The story of Granblue Fantasy is quite utterly delightful nonsense. Taking place inside the popular universe of the Granblue franchise, it follows Gran and the other passengers of the Grandcypher – including the scintillating navigator Rackam – as they attempt to investigate the mystery of how the sinister Erste Empire has somehow returned to full power following their prior defeat.
This narrative plays out over the game’s unique RPG mode, in the form of a sequence of fully voiced visual novel vignettes between the mode’s various missions. They throw a lot of terms and names around, but do at least take the time to explain the genuinely important information, which is great. Also, there’s a tremendously in-depth Glossary menu, which is welcome if you want to delve into the lore further.
That glossary also explains a lot of fighting game terminology, in case you’re truly new to the genre. It’s a neat little feature and fantastic for getting new players into fighting games. From a gameplay perspective, my stance hasn’t changed since my preview, Granblue Fantasy: Versus is a genuinely enjoyable 2D fighter. The cooldown system of having the special moves for each character accessible via both motion and simpler button press execution is still fantastic in my opinion, and I now use both input methods interchangeably while playing.
Given more time with the roster of the full version, it’s impossible not to love this group of eleven anime misfits. From somewhat generic anime protagonist Gran to my personal favourite character, the Lowain Bros, the entire roster just oozes personality. Also, with such a large amount of diversity in terms of playstyle, you’re pretty much guaranteed to gel with at least one of them.
Furthermore, because how DLC has been folded into the game, there are already two more characters playable on top of the base roster. Although I don’t agree with the thinking behind the DLC for this title – they’re already asking you to pay more, when you’ve literally just bought the game – more characters are definitely welcome and both of the recent additions add new mechanics and play styles to mess around with.
From the outset you’ll see the standard fighting game fare of the Versus, Arcade, Online and Training Modes on the main menu. There’s also Tutorials to teach you all of the systems and some short combos for each character, which really doesn’t teach you that much if you’re a veteran to the genre, but is a great addition to help new players into the game.
There’s then the unique RPG Mode. It was something I raved about quite fervently before, and there’s a lot more to this mode than I saw in my previous session, with missions having different elements corresponding to weapons, and a simple levelling system for characters and weapons, with the latter using duplicates to enhance them.
After a certain point the RPG Mode can be played in co-op with either an AI partner character, a friend locally or online. I have to admit that I still – at time of writing – haven’t been able to test out the online co-op as no one was queuing for it, but the local co-op is a riot. Especially given that you can equip different abilities to each to really bring the pain.
However, my love for the mode lessened considerably as I spent more time with it. It’s not that the experience is wholly bad by any means, as some of the aspects work very well, but it has some sizeable flaws that really hold it back from realising its full potential.
The biggest of these is the controls simply not working correctly in this mode. The moment-to-moment gameplay is solid and has real depth to it, and there are occasions in this mode in which this really shows. However, there are times where the RPG Mode plays the same as the one-on-one 2D fighting through the rest of the game, and it’s safe to say that these are less successful.
The general missions let you face and attack both ways, but there are just too many occasions in which you press backwards for a special move and it results in your character turning around and attacking in entirely the wrong direction. This serves to be both initially frustrating and then results in you having to wait for the cooldown to try again. As another minor frustration with this mode, the loading times are excruciatingly long, especially considering that the missions themselves are relatively short. It’s an immense shame.
With online fights, the game offers pretty much what you would expect and not much more than that. The online connectivity is actually quite good, remaining relatively stable throughout and with matches having minimal lag. Handy considering how contextual Lowain is to play as, and I even almost won on occasion (I never win).
Aesthetically, Granblue Fantasy: Versus continues the recent tradition of beautifully designed fighting games. The character designs and backgrounds are all realised in a gorgeous watercolour style, and the animation throughout is practically flawless. Sadly, the soundtrack is a mostly average-to-good affair. Then again, “Party People” is a bop and makes up for the rest entirely.
I must take a brief moment while discussing the sound to highlight the phenomenal voice acting. Every performance brings so much to the characters, with the desperate pining of Lowain for Katalina given precisely the right amount of wistful whining, while Rackam in general has been given a voice that would melt butter at 100 paces.
Granblue Fantasy: Versus is an interesting game, both mechanically sound and simple with a diverse roster. Absolutely gorgeous to behold, and mostly pleasant to hear, this is the sort of fighting game esports was made for. It’s such a shame then that the single player content doesn’t hit the mark, especially the often frustrating RPG Mode.