Who’s heard of the Granblue Fantasy franchise in the West? Not many people, I’ll wager. In Japan it’s a different story given their outlook on mobile gacha gaming — basically, a form of online gambling where they pour real money into a title hoping to net something good from the roulette wheel of fate. Granblue‘s apparently a behemoth over there, with more than 25 million downloads to date.
Here in the West, there are enough of us who see gacha games as wallet-sucking abominations that the formula hasn’t gained the kind of foothold it has in Asia. The solution? Make a ‘real’ game out of it, in the form of a beautifully-designed 2D fighter spearheaded by Arc Systems Works, and unleash it worldwide so that players can get a taste for the world of Granblue Fantasy.
It’s a nice looking world with a cast of cool characters and blue skies married to verdant green plains and medieval architecture. I’ll admit that my distaste for mobile “gaming” is strong, but that doesn’t mean the franchises that sprung up there don’t have potential to grow. Granblue Fantasy Versus‘ outing as a one-on-one fighter seems to indicate that it’s got a lot going for it, gacha or no.
The fighting system is different from previous Arc releases such as Guilty Gear, and certainly more beginner-friendly. First, standard moves combo off of the same attack button. Many fighting games chain weak into medium then strong attacks, or varying combinations of button presses that have to be memorized. Granblue cuts back on the execution required for simple combos, allowing chains to be effortlessly performed.
Likewise, players are given the option of performing special attacks by tapping a direction on the d-pad and executing with a single button press. Down and R1 may perform an uppercut, while another direction may perform a command grab, and just tapping the button may throw out a projectile.
This system allows players less familiar with fighting games to combo into these special attacks more easily, though standard directional inputs are available for more experienced fans. It’s balanced out by having the easy method perform slightly weaker attacks limited by a cooldown timer, but it’s a good stepping stone to help beginners. Sneaky advanced players can also use these shortcuts to bypass inputs that might give away their intentions.
The online performance proved solid during testing, leading to plenty of enjoyable matches with just a few lag-ridden annoyances popping up in between. Fairly standard for most online fighting games, honestly.
A decent combat engine needs a decent roster, and while Granblue comes up short with a paltry 11 initially available, they’re a likable bunch. One of my favourites is a wrestler called Ladiva (imagine a sultry Hulk Hogan in a pair of thigh boots) who has one of the greatest supers ever created. After teleporting the opponent into a wrestling ring and pinning them from a piledriver, a referee appears from nowhere for a three count. The panicked expression on the victim’s face is absolutely priceless. It’s not just Ladiva though — the entire cast oozes charm and personality, running the gamut from cool swordfighters and mischievous rogues up to snarling, scenery-chewing villains and half-dressed archers.
Aside from the usual collection of arcade, versus and comprehensively crafted training modes, there’s also an RPG mode presumably inspired by the mobile game. It plays a little differently from the others, usually featuring short Visual Novel segments followed by throwing a bunch of minions in to fight the player at once instead of the usual one-on-one battles. Occasionally there are bosses chucked in, or players may simply have to survive for a certain amount of time.
Between missions it’s possible to buy equipment to power up characters for this mode, but it didn’t do much for me. It’s just a less-interesting spin on the core fighting that isn’t as enjoyable as the other modes. The constantly recycled environments don’t help, and it lasts around five or six hours. The rote storyline also fails to do a great job introducing players to the world of Granblue, which is surely a missed opportunity for western players seeing it here for the first time.
Despite this slightly middling RPG addition, there’s not much to knock Granblue Fantasy Versus for. Purists may scoff at the low barrier to entry, and there’s not many characters to choose from without dipping into the DLC offerings, but it’s still a beautifully-presented fighter that holds its own. It’s just a shame there’s not more of it.Rating: 7.5 out of 10
Disclosures: This game is developed by Arc Systems Works and published by XSEED Games. It is currently available on Playstation 4 and PC. This copy of the game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on the PS4 Pro. Approximately 12 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode, and the game was completed. 3 hours of play were spent in multiplayer modes.
Parents: According to the ESRB, this game is rated T and contains Mild Blood, Mild Language, Suggestive Themes and Violence. It’s cuddly anime with pretty girls and handsome men attacking each other in bloodless fashion and some occasionally-revealing clothing. Nothing explicit, really.
Colorblind Modes: There are no colorblind modes available in the options.
Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: No cause for concern here since the game is playable with its native Japanese dub. Full subtitles are available throughout and there’s no reliance on audio for special attacks and the like. This game is fully accessible. That said, the font they’ve chosen isn’t great — it’s too small, and in certain scenes it can easily blend into the background.
Remappable Controls: Yes, this game offers fully remappable controls.