice.

Then there’s just the fluidity and ease with which inputs feel in this game. When I picked up the game for review, I started on Anji Mito and Giovanna. The former is a returning character that hasn’t been in the game since the Guilty Gear XX era, several games back, and the latter is a brand-new character. In the process of learning both, through training and Vs. Arcade play, I felt like it was easier than I’ve ever seen to figure out the path to a working playstyle. I quickly found satisfying combos that dazzled me when I pulled them off. And there’s still such a high ceiling of things you can learn to make your gameplay more and more nuanced and skillful every day. There’s also so many places to utilize and hone your skill too, whether you do it in Training, Arcade, Vs. COM single matches, online and local Vs. Player, and Survival modes.

It’s refreshing to have all the ways I’d want to play offline in the game on Day 1. There's even another Story Mode, though it'll be rather difficult to follow if you haven't been along for the ride. Arc System Works gives players an encyclopedic history of the story so far, but there's only so much they can do if you're not interested in a lot of reading. That said, it also seems to speak to some very blatant character possibilities for DLC in the game's upcoming Season Pass.

A new era of online

Easily one of the most important features that has tagged along with Guilty Gear Strive was the build and implementation of an all-new rollback netcode system. I have not only closely watched and tested this system myself, but checked into what pros and notable FGC fellows have had to say about the game’s online as they played. At every corner of Guilty Gear Strive play from the first betas and technical tests to this review, I have been impressed with barely any fail. Whether I was playing against someone in the United States in my region or someone in another region of the world - like someone playing me from Asia, England, or South America - the new netcode has provided me with no shortage of buttery smooth matches.

I’m not alone either. I’ve seen incredible stories all around the community about this and it’s glorious. If any mainline fighting game goes back to delay after this, they’d be stupid. Fullstop. There is no going back after this. Don’t get me wrong. Lag is still possible in Guilty Gear Strive’s new netcode. A terrible connection is still a terrible connection and you might see some stutter, but what I’m saying is that it took some of the worst connections to really affect my matches and combos in a notable way.

The only thing that holds online in Guilty Gear Strive down a bit is the online lobbies. They’re… better(?)… than they were in the betas? But almost anything would have been. It’s still the tower, still the pixelated sideview platforms, and when you set yourself on standby in training, it still occasionally shoots you back to the lobby rather than sending you back to training. It’s unfortunate, but it’s tiniest blemish among all of the good things here and something I wholeheartedly expect Arc System Works to continue to smooth out as we go.

The smell of the game is the most mouthwatering yet

It’s been such an incredibly long road for Guilty Gear. I actually cried in joy when Guilty Gear Xrd was first announced, bringing proper 2D fighting back under the reins Arc System Works. With Strive, my heart still fluttered, but for more than just getting a new fighting game in this franchise I so love. I marvel at what it means for fighting games as a whole. Guilty Gear Strive is a whole new level of beast. It represents the most visually gorgeous, the most full-featured, and the most technically sound that modern 2D fighting games have to offer, and anything that hopes to compete with it has quite the work cut out for it.

This review is based on a PlayStation 5digital coply supplied by the publisher. Guilty Gear Strive comes out on June 11 on PS4, PS5, and PC via Steam.

Senior News Editor

TJ Denzer is a player and writer with a passion for games that has dominated a lifetime. He found his way to the Shacknews roster in late 2019 and has worked his way to Senior News Editor since. Between news coverage, he also aides notably in livestream projects like the indie game-focused Indie-licious, the Shacknews Stimulus Games, and the Shacknews Dump. You can reach him at and also find him on Twitter @JohnnyChugs.

  • Character models, stages, and moves are drop-dead gorgeous
  • Fully-featured offline and local modes
  • A great array of training and learning tools
  • Characters and inputs are easy
  • Still an incredible ceiling of skill and depth
  • The new golden standard for netcode
  • Another pretty fantastic soundtrack top to bottom
  • Online lobbies still leave something to be desired
  • No character-specific combo missions
  • Story is confusing if you haven't followed along
From The Chatty
  • reply
    June 7, 2021 3:00 PM

    TJ Denzer posted a new article, Guilty Gear Strive review: The exquisite smell of Heaven or Hell

    • reply
      June 7, 2021 3:36 PM

      Thanks for the review. Sounds real promising!

      Unfortunately, it doesn’t have the character-specific combos mission lists that appeared in previous Guilty Gear and BlazBlue games which would allow you to learn a character’s strings from simple to complex.

      While still not what you want there, they said the other day they'll be adding a 'Combo Maker' feature in a free update later. Where anyone will be able to record and share their own combos for others to attempt. So you'll have a hefty supply of character specific combo trials whenever that stuff gets added.

      They didn't give many details, but I have to assume they'll include some of their own stock combos as well, have to wait and see. Hope it's not too far off.

      • reply
        June 7, 2021 3:51 PM

        I somehow missed that Combo Maker news! That sounds great! A social and sharing aspect to the combo learning of this game would be genius because you know people are going to share that stuff on Twitter anyways. A centralized place for it would be fantastic.

        I'll probably keep an eye out for that update and do a Cortex review of that specific feature when it comes out!

    • reply
      June 7, 2021 9:08 PM

      So happy people are psyched for this and that there's finally a Japanese fighting game with rollback. We'll be playing so much of this

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