Guilty Gear Strive changed the fighting game scene. I said this when I reviewed it earlier in 2021 and it remains true as we close out the year. It wasn’t just the extreme amount of polish on its art, the sheer fun of its roster and mechanics, and its fantastic new metal soundtrack. These are all great, but the glue that holds together was the implementation of its incredible rollback netcode. Fighting game enthusiasts worldwide have now seen what good rollback netcode can do, and for fighting game developers, it feels like there is no going back.

Arc System Works was originally set to launch Guilty Gear Strive in 2020. It was announced at EVO 2019 and was quite the looker then, but it also had some delays due to issues with the COVID-19 pandemic and feedback from players on the open betas it had throughout the year. Arc System Works has shown many times over that it listens to its fans and implements their feedback thoughtfully. Such was the case as it went back to the drawing board on the UX and UI features of the game to polish them up.

Guilty Gear Strive was already looking like one of the most visually stunning and mechanically interesting titles ArcSys had ever put together. However, the extra time and polish also helped. When Guilty Gear Strive came out (and even before), it was a masterclass of netcode design. We’re talking about the kind of infrastructure where players from USA could play against those in Japan or France. Put this on top of the fact that Guilty Gear Strive is a rich visual buffet of color, design, and animation, and every match looks and feels like a gorgeous spectacle.

It wasn’t as though Guilty Gear Strive had an enormous amount of competition to go up against in 2021. The rerelease of Virtua Fighter 5: Ultimate Showdown was the closest competent contender, but it was still running on delay (albeit about as good as delay netcode gets).

That said, let us be clear. Even in a stacked year, it’d still be a tough proposition to put something above Guilty Gear Strive. It didn’t just present a masterclass of Arc System Works design. It changed the fighting game genre as we know it. No other new fighting game in 2021 has used delay-based netcode since Guilty Gear Strive came out. It’s likely because developers know what we know. Players around the world have tasted the sweet fruits of rollback and there is no going back. Well done, Arc System Works.

Watch the Shacknews Awards 2021 YouTube playlist or read our Year of the Games: 2021 article for all of the awards in one place. We will be announcing our Shacknews GOTY 2021 on December 31.