I’m playing Granblue Fantasy Versus RPG mode, slashing through goblins, and I use Charlotta’s super. The pint-sized knight shouts a battle cry before spinning with her sword and cutting down all enemies in front of her. The animation is beautiful, but I’m not excited, because this is the fiftieth time I have seen the animation.
Granblue Fantasy Versus is a fighting game that seems to suffer from a sort of identity crisis. It’s a versus fighting game that tones down the execution to highlight fundamentals, while also trying to mimic the mobile title it’s based on with its expansive RPG mode, but it creates a weird schism as a result.
The way the game is handled left me with a weird divide. I came in expecting a somewhat deep but perhaps casual fighting game, and that’s half of what I got. The fighting system has that easy to play, difficult to master vibe to it, foregoing difficult to execute combos for auto combos and directional specials in favor of fundamentals taking center.
But with the fighting game, I also received a hack-and-slash RPG that takes inspiration from the mobile game. In each stage you take on respawning enemies, mindlessly slashing them down with either the help of an AI or co-op partner. You also equip weapons of different elemental types and passive effects that give you attack and health, upgrading and leveling them up for greater effects, which isn’t a bad idea in theory.
However, the game tells you what type to use for each stage, meaning you can just switch to whatever type is the most effective and mindlessly best the stage. The RPG seems to take a lot of inspiration from the mobile title, all the weapons you get are lifted from the game with the same animation that is in the mobile game, and it also follows the same repetitive gameplay.
All the stages are essentially the same thing over and over with the bosses being at least unique, but not really being a big threat. You essentially do the same thing over and over again, with the only reward being you can obtain different weapons and character colors that transfer over to versus. There is also a tower mode that looks to lengthen the playtime, but even the amount I played got to be enough.
The enemies are never really a threat, the bosses while unique aren’t all that difficult, and if you choose an effective loadout unless you aren’t paying attention you won’t really die. The mode is a novelty at best and the only reason to play it is if you want to experience the story and unlock customization options. That being said, the characters are written relatively well, and the story itself is interesting enough to keep you going until the end, so it at least keeps you somewhat invested.
Someone I do want to note, just like Kotaku’s Ian Walker, is the grappler character Ladiva. Ladiva is a character that is a breath of fresh air, a hulking trans woman that is never used as the butt of a joke, never insulted or belittled for her appearance, and treated respectfully and naturally by all the characters. It’s nice to see a character such as her be represented and I felt like I had to make a note of it. The rest of the cast are all different enough, but Ladiva is definitely the standout in terms of personality, and I’m glad she was given the chance to shine.
Granblue Fantasy Versus’ fighting system is where the real meat is at, and the system they crafted, in my opinion, is great. While the execution required for combos is tuned down when compared to other fighting games, it makes the game more centered around the fundamentals, which is a good thing in my opinion.
Granblue Fantasy Versus system uses six proper buttons, a light, medium, and heavy button along with a unique trait button, a specials button, and a block button. All three normal attack buttons go into auto combos at close range, with most combos being as simple as auto combos into special into another auto combo into a special or super. Even these simple combos often deal a good chunk of life, so it usually comes down to not letting yourself get hit, and trying to trick your opponent into your combo starters.
It’s worth mentioning that you can manually execute everything if you want, but unlike most games with auto combos, the damage isn’t reduced for using them, so there is no reason not to.
In addition to that, the special button lets you use any version of your special moves by simply pressing the right direction and adding the medium or a heavy button if you want that version of the move, also reducing the execution requirement without reducing the damage. Heavy versions also function like ex moves, having better properties but in exchange making the move unable to be used for a while.
Your meter is also used exclusively for your Skybound Art, your basic super, with a Super Skybound Art being available if you have a full meter at low health, a Super that basically is better and does more damage.
This might annoy some people, but I think that lowering the skill ceiling allows for more players to play at a higher level, and there are enough systems to give the game complexity, which is where the dodge and block system comes in. By holding the block button and then pressing a direction, you can dodge an attack and then be able to punish the move faster than blocking, adding an additional risk that can have a big payoff.
Granblue Fantasy Versus’ system simplifies certain aspects while leaving others open to complexity, and while I enjoyed what I played, for the most part, it’s hard to tell what direction the game’s competitive scene will take, but I think it will at least keep people invested in it due to its focus on fundamentals over complex combos.
Unfortunately, there isn’t a lot of modes to go along with it. You have Arcade and Online, with the Arcade mode being pretty barebones, you simply fight enemies and then choose your next opponent with the options of raising, lowering, or keeping the same difficulty. There is also Free Training and Mission mode which you can use to learn the game’s mechanics and your character of choice, but you will quickly find yourself switching to online unless you have someone to play with.
The online, however, has the same delay-based netcode that Arc System Works keeps continuing to use, with a lot of people saying it’s actually worse this time around. I can’t confirm for sure, but I also didn’t play any matches below four bars, and I found a lot of opponents that were 3 bars or less that I didn’t want to risk fighting due to possible bad connection.
You can play in both lobbies or matchmaking through Ranked, but I had to wonder why there wasn’t any non-ranked matchmaking, as if you don’t have to want friends online it would make finding an opponent much easier. I’m not sure what Arc has against it, but once again only Ranked has matchmaking.
It might sound like I’m being harsh on the game, but I want to note that the art, music, and the characters themselves are all gorgeous. The art style maintains Arc Systems’ uncanny ability to adapt any anime into a 3d style, and characters and particle effects look gorgeous in it.
The music maintains the same almost Celtic musical style that is associated with Grandblue but intermingled with Arc Systems’ rock creating a soundtrack that at the very least isn’t hard to listen to. Character voices are well done too, and all the fighters really come to life with their combination of fantastic voice work and animations.
Granblue Fantasy Versus might be a weird package, but it’s a package that at the very least I enjoyed, although I can see it not begin everyone’s cup of tea. The game looks and sounds gorgeous, but the RPG mode can be repetitive and only lasts you so long, and the versus part of the game has issues with its online and only has a single-player arcade mode.
If you can look past these flaws you can find a good fighter with a fighting system that lends itself to exciting matches and complexity in all the right places, but the online, repetitive single-player, and lack of modes really holds it back from being something great. Granblue Fantasy fans will probably find themselves picking it up regardless, and the fighting system is solid, but I just wish the rest of its pieces supported it.