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Granblue Fantasy: Versus

Platform(s): PC, PlayStation 4
Genre: Fighting
Publisher: XSEED Games
Developer: Arc System Works
Release Date: March 3, 2020


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PS4 Preview - 'Granblue Fantasy: Versus'

by Thomas Wilde on July 26, 2019 @ 1:00 a.m. PDT

In Granblue Fantasy: Versus is a new fighting game where power, skill, and spirit collide in a quest to find the true champion of the ring.

I really don't know how Arc System Works has time for this. The company has made enough of its various fighting games at this point that it has its own crossover, BlazBlue Tag Battle, as well as the Guilty Gear series and Dragon Ball FighterZ. The abiding characteristic of most "Arcsys" games is that they feature elaborate, carefully made animation and character models that make a lot of other fighting games look like cave paintings. Either they're employing half of Japan or there's black magic involved at some point here, as ArcSys has no business being able to make this many games that look this good this quickly. Granblue Fantasy Versus is somewhat more restrained than a lot of Arcsys's other work, but still looks like the pilot episode of a high-budget animated series.

Technically, Granblue Fantasy Versus is a licensed game, but it's a tie-in to a popular Japanese mobile and browser game that a lot of people outside Japan probably haven't heard of. The original Granblue Fantasy came out in 2014, was a collaboration between Final Fantasy veterans Nobuo Uematsu and Hideo Minaba, and from all reports, has been a money geyser for developer Cygames ever since its initial release. It never got a port to speak of, but instead, the Japanese version has an English language option.

Due to Granblue Fantasy's success, it's receiving a number of spin-offs and associated products, such as an anime adaptation, a couple of different manga, and an upcoming PS4 action-RPG called Granblue Fantasy Relink. Granblue Fantasy Versus is one more part of that multimedia blitz, which pits characters from Granblue Fantasy against each other in a one-on-one brawl, and it might very well be the first exposure that many Westerners actually have to the Granblue series.

Granblue Fantasy Versus was in a closed beta earlier this year on PlayStation 4, and the demo on the E3 2019 show floor was running the same version of the game, with the same five playable characters. (Lowain and Ladiva have been announced, but weren't available to play.) If you followed anything from that beta — and it seemed like every pro or semi-pro fighting game player with a Twitch channel got access —then there isn't much to say here that you haven't figured out already.

That having been said, Granblue Fantasy Versus is a slower, less flashy experience than most of ArcSys's other recent fighting games. Admittedly, that's not saying a lot — throw a lit cigarette into a fireworks warehouse, and you'd get a slower, less flashy experience than Dragon Ball FighterZ — but Granblue feels like a throwback to an earlier era of fighting games. I'd heard a few people compare it to Super Street Fighter II Turbo before now, and I can see the merit in the comparison; Granblue is a high-risk, high-reward game with a lot of newcomer-friendly mechanics, where you don't have as much easy mobility as you do in something like DBFZ or Guilty Gear. Instead of air-dashing, dashing, flying, teleporting, or superjumping around the screen, GFV is a grounded, slower game about smart, neutral play.

Set in the Granblue Fantasy universe, the cast of GFV are playable characters from the mobile game, ranging from protagonists like Gran and Katarina to various "gacha" recruits like Ferry and Lancelot. Each character in GFV uses the same four-button layout as other ArcSys games: light, medium, and heavy attacks, with a fourth button — X on the PS4 — dedicated to a character-specific special attack. That attack changes depending on whether a character is standing, crouching, or in the air, and for many characters, offers a lot of tactical utility in addition to a new attack. Katarina's special, for example, is a shield that gives her one hit of armor; if she's struck while it's up, she instantly counterattacks. Ferry's whip is a simple ranged poking tool when she's on the ground, but in the air, she swings through the air like Spider-Man, which gives her an additional way to approach a distant target.

(I can see why everyone in the beta was complaining about Ferry, too. She's easily the best character in the game as of this build, with a lot of ranged attacks, interesting projectiles, summoned pets, and damage output. She almost feels like she's in the wrong game.)

FGV has a lot of interesting, newcomer-friendly mechanics, which makes it a little less execution-heavy than a lot of other fighting games I've played lately. The moment a round starts, for example, both characters quickly build up a super meter one percentage point at a time, and once it's full, can unleash a destructive super move. You also have up to four additional special attacks that are launched by a simple directional input plus your special move button, such as projectiles or dash attacks, but which all have a short recharge time. A couple of characters can still spam fireballs, like Katarina, but they're slow.

Rounds in GFV, from what I played at E3, are short and explosive once both players know what they're doing. No one has a big health pool, and even incidental light hits tend to add up quickly. Come-from-behind victories are easy, particularly once your super meter is full, and the fact that every character has at least a couple of unique mechanics or attacks means that match-up knowledge counts for a lot more than strict mechanical execution. It feels a lot like somebody at Cygames and/or Arcsys decided to use Granblue Fantasy as a vehicle to try to get some of their RPG nerds playing fighting games, so they deliberately included a lot of newcomer-friendly mechanics.

There's a lot going for Granblue Fantasy Versus, like clean graphics and accessible gameplay. Its only real problem is character familiarity, since it's a spin-off game that's being translated and released outside Japan before anything else in the franchise. ArcSys has a recent tradition of strong post-launch support for its games, and the fervent audience for Granblue in Japan suggests that Fantasy Versus will likely have a long "tail"; the mobile game's character list is around 100 playable units strong, so you could see DLC for days out of this thing. The primary question is whether the game is accessible enough or well-marketed enough to overcome the natural competition from the new Samurai Shodown later this month.

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