Review originally published on 10th February. We pushed it to 2nd March as the game will finally be out for the US. 

Platform: PS4
Genre: 2D anime fighting game with Street Fighter footsies

Size isn’t everything, but when it comes to fighting game rosters, it’s usually quality and quantity. And Granblue Fantasy: Versus’ selection, while unique and filled with familiar-yet-fresh archetypes, still feels small when compared to even Street Fighter V‘s 2016 debut.

With 11 unique characters to play with, it’s only a matter of time after a month or two when players have already exhausted their choice of roles & pocket selections. Speaking of which, the game will get additional characters in a suspect announcement pre-launch, which we’ll get to in a few more paragraphs.

And that’s probably the only bad thing I can say about this sidequest based on the Granblue Fantasy mobile game. Why? Because everything else is spectacular and inviting. The latter point especially, since fighting games can be Rubik’s cubes in themselves.

Taking Flight

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This spin-off to the absurdly popular gacha mobile RPGis a 2D fighting game that combines the fundamental gameplay of earlier Street Fighter titles with streamlined input notions of an anime fighter. The outline is the same: best of three, beat up your opponent in a game of 2d skill, and so forth.

The streamlining occurs in the controls and how special moves come out. Every character has a three-hit auto combo they can pull off by pressing any of the attack buttons consecutively. You can do your regular inputs, but you have access to “hot keys” and unique skills where you can pull moves off with a press of a button.

Each of your character’s many special moves have three different versions; a light, a medium, and a heavy version. If you use the heavy version of, say Katalina’s sword anti-air uppercut, that particular move will need to “cool down” for a few seconds before you can use it again. The tradeoff is that her heavy anti-air is completely invincible from its starting wake-up animation and deals a significant amount of damage.

While you can block by holding back like in most fighting games, you can also defend by pressing the guard button. This input also gives you access to evades (back + guard) that lets you avoid attacks for a split second (think The King of Fighters ’94’s evade), and “crossover” forward dodges (forward +guard) that let you switch sides with your opponent. There are even “just” block techniques that give you a frame advantage if you defend an attack at the last possible second.

All these features lead to not only beginner-friendly controls for fledging fighters but also great tools for experts to exploit. If you’re getting pressured by an onslaught of attacks and unblockable setups, just evade/crossover with precise timing and you can punish accordingly when they’re left vulnerable from an attack. If you spot an incomplete block string, push your opponent back with a heavy special attack and give yourself space while your move cools down. You will be appropriately punished if you time it wrong, so use it sparingly.

While I did comment on the lacking quantity concerning its roster, there’s still a lot to love with whoever we have. From female burly wrestlers to a trio who can summon a goddess as a desperation move, there’s no lack in playstyles and variety.

If you want to learn the ins and outs of GBVS while you fight, you should use main character Gran and his knight buddy Katalina, who have all-rounder moves and kits to fight off most of their adversaries. If you lean towards grapplers and hard-hitters, effeminate wrestler Ladiva and scary dude Vaseraga will sort you out.

Rushdown players will have a ton of fun with chivalrous knight Lancelot and obligatory fantasy midget Charlotta; the latter basically has a combo of E.Honda and Akuma moves that close the gap super-fast if you so much as even blink. And if you are a zoner and footsies-priority kinda fighter, obligatory RPG fighting game tart Metera and emo girl Ferry have a ton of tricks up their metaphoric sleeves with their arrows and ghostly compatriots respectively.

How’s the online, you may ask? It’s as stable as they come, provided you fight players within your region. Heck, most of my fights with Japanese and Taiwanese players come out fine and dandy with slight online delay. All in all, it’s as good as it can get so far.

In case you need a heads-up with most of these fighting game terms I just inserted here, the game is nice enough to provide a glossary not just for its lore, but also fighting game terms. That’s always helpful!

Eye In The Sky

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No matter how well your game plays out and how promising it is to the old guard of fighting game fans, it won’t mean squat if it’s tough to pick up from the get-go. Which brings me to these important points:

  • Is the game’s tutorial mode inviting enough to make you want to play the game beyond its story mode?
  • Is the game’s story mode worth the hours and time?

This is important because as many learned fighting game folks can tell you, you need new blood to get people on board your fighting game. And to attract new blood, you need an array of single-player content to keep them engrossed and hopefully make them come to the conclusion to take it to a competitive level.

Games like Mortal Kombat 11 do this very, VERY well. Dragon Ball FighterZ? It does this fine too and adds some nice touch of diverging storylines in the show’s canon. Bad examples? Street Fighter V (back in 2016) and Samurai Shodown. I loved the latter SNK game mechanics-wise, but it needed more than just a simple 8-stage story mode to keep younger and newer folks invested.

Thankfully, Granblue Fantasy: Versus offers a meaty single-player experience. RPG mode brings up a whole new story that lets players revisit the locations of Granblue Fantasy in a delicious coat of paint and a bunch of new orchestrated-slash-guitar-laden music courtesy of artists like Yasunori “Octopath Muthaf***ing Traveller” Nikishi and Stella Magna.

Its tale is pretty stock if you’ve at least watched and/or read a few dozen shonen or isekai animes, mangas, or light novels. Basically, part of your good guy team gets hypnotized into fighting your crew and you have to knock sense into them while figuring out the mysterious dark powers messing about in Granblue and its floating island world. As per standard Arc System Works story modes, you get talking heads (with mostly great Japanese and English VOs) with varied portraits and text, as well as key cutscenes that look so lush, they were probably sponsored by Cygames’ excess pocket gacha change.

Still, buying Granblue Fantasy: Versus mainly for its story is like playing a mobile RPG for its engaging narrative; it’s fine icing to sample, but you’re missing the point. Gameplay and loot-hoarding takes precedence here.

For newbies, it’s part anime tropes-filled story and part fighting game tutorial mixed in with a single plane 2D brawler. You’ll not only learn how to combo and duel, but know when to guard and evade attacks, and also pull off hard-hitting Skybound Arts at the right time.

You’ll be fighting clustermucks of enemies, with a giant boss thrown in for good measure. The tougher fights against the uniquely large bosses are tests of endurance and patience, forcing you to use Support abilities that heal you mid-battle or boost your attacks with armour-breaking or long-ranged multi-hitting properties.

Most of these fights will have you turning either to the left or right beating up enemy mobs, which is why the shortcut keys and block button are important. It’ll take a while for you to get used to the fact that pulling off quarter circle back motions may lead to a 50-50 chance that you’ll end up facing the wrong way. The game conditions you to use these “hotkeys” as a viable means for real fights against people.

As with all great titles that make use of their story modes and tutorials, Granblue Fantasy: Versus weaves this organically using this RPG mode.

Once you progress deep into RPG mode, you unlock Tower of Babyl which is essentially endless mode. You start off tackling 5 stages within a single playthrough, then work your way up to tougher battles and longer sets of stages. Beating these will net you better weapons and equipment.

And you’ll need all the loot you can get unless you want to get one hit KO’ed by the majority of high-leveled enemies. And your reward for these single-player fares? Weapons that boost your strength and HP that act as unlockables for versus play.

Keep in mind that the loot will alter your attack and health stats only in single-player mode. You can unlock them in multiplayer, but they’re only cosmetics that replace your character’s default weapon skins.

Simply put, you’ll be engrossed in its single-player mode for a good solid 4 to 5 hours; maybe even more post-ending with its extra difficulty modes & a plethora of shiny weapons to collect. Again, this is all optional and you can just jump straight to versus mode like every other person, but it’s a nice and meaty alternative to have to justify its full-on price tag.

But just barely.

Flight Of Fancy

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When you look at its surface, 11 characters (and a secret unlockable dude) for RM200 seems like a hard sell. Unless you really, REALLY love fighting games, you may be second-guessing yourself at the local game shop counter.

The fact that Arc System Works has a Season Pass filled with extra new characters who will be available within 2 months, with said announcement made before the game is even out mind you, this rubs people the wrong way. Bad DLC practices are unfortunately commonplace within big and middle-sized companies. This is especially damning with some fighting games where dedicated tournament players will be forced to buy characters that have already been in the series in the previous iteration of the game.

Remember when SoulCalibur’s Tira and Cassandra was in the main roster in previous games before they were post-launch DLC in part 6? Ah, good times.

Plus, this isn’t the first time Arc System Works is presenting the illusion of withholding supposedly launch day characters as a means to get more money out of its player base. Blazblue – Cross Tag Battle is a notorious example of this.

While some may argue that these announced DLC characters were probably made and completed right after the game went gold, the timing for these announcements & marketing plans could be better.

Why not announce the new characters and Season Pass AFTER the game is out, unless this was Sega and Arc System Works’ plans all along? This isn’t a new company making fighting games for the first time: these are from the same guys who made legacy titles like the Guilty Gear and BlazBlue series.

And last we checked, the recent iterations for the aforementioned ASW titles had more than 11 characters out at launch. Marketing & PR done messed up here, however you see it.

Air Time

Minor issues and overlying industry bulls*** aside, I am impressed with 2020’s first fighting game offering. At the very least, Granblue Fantasy: Versus‘ graphics and soundtrack coloured me impressed. When you have the patented AWS 2D/3D art in play with Granblue Fantasy’s lush 2D artworks as a frame of reference, your game’s going to be a hell of a looker.

I’m just thankful that there’s an incredibly solid fighting game to back it up. Not only will veterans enjoy the best of both a Street Fighter and an anime fighter title, but newbies will have fun getting into an accessible fighting game that gets deeper over time.

Pros

  • Great fighting system.
  • Meaty single-player content.
  • Lovely graphics.
  • Epic fighting game soundtrack.
  • Inviting for newbies.
  • Great online play (so far).

Cons

  • Needs a bigger roster…
  • …that’s not blocked by an alleged DLC paywall.
  • Controls in RPG mode takes some time getting used to.

FINAL SCORE: 80/100

Disclaimer: we haven’t had a chance to test out online mode to the fullest with optimal settings yet. So far our current matches have been unstable and lag-spiked. We’ll be sure to update this review with netcode talk when we played more online fights within a week or two while the game is still fresh.

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