Getting Back Into Guilty Gear Strive


I've had a fascination with fighting games since I was a child, which has continued through my teen and adult years. For a long time, I was fighting game person in friend circles. While the games I've played, and to what competitive level I messed with them, has varied drastically over that same time period, I hold the thought today that Guilty Gear is simply the greatest fighting game series there is. While I'm extremely nostalgic for my high-school days jamming on sister series BlazBlue Calamity Trigger & Continuum Shift, Gear has always impressed me.

I started the GG series with the beloved and fun-to-type Guilty Gear XX Accent Core Plus R in early 2021, the netcode darling that's three dollars on Steam more often than not. This game is a blast, it's absolutely wild, and I'm sorry if Zappa swords you to death. It's also a pretty difficult game to pick up and play. It's mechanically rich as all hell (one could say it's bloated), with a huge and diverse cast to learn about, and can be very demanding with inputs depending on your character. I logged about 70 hours on this game, first with Ky and later with Justice. You can't put a character that looks like this in a game and expect me not to pick them, I simply do not care that Nukes are lame. Her combos are extremely flashy as well, with huge sweeping hitboxes and lightning effects everywhere, and an unreactable overhead. Good stuff! I still go back and play sometimes, but not every day.

Dustloop says, on +R...
"It's got its reputation: it's strict, it's wild, it's got its jank. While those are true to an extent, there is so much to be explored in this game, so much latent freedom that is touted, that many a player finds themselves sinking into the rabbit hole of "one more rep" in training mode. Of "one more set" in locals. Of "one more try" in trying to crack this treasure chest of a game open further."

When Strive came out, a friend actually gifted it to me. Thank you, friend! Truthfully, I was going through a major depressive spell at the time, and didn't want to get into all the emotion that can come with grinding out and improving at a game when I wasn't feeling well. When things are in order, though, the feeling of becoming stronger is something divine. At that time, I was also listening to the dissenting voices that Strive was "dumbed down" for new players and casual audiences. Apparently, attracting new players is the most unforgivable sin in gaming. I'll admit, I went "Whoa" with trepidation when I saw the new airdash start up after getting used to +R's. All the same, I think it was a mistake to listen to these criticisms.

While it's true that Strive was made to be a different game from the XX and Xrd lineage, Strive is very much a rich, exciting, and challenging game. For my money, I very much appreciate modern niceties like mappable Dash and Roman buttons, but it's also just easier to pick up a character, or watch a replay, and see what's going on. Most characters across the cast have similar parts of their toolkits on the same buttons, but after that, almost anything goes.

Will you vibe with Nagoryuki, who can play an unbelievable neutral and pressure game at the expense of having to balance his Blood Gauge? Ready to send your opponent to mix-up hell forever with Millia Rage? Do you think someone is hotter than everyone else? Have you seen Bedman?'s Error loops? They're actually pretty cool, to me. With some previous fighting game experience (and/or some Dustloop starter guides), you can pick up and get a basic feel & gameplan for anyone you want fairly quickly. This is a great thing! If you have no experience, Strive has extensive tutorials on everything you could ever want to know. That is, of course, extremely good!

Strive ended up, for me, being a game I would boot up rarely and say "Holy crap, this game is so fun!", and then just do other things. Right now, I'm on a hot steak with the game and loving it. If you're curious who my characters are, I've played the most with Millia Rage. Her speed is a huge asset, and even after 50~60 hours of focusing on her, it still feels like there's more mixes to discover. She puts your opponent in guessing game situations, which challenges you, the Millia player, to creatively make the cruelest game possible, sometimes on the fly if they start blocking whatever your go-to mix is. I was getting a little bored of her, though, and I've picked up Elphelt Valentine. She's cute as a button with a balanced toolkit and easy set ups for almost everything; safe jumps, mix ups, and her combo routes are fairly simple. What's not to love about all that?

It's really only external things that leave any blemishes on Strive. Your mileage may vary with the general fighting game community, depending on how you approach that, if it all. For me, one pf the least enjoyable experiences is just grinding out online ranks, alone and anonymous, deprived of any social aspect. That may be preferential to you, however. But be aware that no matter which character you pick at any given time, and I mean any character, you can find a deluge of complaints somewhere. Your character is a gorilla, skips neutral, carries you, has White Wild Assault, does random bullshit, will hear all of that. Just ignore that noise, seriously.

Speaking of ranks, the "ranking" system in Strive is frankly, terribly designed. It makes no sense to me. There are ten Floors in what's called the Tower, and they are meant to align with some level of skill. You first receive an assigned floor based on a match against the AI(really??). After that, you will move up or down from your assigned floor based on consecutive wins or losses. You can play in any floor higher than your assigned one, but you cannot go below, this is presumably to prevent strong players from bullying weak ones.

After floor 10 (where I am usually stuck), there's a special land called Celestial, which requires you to take the ~Celestial Challenge~. For that, you must rank up from 10 and win 5 games against Celestial players. If you lose two before you win five, time to do it over. It's a pretty tough order, but not impossible.

So, what's wrong with all that exactly? Well, for one, the floors also act as lobbies. Yes, you can walk around and choose who to play with, and dodge any matchup you wish if you don't like it. That last one is kind of a necessary thing in a system that lets you accept or decline for connection purposes (thank god!), but Street Fighter 6 shows the connection quality and not the character before you accept. This issue means you can easily cheese ranking up and down if you wish, by arranging for a friend or two to simply let you win. A friendly Celestial player somewhere on Discord or Reddit or 4chan may be willing to help you with that. This is supposedly something they're trying to work on.

That aside, you are required to win 5 out of 6 games to receive your floor rank up. But when is "the six"? You really have no idea. You can lose a few, and then win a bunch, and not receive a rank up (or down!) because it just happened to be in the middle of the game counting in sets of six. It's bizarre. Keep in mind also that opponents may be rematched up to three times, which is sort of the honorable thing to do, but this means you need only to beat up two people or so consistently for a rank up (or lose for down). For the Celestial challenge, you are suddenly asked to go from Floor 10 to, potentially, fighting some of the very top players in the game and needing a winstreak.

What this means is that it's pretty easy to simply bounce around assigned floors. Are you good at fighting Ky or Giovanna but not Goldlewis or Happy Chaos? Should you dodge those matchups? It's somehow both strongly luck based and cheesy. Bouncing around the floors deflates the feeling of progression. What's really different about anyone in floor 10, 9, or 8? Or even 5, 6, 7?

No one can agree on what the floors mean, because there's no skill based matchmaking involved. You can't really assess where someone is at by floors. Depending on who you ask, Floors 1-10 are all equivalent to a Bronze Rank, or floor 10 is more like Platinum, or on, so forth.

A traditional ranking system has none of these pitfalls obviously, but it's not clear to me what the advantage of The Tower is really supposed to be. Celestial also resets every month, so if you earn it on July 30th, have fun doing it again in August. The natural inclination of all this is simply not to care, because it's not rewarding in any way, or really demonstrative of your progress as a player.

How exclusive something like Celestial should be could be debated. Full disclosure, if it matters, I've never made it into Celestial. I've never pushed through to try it all that hard, because as mentioned, grinding rank just kind of annoys me and doesn't feel good at all, even in more traditional systems. I'm more of an Open Park person, it makes me feel like I'm chilling at the arcade. The Tower is poor for everyone, though, with basically two ranks. Celestial or Not.

My biggest hope is that some kind of Guilty Gear Strive Complete Edition with all the DLC will just have an entirely new ranked mode, because the Tower sucks.

Didn't I say I liked this game? Indeed I do, the actual game. It's exhilarating to make the right calls, read your opponent's habits and strategy, and keep the pressure on as much as possible. It's exciting to learn about some new technique and get better at piloting your favorite characters. That goes for almost any fighting game though. Strive is a high damage game that can be somewhat snowball-y at times, with the first attacker often being able to get a Wall Break and the extremely powerful Positive Bonus to aid them. This, though, can make it all the more fun to clutch it out and earn that win, quickly turning the tables with your own excellent work.

I'd say I'm only an average player at my best, but allow me to offer a few tips for any beginning players who are getting into the game at this stage. We've already covered "pick a character you think you'll like", but don't be afraid to shop around for a while if no one stands out. Finding mains can be like dating, and we all know how hard that is!

  • This game is frame trap city!
  • You are going to get hit a lot, at first. There are plenty of moves in the game that look and feel like they should be punishable, but Gear is just not like that sometimes. Natural frame traps exist for a lot of characters, so while you're still feeling all that out (like me), being cool, observant, and blocking is a solid idea. One nasty mix up or deceptive trap can take a lot of your health bar away, but you will gain that ability as well, in time!

  • Delaying your attack strings can be really good.
  • That's the other thing that will get'cha. Intentionally leaving a small gap in move strings that otherwise wouldn't have them can be part of a winning strategy. Keep in mind that if you get hit by something that looks a bit off, it's probably not random mashing. Though you can always go into the replays and check! As you learn, one thing that can smooth out this learning process is a character's Gatling table. This will show you, plainly, which moves can get canceled into what. While this table doesn't show you every possible frame trap or delay opportunity, it can help you recognize what options your opponent might have if you're struggling.

  • Watch your own replays, and use Training Mode features.
  • Sometimes doing this will make me cringe, because there's some pretty poor play from me in my replay list! But, you'll be hitting your head against a brick wall if you don't sit down and look at your own gameplay. You'll notice your bad habits, mistakes, or general things that have tripped you up regularly much more quickly than doing it all live.

    The Training Mode has the ability to record actions and play them back. Use this to find your options against enemy moves and strategies, when you're ready!

  • Keep it simple, one thing at a time.
  • I think everyone learns differently, but for me I can really only incorporate one new concept into my gameplay at a time. Whatever thing I just learned, a combo, a mix up, a frame trap, whatever- It's got to get practiced and molded into my gameplay before I can put anything else in there. I love learning lots of helpful things at once, but trying to turn it all into muscle memory at the same time doesn't always work for me. If you're learning a character for the first time (or if this is your first fighting game), keep it simple at first and take it easy.

Strive is three years old now, but season four of DLC characters is on the way at some point. There's also a TV anime coming out in 2025,Guilty Gear Strive: Dual Rulers, which makes me think that Strive's life could possibly even involve a season 5. The DLC does go on sale every now and then, but it's a bit of an expensive pickup, so hopefully we'll see that imaginary Complete Edition after the last season.

Fighting games, in general, are on fire right now! Tekken 8 and especially Street Fighter 6 are enormously popular, but Strive is still hanging with them, thanks to the passionate Guilty Gear community keeping the public conscious alert. Three years is not really that old for a fighting game, so right now you've got a plethora of choices for active games!

It's been a Guilty Gear summer for me thus far I also got really into Cookie Clicker for a week, and it's been a hoot. Hopefully, you've had some fighting fun yourself.

If you liked this post, say hi to me on Twitter or, even better, Bluesky! You could also sign the Guestbook, should you so desire, it's free and helps show some readership. I do this for free and independently to bring a little humanity back to the web.


- James