Guilty Gear Strive CBT – The Good, The Bad, The Lobby

So the closed beta came and went and I was one of the happy fanboys to get a ticket to the CBT. So how did it play out? Do I agree with the comments from twitter and reddit? Maybe I do agree with some but disagree with others, here’s my thoughts on the what ArcSys had presented to us so far:

Amazing Visuals

First of all how they’ve remade some characters, particularly May and Faust are pretty phenomenal. Ky and the others are also reimagined to a level I’d say look cooler and more updated with maybe the exception of Potemkin who hardly looks any different from his Xrd version. I can more or less forgive the rougher looking models at the character select screen assuming the polish isn’t quite there yet given that it’s still a closed beta test. Their cinematic approach to overdrives along with the seamless transitions to their highly detailed models are also a joy to watch.

However, I find it difficult to say everything about the visual experience of Guilty Gear Strive is good. As I said before the character select screen feels lacking in polish. Their approach toward the UI even in fights seems to approach a more simplified, neutral and cleaner aesthetic. While I think making the appeal broader could serve well to expand the audience, I don’t think the how the lifebars, burst meters, and win counts work right now are conducive to making fights easier to follow. Some of it actually feels distracting and can get in the way of the already amazing looking fight. How the UI animates in the fights feel contradictory to their simplified design.

 

Best OST Ever

Ever since Guilty Gear X I can only say that the music has gotten better over time. The game having vocal themes for what may be every character they have is really amazing. While I basically played ‘Smell of the Game’ for weeks on loop because of how great it was, I was pleasantly surprised to hear a few more vocal tracks while playing the CBT.

 

The Lobby is… Strange

Making my own avatar was pretty cool, allowing me to make a unique self to present in online lobbies. However the aesthetic of going with 8 bit style 3D models, set in a place that looks like an action flick is about to break out, seems a bit removed from what I would expect in a Guilty Gear game. Sure, it being able to personalize my own avatar instead of just pretending to be one of the fighting game characters does feel like an interesting direction, but having nothing else to do but match up makes it feel like loitering around the lobby is just a waste of time. If I can have other activities within the lobby where having people recognize my avatar could have some meaning to it, then maybe it has a point. But right now, no, not really. It actually feels contradictory that I can have a high degree of personalization for my avatar but it’s absolutely basic, graphically.

Arming myself with a weapon and waiting for someone to come close enough doing the same is such a strange approach to matching up, it makes it difficult to actually want to match up with someone in a crowd as proximity is what actually triggers the match up. The worst part is you can’t check your connectivity with the player you may or may not trigger a match with. I’m sure my location and my ISP shares a big part of the blame for having trouble connecting to several players but being trapped in limbo just trying to start a match was irritating, having maybe a countdown timer before the connection gives up or giving us the option to abort the attempt after a certain amount of time would have been a big favor for players trying the game out.

There’s probably more to point out, the promotion system that ideally is supposed to keep high skill players from bullying lower ones just kinda forces some players to suddenly get kicked to other floors, sometimes I got promoted despite losing (which is actually kinda interesting). What if we wanted a rematch? Actually, why is there no rematch function?

 

Fights Were Pretty Great

When we got to actual fights I’d first like to commend the netcode. When matches actually got through at least 90% of the fights I had either had very little to no noticeable issues with the connection. This is a vast improvement from XRD and even Granblue Versus.

Combat interaction between various characters where I pretty much spammed Sol, felt pretty fair, actually. Maybe we can chalk that up to my experience with the game but I didn’t particularly feel like any of the characters were ones I couldn’t deal with. If I had trouble fighting them at all it was mostly because I just didn’t know what to do, but I never felt like I couldn’t win. All the characters were revamped to match the new system but still felt close enough to their original counterparts so that the game felt fresh but familiar at the same time, and they did a superb job at this.

However, damage scaling seems a bit off. Build up from RISC makes damage feel erratic, I also noticed that lifebars seem deceptively short, as damage continues to drop the closer a player got to being KO’d (aka: the ‘guts’ stat for each character). I think the numbers around these values need to be played with a bit more, as it’s quite possible to have a round use most of the 99 seconds or have it end with only 9 seconds spent. I can see how intense drama can play out as the final pixels of HP refuse to be shaved off during a longer combo, but I think it’s sacrificing too much consistency in the game play. Players and spectators may start thinking the game is too random, or can be won with some lucky hits.

Finally, the loss of the gatling system, where you can basically press buttons that are progressively stronger and are likely to cancel into each other, made the game feel arbitrarily restricted. If there’s only one way for a combo or a move to work, then the use of Roman Cancels, Bursts, and even certain moves simply becomes very predictable. A game that boasts so much personality doesn’t seem to quite hit the mark if a player lacks freedom in what he can do with a character. I really hope they reconsider this part of the game as I believe players being able to come up with their own techniques or combos is a huge part of what makes Guilty Gear interesting.

In the end my biggest gripes are actually the lobby and a somewhat restricted feeling when playing several characters. I still have my reservations about the UI but it’s not as big an issue to me than the other two. I’m actually willing to compromise some of the aesthetic if that means having a wider appeal to a much broader audience. I hope they can figure out what kind of innovation they plan to implement into the lobby without trying to tear itself away from the game. I also really hope they consider adding gatling options into the game, it doesn’t have to be all viable or optimal, it just needs to exist. I think a lot of the joy that comes from studying fighters is exploring and sharing what you figure out, and a lot of it comes from having a good range of options available to the player for many situations.

Did you get to play or watch the Guilty Gear Strive Closed Beta test? Do you think you’ll buy the game based on what you experienced or saw? Tell us what you think and let’s continue talking about it because well, I simply love this series.

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