Take the fight into the skies.
As a fan of Granblue Fantasy, the announcement of a fighting game based on the series immediately caught my interest, especially considering it’s developed by Arc System Works, being a BlazBlue player as I am. Even if I weren’t interested as soon as I saw the Arc System Works logo in the announcement trailer, it’s eye-catching with its similar visual style to Guilty Gear Xrd or Dragon Ball FighterZ, along with the beautiful Granblue Fantasy character designs. As such, Granblue Fantasy: Versus was a catch right from the start, but it’s important to see how it holds up, finally having the game in my hands.
While Granblue Fantasy: Versus is developed by Arc System Works, it’s quite different from other fighting games the company is well-known for developing, such as the BlazBlue and Guilty Gear series. It’s ostensibly meant to be simpler than either of those series, in terms of combos, execution, and general range of options available to the player at any given time. While there is an entire debate to be had about whether simplifying fighting games to allow new players to get into them more easily is something companies should strive for – or if it’s even possible, to begin with – it’s easy to see that it was the intent here. Execution is simplified by giving players the option to perform special attacks with a dedicated button and basic directions, while also giving allowing them to use more standard special move inputs. Uniquely, special moves are all on a cooldown, which takes slightly longer when using the special button to execute the move rather than the more standard technical input, in addition to a sort of EX mechanic where instead of costing meter, heavy special moves instead have a much longer cooldown time than their light or medium counterparts. There is also a dedicated block button as an alternative to holding back to block, although that is still an option as well. While the block button comes with its own unique set of quirks – such as unusual option selects and a glitch allowing it to be used for L-canceling – it is an admirable effort from Arc System Works, even if it may be somewhat misplaced.
Combos are generally short, at least outside of the corner. Even then, there’s a forced combo limit, where after a certain point, the opponent recovers out of the combo automatically, making combo optimization a process of figuring out how to use the somewhat small amount of time allowed for a combo to maximize damage. There is nothing like BlazBlue’s Rapid Cancel or Guilty Gear’s Roman Cancel, and combo extension is often done by using EX special moves to initiate juggles, especially in the corner.
A more straightforward game also means that, at any given time, there are fewer options available to you, and fewer ways of dealing with situations combat may present. Universal movement options are much more limited, with characters generally not able to air dash or double jump at all, aside from a few character-specific options such as Lancelot’s dive, Metera’s command jump, and Ferry’s divekick and whip swing. Running also feels more sluggish than other anime fighting games, but maybe that’s due to my preference for playing characters with particularly fast run speeds. I personally prefer the more complex system in other anime fighting games, but that’s definitely subjective; it’s not a bad system by any means, although it’s not particularly well-balanced at the moment, but that’s somewhat to be expected considering it’s a new series with a new system and characters.
The roster can be seen as being somewhat on the slim side at the moment, with only 11 characters at launch, with two five-character DLC passes on the way to round out the cast a bit more. With Chaos Bringer and Narmaya launching so close to the original Asian release – and simultaneously with the NA release – it makes the starting cast feel even smaller, even though it’s not a bad size for the first game in a new fighting game series. I take much more issue with the way the North American release is being handled, coming a full month after it released in Asia, which is unacceptable for a fighting game that is not only a featured game at EVO 2020, but has a world tour announced, being part of Arc Revo 2020. The European release is even worse, coming at the end of March. Many people I know personally already owned the game when it first released overseas, especially since the Hong Kong release is fully in English, even including the English dub. It makes the delayed worldwide release seem utterly pointless, not helped by XSEED’s unwillingness to give a reason for the delay.
The single-player experience is surprisingly robust. In addition to the standard arcade mode, there’s a story mode known as RPG Mode as well, which is a full beat-em-up using the same character mechanics as the main game, with character progression. The story is a spin-off from the main Granblue Fantasy storyline, and even if the main story is somewhat brief it’s a novel experience that goes on much longer if you want to grind for materials to get new weapon skins to use in versus mode or play through on hard mode, which unlocks when you finish the main story once. There’s also co-op in this mode, both offline and online, although online play in general in this game has its own set of problems.
As is the norm for Arc System Works games, Granblue Fantasy: Versus uses delay-based netcode, rather than more reliable rollback-based code. It doesn’t feel good, especially for online play outside your local area where you are likely to get 4 or more frames of input delay. At least it shows on-screen how much delay there is during online play, but it doesn’t relieve the simple fact that the netcode is not as good as it should be for a modern fighting game. There’s also no indication of connection quality with others in the open lobby, making it a roll of the dice as to whether or not any random person you play against in the lobby will have a playable connection.
The training mode is excellent, with the ability to set specific reversal actions and sequences for the training dummy in specific situations, such as after blocking, after taking damage, and after getting knocked down. There’s also a setting that highlights your character different colors depending on whether they’re at advantage, disadvantage, or neutral in different situations, such as after an attack is blocked. It’s not a complete frame data display like some games have, but a way to generally know what moves are best to use in pressure and to try and open your opponent up without getting punished is extremely helpful to have in-game. These are two features I definitely would like to see in future games from the developer, if not full frame data. There are also simple matchup lessons to help players learn to deal with specific situations that may come up against each character, which can help give a starting point for players to learn what each character does and how to go about learning to beat them.
The cel-shaded graphics and effects are excellent. The colors on the models are slightly muted to match the art style of Granblue Fantasy, and they’re all beautifully lit and animated. The backgrounds are excellent as well, with the stages also having nice transitions when going into the final round of a match. The music and voices are solid as well, as one would expect from Granblue Fantasy with all the characters sharing their voices from the browser game. There is an English dub as well, which is somewhat hit-or-miss between the characters.
If you were excited for Granblue Fantasy: Versus, there’s a pretty good chance you bought it on its Asian release and thus already own it, or you pre-ordered for the North American physical bonuses. However, if you held off, I would say it’s worth picking up if you’re a fan of the series, or if you played and enjoyed the closed beta last year. It’s very different from other Arc System Works games and anime fighting games in general, in ways that I personally don’t like so much. Still, there are definitely people who would find more appeal in this more grounded, less combo-focused style of game. The netcode is subpar, and while the gameplay is meant to be simpler, it mostly just ends up being complex in different ways than other games. That being said, there’s a nice and robust single-player mode with RPG Mode, a great training mode, and the gorgeous visuals, so there’s lots for fans to take in on top of the solid gameplay, especially once the cast gets rounded out a bit more with DLC characters.
Final Verdict: 4/5
Available on: PlayStation 4 (Reviewed), Steam; Publisher: XSEED Games (NA)/Cygames (JP)/Marvelous (EU); Developer: Arc System Works; Players: 1-2; Released: February 6 (JP)/March 3 (NA)/March 13 (PC)/March 27 (EU), 2020; ESRB: T for Teen; MSRP: $59.99
Full disclosure: This review is based on a PS4 copy of Granblue Fantasy: Versus given to Hey Poor Player by the (NA) publisher.