The accessibility of fighting games has always been a reoccurring issue, with practically every new release measured between its mechanically complex longevity and how well it succeeds in providing a welcoming take off for new players.
Based on the mobile game Granblue Fantasy only released in Japan, Granblue Fantasy Versus might be one of the best examples of the latter. Developed by Arc System Works, who have dominated the genre with Guilty Gear, BlazBlue and more recently Dragon Ball FighterZ, this new title carries a lot of expectation as a potential titan on competitive circuits.
In comparison to the frenetic speed of Guilty Gear and DBFZ, Granblue Fantasy Versus initially feels somewhat slower and stiff. There’s no air dash and less emphasis is placed on twiddling sticks to perform flashy combos, with standard and character unique attacks mapped to the face buttons, while R1 triggers moves called “Skybound Arts” which can be chained with different directional presses and buttons for stronger moves.
Granblue Fantasy Versus has a unique, welcoming battle system (Picture: Arc System Works)
These special moves are tied to a cooldown timer displayed at the top of the screen so you can’t spam away. In a rare feature for fighting games, there’s also a block button alongside the traditional method of holding back. It’s almost refreshingly basic at first, making it easy to jump in and pull off flashy moves without requiring a complex tutorial to break you in.
For those familiar with mechanics in other fighting games, your experience with Granblue Fantasy Versus might be jarring at first - but there's a unique rhythm to matches you gradually become accustomed to. The cooldowns are the main barrier to overcome, shifting the mindset from simply pulling off special moves to utilising them at the best opportunity.
Read more: Sign up for Guilty Gear Strive closed beta
The combat has surprising flexibility but there isn’t much content to support the investment. There’s the standard arcade mode with varying difficulty options, but there’s little incentive to keep coming back with new characters after you’ve beaten it once.
Outside the expected versus, mission training and online modes, there’s an RPG story mode where players run through a sequence of side-scrolling beat ‘em up-style stages and boss encounters. It serves as a welcome introduction to the personalities on the roster, even if the story is bogged down in way too much exposition to be truly engaging.
There's some impressive anime cutscenes in RPG mode (Picture: Arc System Works)
RPG mechanics introduced here also feel thinly executed. Before each stage, you can choose and customise your weapons with varying elements and ability upgrades. Each of these elements has an advantage depending on the opponent you’re facing, although as each stage simply tells you the best element to use beforehand, it makes the system redundant. It’s also easy to overpower your characters very quickly, making the entire experience, while enjoyable, relatively easy outside some boss battle difficulty spikes.
There’s only 13 characters on the roster, smaller than most other fighters, but there’s plenty of variety between them. Gran and Katalina are the best introductions as your all-rounders. Metera focuses on long-range bow attacks, Lancelot is your speed-master, while Lowain is essentially formed of three characters which he throws around on the battlefield.
The gulf between the best and worst on the roster however feels pretty substantial. At this point, there’s little reason to stray from Gran and Katalina, who play far more traditionally in comparison to the more obscure fighting styles on offer elsewhere. With DLC characters in the pipeline though likely coupled with patch updates, this could be ironed out in the coming months.
Despite its flaws in the overall package, Granblue Fantasy Versus is a promising new addition to Arc System Works’ pantheon. The accessibility and flexibility of the combat system gives the title its own distinct identity, especially for those intimidated by the complexities in their other works. You won’t find the best fighting game out there in Granblue Fantasy Versus, but this is one of the best starting points around.
Granblue Fantasy Versus is available in Europe on PlayStation 4 from 27th March.