The Granblue Fantasy Versus closed beta has come and gone, allowing many to finally get their hands on the love child of the Granblue Fantasy franchise and Arc System Works’ fighting games.
I went into my time with the beta quite pumped considering that I am a massive Granblue Fantasy fan, and my love for the characters and lore involved certainly contributed to my enjoyment. Yet, to be perfectly honest, I was skeptical about what I heard of the gameplay.
The shift of focus away from combos and the accent on accessibility had me doubtful, simply because that’s not what I expect from a game developed by Arc System Works. Luckily, they proved me wrong.
That being said, the first thing you notice when playing Granblue Fantasy Versus is that it’s one of the prettiest fighting games out there, if not the prettiest.
The original art by Hideo Minaba and his team is rooted in its painterly style (you can still see it in the character portraits above), so you’d think cel-shading might not be the best fit for the characters. Once again, that’s an incorrect preconception.
Arc System Works’ style does a fantastic job in rendering characters that have been seen almost exclusively in 2D, and the animation is downright pristine. Each beloved character included in the beta was a joy to watch both during gameplay and during intro and victory cutscenes.
The gameplay is indeed very accessible due primarily to two factors.
The first factor is that the number of moves is actually rather limited. You can pretty much learn all there is to learn about a character’s arsenal in a few minutes. The second element is that most special moves (called “skills” and “arts” in the game. After all, this is a JRPG IP) have an easy activation and a “technical command” activation.
In terms of gameplay, this means that you have a simplified command to input, generally based on R1, and a more classic button-press sequence that takes a bit more time and effort to utilize.
The “easy mode,” though, comes with a price: skills remain true to their JRPG origins and come with a cooldown. That time gap required to use them again is instant or at least much faster when you use the technical command, while it becomes sensibly longer when you use the simplified button sequence.
This means that fighting game novices can still enjoy executing powerful and flashy moves, while veterans retain a sizable advantage in terms of flexibility and damage output.
On top of that, using the technical commands isn’t always the best option: there are plenty of instances during matches in which the easy execution works best simply because you don’t need to spam the same move immediately afterward.
This adds another layer of depth to the game and thinking in the blink of an eye whether it’s more efficient to use one way or another will likely become one of the elements separating players that are simply “good” from masters.
The limited arsenal of moves and the absence of focus on chaining endless combos make the gameplay very different from the classic Arc System Works fare, but it finds its complexity and depth in things like positioning and timing. It’s a slower, more tactical style that I found myself enjoying immensely.
I’m almost positive that this will end up proving polarizing among fans of fighting games, but I personally haven’t had this much fun with the genre for several years.
The (much) lower barrier of entry will probably raise eyebrows among veterans, and this is just the nature of the beast. Yet, I have a feeling that those who will give it a chance will find out that both complexity and the value of skill aren’t lost, but simply shifted to different areas.
Being a beta, the character roster lacked in variety, but this shouldn’t surprise considering that we only had five fighters to play with. Two more have already been revealed, and Granblue Fantasy has such a massive and diverse cast that Cygames would be able to deliver new characters with unique gameplay literally for decades if they so wanted.
The one weak link, at least for the moment, is the netcode, which appears to be the usual Arc System Works fare. Considering that Cygames has high ambitions in the field of esport, this will doubtlessly require a lot of work to get right.
Maybe this game might end up being the right spur for the veteran fighting game developer to improve its multiplayer tech. At the very least, they tested their network early, so they probably know that it needs more time in the oven, and that’s relatively promising.
Matchmaking was also absent from the beta, which was entirely based on the usual “arcade” lobby system (appropriately set on the Grandcypher airship), but I’m pretty sure it’ll come at release.
This will be the first taste of the Granblue Fantasy IP for many console players. Mobile gamers already know that this is one of the best fantasy JRPG franchises available on the market at the moment, thanks to its Final Fantasy heritage, charming production values, deep characters, and fascinating world.
Yet, I’m positive that Cygames is very aware that they absolutely have to get it right the first time to earn a new audience in preparation for the second part of the one-two-punch with Granblue Fantasy Relink.
This can be already seen in the level of polish and enjoyment that the beta provided, but (alongside Cygames’ likely sizable budgets) it could become an incentive for Arc System Works to grow beyond its already excellent level as a Fighting Game developer.
While the first look was limited in both time and content, it left me wanting for more. Granblue Fantasy Versus has the potential to become one of the best in the genre, but time will tell on whether it’ll live up to that.
If you want to read more about Granblue Versus, you can check out our recent interview with Game Director Tetsuya Fukuhara.
Granblue Fantasy Versus is coming for PS4 later this year.