Granblue versus the west:
Granblue Fantasy is an oddity. A Japanese mobile game never released worldwide, it seems crazy that this little gacha game from Japan has become something of a media empire. Since its release back in 2014 the game has grossed a crazy ¥54.8 billion ($496 million) as of 2018. It has become one of the most successful games on the market in its native home. Hosting its own annual con, spawning an anime series. All despite half the world never having played the game itself.
It might also be the first example of a console spin-off coming after a mobile title. And with developers like Platinum Games and Arc System Works behind said spin-offs its clear these aren’t the cheap cash grabs you might expect. The series first came on my radar when I saw the Platinum games action RPG, Relink. Before that game hit development troubles that led to Platinum leaving the project early last year. After that, the anime adaptation came along, likely where most got their start with the series. That brings us to Versus, a new fighting game based on the series, developed by Arc System Works.
Granblue Fantasy: Versus technically marks the series first official release here in the west. It feels like a strange choice when considering fighting game adaptations, like Marvel vs Capcom, are often sold on the recognition of its roster. Versus’s cast is a complete mystery to most. However, given Arc System Works pedigree of creating some of the best fighting games on the market: Guilty Gear, Blazblue, Persona 4 Arena. It’s easy to see why the game deserved the localization treatment.
Despite no prior knowledge of its title series, characters or setting, Versus still makes a strong case for itself as yet another fun and visually stunning fighting game by the developer. It has some weaker elements and isn’t always as polished as prior games. But, Versus rewards patients with their unique systems and mechanics. It didn’t exactly make me fall in love with the Granblue Fantasy series but it did make me remember my love for fighting games.
When loading up Versus the first part of the game players will see is the RPG mode. A roughly five-hour story mode that uses the games fighting mechanics in a weird action RPG. A Streets of Rage style beat em up, that basically rehashes events and characters from the original story. It’s a shame that a lot of people’s first impressions with Versus will be with the RPG mode because it ends up being the weakest part of the game.
Filled with unnecessary weapon upgrade systems, a lack of variety and a weak story the RPG mode is a forgettable addition to the game. It reminded me most of Tekken Force. The beat ’em up mode included in Tekken 4. Taking a combat system clearly built for one on one fighting and trying to maneuver it into a different style of gameplay. Early missions are dull and the mode quickly becomes repetitive with only the occasional boss fight breaking up the monotony.
The story also fails to leave an impact. Essential using a new adversary to have the characters repeat the events of the original story. It tries to recap and introduce the characters of the anime series while also telling a new story. Unfortunately, the storytelling is poor, the dialogue is often forgettable and I rarely cared what was going on in the game’s world.
The mode works somewhat for getting players to grips with the characters and combat system. But its button-mashing gameplay teaches players how to play the game wrong and many will find themselves confused when switching to the games standard one on one matches.
The rest of Versus repertoire of modes are fairly standard fare for a fighting game. Versus, arcade, training and online round out the list of modes in Versus. While it sounds like a fairly small package the modes are fairly dense in their offerings. Most players will likely get their start with the versus or arcade modes and it’s here where Granblue’s combat shines.
The mechanics in Granblue are, unsurprisingly, similar to Arc System’s previous fighting games Guilty Gear and Blazblue. Their games are often known for being mechanically dense and unforgiving. While it isn’t as impenetrable as some of the developer’s previous games Granblue Fantasy: Versus takes some getting used to. Each character in its short, roster is mechanically unique and each requires practice to learn. While the games RPG mode and some early victories in the arcade mode might let you pass by math rocking the face buttons, you’ll quickly find in the games online that it punishes button mashing.
Arc System hasn’t dumbed the game down for casual fans of the anime or RPG. While this might make it an odd choice for fans of Granblue, it does mean that Versus is an excellent fighting game. I won’t claim to be an expert on this, typically, niche and hardcore genre of game. I’m sure there are players and reviewers who are far more versed in the fighting game genre who know technicalities such as keyframes and net codes that I couldn’t begin to explain. But, my time spent with Versus has felt like a constant learning experience and even now I feel I have only scratched the surface of a few characters. There’s a lot here if you’re a fan of this style of fighter, and if it’s your thing the online/versus modes are likely the only reason you picked the game up, to begin with.
The crux of Versus combat is on the sky-bound arts, sort of combo finishers that players use in tandem with regular attacks to deal massive damage. The overall flow of combat here often plays out like fencing. It becomes, essentially, a game of tactical button mashing. Players block and dodge one another until finding an opening to wale on the opponent for massive damage. Blocking and counters play a big part in online matches where one ill-timed block can be punished with a barrage of attacks.
The system is a lot of fun once you get used to how it works. You really have to pay attention to each attack and anticipating player’s moves becomes a big part of every match. It isn’t always perfect. There were a few times I found the windows for attacks to be frustratingly slim. In some matches, it felt like I was getting wailed on and punished for blocking an enemy hit without any way to effectively counter. The game also makes it easy for players to trap opponents in corners and continually beat them down without a way to retaliate.
Luckily, more so than most fighters in this bracket, Versus offers a pretty robust tutorial. It gives players ample room to learn the intricacies of its mechanics. Easing players into a genre that is rife with frustration. Versus feels like a good starting point for players looking to get into technical fighters. Though newcomers should be warned that the online already seems to be dominated by veterans, making it a daunting prospect for newbies to the genre.
Grand as the open sky:
Granblue Fantasy: Versus is, visually, an absolutely stunning piece of work of art. This might not be a surprise, again, based on the developer’s previous games. But the gorgeous animation and the anime-inspired art style is as stunning now as it was the first time Arc System Works used it. Character models are intricately detailed with smooth animations to each of their moves and attacks. The game’s stages all have little details in the backgrounds that make them distinct and the sense of colorful style that the game has makes it all distinct.
Even when the game isn’t in motion, the menus are all slick and filled with beautiful character art. CGI cutscenes and character portraits in the RPG mode all look incredible. The world, even if it isn’t narratively interesting, is visually diverse and fascinating. Again, this isn’t anything new if you’ve played an Arc System Works fighter before. They’ve adapted this anime come to life style into the Persona and Dragon Ball series with similarly stunning results. But it’s still undeniably enthralling to watch.
What’s most impressive is how these graphics actively enhance the gameplay. The various effects, explosions, and over the top finisher animations all come together to make every hit and special attack land with that extra sense of power. The game delivers the power trip that a good fighter should. The game’s visuals go a long way to delivering the over the top RPG special moves of the original and the smooth flurry of the anime.
From a presentation point overall Granblue Fantasy: Versus shines. Menus are slick and often accompanied by beautiful hand-drawn artwork. Character portraits all look great and Granblue’s sky island world is beautifully realized. The music is more whistful than one might expect for a fighting game. Though it sets the tone of the games world nicely. I appreciated the attention to detail in the game’s gallery and unlockables. They give fans of the game plenty to unlock. Versus is a slick package overall Arc System works manage to translate all of the elements of Granblue perfectly over to a fighting style and even improve on them.
Character designs are a mixed bag. There were designs here that I loved such as Ladiva. A hulking muscle-bound wrestler, who’s facial hair would put Hulk Hogan to shame; yet walks like a sultry runway model, trying to spread her message of love through high impact wrestling. But for characters like her, there are designs like Lancelot and Percival. Who’s generic fantasy names tell you everything you need to know about their forgettable designs. (despite this, Lancelot is top tier online) character selection as a whole is one of Versus biggest drawbacks.
At launch, Granblue’s roster was only eleven. (currently, it’s thirteen) Considerably smaller than other similar fighters. Though they offer a decent amount of variety in play styles, when compared even to Arc System Work’s prior games, the lineup lacks in options. A pretty essential part of any fighting game is the lineup and Versus can feel a little halfbaked here. Luckily we are in the age of live service. Granblue is set for content updates, with a new fighter set to join this week. So the likelihood of this changing in a year or so is likely.
As the first game in the Granblue Fantasy series released in the west, Versus doesn’t make much of a case for the series. What it is though is a great anime fighter that fans of the genre will enjoy. Versus doesn’t dumb down its mechanics to make it more accessible and the art style is consistently stunning. It’s a shame the games story mode feels so forgettable and has little gameplay variety over its short length.
The game feels like more of a love letter to the fighting game genre than the game/anime series it’s drawn from. Once taken on those merits, Versus offers a lot for fans of the fighting game genre. It offers a fun and dense combat system, a beautiful art style and a lot of options for players who enjoy it. Though it doesn’t have the variety in fighters that other fighters in the genre do. There’s a decent amount of variety between them. It might not do enough to sway hardcore fans of the genre from their fighter of choice. But it offers a decent starting point for newcomers and continues to show Arc System Works grip on the fighting game formula.
- THE GOOD
- Incredible art style & animation
- Dense and fun combat system
- Lots of content for fans of the genre
- Great OST and presentation
- THE BAD
- RPG mode is forgettable
- Lack of characters
Granblue Fantasy Versus might not make you a hardcore fan of the franchise but it will offer a fun entry to the fighting game genre. Though the story is forgettable, the stunning graphics and fun systems make it a good addition to the fighting game pantheon.