When many gacha games on mobile were still new, Cygames managed to strike gold with Granblue Fantasy in Japan and although never officially released on an English appstore, the mobile game had such high popularity in the West that an official English translation is released alongside every Japanese update. Despite this popularity however, many in the West have never really seen what the original game was until its first spin-off game, a fighting game by the name of Granblue Fantasy: Versus was announced for worldwide release and now that it is available, should fighting game fans prepare to jump into the incredibly popular franchise?
The key components that help keep Granblue Fantasy so popular are the well-written story as well as the likable cast of characters that players can recruit to their team and as such it only makes sense that the developers would make a full story mode for Granblue Fantasy: Versus. There is a bit of a downside here though since this game already expects players to be well-acquainted with the series as a whole and have knowledge of who these characters are and while a bit of backstory and the glossary do help, newcomers will be left scratching their heads at many of the events that unfold.
Told in a similar manner to an event in the mobile game, Gran, Lyria, and the rest of the crew of the Grandcypher airship have spent some time away from Katalina who has been gone for nearly two weeks checking in on her old city. After traveling to meet with her the group finds the city under attack by soldiers from the long defeated Erste Empire and to make matters worse, Katalina is the one leading the attack as not only does she not recognize Gran as a close friend but she is actively seeking to recapture Lyria once more. It doesn’t take long before the crew manages to save their old friend but they quickly realize that a dark force is seeking to throw the world into chaos and altering the minds of those who once allies, leaving Gran and the rest of the crew to step up once more and save the world.
Granblue Fantasy: Versus’ story mode is fairly solid as a side-story that fans of the franchise will appreciate, though it is worth noting that even casual fans of the mobile game may be caught off guard by some story elements that are revealed as some plot points about specific characters don’t end up being revealed until far later into the mobile game’s storyline. As for the characters they all continue to act as fans should expect and they even have various extra interactions and bits of dialogue depending on who they are facing off against in battle, adding an extra bit of life to the combat and the fighters themselves. It is also nice to note that fans of the series will get a kick out of how many humorous references and events take place, especially in regards to Lowain, if they have spent quite a bit of time with the original material.
Those familiar with Arc System Works’ history with fighting games may wonder just what to expect when it comes to the pacing and playstyle of Granblue Fantasy: Versus and they may be in for a bit of a surprise, especially after the company’s usual focus of fast paced screen filling style came to a peak with Dragon Ball FighterZ’s frantic team based action, as this game is a more subdued and slower paced fighter that focuses more on players properly setting themselves up for attacks and proper timing with a number of various systems in place to make things easy for beginners to grasp and far more complicated for those who want to take on high level play.
At its simplest, Granblue Fantasy: Versus is a four button fighter with every character on the roster having a light, middle, and heavy attack as well as a special with each attack being performed with one of the face buttons. Three of these attacks will allow players to string together auto-combos if the player is within close enough range for that fighter and these auto attacks can help newcomers get a grasp on combat and eventually allow them to finish combo strings off with special moves or cancel into powerful blows if properly timed.
The special moves in the game, called Skills, have a unique feel to them thanks to the system being derived from the gacha RPG’s skill system. Every fighter has four special moves at their disposal and any time one of these moves is used, rather than depleting a gauge of any kind, they are instead placed on a short cooldown. These special moves can be triggered using an easy shortcut of R1 or R1 plus a directional pad but will suffer from a longer cooldown than simply performing the requisite directional input (generally quarter circles) which serves to balance play between those who want to learn and those who are taking the easy route. These special moves can also be activated with certain bonuses applied depending on the button used to trigger them, allowing for stronger or invincible strikes that once again have a longer cooldown.
Alongside these special attacks every fighter does have access to a powerful Skybound Art that can be triggered once their special meter fills up and allows for the player to deal tons of damage to their opponent and if the user happens to be at low health, they can instead a Super version that delivers even more damage. The amount of damage these moves do also varies depending on how well they connect with an opponent as some attacks can then trigger additional cutscene style blows if landed properly.
While there is plenty of offense at the player’s disposal Granblue Fantasy: Versus also offers a number of defensive options as well. There is always the standard holding back to block but players also have access to a block button that can be used to then either dodge an incoming attack or dash forward through it, though the forward dash can be tripped up by a low strike. These defensive options can be quite useful, especially since dodging blows can be extremely useful when it comes to avoiding an incoming Skybound Art.
With such polished battle mechanics and a weight to combat that feels quite real at times, it is a bit of a disappointment to see that Granblue Fantasy: Versus is releasing with probably the smallest playable roster that a full scale fighting game has seen in many years with only eleven characters available at the start of the game, with one more unlockable either after completing the story (bringing the total to twelve) or purchased as DLC. This isn’t too much of an issue as there is a definite quality over quantity here with this roster as basically none of these fighters play similar to one another, with Ferry being a distance fighter capable of using her friends to deal damage alongside her whip, Gran being an anti-air close range fighter, Percival who can be set up into longer string combos, Ladiva serving as a grappler with plenty of style, Lowain whose jokester style and unique moves can make him a challenge to deal with, and more. That being said, with such a small roster at launch, a second DLC character already releasing on launch day, and two already confirmed season passes of fighters, more quantity wouldn’t hurt especially when Granblue Fantasy has such a pool of characters to pull from.
As for the gameplay modes that players will be able to test their skills in there are a handful to choose from, arcade mode where players will take a fighter through a series of fights where they can choose their next opponent’s difficulty every time, standard versus mode where players can fight locally with a friend or against an AI opponent, two different training modes in the form of standard training and more focused Mission training, the online fighting, and a story mode that plays far differently than the rest of the game as it is stylized more like a 2D brawler than a fighting game.
While all of the combat mechanics remain the same, players will find themselves mostly pitted against a number of different enemies ranging from generic knights to monsters from the Granblue Fantasy mobile game where each foe has a small health bar and must be defeated before either the stage is completed or before the player can move to the next screen. Sometimes these fights feature a timer or pit the player up against a boss enemy in this game’s version of a “raid” where the foe has an extra large health bar and will enter an Overdrive state where they deal extra damage and use special moves more often after taking enough damage and then enter a “break” state once their Overdrive gauge is depleted, allowing for players to deal extra damage to a stunned foe. These brawler missions are fairly simple and often don’t feel like they are making the most out of what Granblue Fantasy: Versus can offer, especially when it comes to the boss battles that players will face off against. These situations may seem neat in theory but often fall into being generic fights with little extra challenge.
In Story Mode players will also be able to upgrade their characters level through fighting and acquiring weapons dropped from enemies as well as from an in-game “gacha” system where special gear can be obtained. These gacha draws also can unlock special weapon skins that can then be used for fighters in the game’s other modes, including online. Weapons can have their various skills boosted, levels uncapped, and more with certain elemental types having extra advantage against foes in the story mode but generally this mode works best as an extended tutorial and something like a new side-story for fans of the mobile game than anything else, though playing some through later stages in online co-op can make for a rather fun time.
Now for the game’s online multiplayer players will find themselves either choosing to search for ranked matches while practicing in training mode or entering a lobby with numerous other players where they can roam the deck of an airship as their favorite character in chibi form. The deck of the ship is filled with arcade cabinets where players can challenge one another for fights and test their skills. It is worth noting that while the game’s matchmaking does work rather well, the online lobbies do seem to be the best way to enjoy the multiplayer at the moment but be prepared for some rather rough lag at times as the net code does not work quite as well as one would hope, with fights ranging widely in quality depending on their location in the US, let alone against those outside the country.
Visuals & Audio
Arc System Works once again knocks it out of the park with their approach to the artwork in Granblue Fantasy: Versus. Although the eleven character roster is on the small side every single character is absolutely gorgeous with bright colors that pop on the screen and plenty of flashy moves that are unique to each character. This is especially true when it comes to the aforementioned Skybound Arts as their cinematic strikes are wonderful to behold in a fight. There are a number of various stages that players can fight on and many of them feature little references and extra movement in the background, though don’t expect too much variety here as the overall number of stages is even less than the fighter roster.
It is also nice to note that for the first time ever Granblue Fantasy characters are presented with English voice work should the player choose as XSEED Games has released the game with both a new English dub that covers every line of dialogue in the story as well as character interactions before, during, and after a fight, as well as the original Japanese voice work should fans prefer it that way. The soundtrack features a number of great tracks, including a couple that feature vocals, and fit well given the fantasy theme of the series.
Granblue Fantasy takes its first step into the worldwide spotlight with a flourish as Granblue Fantasy: Versus is not only a delightful fighting game that feels great to play but it is also one that has a fairly low barrier to entry as there are a variety of mechanics that make fighting a bit easier for newcomers as well as some solid tutorials to ease them into the deeper mechanics of the game that more hardcore fighters will quickly adapt to. It is rather unfortunate that the diminutive starting roster and the lacking gameplay of the story mode do hold things back a bit but in the end Arc System Works has managed to create a clever mash up of RPG and fighting mechanics that fighting game fans and even just fans of the franchise will likely adore.