Granblue Fantasy...as a fighting game?! We have our hands-on impressions from closed beta!
When I was a kid, one of the most fun ideas around the lunch table was talking about who would win in a fight between favorite characters from various TV shows, anime, and other media. After discovering my love of fighting games, I started talking with people not just about who would win, but how would they play in a fighting game based around their property; who would have what types of moves, what would the system be like, all of those conversations of what-ifs and if-onlys seemed totally fanciful. After all, fighting games were usually original properties, and the history of most licensed fighting games was generally pretty grim. That all changed when Capcom branched out into their VS. series, bringing comic book characters and video game characters to their fighting game engines, giving us amazing titles like Marvel vs. Capcom 2. Nintendo gave us even more food for thought with the Smash Bros. series, pitting fan favorite Nintendo characters against each other in four player brawls. NetherRealms followed suit, giving us the Injustice series, and recently Arc System Works got in on the action with the Persona 4 Arena titles. The rebirth of fighting games seems to be now, and what better time to reignite those debates of “who would win” than with a game filled to the brim with colorful, unique characters: Granblue Fantasy!
In Granblue Fantasy Versus, players are given the ability to take on the role of various Granblue character summons and pit them against one another in fast paced, arcade style combat. Fans of Arcsys’ other fighting games such as Persona 4 Ultimax, Guilty Gear, BlazBlue, or Dragon Ball FighterZ will likely find Granblue Fantasy Versus quite welcoming, building upon many of the systems and Arcsys fighting game style that these games generally exude, while adding its own unique twists to the mix. If you’re new to fighting games, Granblue Fantasy Versus is actually very inviting, allowing players to use a simplified input system to pull of character’s special moves, and focusing on somewhat easy to learn but hard to master combat mechanics.
Each character has 3 base attacks, and a 4th specific ability unique to each character; Charlotta, for example, creates a barrier that blocks damage, and if an enemy is close enough will launch an automatic counter attack. These extra abilities help make every character feel unique and special, with the focus being on how these abilities match character personalities and fighting styles. In many cases, these abilities aid in mobility and defense, with specific and unique offensive capabilities in certain circumstances. As the game roster grows from what we were shown here, I’m eager to see the ways each character will be unique. This mechanic instantly reminded me of BlazBlue, where characters had similar 4 button layouts with one of them being a specific ability that only they had access too, such as Iron Tager’s magnetism mechanic.
Unlike games such as Street Fighter or Mortal Kombat, the focus in Granblue Fantasy Versus skews much more towards what fighting game players refer to as “anime games”, with one minor missing element: air dashing. Otherwise, there are a lot of similarities here between Granblue Fantasy Versus and other Arcsys games, showing that mechanically the company is relying on the solid basis of great games they’ve made before to keep branching out into new territory. As with Persona 4 Ultimax and Dragon Ball FighterZ, Granblue Fantasy Versus puts a lot of emphasis on making the game match the universe it draws from. And aside from making characters play similar to their personalities and traits from the base Granblue Fantasy universe, the graphical touches and voice acting are also top notch, giving characters tons of personality as they fill up the screen.
In fact, this may be one of the “largest” Arcsys casts in recent memory, with every character, from the imposing Katalina to the diminutive Charlotta, taking up huge chunks of screen real estate; I was honestly pretty surprised by how large each character was, and the amount of detail in their animations and movements were extremely fluid, making them seem alive and breathing on the screen as they fought. Overall, Granblue Fantasy Versus is a gorgeous game, and the two stages on display in this beta gave a good indication of the types of arenas we can possibly look forward to, each with lots of vibrant detail, color, and background animations and actions to occasionally draw your eye to them in the midst of battle.
Of course, a fighting game is only as good as it plays, and in this regard I’m happy to say that I was very impressed with what I got to play of Granblue Fantasy Versus over the past few days. My personal tastes in fighting games tend to skew towards “anime fighters” to begin with, so I was at home with the inputs and style of fighting game that I was going to experience, but what really caught my eye was how deep and complex the seemingly simple systems really were. The player guide that was provided was a huge help, and I feel that when the game comes out, if it has a fully realized training mode, this game will prove to have a lot of options for players to tinker with and find optimal combo strings and patterns. The simplistic input option for special moves relies on using the R1 button and simple directional inputs, but I honestly found myself not using it after I had gotten used to the game, as it relies on tried and true fighting game inputs like quarter-circle movements and charge movements to accomplish characters’ special abilities.
That said, I think these simplistic options are a great addition to help players get accustomed to the game and feel like they can do one of the most important things in a fighting game for new people: do cool stuff! And, as I played more, I found that I could sometimes extend a combo or find a new combo path by combining traditional inputs with simplistic ones, something that I think will become potentially an interesting option for more seasoned players depending on what’s going on and what needs to be accomplished.
My most interesting take-away from the games I played was the importance of super meter moves (called Skybound Arts). Each character has at least 2, one that can be used when the super meter hits 100%, and another that can only be unleashed when your character hits a certain HP threshold. What I learned about these Skybound Arts is that most matches seem to only allow you to use them once per round, and knowing when to save your Skybound Art for a Critical Skybound Art, or when to use your regular one, can make all the difference between defeat and victory. Whiffing your super leaves you extremely vulnerable, but your opponent also knows that you won’t be doing that again! This isn’t to say that these Skybound Arts aren’t strong, as many of them can easily kill opponents with far more health than you’d imagine, meaning that knowing when and where to use them is extremely important.
I liked this mechanic a lot more than I thought I would at first, because I think it removes a somewhat constant crutch of some fighting games that allow super moves to become a fallback for when new players don’t do well. Relying on extremely strong moves that you can wait for and using on wake-up is an old strategy, but it makes you less aware of what you have available in your own character’s kit to save yourself. It also means that supers are very cinematic and feel, well, super, when they go off, making huge impacts on the outcomes of matches in ways that you may not normally expect. When a well timed block stopped my opponent’s super from winning them the match, I could feel the confidence drain from them as they proceeded to try and stall for time instead, knowing that they couldn’t expect to win against me now in straight on combat. In another match, I realized that if I used Charlotta’s regular Skybound Art, I’d be able to chip my opponent to death, and baited out an opening to use it, snatching a “cheap” but shocking victory from the jaws of near defeat.
Of the characters offered in the beta, I was really surprised by how varied each of them felt. Sometimes, fighting games tend to have characters that are very similar, using variations on fighting styles or other similar techniques. In this beta, each character not only felt totally unique, but each of their movesets and toolkits were totally specific to them, rather than built off of a singular framework with some minor tweaks here and there. Gran, Ferry, Charlotta, Lancelot and Katalina all feel as distinct in battle as they are in their visual styles, with each character fitting a specific style of fighting without really crossing over into the others’ territory. In some ways, I actually felt a similarity between this and Street Fighter 2 or Super Turbo, where characters became distinct by how they fought as much as how they looked.
Charlotta, the charge character offered in the demo, played totally different from Ferry, who utilizes zoning and range abilities to control the battlefield in her favor. Gran felt the most general or simplistic, but his power-up mechanic gives him avenues to change up how he plays, while Lancelot’s hit and run style means he can dish out huge damage with big combos, but can just as easily take tons of damage in return if he gets caught out. Katalina felt like a variation of Mitsuru from Persona 4 Arena, but I also found that she fulfills a very solid jill of all trades role, with her unique cancelling options from her ability giving her answers to numerous questions on offense and defense. I think in many ways Granblue Fantasy Versus will really succeed or fail after this based on the ability to build on these characters and their individual styles, giving every new playable character a wholly unique roll to fill in the roster. Based on previous Arcsys games like Guilty Gear and BlazBlue, I feel like there’s a strong potential for this to be the case, but I will always remain somewhat cautious about balance and match-up options in fighting games as they develop. Granblue Fantasy Versus feels balanced now, but that’s also because it has 5 characters available to play. How that will change over time remains to be seen.
Overall, I was incredibly surprised with how much I loved Granblue Fantasy Versus, and I’m looking forward to getting more time with the game as soon as Cygames offers us new tests leading up to a final release. The success of games like Dragon Ball FighterZ, Persona 4 Ultimax and BlazBlue Cross Tag shows that tie-in games from ArcSys have a lot of originality and life in them, and the integrity of the original material is maintained with the life that only a fighting game can really breathe into them. Hopefully Granblue Fantasy fans and fighting game fans alike find a lot to love here and support this game when it releases, as I’d love to see lots more out of this game and engine down the line. Until then, I’ll be rewatching combo videos and replays, waiting for my chance to take my beloved Charlotta back out onto the field of battle again!
Are you excited for Granblue Fantasy Versus? What character would you like to see added to the game? Are you new to fighting games, and curious because of the Granblue tie-in? Let us know in the comments!
Nicole is a features writer and editor for Crunchyroll. Known for punching dudes in Yakuza games on her Twitch channel while professing her love for Majima. She also has a blog, Figuratively Speaking. Follow her on Twitter: @ellyberries
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