Granblue Fantasy: Versus at E3 2019: When Razor Sharp Fighting Game Fundamentals Meet Gorgeous Art Direction.

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If you haven't heard of Granblue Fantasy, you likely aren't a mobile gamer. In some circles, that means you are a real gamer, but all it means in this context is you are less prepared to dive into the compelling world of Granblue Fantasy: Versus. Thankfully, fighting games allow players to fall in love with a game despite having literally zero knowledge of any lore or story attached to it.

I am one of these players and, having played Versus extensively at E3, I recommended anyone who enjoys (or wants to enjoy) fighting games to keep an eye out for this title.

▲ Granblue Fantasy is a well established mobile game with over 22 million downloads as of October of 2018.


Developed by Arc System Works and Cygames, Versus still doesn't have a release date. In fact, before E3 2019 the only way you could have played this game was during a month longed closed beta period that is now closed. So it is no surprise that, to the majority of E3 attendees, the Versus booth located at the very front of the West Hall entrance was likely the first time hearing upon the  2d fighter.

But ignorance of a niche IP is no excuse for missing out on arguably one of the most unique fighting games coming out, hopefully, sometime this year.

Simple but Nuanced Mechanics

Arc System Works knows a thing or two about developing fighting games that have tons of competitive depth but still remain accessible to all players. BlazBlue, Guilty Gear, and Dragon Ball FighterZ all feel and play differently, but there is a common thread that unites them. In the hands of an expert (or someone that enjoys the grind to become one), they can be enjoyed as technical puzzles to solve and dissect. 

However, in the hands of a casual player, these fighting games dissuade button-mashing by making the default, easiest control options available to everyone. Input shortcuts, one-button strings, easy super commands; these things allow new players to enjoy and understand fighting game mechanics but are carefully tuned to never be the best or most efficient option. This crucial detail allows the skill ceiling of these games to remain high despite the easy learning curve.


Here some of my favorite mechanics in Granblue Fantasy: Versus.

● Cooldowns on all special moves that become longer when inputted with a shortcut.

● Cooldown timers are visible to both players, meaning opportunities for safe options or guaranteed punishes ebb and flow depending on what is on cooldown.

● Whenever a player moves forward, they gain meter thus rewarding aggressive play.

● Each character can roll forward, backward, and side-step like in the Smash Bros. series. In fact, much of the controls seem inspired by Smash Bros.

● Minimal aerial movement options and no universal air-dashes promote rock-solid fighting game fundamentals.

● Empowered special moves cost meter and, as a result, have a much longer cooldown.

Two types of super moves -- one that takes a full bar of meter and the other available once a player reaches below 30% life.

 
You can check out some gameplay examples below, courtesy of the legendary fighting game pro's Daigo and Fuudo. To my knowledge, they are both playing it for the first time during this exhibition match, but you can get a good sense of the game's pace and how a lot of things change when you know your opponents Shoryuken is on cooldown.

 

Fantasy Aesthetic Realized.

If you think the characters of Versus appear familiar, it may be due to your love of the RPG series Final Fantasy. Lead by legendary Hideo Minaba, famed Art Director and Supervisor behind Final Fantasy Tactics, Final Fantasy V, Final Fantasy IX, and Final Fantasy XII, the characters of Versus are without a doubt one of the games strongest selling point.

Fully voice acted and beautifully animated, the more you look at your favorite character the more reasons you find to like them. In the world of Granblue, aesthetic is everything. However, Minaba should be praised for creating practical suits of armor and weapons that allow players to feel the nobility and grace of a fantasy dueling master. 

▲ Currently, the game has only 5 playable characters but that number will increase to at least 7 during release.


Sure, there is a bunny-eared, whip-wielding zoning character who insulting refers to you as an "untrained pet", but a deeper investigation of her lore reveals she has actually died a long time ago, existing now as a spirit who fights with the help of ghosts on her journey to find her sister who never returned home. 

Versus seems to enjoy playing on popular fantasy tropes and subverting them for fun and greater appeal. For example, Ladiva (pictured below) is a massively muscled grappler character who identifies as female. Outside of the fight, she works as a performer and preaches the power of love everywhere she goes.

It's a far cry from the path the iconic fighting game grappler Zangief started, but the world of Granblue is a more interesting and inclusive place because of it.


Granblue Fantasy: Versus is scheduled for release sometime in 2019 and will be available on the PlayStation 4. Online play will be supported and you can find more information about the game's characters and lore on the official website here.

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