Title: Granblue Fantasy Versus
Developer: Cygames Inc., Arc System Works
Publisher: Xseed Games
Available on: PS4, PC
Tested on: PC
Official Site: Granblue Fantasy Versus
Release Date: March 13, 2020
Where to buy: Steam
In theory, a fighting game that fits in between traditional fighters, like Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat and technically more straightforward brawlers like Smash, is a really great idea. Granblue Fantasy Versus succeeds at bridging that gap mechanically but fails in some critical ways related to the presentation of those mechanics.
A good first impression
Playing through the story mode in Granblue Fantasy Versus is an exercise in surprising delight followed by slowly mounting disappointment. The game throws the player into the deep end of a fully developed universe created for the Granblue Fantasy mobile game. At the same time, the game eases the player into its fighting mechanics. These mechanics are the high point of the game by far. The game successfully mashes up the auto combo mechanic common to Anime Fighters like Blaze Blue with a simplified method for performing special moves. Performing a special in Granblue Fantasy Versus only requires the press of a button in time with a single directional input, and super moves require only a quarter circle motion.
The overall feel of the fighting system is in between Blaze Blue and Smash but closer to Blaze Blue on that spectrum. Granblue Fantasy Versus is easy to pick up and grasp basics, but mastering a given character will take a little more work than it would in something like Mortal Kombat or Street Fighter. This is a very refreshing take on a fighting system coupled with beautiful art form veteran Final Fantasy designer, Hideo Minaba, as well as a typically excellent score by Nobuo Uematsu makes a fantastic first impression.
Then the disappointment starts
As soon as the first stage of the story in Granblue Fantasy Versus is over, the game presents players with a gacha style inventory mechanic. This makes sense, given that the mobile game that spawned this fictional universe is a gacha game based around recruiting characters and upgrading their equipment in the vein of Final Fantasy Brave Exvius. On its own, the mechanic is fairly easily ignored until the third or fourth chapter of the game, where the stages start to get tougher. Not more robust in terms of challenging fights but in terms of massive damage, sponge enemies. At this point, the game enters a bit of a feedback loop where the player either needs to accept the fact that missions now take much longer to complete or to engage with the gacha mechanic fully and trivialize most stages in the game. The difference between playing a stage with the right gear and the wrong gear is truly shocking in some instances, with the stage ending in less time than the opening cinematic for it.
This gacha mechanic also makes another, more innovative, mechanic kind of moot. Most stages in the story mode include a second character in addition to the player character. In these stages, players have the option to summon a co-op partner to control this second character or let the CPU do the work. The idea is reminiscent of co-op souls-like games except that the loss of resources on death in those games raises the stakes of losing to a boss. In Granblue Fantasy Versus, though, the CPU does more than an adequate job of controlling the player’s partner character, so summoning a human player doesn’t actually help much. This is especially true when the player has fully upgraded their equipment and just tears through even the toughest boss’ health bar.
About the time that the gacha mechanic in Granblue Fantasy Versus is getting really annoying, the game introduces its grappling specialist character Ladiva. Ladiva, like a lot of grapplers in fighting games, is a massive character with a pro wrestler’s build and a goatee. Ladiva also uses she/her pronouns and is animated with mannerisms that would typically present as feminine. This kind of portrayal is a common trope in media that plays into harmful transphobic stereotypes. In this specific instance, there are both aggravating and mitigating factors to its implementation. On the positive side, all of the characters who interact with Ladiva use her preferred pronouns and generally treat her with dignity and respect. She is also portrayed as a genuinely heroic figure as opposed to the more sinister tone normally associated with this trope.
The much more negative aspect of Ladiva’s inclusion in this game is that most people who encounter her will never see any of this nuance. Encountering Granblue Fantasy Versus in a competition or as a spectator strips all the characters down to their surface impressions. This means most people who meet Ladiva will only see the harmful stereotype no matter what the game’s creators were aiming to do with the character.
As the story mode progresses, the game leans more and more on well-worn Anime motifs until it eventually winds down to a fairly obvious conclusion. This, combined with the gacha mechanic and the suspect character work, make the story mode the most disappointing aspect of Granblue Fantasy Versus.
Where the game shines
Granblue Fantasy Versus’ other modes are much more successfully executed. A robust step by step training mode combined with the games streamlined mechanics makes for a game that feels less intimidating than a standard fighter. With no need to teach specific motions for special moves, the game’s training mode can focus on explaining fundamental skills that transfer from character to character, and that will be useful in other fighting games as well.
Once players finish training, they can warm up against the CPU in the game’s solid Arcade Mode, then play some test matches and go online. The online co-op mentioned before is even less appealing compared to the competitive online mode. Results may vary based on location and quality of internet service but in testing the online reliably held up and was relatively lag-free. Matchmaking was also functional with mostly appropriate opponents placed in the queue. Occasionally one player will completely outclass the other, and those matches can be frustrating, but that’s just the nature of competitive play at some point. There’s also a local versus mode for when the time for social distancing is finally over.
It is difficult to overstate how well the competitive modes work in GranBlue Fantasy Versus. The need to pick a main and stick with them is basically eliminated, so players are free to try out whatever they want. Characters all feel different in interesting ways, but because they all use the same motions, players can actually see those differences without the major time investment required in other fighting games. The simplified movements also make early learning matches a lot more fun. While still getting the hang of the game, matches look like matches being played at a much higher level. This makes playing the game feel incredibly satisfying.
Verdict: So much about the underlying structure of Granblue Fantasy Versus is so well done that it’s even more frustrating that it fumbles in some places.
- Solid fighting Mechanics
- Easy to pick up and play
- Fantastic Art Design and Music
- Questionable Character Design
- Unnecessary gatcha mechanic
- Lackluster story
Stephen Krusel, known as Sven Kroosl to some, has played video and tabletop games since 1987 and has written about the gaming industry since 2008. He has yet to be convinced that Final Fantasy Tactics is not the pinnacle of gaming.