This post is part of a ten day series on my top ten games of 2021. You can find previous entries here.
2. Guilty Gear -Strive-
I love fighting games – I’m not very good at them – but I love them. However, in the last few years I’ve begun to play them less and less, no traditional fighter has really captured me since Tekken 7 launched (or the beginning year of Smash Ultimate, if you consider that a fighting game). One developer that always eluded me was Arc System Works; outside of Persona 4 Arena I’ve not been able to get into any of their releases. By extension, this also applied to the Guilty Gear series: a series I’ve admired from afar, but never really enjoyed playing… Until Strive, that is.
To get the bold statement out of the way: Guilty Gear Strive is one of the best fighting games ever made. It stands at the top alongside Street Fighter 3 Third Strike and Garou: Mark of the Wolves as one of the all-time greats. Everything just clicked on this one. Past Guilty Gear titles (and most anime fighters) have always had a reputation for being inaccessible and complicated; while Strive hasn’t changed the game in terms of core mechanics, somehow it feels way more accessible than previous entries. Thanks to the game’s excellent tutorials, I was easily able to pick up a few characters and get the hang of it within a few matches.
Graphically, the game is gorgeous; building on what ArcSys have been doing with games like Dragon Ball FighterZ and Guilty Gear Xrd, which I would argue are two of the best looking games ever made… and Strive makes them look basic in comparison. Guilty Gear’s cast of characters is just as over-the-top as ever. In tandem with the game’s beautiful art design, the new redesigns for most of the cast are the best they’ve ever looked; with a special mention going to I-no, and Leo.
Speaking of Leo… Leo Whitefang has gone from being a character I could not get the hang of at all in Xrd, even though I thought he looked cool, to being one of my favorite fighting game characters to play in any game. The flow of his combat just feels so good, he’s got that same hybrid style that Alex from Street Fighter 3 has. And like I said before about his design, the dude is just so cool looking. I cannot put into words the impact Leo has had on my enjoyment of this game, so please just take this paragraph dedicated to him as my way of giving him his due.
Other than my beloved Leo, the rest of the cast just feel so good to play as. Everyone just has this smoothness to their moveset. Even characters whose styles I would normally stray away from like Giovanna and May, feel great to play as.
One of the things Guilty Gear has always been synonymous with, is it’s hard metal soundtracks. Strive continues this tradition and – once again – knocks it out of the park. Each character’s theme fits them perfectly, from Leo’s hyped-up battle anthem with lyrics reflecting on his survivors guilt. May’s upbeat and jaunty theme perfectly encapsulates her goofy pirate persona, and Potemkin’s theme, which covers the characters self-doubt at this point in the series’ story. Strive’s soundtrack ended up being my most listened to album last year, with pretty much every track appearing on my top 100 wrapped playlist.
One factor that can make or break a fighting game is online play, games with bad netcode (like Smash Ultimate and Street Fighter 5) are frustrating experiences all around, and basically kill the game unless you have a healthy local scene. Strive’s netcode is near flawless, possibly the best I’ve played in any fighter. Truth be told, I tend to get pretty salty when playing fighting games online; however, this wasn’t a problem for me in Strive, and it’s all down to that incredible netcode. It makes the absolutely god-awful lobby system worth it for how good the matches are.
Guilty Gear Strive was the game that finally got me into Arc System Works and the Guilty Gear Series as a whole, but it’s also the game that made me fall in love with fighting games again. I’m sorry, this review has been so weird. It’s hard to put feelings about a fighting game into words. If you can take one thing away from this, it’s that you should go play Guilty Gear Strive so that you can know the smell of the game.