Reprinted on Wednesday 31 August 2022: We’re bringing this review back from the archives following the announcement of September’s PlayStation Plus lineup. The original text is as follows.
A fighting game adaptation of the hugely popular mobile title, Granblue Fantasy Versus is another shining example of the supreme genius of developer Arc System Works. As it did with Dragon Ball FighterZ, the Japanese studio has taken an existing asset and turned it into a great looking and highly competitive brawler.
Still, though, like in FighterZ, you don’t need to practice for hours a day to enjoy the game, and the learning curve is notably smooth in Granblue Fantasy Versus. At its most fundamental level, Versus is very easy to pick up and play. Move lists are short and to the point, and require very little execution for most inputs. What’s more, a dedicated shortcut button – R1 on PlayStation 4 – allows players to take out special attacks by pressing just two or three buttons at the same time.
Even advanced players can benefit from shortcuts, weaving them into combos that would otherwise require a lot of skillful points. It’s a simple yet effective system, and it’s balanced by the fact that special attacks are based on cooldown. Use a shortcut version and you’ll have to wait longer before doing it again. Use the regular version, usually complete with a quarter circle or double-tap directional input, and the cooldown is barely even noticeable. There’s already an incentive to get better, even if you’ve never touched a fighting game before.
But it’s not just the accessible controls that make Versus appealing to players of all skill levels. In terms of visual design and pacing, it’s an incredibly clean fighter that’s easy to read and understand. Where other Arc System Works titles like Guilty Gear, BlazBlue, and the aforementioned Dragon Ball FighterZ place a heavy emphasis on long and devastating combos, Versus plays more like Street Fighter. At its core, it is a grounded and deliberate fighting game. There are still combos to master and great damage to be found with the right setup, but you won’t be turning your opponent into a corner for half of the match.
Truth be told, it’s probably the most reserved fighting game Arc System Works has released in a long time, but it’s certainly not a criticism. Matches in Versus are varied and rewarding, be they cautious poking contests or brutal beatdowns. It certainly helps that it feels great to play; Attacks have a satisfying weight to them and every character is delightfully different.
But we couldn’t possibly write about the characters without mentioning the size of the playable roster. At launch, Granblue Fantasy Versus only has 11 playable characters, a number that isn’t a huge problem in itself provided they’re fun to use — and they are. The real issue is that this is a full price release that already has not one, but two seasons of DLC in the pipeline. This is a model that gives off a sour taste, which is a huge shame considering how well the game is crafted.
To be fair, outside of the character roster, Versus is a complete package. There’s a pretty standard arcade mode that offers difficulty options for each fighter, a versus mode, a practice mode, and loads of tutorial challenges that walk you through the basics. But Granblue branches off from its peers with the name ‘RPG Mode’ – a mission-based beat-’em-up adventure that claims its own story.
The RPG mode is repetitive in its structure but if you are playing alone then it can definitely keep you busy. Sandwiched between voiced dialogue sequences – in English or Japanese – are side-scrolling levels that task you with defeating all kinds of enemies. From the usual monsters to the big bad bosses, it’s a good way to really familiarize yourself with the game experience. It also doesn’t skimp on the RPG elements. You level up your party, collect loot in the form of various weapons – skins of which can be applied in other ways – and generally grind missions until you can get your fill .
While we doubt fighting enthusiasts will spend that much time in RPG mode, it’s still a solid single-player (or two-player co-op) offering that welcomes Dragon’s Crown Pro vibes. That said, if you’re thinking about buying Granblue Fantasy Versus for the RPG mod alone, you’ll want to wait for the game to go on sale. It’s nice, but it certainly isn’t spacious enough to carry the $60 price tag. Plus, those annoying long loading screens happen a lot more often.
Chances are, if you’re not grinding in RPG mode or going face-to-face against a friend locally, you’re putting your skills to the test online. After blasting through a few introductory matches to determine your starting rank, you’re free to lobby, join the lobby, or let the game find rivals for you while you warm up those fingers in training mode. It’s all well made and matches come quickly, but netcode just seems hit and miss. Against some opponents here in the UK we enjoyed rounds that were quite right, but the connection would occasionally drop, resulting in a noticeable delay. Broadly speaking, it gets the job done, but it’s yet another example of why fighting games should consider pushing to rollback netcodes — a debate that’s really starting to pick up steam in recent months.
Before we jump to conclusions, we need to at least shed light on how amazing this game is. Arc System Works is no stranger to eye-catching visuals, and Granblue Fantasy Versus doesn’t disappoint. It’s a really gorgeous title, filled with pristine artwork and absolutely great animation. Even the HUD and menu are worth a look, though we’ve noticed some minor dialog typos.
Arch System Works has done it again. Granblue Fantasy Versus is a great-sounding fighting game that is jaw-droppingly gorgeous at times. It’s also incredibly accessible, boasting an impressively smooth learning curve. It’s a agile, satisfying fighter that gives way to some great-paced matches, and the dedicated RPG mode provides extra longevity if you play primarily alone. Our only real criticism is pointed at the title’s disappointingly small character roster — an issue compounded by the fact that so much DLC is already in development. A particularly sour note that takes away from an otherwise great release.