Granblue Fantasy: Versus pulls no punches, but it also makes sure to set players up to succeed on their own merits as well. The game has an extremely robust set of tutorials and training methods, and despite the fact that I generally suck at managing to retain combos and the like in my mind, the anime fighter was bound and determined to make it stick as long as possible by providing easy-to-access tools from the very beginning. For that alone, it earns my respect.
And if the fighting video game looks a bit intimidating due to the fact that it is, technically, part of a much larger franchise, never fear. The roster is slim enough that there aren’t hundreds of characters to learn about or remember, and the ways in which they interact both before and after fights as well as in the game’s RPG mode make them endearing without any further context needed. (Though, if you are already a fan of the Granblue Fantasy mobile game, you’ll likely get more out of all of the above.)
The actual meat of the game, the fighting, flows smoothly, and the animations are delightful to watch. The Arcade and Versus modes aren’t exactly mindblowing, but they accomplish everything required of them. None of the characters seem overly overpowered, yet there’s definitely some skill and time required to use the more technical of the bunch. The first character from the RPG mode, Gran, is an excellent stepping stone, however, and he has a number of moves in his arsenal that even the greenest novice can learn. Like me.
The various menus nested within menus does Granblue Fantasy: Versus no favors, by the way. The swapping around to get between modes, matches, and customization options is layered in such a way that deciding to change a setting or swap to an entirely different mode means waiting for several different screens to load, none of which are swift. All of the options and modes are appreciated, but the amount of time it takes to get to them means I nearly always spend all of my time doing one thing after booting the game up instead of getting a taste of several different ones, which is a bummer considering they’re all actually quite good.
But if there’s some real rain on this parade, it’s the sometimes-lacking online play. I wouldn’t recommend that anyone try to play on any sort of wireless connection, which should be fairly obvious, but even when I had an ethernet cable directly plugged into the back of my PlayStation 4, the experience seemed shaky and uneven, at best. When it works perfectly, it’s a great experience, but more often than not, my online matches seemed to struggle to hold it together regardless of how I was personally performing, and that’s not even really taking into account that it suffers from the same loading problems. That said, I have faith that the developer will shore up these weaknesses, given its track record, so it's ultimately not too concerning.
Granblue Fantasy: Versus feels like one of those games that will get better with time, as the rough bits get smoothed over with future patches, but as it stands, it’s only "pretty good" rather than "great." Thankfully, the core gameplay is actually a lot of fun, and punching folks feels and looks good with creative characters front and center. It’s better than "fine," but just misses out on being a real champion of a fighting video game.
Rating: 4 out of 5
Granblue Fantasy: Versus is currently available on the PlayStation 4. It is set to release for PC on March 13th. A retail code was provided by the publisher for the purpose of this review.
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