Granblue Fantasy Versus Closed Beta Thoughts and Impressions

Regardless of its age, Granblue Fantasy’s momentum continues to push through. With an upcoming ARPG, a second season to their Granblue Fantasy anime series, and a fighting game designed by Arc SystemWorks; Cygames’ mobile behemoth stays strong despite the cutthroat competition in the mobile market. Being an Arc System Works fan, I was overwhelmed with excitement the moment they announced that said developer was making a Granblue Fantasy fighting game aptly called Granblue Fantasy Versus.

The teaser that made the rounds back in December was amazing, and boasted the same gorgeous 2D-looking 3D models found in the likes of Dragon Ball FighterZ and Guilty Gear Rev2. Backed up by its trademark hardrock tracks, we were treated to various mainstay characters like Gran and Katalina showcasing a series of ground combos, giving us a glimpse of what Arc System Works can do with the franchise.

Will it be as fast as Guilty Gear? As combo heavy as Blazblue? Or maybe as stylishly explosive as Dragon Ball FighterZ? It was all up in the air. Earlier this May, another video featuring a couple of Street Fighter veterans, namely Fuudo and Daigo were shown tinkering with what seemed to be a barebones version of the game. It certainly was not combo-driven, nor as fast as Arcsys’ previous works. Instead, the game seemed to have more in common with Street Fighter 2 Turbo than the average anime fighter. Still, I kept my hopes up and waited for the CBT to start. Surely there’s more to it than that— right?

Well, the CBT is finally over. A bit too short for my liking, since I wanted to see just how deep some of the characters were without having to worry about syncing issues and connection errors. Still, we were able to get a lot from the experience, with a good understanding of how the mechanics work, as well as a clearer perspective on what kind of fighting game Granblue Fantasy Versus was.

 

Was it what you expected?

Truth be told, no it was far from the game I expected it to be. GBFV felt more like a neutral heavy game, which was far from the likes of Blazblue or Guilty Gear. Most of the combos shown in the trailers were done by mashing a single button, and while the same is found in games like Persona Arena and Dragon Ball FighterZ, the dialed strings in this game ends with the auto-combos instead of it being a prelude to said characters’ potential strings. With only one gatling combo variant per character, there aren’t many links to work with outside pokes and neutrals. If you’re looking for a game with long pressure strings and offensive options, this is definitely far from it. That isn’t to say that the game is bad by any means. It’s just leaning towards pleasing a more casual audience, as stated by director Tetsuya Fukuhara during his interview with Famitsu.

  • We chose Arc System Works because their style with franchises like Guilty Gear and BlazBlue was a good fit with Granblue Fantasy.
  • Since we don’t want to alienate [fighting game] beginners and those who aren’t accustomed to games, it won’t be a combo-filled game.
  • In order for users who have only played the smartphone game to be able to enjoy the game, all of the special moves can be unleashed with the press of a single button.
  • For skilled players, on the other hand, we’re making sure the game has action and strategic depth. We’re utilizing the know-how of Arc System Works, so you can expect something good.
  • The game speed is moderate, and the combos are also very simple.
  • Currently, the game system is such that difficult elements like juggling and aerials can only be done in very limited situations.

GBFV was also stated to be 60% complete, with a Steam release as one of their many goals for the game.

 

Mechanics

As was stated earlier, GBFV is a neutral heavy fighting game with more emphasis on a slower and methodical pace. Don’t expect continuous strings in this game, as combos are not only situational outside the autos; strengthening them also comes with a price. This is brought about by the game’s cooldown system, which for me, while creative, felt a tad weird for a fighting game to posses.

The game is technically a 4-6 button fighter, with the fifth and sixth being a Guard and Skill button. You can still block things traditionally by holding back, but the block button has some other uses which I’ll get to later. Aside from the Light, Medium, and Heavy attack buttons, the game also has a ‘Unique Action’ button, which give players a series of offensive/defensive skills depending on the character at hand. Think of it as something akin to Blazblue’s Drive system, which, for me is a welcomed feature, as some characters feel mighty limited in what they can do, especially with the presence of skill cooldowns.

Unlike other fighting games, GBFV’s skills have MMO-ish cooldowns, which are shown right below the player’s life bar. The timing of each cooldown also differs depending on ‘how’ they are executed and ‘which’ version you use. There are 3 versions of each skill, each corresponding to your three attack buttons, with the heavy variant being similar to Street Fighter’s EX skills. Unlike SF5 though, the use of its EX variants doesn’t deplete your meter, but instead, makes the skill take longer to go off cooldown. This means that should you use a Heavy skill in any given scenario, you’d better be ready to live without that skill (Light and Medium versions included) for the next few seconds. It’s a very—- interesting system, to say the least, as it makes the game feel closer to its mobile counterpart; however, it kinda feels a bit less intuitive in certain situations.

Another feature that affects the cooldown is the usage of the Skill button. This is perhaps the first time I’ve ever seen a fighting game that maps the easy controls as a part of its default control scheme. Instead of manually inputting (let’s say) down+forward Heavy, players can just press one of the cardinal directions along with the Skill button to perform a move. While it makes things easier for newbie players, it also makes the skill’s cooldowns much longer, so if you’re planning to be good at the game, you might as well learn the real thing.

The game also has a universal overhead attack. This is performed by either pressing Medium + Heavy or L2 by default if you’re playing on controller. They don’t necessarily always convert to combos, but it’s always nice to have something that’ll keep your opponents guessing. Lastly, you have the throw, which is performed by pressing Light + Unique Action.

Going back to the inclusion of a Block button, it is useful in its own right, but much like the easy skill inputs, it too comes with its own set of drawbacks. Firstly, the game has instant-blocking, which lessens your recovery animations while blocking attacks, allowing you to punish attacks you normally wouldn’t be able to. Much like Guilty Gear, this is done by manually blocking with the directional buttons close to the moment of impact. This, unfortunately cannot be done with the Block button. This ain’t Sekiro, I guess.

Secondly, there are two types of throw breaks. There’s the regular throw counter, where you push your opponent back to neutral after successfully inputting a throw to match your opponent’s. If, however, your timing was slightly off, your character will be tipped off balance, breaking the throw but also forcing you to take a part of its damage. No matter how accurate you are with your timing, you can never get a clean throw counter if you’re using the block button.

So why use the Block button? Well, said button is used to gain access to two kinds of evasive maneuvers. The first is the forward evasion, which is done by pressing forward while holding Block, allowing you to roll forward while evading various attacks like the one in King of Fighters. The other one is done by pressing back while holding the Guard button, which lets characters dodge from where they are standing, similar to the spot dodge action in Super Smash Bros.

Much like other fighting games, GBFV also has its own set of Super Moves in the form of Skybound Arts. There are two types of Skybound Arts, namely the normal ones, which you can do upon filling your gauge, and a Super Skybound Art, which you’ll only have access to once your HP goes below 30 percent. These super moves deal a lot of damage and can easily end a round, so be sure to learn when and where they are best executed.

 

Believe in Victory! Engage!

So what’s it like? It’s actually pretty fun. A bit too slow for my liking, but its polished feel and visual flair was quite something to behold. Arc System Works have once again showcased their pedigree in fighting games. Although, unlike their previous titles where one can go all out and do a plethora of block strings while having all the time in the world to think, GBFV matches made me feel like almost every button pressed yielded some sort of consequence. It’s like I had to commit to almost every action I performed, mostly because of the lack of links when using normal moves. There’s always that pause between every action, and the thought of a counter attack at any given time put me on edge.

Cooldowns are also another way of the game forcing you to commit hard on your choices. A good example would be when I was using Katalina and managed to land an auto-combo near the wall. Opting for maximum damage, I used the EX version of Enchanted Lands to force a wallbounce, allowing me to follow it up with a heavy attack and the EX version of Emerald Sword. I did manage to take a chunk of my opponent’s HP, but as soon as the game resumed, I realized that my options for offense became very limited thanks to the cooldown system. A few seconds isn’t normally very long, but in a fighting game, that’s long enough to turn the tides.

I’d take meter burns over losing access to my moves any day. Can you imagine landing a well timed combo into a super, then realizing that Ryu lost access to his Shoryuken and Hadouken? I’m still torn as to how I feel about it. It just feels like an unwanted setback for the player who’s winning in order to somewhat make things more manageable for the defender. On the other hand, it’s bound to punish people who throw out special moves carelessly, so I guess it evens out.

Next is chip damage. Chip damage has always been something I’m of two minds about. Yes, you can indeed die from chip damage in the game, and given its slow nature, there will be cases where death from chip will be unavoidable. Unfortunately there are no anti-chip measures, such as Blazblue’s Barrier blocking and Guilty Gear’s faultless defense to at least give defenders an option to escape an otherwise inevitable demise.

Arcsys also did well in making the characters feel very distinct. The Unique action feature shines in this regard, as it brought about character individuality, despite some having a fairly limited kit. Katalina, for example, can deflect one hit and counter accordingly, similar to SF4’s Focus Attack, while Ferry can also use hers to swing around the stage with her whip. Yes, it being a neutral fighting game does throw me off a bit, but is it fair to say that this is one of the most well thought of fighting games I’ve ever played? And to think we’ve only been able to play as five out of a yet to be disclosed number of characters. It’s a shame that Ladiva and Lowain weren’t playable in the beta despite being revealed beforehand. It would have been nice to see more variety in gameplay, and I think a full on grappler would be fun to use.

 

It Will Only Get Better

It has its flaws, but the game’s looking good. I know I’ve stressed some points that irked me in some way, but do know that I had a lot of fun during the beta. If there’s anything I’d like them to change, it’s definitely how the cooldowns work after successfully landing a combo. Maybe lessen the cooldown if it actually hits? The chip deaths are alright, I guess, but I would have honestly preferred the game without it. Having more links from neutral attacks would also be a welcomed change, or maybe a cleaner way to link down Light into any string. It doesn’t have to be a long-arse combo, but a variety of strings would definitely help boost a character’s individuality. Lastly, I would also want the game’s speed to be tweaked a bit faster. In a way, I think the game’s a little on the slow side, and just a small nudge on the dial may come a long way.

With that said, I can’t wait for the game’s full release, which was stated to still be in 2019. It’s definitely shaping up well, and I do hope that it’ll be a game for keeps. Also, I’m hoping for Djeeta as a playable character… and maybe Jessica! Cheers!

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