VRAM: ‘Granblue Fantasy: Versus’ is fun but frustrating

After a delay at the start of the year and many months of excitement, Arc System Works (ASW) finally released another fighting game for the Fighting Game Community (FGC) to fawn over.

“Granblue Fantasy: Versus (GBVS),” based on the massively popular mobile game “Granblue Fantasy,” is a fighting game that manages to do something that not many fighting games do – offer two unique modes of play.

While ASW’s bread-and-butter is presented in a standard fighter throughout many of the game’s offerings, the inclusion of a story-based RPG Mode deviates from their usual formula, but not too much to the point where it feels out-of-character for the fighting game innovators.

To fully analyze this game, a deep dive has to be conducted on both offerings.

RPG Mode

Boasting an all-new, original story set in the “Granblue Fantasy” universe, RPG Mode gives players a chance to lead Gran, the protagonist, and his friends to floating archipelagos aboard the Grandcypher in a quest to save the world from the forces of evil.

In order for Gran, and by extension, the player, to get those friends, he has to pit himself against them to snap them out of their brainwashed state. This only gets worse when he finds out that the Primal Beasts – the massive, deity-like, living weapons – have succumbed to that same treatment.

Thankfully, from a player’s perspective, embarking on this quest is much more fun than it seems. It also helps that you can bring a friend along for the ride with local cooperative play.

The combat in RPG Mode feels similar to that of a game in the “Hiryuu no Ken” (“Fist of the Flying Dragon”) series of games, in which you can only walk left and right, with no background or foreground layers to traverse as one would in Treasure’s “Guardian Heroes,” but even without that complexity in navigation, “GBVS” does not suffer from it.

What makes “GBVS” different from a game in the “Hiryuu no Ken” series is that you get to utilize complex inputs – hadoukens, shoryukens, and the like – as you dispose of your foes throughout the various missions the game throws at you, allowing the player to get creative and perform damaging combos, which is especially thrilling against larger, better-fortified enemies.

However, if you’re someone who is not accustomed to fighting games and have no idea how to perform a hadouken or a shoryuken – ASW’s intended audience for this game – “GBVS” has you covered with the “Skill” button that is used in conjunction with the “Unique” button, which removes the complexity out of inputting those moves and replaces it with a easily obtained sense of power.

It’s not something that empowers me, per se, but I know it is something that players from the mobile game’s player base who are new to the genre will enjoy and appreciate.

One thing that players of “Granblue Fantasy” will enjoy right off the bat, though, is the robust customization system that allows players to organize “grids” full of weapons that boost character statistics. It adds a strategic level of depth to the game that is reminiscent of an action RPG along the lines of “Ys,” but, somehow, manages to make it less complex than that series’ offerings. 

Beyond weapon grids, players can also equip two “skills” – different from the aforementioned “Skill” button – to their character’s loadouts. This allows the player to add something to help other players. For instance, Panacea heals your partner and Overdrive Surge can obliterate a boss character when they enter their powered-up, Overdrive state.

After a player progresses far enough in RPG Mode, they are greeted to the option of playing through the Tower of Babel, a multi-floor romp that pits the player against enemies and boss fights from the main story, all in the name of obtaining weapons and resources for crafting new items or just grinding for levels.

While it is fun to revisit previous boss encounters after slapping random mooks about for four screens, the Tower of Babel does get boring after a while. The lack of online multiplayer doesn’t help, either.

Speaking of online multiplayer, the RPG Mode’s use of online features is, unfortunately, very limited. Online co-op can only be done in boss fights, thus only having a purpose for those who either need help with completing a difficult fight or someone who just wants that one pesky online trophy/achievement.

Thankfully, the story is full of passion and talent, with the English and Japanese voice-acting playing a major role in conveying powerful scenes, especially near the end. A player can definitely detect the love the voice actors have for their characters, especially on the English side of things, given this is the second “Granblue Fantasy” product to have an English dub – the first being 2017’s “Granblue Fantasy: The Animation.”

Aside from the very minor problems that RPG Mode has, it is definitely a mode that is worthy of your attention. While it might seem a bit weird to grasp at first – of course with it being a 2D fighter translated into a side-scrolling action role playing game/beat-’em-up hybrid – it becomes second nature, once you spend some time to warm up to it.

Versus Mode

Now, what if you’re not entirely into action RPGs? What if you just want to play a fighting game with your friends and laugh about the weird interactions that happen within them?

Well, that’s where the Versus Modes come in – your standard 2D fighting game, but without the complexity of dealing with character loadouts and equipment.

Sporting 11 characters, with six more represented as downloadable content, players have a variety of archetypes to choose from, with each one being unique from one another.

Want to play as a heavy character who demands that you respect his threatening advances as he pushes you to the corner? Play Vaseraga.

Do you want to inflict fear into your opponents as you swing a damaging whip around, while also sporting invincible wake-up options and moves? Ferry’s your gal.

Looking to keep it simple and also produce a high-damage output? Gran and Katalina are there to help you do just that.

Now, what makes “GBVS” special is that each character is easy-to-learn, but hard-to-master. While most characters live by that axiom more than others – Vaseraga and Lowain being the most prominent – everyone can be picked up and played with ease. This fact was most apparent at the XSEED Games booth at PAX East.

Unfortunately, in having this easy barrier to entry, “GBVS” does suffer from a few unusual quirks.

For starters, the game does a horrible job in translating complex inputs. Remember when I mentioned hadouken and shoryuken inputs earlier? Well, when it comes down to the one-on-one aspect of the game, performing those inputs becomes a much more taxing accomplishment against another player.

In RPG Mode, there is little to no consequence to having these inputs messed up and getting something else instead. In the Versus Modes, it becomes a matter of life and death. A matter that an adept fighting game player runs into far too often.

I should not be getting 22H (“down, down, heavy attack”) when, in reality, I did a 623H (“right, down, down-right, heavy attack”), especially in a game that’s as resource/meter-management heavy as “GBVS.” Losing unnecessary resources in the heat of battle, especially when things get tight, is not fun. It just feels wrong, when compared to other ASW games.

Performing wake-up attacks is not a recommended plan of action for those who have grown up in the “Street Fighter IV” school of playing fighting games. You will only get blown up for trying, for very little attempts to do so succeed.

Sure, “GBVS” is a gorgeous game in terms of how it looks and sounds – the music by Tsutomu Narita, Yasunori Nishiki, Hidenori Maezawa, Nao Tokisawa, and Azuza Chiba is phenomenal – but as a fighting game, it has so many fundamental problems that should not exist in an Arc System Works product. It doesn’t help that the netcode used for online multiplayer is hit-or-miss, depending on who you’re up against.

Thus, “GBVS” had me constantly asking this: the RPG Mode is more than fine, but why isn’t the fighting game portion as well-refined as the mode that takes inspiration from the genre’s mechanics?

From a new fighting game player’s perspective, or as someone who had experience with “Granblue Fantasy” on their phones, the game is excellent from all angles. For someone like me who has been around the block in terms of what fighting games can offer, “GBVS” leaves a little more to be desired – a little more polish, a little more input leniency, a little more meat in terms of what could be offered for offline modes other than Arcade Mode and Training Mode.

“GBVS” is a good game, but I would not exactly call it “great.”

Grade: B-

The Grandcypher might need a little more tuning before it can truly hit its stride.


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