I’d love to say that I had heard of Granblue Fantasy before the reveal of the ‘Versus’ game last year, but I hadn’t. This is despite a large portion of the characters falling into my favourite visual archetype – ridiculous, underdressed anime characters with animal ears. I’ve been excited for this game for a while now, so jumped at the chance to play the full game last week.
So, I rocked up to the wonderfully nerdy Loading Bar in Dalston, and there, emblazoned across seven screens, was this gorgeous game being played by people far more talented than me. Although I don’t usually start with visuals when I discuss games, Granblue Fantasy Versus really does strike you first in that department. The majority of the gameplay has a lush art style that honestly looks like anime in motion, which it manages in a similar way to Dragon Ball FighterZ, only with less cel-shading and without the curse of samey character design.
The portraits of each character are utterly stunning watercolours with an astounding amount of detail. The whole game is then tied together with a user interface and menu design that are clean and simple and clean, with a touch of gaudiness to match the fantasy tone of the whole affair. In fact, if you’ve ever played the ludicrous fantasy fighting title Battle Fantasia, this hits a lot of similar notes.
The second area that Granblue Fantasy Versus really stands out from its contemporaries is in how accessible its gameplay is. It largely plays like any other anime fighting game, but it features a system allowing for single-button inputs for the characters’ special moves. These are indicated by symbols under the life bar, and are regulated by needing a cool down if used.
My initial thoughts were that this mechanic would be heavily weighted in the advantage of newer players and button mashers, as it allows the easy instant usage of powerful attacks. However, the restriction over which level of the special you use, and the cool down on each really work to encourage newer players to learn the mechanics of a fighter whilst allowing experimentation with the attacks.
The only thing counting against the game is the limited number of characters in their base roster. Additionally, their choice of fully announcing its full Season 1 DLC and a character of Season 2 already feels egregious. That said, the base roster is actually a pretty decent offering, covering various play styles and really giving the gameplay an astounding amount of diversity for so few characters.
Between the mix-up trickery of Lowain and his cat-eared companions and the ranged efficiency of Metera, with the bizarre love-based wrestling stylings of Ladiva in between, Granblue Fantasy Versus gives a range of options to the player whilst still keeping the gameplay relatively levelled out across the board. I’ll be interested to see how this continues with additional characters.
Another impressive feature of the game is its unique take on the story mode. Here it plays more like a standalone RPG, with all of the menus and stat chasing you would expect. The combat in its scenarios use the game engine and gameplay seen in the standard fights, but twist it to feel more like retro 2D brawlers like Streets of Rage or Final Fight.
I didn’t get a great deal of time with this mode, as the demo was only 20 minutes, but the scope of this mode is evident even from such a short amount of time. The cutscenes and voice acting are stellar, the mode actually acts as a tutorial for the main game, and there’s actually a story here to follow. If it lives up to its promise, it could be the best fighting game story mode. Period.
Granblue Fantasy Versus is entering an arena filled with long-standing anime fighting franchises, coming with a fresh take on how to approach accessibility and a decent base roster with which to show that off. It will remain to be seen whether the full game can compete with its contemporaries in the genre, but with a release in March – on the 3rd in the US and 27th in the Europe – we won’t have to wait long to find out!