Granblue Fantasy has seen a sharp increase in popularity these last few years. It went from this mobile game that was only really known in Japan to becoming this big media franchise just a few years after its release. I personally got into the series when its anime adaptation aired back in 2017 and, although I don’t play the mobile game, I am a fan of the characters and the universe. I also happen to be a big fighting game fan, so a combination of the two was definitely something I needed to check out.
Cool skill system. What immediately sets Granblue Fantasy: Versus apart from other fighting games is how it tackles its special moves. Instead of having to memorize complex inputs for each character, the game instead streamlines the experience with its skill system. At the top of the screen, underneath each health bar, you’re able to see a character’s different skills, along with a small arrow showing the direction to press to input it. Pressing any of those directions plus the skill button on your controller or keyboard allows you to use said skill, activating it and then putting it on a short cooldown. That’s it, that’s the basis of the game’s skill system. For those that aren’t too into fighting games, it makes getting into the game a whole lot easier, as all you have to do is match the skill button to the direction of the skill you want to use.
However, that’s the most basic version of the system. You can also make any skill input a stronger version of the skill by also holding down an attack button at the same time. On an Xbox controller for example, holding B while activating a skill uses the strongest version of that skill. This puts it on a longer cooldown, but does a lot more damage.
It doesn’t stop there though. To maximize damage and limit cooldowns, you can also manually input any of the game’s skills. This could be anything from a quarter rotation, to a Z-rotation, to even a full circle, plus whatever attack button you want. It’s a great way to accommodate for fighting game veterans and newcomers alike while also adding some depth to the already solid combat.
Excellent learning curve. Granblue Fantasy: Versus is pretty much the embodiment of “easy to learn, hard to master”. The skill system definitely makes getting into the game easier, but that is just one step on the journey to mastering the game. You still have the manual skybound art inputs (which are the game’s mega moves), the dash and spot dodging mechanics, and of course, the various combos that take advantage of all of these.
Fortunately, the game offers a lot of tools to help ease this learning curve. You’ve got the usual free training (or practice) mode, but there’s also a very helpful mission training mode. This mode not only goes through all of the game’s basics with you, but also teaches each character’s skills, basic combos, and even how to punish specific matchups. It’s been super helpful to me when trying out new characters, especially so because you can play around in the mode while also queuing up for online matches. Really, the learning curve overall has been pretty nice thus far, so much so that I can definitely see myself returning to the game to work on combos, matchups, etc.
An actually decent singleplayer campaign. As someone that actually enjoys the singleplayer content in fighting games, I was rather impressed with what Granblue Fantasy: Versus had to offer. The game’s campaign is titled “RPG Mode”, and it’s actually much more fleshed out than what I would usually expect from a fighting game campaign. It takes the form of a series of quests, all of which involve some enemy or enemies to defeat. In-between these quests are fully voice-acted dialogue scenes that expand on the story. For those familiar with Granblue Fantasy, you’ll know that the writing, while not the best, is at least decent, and that carries over here to Versus.
However, what really impressed me was that there are entire game mechanics exclusive to this RPG mode. You have character levels, support skills, a campaign exclusive game mode named “Tower of Babyl”, and even a gatcha-style weapon system. The weapon system in particular was pretty cool, as each weapon has its own element, attack and HP stat, and upgrades available to it. These in turn modify your character’s overall HP and attack, which can make some fights much easier if you have the right build (as I found at after dying to the final boss multiple times in a row).
And on the topic of bosses, the game actually has some pretty cool ones, more than just the reskinned character that most fighting game campaigns tend to go with. It has some bosses that even span the entire screen. It’s definitely not a low-effort campaign and, although it may have only taken me six hours to clear, it was one of the highlights of the game for me.
Very nice aesthetic. Granblue Fantasy: Versus is one of the better-looking fighting games I have played as of late. It’s at that crossroads between full CG and anime, and the combination looks really great in motion. Movement looks clean, skybound arts have really cool cutscenes, and, of course, the character designs were already good to begin with given that this is Granblue Fantasy after all. And this is all while running at 1440p in a borderless window, an option strangely missing from other Arc System Works games. Amongst anime fighting games, it’s probably the best-looking I’ve played thus far — we’ll have to wait and see if Guilty Gear Strive is able to top it.
It’s not just the visuals though, the game also has a really great soundtrack to match. Each character has their own theme and these range anywhere from more JRPG fantasy-esque themes to more modern, electronic ones. Whatever the case, they all sound great and are definitely tracks I would listen to outside of the game. I mean, it’s kinda hard to go wrong when you have composers from the likes of Final Fantasy and Octopath Traveller lending their talent. They even got the legendary Nobuo Uematsu doing a few of the tracks, you really can’t get much better than that.
Inconsistent online multiplayer. As with previous Arc System Works releases on PC, Granblue Fantasy: Versus suffers from a variety of issues related to its multiplayer. Some of these can be attributed to the occasional bad connection or two from other players, but the game itself isn’t free from criticism here. For one, it uses the same delay-based netcode used in previous Arc System Works games. This means that you will almost always be playing with some sort of delay when in any of the game’s online modes.
From my experience, the delay is usually around 3-4 frames, but I’ve been in matches ranging anywhere from 2 all the way up to 12. This is assuming that the in-game frame delay is accurate though, as I’ve been in matches where it says only 3 frame delay, but still has a few stutters throughout the match. And of course, the delay isn’t always constant, it usually fluctuates around 2 or so frames throughout the match. This may not sound like much of a problem, especially so for low-level play, but as you climb the ranks and learn more about the game, it becomes increasingly more noticeable. Combos that you were able to pull off fine in practice mode are a lot harder to do online when you’re playing with a 6 frame delay.
The game at least has an active multiplayer community, as I had no difficulty finding matches even at odd hours of the day. Granted, it is closer to release so this may become an issue later on, especially given that there’s no crossplay. And I got to give Arc System Works some credit here for making the multiplayer UI less confusing than their previous games, but the same subpar netcode remains regardless.
Limited roster. I really do not like the growing trend of multiple character season passes for every new fighting game. Unfortunately, Granblue Fantasy: Versus is taking this exact approach, offering a limited roster on launch and following it up with new characters barred behind a paywall. They announced not just one, but two season passes before the game even came out, which I honestly think is a bit scummy. This wouldn’t be so much a problem if the base roster was really well-done, but I found it to be quite lacking.
There’s an okay amount of characters, but some of the characters that are there are lacking in variety. For example, Gran, Katalina, and Djeeta felt like the same character to me. Granted, Gran and Djeeta technically are in the story-sense, but considering that Djeeta was an entirely new DLC character, I was disappointed that her playstyle was so similar to Gran’s. Of course, at a high-level they’re 100% going to be different, but it made for a pretty bad first impression. And then you got characters like Beelzebub, Vaseraga, and Ladiva which are pretty much useless if you’re against any sort of ranged character. Of course, every fighting game is going to have bad matchups like this, but when the roster is as limited as it is here, that eliminates quite a few choices.
Granblue Fantasy: Versus is not only an incredibly fun 2D fighter, but probably the best-looking one I have ever played. The combat, while streamlined a bit with the skill system, actually has a good amount of depth to it, making it a great choice for both veterans and newcomers alike. Whatever skill level you may be, the game offers a variety of tools to ease you into it, making for a great overall learning curve. And for those looking for a singleplayer experience, the RPG mode here actually has some effort put into it, unlike what we usually see in the genre.
Still, it is disappointing to see the game follow the multiple character pass route, especially with how limited the roster is in its current state. That and the multiplayer issues are likely not going to be fixed, so if you’re going to be playing the game online a lot, you’ll definitely want to keep that in mind. Regardless, it is a fun a fighting game and one I would recommend, even to those not familiar with the franchise.
You can buy Granblue Fantasy: Versus on Steam here.
I was provided a review copy of the game in order to write this review. Read more about how I do my game reviews here.