Arc System Works’ Guilty Gear Strive is currently the darling of the FGC – but will it remain that way, or just be a flash in the pan? spoke to pros and commentators for their thoughts.

Sol Badguy and Ky Kiske are not Ryu and Ken, and they’re certainly not Scorpion and Sub-Zero, but what they lack in name recognition with the masses is made up for their current place as the faces of the fighting game community.
Guilty Gear Strive is the most popular fighting game on the market currently, and behind a new direction from the franchise’s general director, Daisuke Ishiwatari, it may stay that way for a long time.

With a new art style and system mechanics that gear toward mass appeal over fan service, the rewards are living up to the risks, and the numbers back it up — it sold 500,000 copies in its first month. While the game is still in its “honeymoon” phase with a very active player base both in the competitive and online scenes, will it stand to keep its momentum when the joys of something new fades away?

Fresh paint means fresh eyes for Guilty Gear

“Guilty Gear as a franchise always adds new mechanics to each game and if it can continue this tradition with Strive’s future, this can still be a game at the top and I’m excited to re-experience that with its new look and style,” Guilty Gear veteran and long-time fighting game competitor Kyohei “MarlinPie” Lehr said. “The fighting game community picks up and leaves games often, but with Strive, they appealed to a wider audience. I am still amazed at the animations and effects of the game, it’s just so pretty to look at.”

PandaGlobal’s MarlinPie is a major figure in the Guilty Gear Strive community

Lehr alludes to one of the biggest positives with Strive that may just keep its mainstream relevancy intact – the beautiful art design and painstaking frame-by-frame details in its characters. Every match looks and feels like a painting come to life, whether it be the animation of special moves, or the ripples of movement reflected on a character’s outfit, it is the best-looking fighting game available.

Perhaps the biggest selling point to Strive is its impressive netplay because it implements rollback netcode. Rollback netcode treats both players’ inputs as local and rather than wait for the next input, it predicts the data to run the game smoothly. It is one of the only major fighting game releases to successfully use the option to create stable and smooth connections that feel like offline play. Lehr adds that many veteran players that continue to play the game were because of its online play and notes that he can’t imagine playing any future fighting game without rollback implementation. It is groundbreaking to have the potential to play across continents and still play at optimal settings.

The Limitations of Guilty Gear Strive

Fellow long-time Guilty Gear competitor and anime fighter, Keenan “Kizzie Kay” Kizzie is also a fan, but states that developer Arc Systems Works is still on the hot seat. He mentions that the game’s lack of information for new players in terms of a trial mode or a combo route explainer and its inconsistent damage scaling regarding the roman cancel system or how many of the hit and hurt boxes do not exist for higher-level play are signs that the game is incomplete.
“It’s a trend for multiple fighting games to release a beta with characters and we’re the testers. I think the complete idea will be very good, but if it doesn’t change in any way it may go downhill,” Kizzie said. “You can tell that they didn’t have a lot of time to work through all their ideas and it’s an incomplete package – but it’s a good, potentially great, package.”

Kizziekay reflects on the current state of Guilty Gear Strive, and what Arc System Works needs to do to stay on top.

There is a lot of trust with Arc System Works because of its past work and reputation to innovate or even create new dynamics within a game several years down the line. Their games are prone to longer cycles of updates instead of shorter-term installments in franchises such as Mortal Kombat. Until sweeping changes occur, both Lehr and Kizzie enjoy the current neutral game, but note it still has limitations due to its huge damage numbers.

“It’s a trend for multiple fighting games to release a beta [version] with characters and we’re the testers. I think the complete idea will be very good, but if it doesn’t change in any way it may go downhill.”

Keenan “Kizzie Kay” Kizzie

“They tweaked damage to lessen interactions so you will get more fluctuating outcomes in matches. To some older school players, it was frustrating, and I was one of them, but I found a way to appreciate it as a fighting game,” Lehr said. “It just doesn’t feel like a direct sequel to the Guilty Gear that we played. The system mechanics that we were adhered to were tweaked and simplified to make it easier to get into.”

Strive’s seemingly limited options, despite a strong foundation, continue a disturbing trend of new fighting game releases that look and play incomplete. As Kizzie noted, he didn’t want to play the finished product two or three years down a game’s lifecycle. As it stands, both Lehr and Kizzie believe that the game caters mostly to just one part of their audience – the newcomers. Lehr specifically notes that the game shrunk its initial canvas to make it easier to follow a character and made mix-ups more visible.

“I’m glad they’re bringing a new audience, but don’t forget the people that got you here to get the opportunity – we appreciate the game and we’re also fans,” Kizzie said. “A lot of veteran fans are a little unhappy because of so many system mechanics from the past that were removed, it made the game feel so one-sided. That just appeals to one group.”

“They tweaked damage to lessen interactions so you will get more fluctuating outcomes in matches. To some older school players, it was frustrating, and I was one of them, but I found a way to appreciate it as a fighting game.”

Kyohei “MarlinPie” Lehr on Guilty Gear Strive’s direction.

At least for now, competitors of the game are still flocking to tournaments in record numbers. One of the biggest fighting game major tournaments, CEO Fighting Game Championships, sold out its Strive tournament in mere minutes and weekly tournaments like Next Level Battle Circuit routinely hit capacity days before the actual event occurs. What Lehr and Kizzie want is balance in Arc System Works’ focus and online play should not be the only incentive to continue playing. Their trust and faith will be placed on the developer’s history of character releases and balance changes for the next phase of Strive.

An ever-changing fighting game community

Despite some glaring shortcomings and complaints from long-time fans of the Guilty Gear series, Strive is still a very positive note in the ever-changing fighting game community. For someone like Stephen “Sajam” Lyon, a commentator and someone who curated a large community via consistent streams, he can see it from both a newcomer and a veteran’s point-of-view with the aid of his viewers and his own experiences. For him, Strive represents another step in the right direction toward a more diverse fighting game community.

“I’ve noticed over the last five years since Street Fighter 5 came out, players are playing different titles. People are a little freer to try new things now instead of just staying with a series. There are more people willing to pivot off a game and try a new title and Strive is a great game for people to get a fresh start,” Lyon said. “For Guilty Gear, the numbers are very impressive. People love Arc System Works and are interested in their titles, and especially after Dragon Ball FighterZ, there’s more trust. It’s a good time for new games to come out and there will be players interested in other franchises like Melty Blood.”

New fighting game players mean more opportunities to grow a fanbase and Lyon noted that in his stream, many people that want to try a new fighting game are gravitating toward Strive because of its character design and art as well as its learning curve within the game’s mechanics. Arc System Works looks to be successful at its goal of reaching new audiences, but how to keep them is the most important question.

“What you want are more options, whether it is new moves or uses for meter or burst for defense or supers,” Lyon said. “My expectations will be that this first version is to get new players in, and the next patches will be more experimental and wackier because those changes are not to get a new player base. It will look or feel like a brand-new game.”

Strive is in a unique spot of being the game that has most of the attention of an entire player base on it and it looks like both veterans of the franchise and newcomers are positive on the potential of its future.

Jack o from Guilty Gear is one of the newest characters to join the game and one of her poses took the internet by storm. With her head flat on the ground and hips up in the air, the seemingly impossible pose requires a lot of flexibility. With many users posting their artwork with the Jack o Challenge, characters from other games were also subject to the back-breaking pose.

Timothy Lee -

Timothy Lee

| Twitter: @SHBL_Tim

Timothy Lee is an esports journalist and reporter based in California, he previously wrote for ESPN Esports.