Making a case for accessible fighting games, or a Granblue Fantasy Versus Review, which is it?

Welcome to the Boot Barn, Ferry.

Ever since Granblue Fantasy Versus, a new fighting game from Japanese fighting game studio Arc System Works was announced in December of 2018, I’ve had my eye on it. Based off the extremely popular Japanese mobile RPG (see: Gacha game), GBVS was looking to be another drop dead gorgeous “anime” fighter from the makers of Guilty Gear, and Blazblue.

Unlike those games, however, one of the things that Granblue Versus does differently from those series is that it’s pitched as “an accessible fighting game”, or a fighting game for beginners if you want to get a little judgemental about it.

Setting aside for a second that I’m both a fan of ArcSys developed fighting games, as well as the Granblue Fantasy series, the main thing that drew me to this game was in fact its more approachable nature.

Now having played the game for a few dozen hours over the past two weeks, I feel like I’m finally ready to tell people not only is GBVS a great game in its own right, but why I think it’s really important for “an accessible fighting game” to exist.

Like many people my age, I started playing fighting games back in the early 90’s, damn near their inception, with classics such as Street Fighter II, and the Mortal Kombat games. However, even having kept up with fighting games after so many years, I would still classify myself as a very “casual” fan.

I’ve played a ton of fighting games over the years. And I can’t say I’ve ever been too great at them. Whether it was because the inputs you had to do were too difficult for me to reliably do, or a lack of knowledge about the fundamentals of the genre, I’ve just never been the best fighting game player around.

But that didn’t stop me from loving them. And I think there are a few simple reasons for that.

First of all, I grew up loving crazy battles, and intense action. Whether that be the latest blockbuster action movie, or “shonen” anime like Dragon Ball Z, I loved to watch epic battles unfold in front of me. I also have a passion for the JRPG genre, which typically depicts these climatic battles, but rarely follows through on making the act of playing them feel sufficiently action-packed.

Fighting games were different though. Scaling the action down to a one-on-one fight (or more in the case of team based games) allowed the developers to not only refine the “action” you were performing on screen, but also allowed them the ability to make them look damn good too.

One of the things I insist a good fighting game needs are appealing character designs, and luckily a lot of fighting games get this right. So it’s not uncommon in this genre to find a roster of extremely cool, and interesting looking characters that you can make them slug it out.

I feel like this also adds to the excitement, and “hype” the genre can produce that few other games can. Look no further than the magnitude of debates online about Smash Bros. characters to see what I’m talking about.

You add all of this together, and you have this type of game that is easy to appreciate not only for its aesthetics, but also something that gives the player satisfaction for pulling off beautifully animated super moves against their opponent.

However, it is, at the same time a difficult genre to jump into without the proper knowledge and practice to understand how these games typically play. Anime games especially being rather notorious for having layers upon layers of systems and mechanics that serve as a huge barrier to entry.

Enter Granblue Fantasy Versus. Bucking the trend set fourth by anime games, GBVS is a game that is more keen on taking its battles “back to the basics”, in a way that is not only approachable by newcomers, but also serves as the foundation for an incredibly solid fighting game on its own.

There are many things Arc System Works did to make this game more newbie friendly. For example, the inclusion of a “Skills” button, a single button you can press in combination with a direction, and/or another button to act as a modifier (think Down + R2 + Circle at the same time) that allows any character in the game easy access to their four special moves.

Forgoing familiar mechanics like “meter management”, and “air dashing”. Including three different buttons that have a very simple sequence of “1–2–3” for every character that allows you to perform an “auto-combo”. And limiting every character to a relatively small list of techniques for the player to have to learn, are all ways ArcSys helped even the playing field for new fighting game players.

Perhaps one of the most important things about GBVS as it pertains to newcomers though is that the game features an incredibly informative tutorial, as well as a reliable training mode to help players really apply the knowledge of what all this stuff does to their gameplay.

In the lead-up to Granblue Verus’s North American release of March 3rd 2020, I became rather obsessed with the game. I was so eager to jump in and play it that I spent many long nights simply watching YouTube videos from content creators who had gotten a copy of the Japanese or other Asian versions of the game a month early.

It lead me to discovering some very talented people who make videos about this stuff not only for a living, but also as a passion. For the FGC (fighting game community) is very passionate about their hobby.

As a casual fighting game fan, I was familiar with some of this before now. I’ve watched a number of Evo Grand Finals for games that I’ve been interested in. Or even ones that I wasn’t initially, just because of “the hype”.

Fighting games are an easy genre to appreciate in a number of ways. But it really wasn’t until I started digging deeper into this YouTube rabbit hole that I started to really learn fighting games.

It’s easy to make fun of fighting game lingo. Like “footsies”, “frame trap”, and “fuzzy guard”. Many of the names are funny sounding, and usually it isn’t obvious what the term even means. But when you get down to it, this community has come up with their own language to discuss these games. And when you take the time to learn it, I find that you actually learn some pretty interesting things!

Being able to absorb all of this, while thinking about such things as “Who am I going to main?” and feverishly waiting for the game to come out allowed me to jump in on launch day, and then apply everything that I had been studying up to that point.

There’s a lot to love about Granblue Fantasy Versus. Being as its a spin-off game from an incredibly successful RPG, Versus has a meaty single player campaign aptly titled “RPG Mode”.

While I won’t sit here and tell you RPG Mode is the best execution of the idea. I feel like this 10 hour romp through a new original story in the Granblue universe is enjoyable in parts due to its endearing cast of characters, as well as introducing more people to the world of Granblue.

Essentially RPG Mode mashes up a lite visual novel type story telling method, with a mix between the game’s fighting system, and 2D “beat em’ ups”. This one feeling very similar to Vanillaware’s Dragon’s Crown in a lot of ways.

As far as the “RPG” in RPG Mode is concerned: Your characters each level up in traditional JRPG fashion with increases stats awarded per level. And the game even manages to (somewhat) include Granblue’s equal parts unique as well as obtuse “Grid” system for equipment.

The results are mostly fine, and I found it to be quite enjoyable. But it’s by no means the main draw for this game in my eyes.

At the end of the day, I feel like the purpose of this article is two-fold: 1, I want to tell people how awesome I think Granblue Versus is, and 2, Why I think accessible fighting games like this one are a smart investment for the future of the genre.

I believe that fighting games are an incredibly deep, and rewarding genre of games that offer many different reasons to appeal to a wide audience of people. Unfortunately it can be hard to appreciate them at times when the barrier to entry is so high, and learning to play these games can feel intimidating.

I also think it’s important to say that the idea of “the accessible fighting game” isn’t a new concept. There have been many attempts at this over the years. Ranging from the “Easy Inputs” that Capcom tried in certain ports of Marvel vs. Capcom — to the now since being rebooted into a League of Legends fighting game, Rising Thunder.

However, many of these attempts have either been bad, and/or they didn’t go far enough in making things accessible. It’s great that ArcSys started including auto-combos in their more recent games, but when it’s in a game as complicated as Blazblue, those “easy inputs” aren’t going to amount to much against a player that knows what they’re doing.

It’s for this reason that I want to commend ArcSys for making GBVS. A game that not only goes out of its way to be as welcoming as possible to those unfamiliar with the intricacies of the genre, but also developing an immensely satisfying, fundamentals driven fighting game for players of all skill levels.

It’s encouraging to think that ArcSys will be attempting to expand on this idea further with the new Guilty Gear, Guilty Gear Strive, that’s set to come out in some form or another sometime this year. It will be interesting to see if that game can maintain this same sense of being approachable, when applied to a series that is known for being very complex and demanding in a lot of ways. But I can’t wait to see it!

Hi, My name is Joel and I write things like incredibly long game of the year lists, the occasional review or article, and fanfiction every once in a while.

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