Guilty Gear Strive has been the most popular fighting game in recent years, and high level events are a regular occurrence. Between NLBC, Yipes’ Can Opener Series, and many, many other events, Strive is one of the most, if not the most popular fighting games out right now.

But like any modern fighting game, issues and frustrations arise.

Grumblings of the Strive metagame have always been a thing. Patch 1.0 Sol was certainly an experience, as it was clear that he was the best character in the game. But we trucked through it, because the game was new and loads of fun. Things haven’t been as bad since then, but it really started ramping up in the past month or so, especially when Happy Chaos really solidified himself as arguably the best character in the game.

A post made by competitive player @eddventur3 made the rounds, talking about character spreads across the top 8s of many different events, and cited the average character representation across those events. Ramlethal is the only character that takes up more than one slot in top 8s on average. Looking deeper, an aggregate top 8 would effectively cut out about 70% of the roster in a given event.

This is a problem.

The biggest issue with the balance in the game, at the highest level, is the top tiers being so good at what they do. Ramlethal’s kit makes Testament strictly worse, despite Testament having powerful tools that Ram simply doesn’t have. Leo’s mixup tools are so oppressive, characters like Millia (and even I-no in some cases) get pushed out. Nagoriyuki is just a powerhouse overall, which itself isn’t a problem, but when characters are created without tools as powerful as his, the problem exacerbates itself.

More recently, players have found ways to make Blood Rage, the mechanic that’s supposed to be a penalty, an advantageous situation. Happy Chaos makes for very uninteresting and uninteractive gameplay patterns at best, and completely invalidates a lot of the cast at worst. While that issue isn’t strictly tied to power level, the fact that he’s powerful and uninteractive is a formula for disaster.

It sort of feels like with the exception of Happy Chaos, if any character in the game leans into a specific mechanic exclusive to that character, it isn’t viable. The best characters’ gameplans are very straightforward and simple. This isn’t inherently a bad thing. Simple gameplans are good, and it’s healthy for characters with simple gameplans to be strong, or even top tier. The problem comes when the incentive to play other characters are diminished or taken away completely.

Playing a character “for fun” can only take many so far. The payoff needs to be there, and comparatively, it just isn’t right now. For many competitive games, not just specific to fighting games, balance and “fun” form a tightrope. If a game leans too heavily into one or the other, then things start to feel very bad. It’s important to not sacrifice too much of one for the sake of the other. Balance doesn’t mean much if the game isn’t “fun” to players; and while “fun” is subjective, if what’s fun to them isn’t encouraged, then people won’t play.

I’m not a big proponent of slamming buffs or nerfs to characters for the heck of it. It’s very easy to just spew what I want to happen, but in reality, what I want likely won’t translate well to what should happen or what the people in charge believe is their vision. We are still over a month away from season two, and things could very well change for the better. Additionally, it really isn’t as doom and gloom as it seems. The tournaments being aggregated feature some of the highest level of play we’ve seen in online events, and if you aren’t there, then it matters very little.

Think about it like this: If you played one of the best players in the game right now, you aren’t all of a sudden going to beat them consistently just because they’re playing what’s seen as a “worse” character. And if you’re playing someone at your skill level, the margins of victory will be made with your decision making a lot more often than your character choice. There really isn’t a bad character in this game. While it’s definitely played out at this point, every character is viable.

Yes, even Anji.

Here’s what I think will change with the next balance patch (note that this is different from what I want to happen, to the best of my ability at least):

Happy Chaos: Tuned down across the board; damage scaling will be nerfed, knock up trajectory will be nerfed on perfect shot, smoke bomb speed will be slightly slower, and maybe a nerf to his reload speed. Slight buff to hp loss on his clone.

Ramlethal: Nerf to time between sword placement and explosion. (They will still be plus on block, but you have to link with another move to keep the string true). Slight nerf to damage.

Nagoriyuki: Slight nerf to blood gain on clone. Increased recovery on Blood Rage.

(Hard to say. I don’t think they’ll take away any of his tools since his problem before was that some of them were just not good. As frustrating as it can be to fight him, I think he’s fine where he is.) 

Giovanna: Slight buff to Sol Nascente (623S), adding more low profile frames earlier in the startup. This is to make it slightly cleaner against lows, but also not making it automatic against meaties.

Testament: Buff to Grave Reaper, making it overall faster.

Baiken: Buff to Tatami Gaeshi, making the startup faster. Buff to some of her normals, making her combo conversion much easier.

Millia: Defer to LordKnight.

Jack-O: Extended hitbox on Servant Shoot, making minion kicks more reliable and giving her a true blockstring that she can reliably go to. Buff to Recover Servant, but I’m not sure what exactly they’d do to make it usable. Slight buff to her defense.

For the rest of the cast, it’s possible that some overall game mechanic changes would be a very nice way of giving them more (or less!) tools to work with. I really don’t think there will be super drastic changes to most of the cast, nor do I think they really need much. The game, despite it’s flaws and woes, is in a good spot, and just a little tweaking will do the trick. I will surely keep playing and working on bettering my own play, but I’m excited for what season two will have in store.

Jack-O is fine.

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