What is the smell of the game? My impressions of Strive.

It’s been a week since I tried it. Here are my thoughts. (This post is a meme free zone.)

It should be said that these impressions are from a person that has played GG competitively since 2005, written guides on GG-fundamentals and taught a bunch of players over the years, and that would not mind to try something new as long as it feels like a GG-game. I played the games six times as Axl and watched a lot of videos.

In all honesty, I would have liked to have had more time with the game in order to actually write a proper impression piece… but it is what it is!

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I was truly overwhelmed by visual and audial experience of playing Strive. I do not think that videos do it justice. Having a headset on and playing the game made me feel things I have not felt from a game before. It really is that gorgeous, and the audio design and (most of) the camera work makes the sensory experience of all your decisions feel much more impactful than in previous games. I think this difference cannot be understated and that you must touch it to truly get it. I noticed that a lot of the players at the event played without headphones on, but I would highly recommend trying to get fully immersed into the gameplay experience to see how much of a difference it makes.

Obviously, the UI must change. Enough has been said about this, but my main points are two-fold. First, it should better fit the aesthetics of Guilty Gear, and I believe that such a thing exists. Second, it should more clearly communicate important information such as RISC and tension meter. Oh, and having you lose heart icons when you lose a round (down to zero) instead of gaining victory icons when you win (up to the win count) was confusing as hell, lol. That’s really all there is to it, and especially since it seems to be placeholders, there’s not too much more to say.

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My general impressions of the gameplay are that: (1) neutral remains high-pace with movement options that all feel like GG; (2) confirms and conversions will have increased importance in relative terms (3); there are fewer combo pathways and that combo decision making will require rethinking, and that; (4) defensive and offensive decision making will be very different compared to previous games.

1. Neutral: What does it mean that neutral that the “high-pace” and the “movement options” feel like prior GG-games? It’s quite simple really. First, the speed of the game is very fast, and on top of that the screen feels smaller than previous games which creates a more intense experience in neutral game. There’s still room for you to reposition yourself through movement as in previous GG-games, and you will still be forced to make decisions in neutral game very often whether you like to or not.

2. Confirms and conversions: If there are fewer combo routes that lead to hard-knockdowns and if offensive mind games are weaker (as I believe they seem to be, but I could be wrong), confirms and conversions from neutral will increase in relative importance. That’s just how it is, and based on the ArcRevo build, it seems to be the case for Strive.

Since the combo system is very different from previous games, it will take some lab work to figure out what are good conversions from different pokes at different ranges. That is always part of the joy with a new fighting game and also why ArcSys is quiet about it. What I can say something about already now is how the system mechanics tend to favour certain types of moves: specifically specials that moves your character forward. Moves with forward momentum having an added utility is a very general thing across fighting games, but Strive’s RC-based combo mechanic requires your opponent to be within a circle that is fixed on your character, which makes forward momentum moves even more useful.

For example, Sol can quite easily do any of his forward momentum moves (Fafnir, Bringer, the New Kick Move) and RC if necessary to continue his combo (since he is close to his opponent), whereas Axl’s playstyle and move set makes combos with RC less frequent. This can perhaps be mitigated as we better understand the fast RC-mechanic (i.e. that allows you to perform action quickly after an RC, or maintain momentum).

The decision making that surrounds confirming and conversions seem to be one of the challenges for players to explore in Strive, the ultimate depth and complexity of which is too early to tell, but will likely be more challenging than the actual combos (post 3-4 hits) seem to be at the moment.

3. Combos: There are obviously fewer combo pathways and fewer combos that lead to a hard knockdown in Strive. Personally, I think there’s quite a bit left to explore with the new RC system, but the complexity in terms of execution will not be as deep as in previous games. Certain RC timings can be complex, and as the wall break mechanic seems to be connected to timings/positioning as well, optimized combos may require quick decisions and snappy execution. That is why I believe that even if combo decision making will also be less complex, the first 3-4 hits or so will probably remain challenging to optimize in terms of decision making.

4. Defence/Offense: A lot has happened on this front, but the first obvious change is how knockdowns into straight forward offensive/defensive mind games will become less common.

Other than that we have: the removal of 1f throws, the removal of throw classic GG throw option selects, the removal of IB removing block stun, the removal of having to FD to block grounded attacks while in the air, less reward from overheads without RISC/RC meter… as well as the addition of throw whiffs, throw being 4D or 6D, the addition of a dash button (allowing you to mash backdash by holding back and pressing it), the RISC meter changes (air block and relative increases overall) and the increased damage output of stray hits… so that’s a lot!

My overall impression here are not a new (below written from the perspective of an attacker):

  • Grounded meaties are associated with less risk than in prior games as the threat of option-selected 1f reversal throws is gone.
  • The RISC meter will play a larger role than in previous games and you can consider building your opponent’s RISC meter as gaining an advantage on top of positional advantage.
  • Overheads only become a real threat/option w. RISC meter or w. 50% meter to RC.
  • Fewer options for resetting pressure but some default options remain.
  • The combination of air block and FD pushback and fuzzy defence seems difficult to deal with, but that’s just my impression.
  • If your character does not have consecutive lows, and if backdashes have good properties, backdashes can be annoying to deal with (as you can hold back and mash backdash very easily).

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Conclusions: I think the game is already fun to play, but the question is how deep it goes. Arcsys is clearly open to changes as they keep on saying that the game is in an experimental phase, and I believe that the game has a very real potential to become sufficiently deep but that this necessitates some changes here and there to unlock. My own ideas relate to my criticisms:

  • Neutral, confirms and conversions: At a good state overall in terms of tempo and diversity of decisions, but how these will play out in the long run relate to combos.
  • Combos: I’m totally fine with wall breaks resetting to neutral and there being fewer hard knockdowns, but we need more diversity to make decision making more interesting and also to be able to express ourselves. While this assessment requires a deeper understanding of the details of the combo system among the play testers, I still think the game requires more options (more gatlings, combo routes, etc.). If no new revelations are made as regards the RC system, I believe that characters like Axl may have difficulties using RC for converting into full combos on mid to far ranges.
  • Defence/offence: I’m a bit nervous about how the “no-FD necessary to air block” will play out, but mainly I think that defensive execution and decision making becomes more fun if IB removes block stun, and pressure becomes fun if we have more gatlings to work with. I also think that you can block too early after an IAD, but the extreme push back on blocked air normals can possibly make up for it. Mixups are obviously still there, and you gain access to more options with meter to spend, but the game is obviously designed to be less okizeme loop heavy (which is fine).

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