Granblue Fantasy Versus Rising Review: Somewhere Between Core and Casual

Written by Allen

December 14, 2023

Fighting games can be a fickle thing. Kind of like choosing a phone or whatever piece of technology to regularly use in your life. Some may want something simple, easy to interact with, and just, works! Others may be looking for something that gives them a lot to express themselves with. Ways of customizing how it looks, works, or even making some crazy functions that makes new possibilities that no one has imagined yet. For example, I’ve seen a friend of mine get a steam deck, and jerry-rig it to become a mobile streaming setup. While I just want to use my Nintendo Switch to play some good old RPGs. In a sense, a lot of people can get into fighting games easier if they can just press buttons and somehow win a game, while others will go through the nitty gritty and figure out effective positioning, optimal combos, and what’s “plus” or “minus” on blocks. That’s why a lot of people in my country prefer something like Tekken and some nerdier kids like me gravitate to Guilty Gear. 

That doesn’t mean you can’t arrive at a place somewhere between these two poles, it’s exactly what many game developers have been trying to achieve. To give something easy to use that even a simple understanding of attacking and blocking can give casual players an engaging experience. But at the same time, leaves room for fine-tuning and a depth that more avid players can sink their teeth into. This is exactly how you develop a competitive scene, and at the same time possibly grow a fanbase. After all, not every soccer fan has to be an athlete.

Granblue Fantasy Versus (GBVS) is exactly one of those games. Trying to be simple to learn, but has a good balance built-in with complex concepts   under the hood. Created in collaboration with Arc System Works, a studio that has made its reputation with anime games and maybe one fighting game series that I might be a fan of. A strong IP and a skilled and well-renowned studio to make it. What could go wrong?

The world stopped back in 2020, not long after Granblue Versus was released. Back then, it was okay not to rely on good netcode, because it was hard to match the intensity of live events. Where the only internet connection you had to consider was for the livestream. With the lack of its ability to be played well online, it didn’t quite matter what the quality of the game was, if nobody could play against each other online. And with that, Granblue Fantasy Versus’ fate was sealed.

However, the creators haven’t given up. Success won’t always be there, but it will eventually be found by those who are persistent. They’ve continued to support the title and after a few years. Have come up with an expansion, GBVS Rising. New characters, new mechanics, new content, and for good measure, good netcode. Now, I’m already quite a fan of the original release, so instead of asking the question of it being a good game. I’d rather go into detail as to why you should try this game out.

 

Production (5/5)

If you’ve seen GBVS before, then Rising isn’t all that different. I mean, let’s be fair, this is an expansion. But you do see the expertise of Arc System come into play here. Translating the 3D Models into pseudo-2D sprites, pairing that up with animated effects fit for that aesthetic. Seeing the gorgeous character designs from Granblue Fantasy come to life and animated even better than the originally animated series did was a treat I was happy to have.

When it comes to actually playing the game, the audio-visual language of GBVS Rising is pretty clear. You can tell if you’re hitting, blocking, or if anyone is using a special attack. The layout of the UI is neatly organized around the top as well, giving you all the information you need to figure out the situation at a glance. So in this case, the form doesn’t come second to the function, and the information the title tries to relay to you is consistently direct and easy to understand. Meaning if you managed to fail to guard something, you immediately know why. And most of the time, it’s your fault, and not my controller having faulty buttons, which has not been my consistent excuse for me playing badly.

Backgrounds are usually a second priority in fighting games, so long as you have an okay-looking background, you’re good to go. But to add to the immersion, they decided to add animated characters and areas that are entirely recognizable if you’re a fan of the game. To add to that, they even have these little events happen between rounds to give the fight a bit more energy. These little surprises make the game a bit more exciting, and more fun for spectators.

The audio dimension does a great job as well. As I mentioned before, there are matching sounds to different events within a fight, a throw, a block, a hit, a counter hit, they’ve got it all. You also have heavy hitters for your voice talents behind the beloved characters that make it that much easier for me to want to try them out. My favorites are Lowain, Watame- I mean, Anila, and Zeta for undisclosed reasons. Whether you prefer hearing the English or Japanese voices I think is a matter of preference at this point. Personally, I prefer the JP voices because I think they hit some female characters better.

Finally, the music. Well, when you have the names behind making stuff for Final Fantasy 14, FF7 Remake, Kingdom Hearts, and Octopath Traveller, I mean, that’s already quite the resume, right? Now you have lots of characters, each of them having themes that would describe each character’s story or personality. My personal favorites for me would be Avress and The Prettiest Alchemist. Sure, I’m not a fan of every track, but they all sound great in the grand scheme of things.

If there’s anything to take away from this, Arc System isn’t going to disappoint when it comes to making anything look great on presentation. Especially when they have something like Cygames behind them to produce a great game.

 

Mechanics (4.5 / 5)

On this part, I’d like to focus on the new stuff that GBVS Rising has. Because there’s a lot. To quickly run down the basics you can make a simple 3-hit combo with any of the Light, Medium, or Strong attack buttons. Where Light attacks are faster, and strong attacks deal more damage. You can cancel them into special moves which you have two methods of doing, and if you use the enhanced version, it’s possible to make an even stronger combo out of it.

Now for the new stuff. First, instead of making simple input have a cooldown on use, it  just has slightly lower damage. Technical or the traditional way of doing special moves does about 10 percent more damage, but do remember that you also have to consider things like damage scaling. This makes simple input methods more attractive to use but does not completely overshadow the old way of doing things. To add on to this, there is now a new version of special move that requires 50% of the charge bar, which is more powerful, and in most cases, easy to combo into.

Next, there’s now a new set of normals that players can access from dashing. If you hold forward while pressing an attack button, you get these great lunging attacks that have different uses for every character. With that, they even added a dash button to be able to do these moves almost instantly. Not only is this giving characters a longer effective range, but it also makes it possible to deal with zoners better for those that were completely oppressed by those with massive zoning capability, like Metera. 

Finally, there’s this new way of breaking guards and getting out of combos by using these three stars on top of your life bar. If you want to break a guard, you expend one of these, if you want to get out of a combo, you use two. It’s also possible to continue a combo from a guard break if you’re willing to expend the charge bar required for it.

“So, can you translate this to us in plain English please?” I hear you jest. And well, to put it simply. The original GBVS was very much like Street Fighter 5, where you try to figure out each other’s range and what they know about the matchup. Then proceed to press any advantages they find against each other. In short, it’s sort of a defensive game, where you tend to react to an opponent’s mistakes. Here in Rising, you can change the game’s flow if you’re willing to pay what you have to. They’ve rebalanced how quickly you can gain charge so that you won’t hesitate to use the rush move after a guard break, or use that EX move if you think it’s time. They gave you ways of closing the gap against enemies to give you the ability to keep them guessing even after they managed to get to a more comfortable position. They’ve given you the ability to not only respond to your opponent but also to make openings for yourself.

You can take risks! You can make new possibilities for yourself! But you can also play like you did back then! It’s all pretty viable, and each of them carries its own risks and rewards because of how damage works in the game. This is nothing short of an upgrade from the original release.

 

Content (4.5 / 5)

Well, an expansion of the story. And that’s about everything I can talk about when it comes to that. Oh, and no more weapon grid. Less grinding sounds like a good thing to me, so yay.

When it comes to the characters, ah, there’s a lot. On release, there will be 28 characters. So that’s the original roster, the DLC characters that came after them, and four new characters in Rising itself to boot. So, very generous offerings just with characters alone.

But Allen, are they any good? Or are we looking at Ken-Ryu alternatives where it’s hard to tell them apart sometimes? So, the initial roster covers a lot of the good old character types that we see in fighting games. You have the shoto types that have a fireball and an invincible uppercut, you have the grapplers, the long-range types, the mixups.

Character design-wise, they’re all quite distinct from each other, but in terms of moveset, there’s a reasonable overlap between a bunch of them. And I think that’s good. For example, Zeta and Anila are quite similar in how they would ideally be used, but they’re different in the sense that Anila has a bit more of May’s lunging dolphins going on. While Zeta can capitalize much better on mixups. So there’s a strong sense of variance between them despite having an overlap. Others have movesets that you can say are inspired by other characters that Arc Sys has developed over the years, but still have a distinct enough design to be called different.

In other words, these characters are great.

 

Features (4.5 / 5)

The biggest shock is that this will have a free-to-play component. Having Four playable characters and a part of the story mode available. I don’t know if these four characters will rotate over time like how you see League of Legends does it, but this almost guarantees a player base at launch. Also, you can access the Fall Guys mode called Gran Bruise, which is nice to see many cute little avatars play some sort of Takeshi’s Castle game on the screen.

They also have a figure mode, where you can customize the poses and make your little situation with characters within the game. 

There’s a replay theater for you to review matches with, which I think is a nice feature if you plan to either relive fun matches or analyze what happened there.

As you might have noticed, I haven’t spoken about the netcode, and that’s something I’ll get back to once I’ve made the video, and see how the Granblue Versus holds up on launch.

 

Conclusion

While I enjoyed Granblue Versus in its original form, I would say that the game design felt lopsided towards more defensive players. The presentation of new mechanics toys with my imagination of how matches can look like, and who can come out on top. This unpredictable nature of fights on top of a vastly expanded roster fills me with confidence about how fun the game will be.

On top of that, they haven’t lost sight of their goal of finding that middle ground between a complex system and accessible gameplay, where simple commands are becoming more viable as a way to interact with the game.

Finally, they’ve even gone to the lengths of making a new game mode that has no relation to the fighting game and provided a new venue for a group of friends to just have fun in. Cygames and Arc Sys are laser-focused on making a game that many can enjoy, even if it means not playing the fighting game itself. Heck, you don’t even have to own it. Just running that thought through my head is wild.

So, with all that said, why don’t you give this title a try? Take a risk, and maybe you’ll find it fun! 

 Granblue Fantasy Versus Rising might be paving the way for something new in fighting games, scoring a 4.5 out of 5.

Available on PlayStation, Xbox, and PC.

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