The hit RPG franchise, Granblue Fantasy, has finally made its way to the fighting game scene. Members of the fighting game community may have already picked it up through other methods, but the official North American release is finally upon us thanks to XSEED Games. Granblue Fantasy Versus takes the fan favorite characters and puts them into a 2D fighter from the pros at Arc System Works. Does it succeed as a new challenger to the fighting game genre? Or will it get knocked out of the competition?
Granblue Fantasy Versus is a 1-on-1 fighter that plays fairly similar to other Arc System Works games like Blazblue. The biggest differences come from the way skills work, essentially having cooldowns after activating them. There’s two different ways to input skill commands, one being simple and the other more technical. If players choose the technical command, their cooldown will be shorter. You’ll also have your light, medium, and heavy attacks, as well as a unique action. All the standard attack buttons can form auto combos, and you can mix up the system by cancelling. It’s simple enough to pick up, but it takes a lot of strategy to master. It’s also something that really brings the RPG element to the fighting game.
Another difference that really sets Granblue Fantasy Versus apart is its approach to a story. Arc System Works is no stranger to story modes in their fighting games. Most of them play out in a typical fashion, having a standard fight between all the story moments. Granblue Fantasy Versus however, opts in with an RPG mode, rooting it to the original game. Playing like a side-scrolling beat ‘em up, players will fight through waves of enemies each mission and gain experience upon completion. Every so often, you’ll come across a Raid fight, which is essentially a boss battle. These fights are usually against other playable characters, but it also includes Primal Beasts that can only be fought here.
The gameplay here is a bit unique, but it has its a few flaws. Most notable is the fact that players can change direction in a mission. When some of your attacks rely on holding back away from your opponent, it becomes a frustrating battle between attacking and turning around. Luckily, it’s easier to manage in boss battles, but it’s still frustrating nonetheless. The missions also have a chain system, where players can rack up a combo chain against opponents. Unfortunately, the way enemies spawn is sort of sporadic, and it makes it easy to drop these chains. The good thing is you don’t miss too much if you don’t chain combos. At worst, you miss a mission reward.
The mode is interesting with the RPG mechanics, as players get weapon drops that they can upgrade for more power. Like plenty of mobile games before it, there is also a gacha-like draw system for these weapons. Luckily, it’s not really necessary to do “better” in the game. One great thing about the RPG mode is that there’s a co-op mode, both locally and online. It’s not something to buy the game for, but it’s nice to have it as an option in the game.
As far as the story itself goes, a mysterious force takes control of various key characters across the different floating islands. Gran, with the help of Lyria and Vryn, do everything they can to snap everyone out of the trance. What this boils down to is basically a fight, which doesn’t get much deeper than that. If you’re not familiar with the story already, you may get lost here. All the characters have existing relationships, and it’s pretty much glossed over for the sake of telling a new story. Basically, the story itself feels like a mere excuse to make friends fight each other. It’s passable at best, but nothing like the Blazblue storylines, or even Mortal Kombat.
One thing I do want to note is the voice acting in the game. In my experience, I’ve seen many people prefer the Japanese voice actors in the game. That’s all fine and good, but I do want to take the time to appreciate the voices from the English dub. Sure, not all are going to be winners, but there’s some solid voice work from several great actors. Richard Epcar, Christina Vee, Greg Chun, Kyle Hebert, etc. A lot of people don’t appreciate the work put into the dubs, but it’s definitely there, and it deserves recognition.
Another fantastic element of the presentation is the visuals. The game uses a beautiful art style that feels like moving artwork in 3D form. The art for this franchise is truly stunning, so seeing it come to life by the hands of Arc System Works is a sight to behold. It even uses the lower frame rate animation that is often used in anime, which admittedly takes a little getting used to. Fans of Dragon Ball FighterZ will likely be familiar with the style as well. Orchestral and vocal tracks are also wonderfully present, giving a good variety of music to set the tone in fights. It really feels like a true blend of JRPG and fighting game music.
Now, being that this is Granblue Fantasy Versus, obviously that implies that the “Versus” is important. The game offers your staple fighting game features. An arcade mode, a offline versus mode, and then an online mode. Online features offer a pretty robust setup, featuring a ranking mode, casual fights, and replay data. The game even brings in the classic Arc System World chibi avatar lobbies. One great thing about this approach is it isn’t the main hub of the entire game. Sometimes a normal menu works best, so it’s great to see it only used for online matches here.
In my time online, to my surprise, I was getting consistently good matches. The game has delay-based netcode rather than rollback, but my matches were surprisingly stable. Many of these were against people from other countries too, so it was definitely a shock. Playing in the ranking mode also gives the option to have a rematch against an opponent, should you wish to fight again. This stability may change as the game has its wide release, but overall, my experience with it was solid. The replay data is great too, as it gives players a clear understanding of all the inputs.
While the combat is definitely unique and easy to pick up, there’s a lot of variety here. The base roster has only 11 characters, but they all play very differently. Their skills, their unique actions, and in some cases, their Skybound Arts. Gran feels like your average balanced fighter, while Lowain is more technical, summoning various characters and machines. Ladiva is a grappler, but even she has some unique traits with her skill set that make her feel different than your average grappler. More characters are on the way, but the game deserves special recognition for making such a diverse roster.
Overall, I came in knowing very little about Granblue Fantasy, and I came out not knowing much more. Despite this, Granblue Fantasy Versus is a unique and competent fighter. The RPG mode, while simple, adds a nice distraction for single player, and the co-op is appreciated. The graphics and music are wonderful, and the game has a stellar presentation. While the online infrastructure might potentially change, my experience was positive. I can’t wait to see how this game will continue to evolve as it adds more content and patches.