Granblue Fantasy Versus: Rising

Platform(s): PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5
Genre: Fighting
Publisher: Cygames
Developer: Arc System Works
Release Date: Dec. 14, 2023


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PS5 Review - 'Granblue Fantasy Versus: Rising'

by Cody Medellin on Dec. 13, 2023 @ 7:00 a.m. PST

Granblue Fantasy Versus: Rising is a new installment in the fighting franchise and will feature a variety of new ways to enjoy the Granblue Fantasy Versus series.

In 2020, Granblue Fantasy: Versus was a spin-off title that placed the characters and setting of the popular mobile RPG Granblue Fantasy in the fighting game genre. The game was praised for taking a simpler approach aimed at newcomers without diluting what fans expect from the modern fighting game genre. While it wasn't exactly bursting with exciting modes, the one big knock against the game was with the roster, which had such a small number of fighters without using DLC that it only would've been acceptable in the 1990s. Three years later, we get the sequel with Granblue Fantasy Versus: Rising, a game that addresses some of the shortcomings of the first title but also feels like a director's cut of the first game rather than a true sequel.

If you're familiar with most of the fighting games from Arc System Works, then you'll instantly be able to pick up on Rising's mechanics. The core fighting system will be immediately familiar with anyone who has dabbled in the genre. This is a four-button fighting system with standard low-, medium- and high-powered attacks, along with a button for special attacks. The typical Street Fighter II-type commands for special attacks are all present, along with a meter that allows you to unleash super moves when it gets filled up and the correct command is inputted. The game allows for simple combos to be executed via hitting the same attack button versus dancing between the various attack strength buttons.

What makes this series stand out from the rest of the developer's lineup is how it makes a real attempt to cater to the more casual fighting game fan. Part of this is done through the tutorial and training mode, which initially gives the player some basics on general movement, mechanics, and a small helping of basic combos. What makes this game different is how it teaches some of the more nuanced aspects of the fighting game genre and of your selected character. You'll also get strengths and weaknesses for the different types of characters you'll face, so you can see how you need to change strategies when going against a speedy character versus a grappler, for example.

The other assist given to novice players is the presence of an assisted control scheme, something that's also been seen in a few modern fighting games. You can hit one of the shoulder buttons to unleash a special move that's normally reserved for the traditional direction and button inputs, and the same thing happens if you combine the same button with one of the three cardinal directions (left, down, or right). What makes this fascinating is that the one-button special attack method isn't a toggle but a part of the default scheme. You can go between the easy and traditional modes at will, so there's no need to toggle it if you're playing locally with friends and only a few are well versed in fighting games.

While the inclusion of a simpler control method is great for giving movies a fighting chance against more skilled players, there is one drawback:  a cooldown system. Players who use the simple method for executing special moves will find that they can't spam the same attack quickly, since the cooldown meter lasts for a few seconds. You can still use that time to execute other moves, but you can't keep the opponent at bay with an endless array of projectile attacks, for example. The cooldown system is still present if you're using the more traditional inputs for special moves, but the time is reduced so much that it feels indiscernible from other fighting games. The change is welcome, as it allows those who are still learning the game to have fun while also providing a real incentive to get better instead of sticking with what's easy.

All of this was present in the first game, but the big change comes from the inclusion of a few more moves with the super meter. You can now spend part of your meter to unleash amplified versions of typical special moves, similar to what Mortal Kombat has done in its recent entries. There's also the ability to spend only half of your meter to unleash a super move that's less powerful but still hits hard enough to be effective. Compared to the pantheon of Arc System Works fighting games, these mechanics don't make things as daunting for newcomers but feel closer to a modern fighting game. It's also a very welcome addition since you can fill up the super meter faster than in other games. The meter is reset every round, so you'll want to play more aggressively since you can't whiff one round in the hopes of starting out stronger in the next one.

Aside from the aforementioned training mode, Rising features the standard arcade and versus modes. The former is distinct among its contemporaries in the genre, as you get to choose your initial opponent and the starting difficulty level. Win the match, and you get to stay in the same difficulty level, go down one notch, or go up one notch when you get to the next round. It keeps going like this until the end, which makes for a very interesting journey toward your character's end sequence. That said, you need to bump up the difficulty to a high level to get any challenge, as anything below normal is so easy that you'll need to put in some effort to lose a round, even during the final fight.

It is with these two modes that you'll see one of the game's big improvements over its predecessor: the roster. The first game started with a fairly anemic 10 fighters, and it only grew to a respectable size via the DLC characters that were released over time. While this game also plans to have some DLC fighters enter the fray, the base game comes equipped with all of the fighters from the first game with their respective DLC as well as four new characters, bringing the total up to 28 from the start.

The expanded roster is nice, but if you're familiar with the first game, then you'll quickly get a sense of déjà vu in these modes. The backgrounds all come from that first game. The pre- and post-fight dialogue between characters is also the same as before — right down to the victory poses. Even the ending is the same as the first for all of the characters, with the minor difference being the fact that the illustrations are now in color instead of sepia tones. It might be a small thing to some players, but for others, it takes away the idea that this is a full-fledged sequel and makes it more of an upgrade, similar to what you would see with the various Street Fighter II incarnations.

That notion is further solidified when you go into Story mode and see that the tale from the first game can be replayed in Rising in its entirety. You can skip it entirely, and while it's nice that it's here so newcomers don't feel lost, some players can see this as a form of padding for the overall game. The mode makes up for it by giving you two new storylines to continue from, so there's still plenty to do. That said, this still plays out like a pseudo-brawler RPG set in a 2D plane, and the fighting game mechanics are still intact. It's fun enough for those already fascinated with the world but with fewer one-on-one encounters and more fights against mobs of faceless enemies, it isn't quite so engaging, especially since it retains the breezy difficulty of the arcade mode.

Online play is the last major mode of the game, and while the chibi lobby system is still in play, the biggest change is the use of rollback netcode. We put that through its paces by playing against those who had early access to the game with the premium version in both North America and Japan. While we still got clobbered, at least we couldn't blame our poor performance on hitching or lag or any other network-related issues. Performance may vary once the rest of the population comes in, but for now, there's a good degree of confidence in saying that online play will be fine. Another boost is that cross-play is confirmed, so those on Steam will be sure to find opponents thanks to the PS5 and PS4 consoles getting put into that same player pool.

There are two things that come off as disappointing, though. The first is that the lobby is locked to 30fps, and it threatens to go below that at times, depending on how crowded things can get. Considering that the rest of the game is locked to 60fps, it's a shame to see this. Another issue we had isn't that big of a problem overall, but we weren't able to check out the Grand Bruise Legends mode. It bills itself as a battle royale where players get to compete with their chibi avatars in obstacle courses, but it requires a full lobby of online players; however, there is no option to play with bots, and no one online seemed interested in checking it out. It becomes a mode that may as well not exist.

Like the rest of the game, the presentation seems lifted from the first game almost wholesale. Aside from the additions made thanks to the new characters, just about every spoken line of dialogue and musical track have been taken from that first game with no changes. The same goes for the backgrounds and character designs, and while there is an option to use newer character models, the differences are almost imperceptible, making it so that only those who are familiar with designs from the first game will notice a difference. Both the sound and graphical designs of that first title remain on par with the rest of the modern lineup from Arc System Works' line of fighting games, but don't expect to see any massive differences.

Granblue Fantasy Versus: Rising does what any good sequel should do, and that's take what works in the first game and amplifies its strengths while also fixing some of its shortcomings. The addition of new moves involving a special meter deepen the overall fighting mechanics, but it still retains the simpler control scheme for newcomers and as a comprehensive training system to help genre rookies get acclimated to the overall Arc System way of fighting. The character roster feels much more substantial and in line with what's expected from a modern-day fighting game, while the rollback netcode gives people more confidence in entering online bouts without fear of most network conditions creating an unplayable experience. If you can shake off the fact that a good chunk of the game is directly lifted from the first title, you'll greatly enjoy Rising.

Score: 8.0/10

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