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Granblue Fantasy Versus is a great first fighting game

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What Makes the Gran Blue

Fighting games are different than other types of video games. A lot of titles — think action games like Control or Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order — are about giving you the feeling of becoming more powerful over the course of the game, or just being powerful from the get-go. However, fighting games and other competitive games instead ask you to practice and work to become stronger. This usually means failing — a lot. Compared to team-based competitive games like League of Legends or Overwatch, in fighting games you can’t easily pass the buck on who’s to blame for losing. If you lose in a fighting game it’s because you messed up.

This is a potentially huge hurdle to overcome mentally before you even begin to approach how to play. And while Granblue Fantasy Versus isn’t necessarily going to help you over that hurdle, if you can get through it, the game does a great job of helping you understand how to get better.

Granblue Fantasy Versus (GBVS) is based on the incredibly popular Japanese mobile / web browser roleplaying game Granblue Fantasy (GBF), which boasts having had more than 25 million players in the game’s six years of life. It’s a game that, despite not being available in the iOS and Android app stores outside of Japan, has amassed a decent-sized English-speaking following thanks to simultaneous English localization by the developers.

GBF follows the player’s character, named Gran or Djeeta depending on what gender you choose, who is the captain of an airship in a world of floating islands. Gran / Djeeta is looking to travel to the mythical last island in the sky where their father is. Along the way, you gather a large crew of adventurers who become entangled in various adventures like defeating evil empires, battling fallen angels bent on destroying the world, and helping the cast of Love Live put on a concert.

Knowing anything about the original game’s story isn’t necessary, since the game’s RPG mode does a good enough job of explaining what you need to know. And if you’re planning to play the multiplayer competitive modes, you aren’t going to be engaging with story content anyway.

When it comes to competitive play, you’ll need to use the game’s training missions which do a fantastic job of teaching you not just about playing GBVS, but fighting games in general. So if you are completely new to, or only somewhat familiar with, the genre there are missions that quickly walk you through the basics of attacking, jumping, and dashing, as well as more complicated concepts like cross-ups and cancels.

Once you feel like you know what you’re doing, there are missions that teach you each character’s specific moves. These moves work as they do in many fighting games, requiring a specific joystick movement followed by a button press, like making a quarter circle from down to the right then pressing the medium attack button. However, GBVS provides a second easier option for executing these, reminiscent of Super Smash Bros., requiring the player press a single button while also holding the joystick up, down, left, or right.

It’s a system that’s great for newcomers, but also for people having trouble or who just aren’t able to do the joystick movements that are required. The balance, though, is that all the special moves have cooldowns, so once you use them you might have to wait a few seconds before you can perform the move again. If you use the simple input, these cooldowns are a bit longer than if you do the more technical move input. From there, once you have a character you’ve taken a shine to, there are additional missions that teach a couple of move combinations for each character that’ll be particularly useful in competitive play.

What makes all these training missions a useful learning tool is the game’s UI. It not only tells you what to do, but gives you a sense of the timing for the next move or button press (especially important for learning combos). It also surfaces your button presses and joystick movements in real time on screen. It’s a function that has shown me a number of times why I’ve ended up messing up moves that I otherwise wouldn’t have any feedback on to understand why it wasn’t working.

However, if you aren’t looking to play the game competitively this isn’t to say that you should look elsewhere for a single-player fighting game experience. GBVS’s RPG mode is roughly based on how the mobile game works, except instead of fighting turn-based battles, you engage in beat ‘em up style levels against monsters and raid-style battles against the other fighters and giant boss characters. As you play, you’ll collect a large variety of weapons, which have different elements; essentially, you’ll upgrade and equip weapons to give your characters stat bonuses while also ensuring that their element is counter to whatever you’re facing.

The mode doesn’t really get interesting until near the end of the story, and particularly with the hard mode that unlocks afterward. It’s then that you have to really engage with equipping the right weapon sets for the best bonuses and deal with fights (especially against the big raid bosses) that require more strategy.

The raid battles are also mimicking GBF somewhat, requiring you to bring along a co-op partner, which can be either a computer or controlled by another player. I say somewhat because, also like GBF, you can potentially put together enough stat bonuses from your weapon grid and from leveling up your fighter to let you go solo. However, there is a very fun dynamic of having someone else around who you can coordinate with to take down some of the more challenging missions. Co-op partners can also join you in normal battles, but they are less essential since they tend to not be as difficult.

Generally, I’ve found GBVS to be more fun than frustrating to fail at, especially when playing online. The matchmaking, at least at my low-to-mediocre level of play, has done a good job of putting me against comparable players so that matches feel competitive instead of one-sided. There are a number of things about GBVS that are there for players and fans of the mobile RPG, but there seems to have been a more significant effort to make this game accessible to newcomers to the series and to fighting games in general. It might be exactly what you need to get over that hurdle.

Granblue Fantasy Versus is out now on PlayStation 4 and coming to Steam (Windows) March 13th.