Republished on Wednesday 31st August 2022: We're bringing this review back from the archives following the announcement of September's PlayStation Plus lineup. The original text follows.
A fighting game adaptation of the immensely popular mobile title, Granblue Fantasy Versus stands as yet another shining example of developer Arc System Works' supreme talent. Just as it did with Dragon Ball FighterZ, the Japanese studio has taken an existing property and worked it into a fantastic looking and highly competitive brawler.
Again, though, like FighterZ, you don't have to practice for hours a day in order to enjoy the game, and the learning curve in Granblue Fantasy Versus is especially smooth. At its most fundamental level, Versus is very easy to pick up and play. Move lists are short and to the point, and the vast majority of inputs require very little execution. What's more, a dedicated shortcut button — R1 on PlayStation 4 — allows players to throw out special attacks by pressing just two or three buttons at the same time.
Even advanced players can get mileage out of the shortcuts, weaving them into combos that would otherwise require much more dexterous digits. It's a simple but effective system, and it's balanced by the fact that special attacks are based on cooldowns. Use a shortcut version and you'll have to wait longer before you can do it again. Use the regular version, typically complete with a quarter circle or double-tap directional input, and the cooldown's barely even noticeable. Already there's 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 appeal 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, this is a grounded and deliberate fighting game. There are still combos to master and big damage to be found with the right setups, but you won't be juggling your opponent in the corner for half of the match.
Truth be told this is probably the most reserved fighting game Arc System Works has released in a long time, but that's certainly not a criticism. Matches in Versus are varied and rewarding, whether they're cautious poking contests or brutal beatdowns. It helps, of course, that it feels great to play; attacks have a satisfying weight to them and every character is enjoyably distinct.
But we can't possibly write about characters without mentioning the size of the playable roster. At launch, Granblue Fantasy Versus only has 11 playable characters, a number which, in itself, isn't a huge problem provided that they're all 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. It's a model that leaves a sour taste, which is a huge shame considering how well crafted the game is.
To be fair, outside of the character roster, Versus is very much a complete package. There's a pretty standard arcade mode that offers a load of difficulty options, a versus mode, a practice mode, and tutorial challenges for each fighter that walks you through the basics. But Granblue branches off from its peers with its intriguingly named 'RPG Mode' — a mission-based beat-'em-up adventure that boasts its own storyline.
RPG Mode is repetitive in its structure but it can certainly keep you busy if you're playing alone. Sandwiched between voiced dialogue scenes — in English or Japanese — are side-scrolling levels that task you with beating up all kinds of enemies. From generic monsters to big bad bosses, it's actually a good way to familiarise yourself with the game's feel. It doesn't skimp on RPG elements, either. You level up your party, collect loot in the form of different weapons — the skins of which can be applied in other modes — and generally just grind out missions until you've had your fill.
While we doubt that fighting game enthusiasts will spend that much time in RPG Mode, it's still a reasonably solid single-player (or two-player co-op) offering that evokes some welcome Dragon's Crown Pro vibes. That said, if you're thinking about buying Granblue Fantasy Versus for its RPG Mode alone, you'll want to wait for the game to go on sale. It's good, but it definitely isn't expansive enough to carry a $60 price tag. Plus, those annoyingly lengthy loading screens are way too frequent.
Chances are that if you're not grinding in RPG Mode or going head-to-head against a friend locally, then 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 make a lobby, join a lobby, or let the game find an opponent for you while you warm up those fingers in training mode. It's all well made and matches come quickly, but the netcode seems hit and miss right now. Against certain opponents here in the UK we enjoyed rounds that were pretty much perfect, but the connection does tend to dip now and then, resulting in noticeable delay. By and large it gets the job done, but it's yet another example of why fighting games must consider rollback netcode going forward — a debate that's really started to pick up steam in recent months.
Before we jump over to the conclusion, we have to at least highlight just how amazing this game looks. Arc System Works is no stranger to eye-popping visuals, and Granblue Fantasy Versus does not disappoint. It's a truly gorgeous title, stuffed with pristine artwork and absolutely superb animation. Even the HUD and menus are a treat to behold, although we did spot a few minor dialogue typos dotted around.
Arc System Works has done it again. Granblue Fantasy Versus is a fantastic-feeling fighting game that's jaw-droppingly gorgeous at times. It's also incredibly accessible, promoting an impressively smooth learning curve. This is a tight, satisfying fighter that gives way to some superbly paced matches, and the dedicated RPG Mode provides additional longevity if you primarily play 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. An especially sour note that takes away from an otherwise brilliant release.