Hands-On and Interview: Granblue Fantasy Versus

by Heidi Kemps,

There always seems to be an upswell of excitement when it's announced that Arc System Works in involved in a new fighting game, but even moreso when they're loaning their development prowess to an already-established franchise like Persona or Dragon Ball. So when Granblue Fantasy Versus was announced in late 2018, fans were beyond excited. Granblue Fantasy was already a favorite mobile game among the crowd who loved ASW's fighters, so the marriage of the two seemed like a match made in heaven.

When the first public beta of Granblue Versus hit, however, players seemed a bit confused: the game was less frenetic than the usual Arc offerings, leaving people who expected Blazblue or Guilty Gear but with Granblue characters feeling a bit cold. But the reactions to beta proved to be a huge help for ASW's developers, who took much of the player feedback into account in adjusting things for the final game. As Granblue Versus revs up for its Japanese release next month (US/Europe release dates from publishers XSEED and Marvelous are still TBA), we take a brief look at the game's demo as exhibited at the 2019 Granblue Fest.

The most noticeable change – which was a major point of contention for a lot of beta players – is the game's walk and dash speed. The beta felt rather sluggish due to slower-than-expected walk speeds across the board; this has thankfully been remedied. Chip damage is also less of an issue: while it is still possible to chip-damage a blocking opponent into KO for a victory, it's much tougher to do so. There have also been various adjustments to attack properties and more polish on the visuals, but in my opinion, the chip damage and walk speed were two big sticking points from the beta, so it's good that they've properly addressed them.

The demo on the show floor had all of the game's base characters available, including several who weren't in the beta, like fabulous grappler Ladiva, living meme machine (and best Granblue character) Lowain, and sultry archer Metera. The upcoming DLC characters like Narmaya and Djeeta were not playable, but as they're probably in an early stage of development, that wasn't a big disappointment.

As the battles between characters commence, you'll have brief, unique dialogue exchanges between the two combatants. Character interaction has always been a key part of the Granblue experience, and it's nice to see that carry over in the pre-fight intros. Their personalities come through in combat, too, thanks to the usual insane attention to detail and fanservice Arc System Works is known to pour into their titles.

While I'm not an expert at Arc's fighting games and can't give a super-detailed gameplay breakdown (I'll point you to the Anime Illuminati and Team Spooky Youtube channels for that, along with this recent UltraChenTV episode) I can talk a bit about some of the mechanics that stood out to me. A big one involves special moves, which can be executed in one of two ways: with standard rolling-motion fighting game commands, or by pressing the R1 button with a directional input and a face button. Special moves work on a cooldown timer (and more powerful variations take longer to cooldown), but they will become available a few frames faster if you perform them the “traditional” way rather than the simplified method, which is a fair trade-off. I really like the addition of these optional commands, as they help players learn the basics of a character quickly and easily, and also encourages them to step outside of their fighting game archetype “comfort zone.” For example, I'm normally put off by grappler characters like Ladiva, who have both demanding inputs and a very risky playstyle, but thanks to the option to use simple commands, I was enjoying diving off the top ropes with no problems.

Another element I think is really interesting is just how many defensive options you have in Granblue Fantasy Versus. Besides a standard guard and the parry/just defend/whatever you like to call frame-precise blocking, you've got an evade and a unique advancing evade that helps you close in on an opponent who might be trying to keep you away. There's also an optional guard button, which I find intriguing as someone who primarily plays 3D fighters like Virtua Fighter: a benefit to a dedicated block button is the ability to easily buffer inputs while guarding, though this was something I couldn't test out too much in our limited playtime. One neat element that players might overlook is that, if you guard incorrectly (guarding high/mid for low attacks and low for high attacks), exclamation points will appear over a character, and the amount of “!”s indicate the properties (high/low) of the attack. It's a nice little indicator that helps you learn through experience.

As for the characters, they all play distinctly enough to occupy their own little fighting-game niches. Gran's your typical all-rounder, Metera's all about keep-away, Ladiva's the throw-heavy character, and Lowain… well, Lowain's all about throwing the opponent off-kilter by being a tremendous goof. Unique properties like Charlotta's smaller hitbox and Vaseraga's super armor skills also help each character stand out in ways beyond representing a set archetype.

Sadly, one thing I really wanted to try out – the game's single-player story mode, which features encounters against enemies like the Primal Beasts – wasn't available at all. The ways that Arc is trying to marry the RPG elements of the original game with their fighting engine in the story mode seem intriguing, and I'm honestly looking forward to checking out the single-player experience in the final game as much as I am the competitive side.

If you want to check out Granblue Fantasy Versus before its official release anywhere, you may be in luck: a demo like the one showcased at Granblue Fest will be available at the Frosty Faustings fighting game tournament this weekend! No info on whether or not there will be any streams of the game available for those who can't attend, but my fingers are crossed.

Now, let's get on with the developer interview!


Thank you very much for inviting us to play Granblue Versus. I'd like you to tell us a bit more about the game's setting. Where does it take place in the Granblue storyline, and why are all the crewmates fighting each other?

Fukuhara: It's after the fall of the Erste Empire, the end of Main Chapter 64. Also, the appearance of Belial and Chaos Bringer indicate that it happens in post What Makes the Sky Blue Sky Realm. That's the general timeline, but we should note that Versus is a parallel story. It doesn't really fit into a linear timeframe, so use your imagination. As to why the crewmates are fighting… you'll just have to play and see for yourself!

Since you have such a big cast of characters, what factors do you consider in choosing who to include?

Fukuhara: We needed to narrow down Granblue’s cast a fair bit to fill the initial eleven-character roster. There were two basic factors we considered in picking the cast: first, there's the character's popularity, how many people would want them. The second consideration – well, there are certain archetypes of characters that appear in fighting games, like grapplers or speedy characters. We wanted characters that would slot nicely into those traditional fighting game archetype roles.

How does the process work between Cygames and Arc System Works to develop each of the characters as a fighting game character while keeping true to their style in the original RPG?

Fukuhara: It was pretty smooth process, honestly. We at Cygames devised the main concept for each character, giving specifics like “we don't want this character to kick, only use weapons.” ASW had their own concepts for each character, so we went back and forth a lot.

Kimura: It should be noted that there were plenty of Granblue fans at Arc, so they had a good understanding of what we wanted out of each character. Their ideas were always great.

How do key elements of Granblue Fantasy, like the primal beasts and varied weapons, factor into the competitive gameplay?

Fukuhara: Most of those elements only really affect the single-player RPG mode.

Kimura: Well, one thing we should note is that gathering weapons does have an effect on the competitive side, because you can use the weapon skins to change a character's appearance. You can use them in versus play.

But they won't affect things like damage and hitboxes.

Kimura: No, they won't.

What sort of things do you take into consideration when you make an RPG like Granblue Fantasy into a fighting game? I'd imagine a lot of Granblue’s fanbase doesn't play fighting games regularly.

Fukuhara: We felt like having a highly technical, very combo-oriented fighting game would be unfriendly to fighting game first-timers, so we wanted to keep the character commands very simple. However, we need to make sure that there's enough depth for genre fans to enjoy. While it's simple to move the characters around, in order to win consistently, you'd need the right tactics. If you're new to fighting games, we think you should give the RPG story mode a try. It should help ease you into fighting games and get you used to things like character movement. While you're grinding away, you'll pick up on a lot of the gameplay basics!

Both Cygames and Arc System Works sponsor a lot of big fighting game events like EVO. Will there be a big competitive push for Granblue Versus?

Kimura: We do have a lot of plans on the eSports front. We'll have Granblue Fantasy Versus as a game in the major Japanese eSports event RAGE, and after that, the game will be part of the ARC REVO World Tour. We also want to support small-scale community events, so stay tuned for future plans.

Now I'm curious if you've seen the Granblue Fantasy “tournaments” that have happened at events like EVO and CEOtaku.

Kimura: I was there! I saw them! I saw a lot of folks enjoying it! *laughs*

Can I make a personal request? Please consider making Macho Vyrn a playable character.

Fukuhara: I feel like we'd have to very, very carefully think about the game's power balance if we wanted to add a character that threatening…. *laughs*

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