Guilty Gear -Strive- isn’t quite there yet
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Arc System Works opened the floodgates to its Guilty Gear -Strive- closed beta test on April 16, which ended three days later. I was fortunate enough to get in and spent many hours on the game over the weekend. So here’s my take on the Guilty Gear -Strive- closed beta.
I went in with a lot of excitement even though I’ve been more of a BlazBlue fan of late, and my first impression of the upcoming game was great, but not excellent. The first thing that strikes you (yes, I said it), is the adoption of pixelated avatars. I think many fans, myself included, were taken by surprise when asked to create our pixelated selves. I love pixel art, but coming from cute chibi characters in Arc System Works other games to this, felt somewhat disappointing.
After creating my avatar, I proceeded to enter the lobby, which happened to be rooms with three floors and a few NPCs. The next strike was the news feed on the right-hand side of the screen, which took up half the space and was frankly unnecessary. Especially since the feed never really changed during the beta.
To initiate matches, players had to pull out their pixel weapons and stand in front of another player’s avatar, who also needed to have their weapons out. This would automatically initiate the matchmaking process, but it felt a little clunky, mainly because a lot of the time, you couldn’t tell who you were about to face off against. Then there were numerous times I found myself stuck waiting for long periods as the game tried to pair me with one player or the other. A few times, I got the impression the game had crashed, only for it to snap out of its frozen state eventually.
I eventually managed to get into my first match after several attempts (no joke), and even admired the way the developers included a flying eagle into the loading screen. However, I did notice a brief pause here, which I failed to recognize as the harbinger of doom. All excited, I watched the usual Guilty Gear fanfare play out before the first match began, and then I was immediately hit by lag.
A couple of weeks ago, Arc System Works announced that it would be adopting the use of rollback netcode instead of its usual delay-based affair. However, the Guilty Gear -Strive- closed beta didn’t appear to be using it, which is probably a bit of a godsend, because the connection issues I had during matches wasn’t just lag. I also had a few disconnects, and judging by other fan’s experiences; I came out lucky. I say it’s a good thing because we can still expect a much better online experience when they finally do adopt rollback netcode.
On the first day, while the game underwent server maintenance, we got to play VS CPU, and this turned out to be a saving grace for me. At the time, I was craving to play humans, but that was the smoothest the game ever played for me throughout the weekend. It gave me the chance to experience gameplay the way it was meant to be and showed me that Sol and Ky Kiske will always be my fall to guys when all else fails.
I had real fun playing, even the online matches (when it worked properly), but that’s not to say gameplay didn’t have its issues. From the first videos of the game, I loved the cinematic transitions when certain moves were executed, and in the closed beta, I got to pull them off myself, but as I feared, sometimes they felt like a distraction. Almost like a three-second commercial break to give players a chance to take a swig of alcohol, sip some tea, chug an energy drink, or whatever.
This disconnect was especially the case for big counters, which would slow the game down. Granted, it succeeded all too well in breaking your opponent’s pressure, giving you time to think of your next couple of moves. Still, with virtually every attack in the game setting off counters, sometimes matches became nothing more than a counter slugfest.
Notwithstanding, the gameplay was fun, and the characters felt familiar yet different. I particularly liked Faust’s inescapable grab that causes opponents to grow an afro instantaneously. Apart from the graphical difference, it extended the character’s hurtbox to include the afro, making it a lot easier to hit opponents.
There were other cool moves, too, that made the experience fun to play and watch. However, Potemkin was my nemesis. Not just because I’m not all that good a player, but mostly because of one of his moves. The Potemkin Buster was, to put it frankly, busted, sapping about half a player’s health bar. The damage wasn’t my only issue, though, because the move was a very good anti-air and dragged opponents in even when they weren’t precisely in range to get hit under normal conditions.
Immediately you enter the main menu; you can't help but notice the minimalist style the developers adopted for the UI. Guilty Gear has always been known for lavish designs that are strongly influenced by heavy metal and other forms of rock. The names of the floors in the online lobby all had rock influences, from band names, song names, and albums. If you’re a fan of that kind of music, then you surely did notice, and if you aren’t, you’re probably googling them right now.
Going back to the UI, many of the icons used in the tower screen seemed too colorful and out of place design-wise. There also happened to be a lot of peach (color), and if I'm not mistaken, pinks, scattered around too. Even the UI during matches was a bit lacking.
I like the idea behind the minimalist design in this game, but in my opinion, it could have been used better. Again, the use of pink/peach in the health bar felt a bit out of place, but it did change color as the bar was depleted, so it wasn’t a constant sight. The health bars were a bit low-hanging, leaving a lot of space above with player names looking out of place there in small print. Then there were the cute little hearts that would vanish every time a player lost a round, situated next to some black splashes of paint. The hearts felt out of place, surrounded by the grunge aesthetic.
My last gripe with the UI mid-match was the character profile, burst, and guard gauge, which looked like a small rectangular box that was simply placed below the health bar. These issues aren’t game-breaking, and I mostly forgot about them after playing a couple of matches, but I still felt the need to address them. I can’t complain about the combo counter and other stylistic messages displayed, though, and the character designs along with their models were exceptional.
The Guilty Gear -Strive- closed beta was a mixed bag of experiences, but I did have fun with it, despite all my issues. As usual, the music was superb, the gameplay still great despite my problems with it, and the UI could have just been me being nitpicky. Even the lobby didn’t necessarily make the game terrible; it just made me want to leave the screen immediately after it loaded.
I wouldn’t give the closed beta an A+, and that should be expected because it’s a beta (yes, I remember, I gave the Granblue Fantasy: Versus beta two thumbs up). Participants were encouraged to provide Arc System Works with feedback regarding the game. So when (if?) the next beta arrives, and we see that changes have been implemented (or not), that’s when we can truly start to complain and bemoan the state of the game.
The Guilty Gear -Strive- closed didn’t reduce my anticipation for the game, but whether the developers will be able to improve their offering before the game’s Summer 2020 launch is the real question.