Don’t Sleep on Granblue Fantasy: Versus, the Best New Anime Fighting Game

We follow up our beta preview with a full review of Granblue Fantasy: Versus and why you need it!

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Granblue Fantasy is an absolute juggernaut of a mobile game, having spawned countless pieces of connected merchandise and tie-in products, from figures and manga to a full anime, and now the series has come to gaming consoles in Arc Systems Works’ Granblue Fantasy: Versus. Combining these two teams has resulted in something very special: a unique, technical fighting game with gorgeous art, character voice work, a robust story mode, and flawless online netplay. In short, Granblue Fantasy: Versus is a must if you’re a GBF fan or a fighting game fan (and, let’s be real, there’s a lot of overlap there already!). But what makes this game so special? Let’s dig into the available options and modes of the game and find out!


Key Art


Right off the bat, the first mode of the game, RPG mode, is the unique take on a story mode that appears in most modern fighting games. Supplanting a simple arcade mode to beat the game as fast as possible (that is also an option, by the way!), the RPG mode of Granblue Fantasy: Versus doesn’t just let you pick a character and engage in their own isolated story. Instead, you play through a grand campaign that has you completing missions and meeting various characters, both playable and not, while developing your RPG mode characters in unique ways. At first, I was pretty skeptical of this mode, as most of the time fighting game single player modes are best for practicing basic combos and little else, but Arc System Works found something special here by working in the RPG mechanics of GBF. Missions play out like a side-scrolling action game, where the fighting game mechanics are used as the basis for your character's attacks and abilities, adding on a few little things like support skills along the way; the implementation of the fighting game aspect into this more action game oriented play was surprisingly smooth and makes a lot of sense when you consider modern side-scrolling beat em’ up games tend to have complex fighting game controls. After a while, you’ll end up facing off against various bosses, which play more like a traditional fighting game match with some added tweaks and changes. 


The first thing that struck me is that the story mode is crafted as friendly as possible to get new players and people unfamiliar with GBF into the universe. The story follows a somewhat traditional “evil presence emerges that makes characters lose their memories” format to unlocking new playable characters along the way, but provides enough fun character interaction to really shine. Fans of GBF likely know that the bonds between characters in story events are what make the game so unique, and GBFVS does its best to continue this tradition by having lovingly voiced sequences play out between fan favorite characters with lots of cameos. A feature I really enjoyed is the Glossary, which during story dialogue can be accessed to read a short history of a character, place, or other key term that may be unfamiliar to players.


RPG Mode


As you complete missions, you’ll earn weapons, materials, and gacha tickets that allow you to further customize your character along elemental grids. Upgrading weapons and switching between grids can help you clear tough missions, or help you achieve better ranks in missions you’ve already beaten in order to earn various rewards; you can also visit the shop to buy items, forge new weapons, and even buy character and weapon skins. Although you likely could, I never felt the need to grind missions for materials and ranks, as good fundamental play goes a long way to helping you complete missions more effectively; that said, I did go back and redo a few missions I failed to initially get an S-rank on, and found that my upgraded and varied weapon options (and ability to play characters that better fit my style) really did have a marked effect on how well I did, which felt rewarding. 


As mentioned, there’s even a gacha system that players can earn tickets for through completing certain mission goals or challenges. Players can pull the weapon machine gacha in either single or 10-pull options, and much like GBF itself, the more tickets you have, the better your results tend to be; I never really saw a reason to do a single pull, but I will say I did somewhat enjoy the ability to freely spin the gacha wheel based off of my own playing, and not being asked to spend money to do so! If only my rolls in real gacha games were so smooth… Anyway, this machine is the best way to get SR and SSR weapons that will really boost your character’s powers, and collecting them is a fun reward for completing lots of missions over time. Perhaps the best feature of the RPG mode, though, is the ability to play it cooperatively with either a CPU helper, a couch co-op buddy, or an online player. While RPG mode is never quite as robust as a full side-scrolling game, playing through the RPG mode with another person really made me enjoy it even more, as it turned the usually competitive experience of a fighting game into something I was able to share with another person, and work through the storyline together. While I probably wouldn’t buy GBFVS just for RPG mode, I think this is one of the best single player fighting game modes I’ve ever seen, and it feels like a fully fledged aspect of the game rather than an add-on to pad out content.


time for a beatdown


Players looking to hone their skills have a few options, as well. There’s an Arcade mode, which is your standard “fight a set amount of CPU fighters” mode, and a training mode that lets you use various options to practice against a dummy opponent. The training mode in the game is somewhat unique, in that it has a basic tutorial that walks you through playing the game itself, and then a more specific challenge mode that tasks you with using various characters to practice their strengths and learn their weaknesses, including match-up options that characters might be innately weak to without practice. For example, Ladiva, the grappler character, has a difficult time with zoning characters, so her challenges focus on how to mitigate and deal with that aspect. 


Tutorial and training modes are something of an odd beast in fighting games, as there seems to be a hard balance between just robotic practicing of combo strings and teaching players how to learn the game, and I found that GBFVS’ approach fit a nice niche of various options, especially for newer players. One of Arc Systems Works' goals was to make an accessible fighting game, and the tutorial modes seem to speak to that quite heavily; the match-up practice modes really seemed directed towards players who might be unfamiliar with various fighting game aspects, but even for someone seasoned in the genre, I found them to be a nice addition to the package.


get 'em, Charlotta!


For most players, though, the real question is this: how does the game play? Well, I’m glad to report that aside from looking absolutely gorgeous, Granblue Fantasy: Versus plays amazingly. At launch, players have 11 characters to choose from, and while that roster may seem small initially, it features no character that plays like any other; each one offers a unique, complex playstyle that rewards practice and mastery. While GBF has a huge cast of characters, and some are already promised in DLC, I personally don’t have much of an issue with a small roster of fighters as long as each one feels totally transformative to play as; having 20 characters, or 30 characters, with lots of repeats, doesn’t change the fundamentals of the game at all. Instead, GBFVS focuses on a variety characters that play uniquely, and that means mastering matchups and skills is far more important than simply picking “good” or “bad” characters. In fact, I found the balance of GBFVS to be extremely neutral, with no characters really dominating or failing to perform in the hands of skilled players, a mark of a truly polished fighting game in my opinion. 


Players have access to four major buttons: light, medium, heavy, and special, with the special button activating a unique character ability; this is fairly similar to BlazBlue, another Arc System Works game. The biggest change, however, is the manual block button, a feature usually only found in NetherRealm Studios games like Mortal Kombat. Blocking is hugely important in GBFVS, as the game has very little damage mitigation and recovery options; you're very likely to get blown out by a bad read pretty quickly. The block button has two extra functions based on directional input: pressing away from the opponent causes your character to dodge, allowing them to dodge attacks (mostly projectiles), and pressing forward has your character slide or roll, evading attacks while safely closing gaps. Using this block feature is the difference between life and death, and in most cases was the hardest thing about GBFVS’ system that I needed to learn while playing.


H-How dare you?!


This all leads to the type of fighting game GBFVS is: a fundamental, footsie based fighting game, similar in a lot of ways to Street Fighter II than something like Dragon Ball FighterZ or other “anime” fighting games. Characters don’t really air dash, and the game relies on solid execution of fundamentals and punishing bad reads and plays by your opponents than it does anything else. In fact, I was really surprised by the full version of GBFVS in this regard compared to the beta I played; initially I thought the beta was focused on this because of the lack of a roster and familiarity with the system, but I now realize that this careful, cautious style of play is what GBFVS is trying to elicit from players. 


Perhaps this is due to Arc Systems Works trying to approach newer players, but whatever the reason, it resulted in an excellent fundamentals-based fighting game that really does reward you the more you play it. I could see myself improving with characters after every match, based solely on examining what I was doing in the match beforehand. In my opinion, there’s really no better way to know a good fighting game than to find one that rewards your improvements and makes improving easy to understand, if hard to execute.



In my time with the game, I also found the online to be great; Arc System Works has done an amazing job with their online offerings in recent games, and that smooth netcode system continues here in GBFVS. While I can’t say you’ll never see lag ever, I never did, and even matches I had against yellow-bar opponents went smoothly. Overall, the online portion feels about as close to 1:1 with competitive offline play as I could want here, and the lobby system continues its cute tradition of avatar customization, chat options, and the use of chat stickers found in other Arc System Works games. 


If you’re a fan of GBF, a fighting game fan, or both, you owe it to yourself to try out Granblue Fantasy: Versus. The game is an absolutely gorgeous treat for the eyes, but also offers robust gameplay and one of the best fighting systems I’ve had the pleasure of encountering in quite some time. Matches are fast, complex, and rewarding, and I never found myself tiring of the game, always wanting one more match whether I won or lost. Find your play style, master your character, and get out there and play some matches; you’ll discover a great community and a rewarding game waiting for you! I look forward to seeing some of you online while I’m playing, perhaps, but don’t expect me to take it easy on you!


Stylin'


REVIEW ROUNDUP

+ Gorgeous visuals and voice work really bring the game to life. 

+ Technical, fundamental based fighting system rewards mastery and is easy to pick up.

RPG mode is a great way to implement a single player experience into a fighting game. 

Controls are responsive and smooth, and work great on pad or stick controls. 

+ Online versus has smooth netplay and a great lobby system. 

+/- Roster of 11 launch characters seems small but each character is wholly unique; mileage may vary depending on what you’re looking for here. 

 

Are you going to pick up Granblue Fantasy: Versus? Who is your favorite character and why is it Charlotta? Let us know what you think of the game in the comments! 


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Nicole is a frequent wordsmith 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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