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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Super Smash Bros. Ultimate: Hands on at EGLX!

The Enthusiast Gaming Live Expo opened its doors once more in Toronto, Canada last weekend and with it Nintendo of Canada booted up its consoles for eager players looking to get hands on with their upcoming major releases. Ahead of its launch on December 7th I got to go hands-on with Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, the latest installment in Nintendo’s hit character brawlers. Drawing from its wide slew of franchises and guesting famous characters from across the industry, Ultimate is set to be the capstone game in the series combining every character and every map from across the franchise into one final installment.

Getting into demoing Ultimate was incredibly difficult at EGLX; even on the first day the lines were wrapping around the entirety of the Nintendo booth where they were also demoing Fortnite, Pokemon Let’s Go, and other several recent releases. However, I was lucky enough to jump in early and link up with a few groups of 3 for some quick versus games. Sadly, we were only able to demo the standard point-style Versus matchups.

While Ultimate will reportedly support up to 32 players, our games were restricted to 4 players and two games each. I decided to play the same two characters for all my sessions to examine the control schemes and response times throughout. Despite the wide announcements of upcoming characters for Ultimate our selection list was incredibly small between both characters and arenas. Unlike previous iterations in the series, players will be selecting their maps prior to their characters.

In my play sessions, I engaged across four different maps, with two of them being brand new. The two returning maps, Green Hill Zone and Battlefield are both graphically wonderful, the latter maintaining its Brawl design. Both have improved resolution and minimally adjusted for play on the Switch. Playing on both of them felt much more like returning home to familiar ground than simply turning a console back on.

The first new map, Moray Towers, is designed based around Nintendo’s Splatoon franchise, and very much feels reminiscent of Super Smash Bros. Brawl’s New Pork City, distilled down to a more claustrophobic size. Featuring six vertical ramps that players can jump and fall through, map dominance relies on knowing when to retreat and re-enter combat against different opponents. It was here that I first noticed how well each pixel in Ultimate jumps off the screen, making each character stand out from the background no matter how similar the color. In previous entries in the series I often found my vision unfocused, easily losing sight of my character as the match went on. On the Switch I had no such issues, homing in on my characters quickly even in the heat of the moment on large maps.

The second newer map my team played on was the Great Plateau Tower, a Battlefield-style map plucked right from The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. For fighters first spawning into the space, it simply appears as a flat battleground for the brave fighter to duel. After delivering enough damage across the landscape the tower will collapse on itself, the domed roof collapsing to reveal an additional platform. Mastering dodging early in my Smash career, that was the key to taking command of the Tower. Much akin to Brawl’s Pirate Ship room to fight is hard to find, and relies on a player that can think outside of the box until the walls come tumbling down.

I first played as Ridley, the infamous Space Pirate Commander from the Metroid series. Like every other character in Ultimate Ridley does have a swappable color palette, though Prime fans will be disappointed by the lack of a Metal Ridley variant. Instead his shaders are far more reminiscent of his various states of damage across the 2D entries in the series, particularly from Metroid Fusion’s X-Enhanced Ridley. He is one of the largest characters seen to date in the franchise, standing almost 4 meters in combat, double the length of Mario.

Being one of the larger characters on screen the nefarious space-dragon walks along at speeds more reminiscent of Bowser; slow and menacing like a great monster but not so slow as to feel left out of the action. This does not mean Ridley is a slower character by any stretch of the imagination, while his melee abilities are indeed slower and more devastating, several include a distinct sweet spot which multiplies his damage when unleashing attacks at the appropriate time. He can also rapidly fly across the arena, grabbing opponents for unique aerial combat and unleashing devastating combos while grinding his opponents into walls and floors. While he does feature a handful of ranged abilities these are not his bread and butter but are instead when he’s at his most vulnerable.

In charging his ranged attacks Ridley cannot hold a leveled charge like fighters such as Samus can. Instead his abilities must be charged and unleashed at the same time, filling areas of the screen to devastating effect. Much like smaller character such as Jigglypuff, Ridley can also take flight for several moments, flapping his wings repeatedly to gain altitude. His recovery move is incredibly reminiscent of the Star Fox fighters, hurling himself in any direction with a burst of dark energy. His Final Smash, however, is one of the coolest animations I’ve seen in the series.

Super Smash Bros. Ultimate EGLX
Pulling any opponent in melee range, Ridley hurls them against Samus’ ship in an Injustice: Gods Among Us style cutscene. With a roar he unleashes a devastating Omega Beam, potentially blasting all of them off of the screen in a blaze of glory. While the entire animation only takes perhaps five seconds, each moment it plays out is utterly breathtaking and, for the players lucky enough to escape my wrath, incredibly awe-inspiring. Every Final Smash feels that way, even those without pre-rendered cinematics (such as Samus’ Hyper Beam) leave a distinct impression of power on the screen, and make effective usage not only devastating to opponents but jaw-dropping to watch.

Stepping into Kirby’s colorful shoes, I decided to take up the pink fluffball of terror to best test the game’s updated physics and tools. Kirby still feels fun to use and abuse, from swift dodges and devastating speed-punches to just sucking up opponents and ejecting them off of the sides of the arena. On a basic level the physics and controls for Smash Ultimate feel incredibly good, even the ability tuning is perfectly reasonable, such as Kirby’s A-Button combo now limited in its hits. Past the basics, however, thing begin to slip in quality.

Each station was restricted to using a Nintendo Switch Pro Controller which most players will find more than appropriate for Ultimate’s control scheme. In using a multitude of these controllers (on one occasion requesting a swap-out for a fresh one), controls in combat feel intrinsically stiff and restricted in comparison to other entries in the Smash franchise. Changing directional attacks mid-air, like Kirby’s Recovery attack, cannot be done within so many frames of animation of the attack. Such is the same with advanced moves like wavedashing from a stand-still being nearly impossible. Some of these difficulties are due to the increased latency in animation gaps, points in time where there is a gap between certain animations and their actions where players can influence character movement.

Super Smash Bros. Ultimate EGLX

It is during these moments that advanced and pro players execute some of the game’s more difficult and previously unintended techniques, rapidly crossing the arena through minimalistic air-dashes or avoiding attacks with split-second dodges that players first taking up the game would gauge as impossible. Despite these frame gaps being larger than in Smash 4 and Brawl, these techniques are still noticeably more difficult to pull off in play with characters built for it. In discussing this with other members of my group (several of which were experienced Smash tournament veterans) they also expressed a stark disappointment at the sheer difficulty in managing these extra abilities. With Game Director Masahiro Sakurai’s previously negative comments about Smash Tournament play to The Guardian, these massive adjusts do feel as if they are intentionally purposed to an extent, which may see tournament play firmly remain with Melee as its strongest showing.

The rest of my time with Ultimate was enormously fun in experimenting with combat and items. The default spawning rate of items in this iteration feels fantastic, with new additions appearing every ten to fifteen seconds and in wide variety. Over the course of one match we had several Poke Balls and weapon items drop in, and none felt obtuse or distracting during match play unlike previous Smash installments. Each item was also incredibly fine-tuned, and we didn’t feel the need to start scrabbling for anything at the cost of our own fights. Everything felt fair to use and be hit by; there was no real moment where I was angry about a cheap Pokemon spawn or an overpowered weapon hit.

All in all, I feel remarkably confident about the home market for Super Smash Bros. Ultimate. While I am incredibly concerned about its potential future for tournament play, this is certainly the ultimate addition to a Smash fan’s collection. With a current confirmed roster of almost 80 characters and zones this will indeed be one of the greatest additions to your Nintendo library for sheer value alone. You too can add it to your collection on December 7th.

 

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