If you are looking for the next good fighting game, Granblue Fantasy Versus is it
Type: Single-player, Multi-Player
Genre: Fighting, Action
Developer: Cygames, Inc.,
Arc System Works
Publisher: XSEED Games,
Marvelous USA, Inc.
Release date: 13 Mar, 2020
I am seriously enjoying this game. No joke, it is a back to basics fighter that is tight and well made. Based on the hugely popular mobile role-playing game Granblue Fantasy and developed by the fighting game veterans over at Arc System Works, this 2.5D fighter is both newcomers accessible and well structured enough for vets to sink their teeth into. I think it will easily garner the mass attention of fighting gamers worldwide. Granblue Fantasy Versus is also gorgeously rendered and I think fans of Guilty Gear or Dragonball FigherZ will find their groove right away. We have a new contender in the arena, folks, this is a great game.
You may have heard of Granblue Fantasy as the popular mobile RPG. Here, however, we have an anime-style fighter using the same characters. While many games flipping genres for a crossover effort tend to be half baked, Granblue Fantasy Versus shines very brightly. The production value of the game itself, characters, graphics, and even the tutorials surprised me time after time. The tutorials and free play alone are some of the best practice areas I’ve seen, showcasing easy explanations of button combos, selectable settings for the dummy, and the ability to see exactly what buttons you are pressing on the screen to make sure what you want to push and what you actually end up pushing match up, easing the frustration of not understanding why you keep missing an action…it is because you pressed it wrong, of course. Yet, the game goes even further than that and shows you quite specific strategies on how to attack, use supers, block and defend. This is also accompanied with videos to show you exactly what is going on. The tutorials are quite involved and if newcomers have the patience to sit back and learn it all, they will be substantially more knowledgeable about fighting games as a whole than before.
Like most fighters, there is a single-player part of the game, Arcade, Versus, Free Play, and Online. With the roots of the game being an RPG, it makes sense that the single-player is less of a story mode and more of an actual RPG. Most of the first section of the RPG is simply a tutorial, showing you the basic moves and how the game functions with combos and specials. You attack waves of minions, which are pretty much practice fodder for the entirety of the RPG section, followed by some mid-boss characters and a final boss at the end. True to form, your character is able to level up, collect and level up weapons, assign unlockable sub-skills, change outfits, and unlock characters as the story progresses. Each level is made of an island that floats in the sky. You use your skyship, called the GrandCypher, to travel to each one and investigate some odd things afoot. Basically, you have to fight nearly every character in the game to save the world, which is nothing new to fighting gamers. While not a mandatory section of the game, finishing the RPG mode does unlock Beelzebub for you.
What I completely overlooked while playing was that I needed to focus on my weapons more than on my levels. Apparently, Granblue Fantasy Versus incorporates a weapon grid that serves as a stat booster. You can upgrade, uncap, and uncap a few more times to make a moderately powerful weapon roughly 3-4 times stronger than it could be. On top of that, you can fill the grid slots with other weapons, upgrade and uncap those, and then all those stats get added to your character. I went through all the way to the final boss without bothering to do more than upgrade one weapon, but I could have made it a much easier journey if I had bothered to utilize the weapon grid. Once I got to the final boss, I was dead meat without maxing out my grid as well as I could. It is a shame the RPG section is so brief, the system setup is very well designed. There is even a challenge mode called the Tower of Babel in case you need to level up and get better weapons.
Overall, the RPG portion of the game feels like an opportunity wasted. There are only hints of a backstory, with very little in the way of character to character interactions beyond discussing when to fight. Each mission feels exactly the same as the previous one and there is no variety at all other than the mid-bosses and end-mission bosses. So, I see the RPG being only mildly entertaining for fans of the series and overall a bland offering where the only thing worth playing are the bosses. I would have been just as happy with a boss rush game and it would have cut out half the time involved. Personally, I wanted so much more. The characters are quite interesting and you know there could have been a much better story involved, but all we get are minions to beat up over and over and then the bosses followed by a bare-bones visual novel style story and some great animations. The RPG mode is very shallow compared to the actual setup of the RPG itself. Ah, well.
The real meat of the game is the fighting Online, Versus, and Arcade modes. That is where Granblue Fantasy Versus won me over. If you like old school gaming, a la Street Fighter 2 Turbo, with an emphasis on the fundamentals of fighting, this is absolutely for you. While there are plenty of combos involved, the core gameplay focuses on your five buttons and the proximity you are to your opponent. You have attack buttons that give you Light, Medium, Heavy, and Unique attacks along with an R1 button that gives you a Special Attack with a cool-down. The cool-down is the special sauce in the mix because it prevents folks from spamming the special attack over and over. This Special can also be combined with your normal attacks to give you an extra special Light, Medium, Heavy, or Unique attack, again with a cool-down but that cool-down varies depending which button you press. You also get a universal overhead attack by pressing Medium and Heavy simultaneously, you can throw and you can grab.
What is nice to see if the attack changes a lot depending on how close you are to the opponent. Kinda far and you can test the range of your attack, with Heavy being the best range if you can afford the slower attack. A few characters have Unique attacks that automatically give them a huge amount of range, like Zeta with her spear. Others, like Lancelot have this huge sliding kick a la M. Bison that I absolutely fell in love with at first sight. When you get up close, it’s time for a corner punch-out as you can auto combo, then hit Special, then auto combo over and over. At least until the cool-down is over. This game has a lot of cornering involved to nail someone. What is kind of OP is the overhead attack from the air, there is a tremendous amount of range with that and some characters can be seriously overwhelming when it is done well.
The interesting bits come down to the block/dodge. Blocking with the R2 button seems to work better than simply pressing down-back with the D-pad, but it does limit your ability to attack right after a block. What you can also do is Crossover very easily using the R2 button and get right up to and then behind an opponent without taking damage if timed right, yet getting out of that leaves you open. Dodging also leaves you wide open, so don’t think you can spam dodge and attack all the time.
There are also Skybound Arts which is a super gauge you can fill up and then perform a massive super attack with a tried and true quarter square attack on the D-pad. However, you can’t win it all with it. You really have to get good at all the basic fundamentals of the game, which I find just so enjoyable. No heavy overwhelming combo specials repeated gratuitously here, it is distilled down to essentials with combos as icing, though there are some character features involving charge ups as well. You also get rewarded for timing attacks and auto combos just right with better cool-downs.
The characters themselves feel very much a homage to old school Street Fighter fans with some nice personal tweaks and really gorgeous artwork. Seriously, this is an absolutely beautiful game to play. The dialogue before a match is often specific to the match too, dissing each other with insults as nonchalantly as possible. Try playing the same character against itself and you can get some reactions that are downright funny as well. I never got the sense that the game has a sameness to the characters or that they were duplicates of each other. Whether it be range, speed, tank health, power, charge up, close attacks, or quickness, each has their own identity and with the exception, Zeta, who I seriously think is just too OP with range and speed, I feel the cast is varied enough to make switching characters often a lot of fun.
Online matches were surprisingly quick, with waiting times generally being around a minute or two. Don’t expect to be able to beat anyone easily, some folks are downright brutal, but that’s the fun of it. Go ahead and hit rematch right after to get some more practice. Don’t get discouraged if you lose, just do those tutorials some more.
Does this make for a boring game or a great game? That may come down to a player by player bias, but if you ask me Granblue Fantasy Versus is so much more a dance of death than spamming special combos. Ok, some characters have a bit too much range – cough cough Ferry, cough cough Zeta -, but the game can teach you how to play against them better and it is as if Granblue wants everyone to git good together rather than leave you all alone with no guidance. This feels like a game that provides you with everything that most folks end up having to watch in vids or read secret code manuals for. Man, I love that. It’s the attention to detail, tight controls, and fundamental gameplay that make the game worth a buy.