Story modes in fighting games have gotten weird. From Mortal Kombat’s blockbuster excess to Arc System Works’ visual novel flair and everything in-between (shout out to the only bad part of Tekken 7), we’ve come a long way from arcade opening and ending splashes. Arc System Works, in particular, has also been making strides in creativity, ironically enough through outside IP. Granblue Fantasy Versus is the latest in that space and is quite an undertaking. How do you adapt a gacha mobile RPG into a BlazBlue-style fighter and maintain the source material’s vibe, as ArcSys loves to do? I’m not sure the team found “the” answer, but we certainly have “an” answer.
Granblue Fantasy Versus has the usual fighting game fixin’s, such as the standard arcade mode and online options. The adorable, little online lobby gimmick ArcSys messes with now is on an airship, so that’s a nice touch. If you’re riding solo, your biggest option is “RPG Mode,” which is this game’s take on making a fighting game from a RPG without totally abandoning the style and structure of the original property. What this ends up being is a kitchen sink approach, combining Granblue Fantasy Versus’ fighting gameplay, Granblue Fantasy’s equipment structure, a few more “mobage” conventions, and tossing in some love for beat ‘em ups ‘cause that’s how ArcSys do.
When I first booted the game up, I hopped into the tutorial for some combo ideas, and the first thing that stood out was even the basic movement lessons had “missions.” In sets of three, you can earn extra currency (for avatars and stuff) by doing moves without shortcuts, hitting a certain combo length beyond what the exercise was, so on and so forth. I thought, “huh,” and moved on. But then when I gave RPG Mode a whirl, I was not prepared for the level of gacha audacity in front of me. I had fallen into another universe, one in which the loot box controversy blowout never happened in 2017, and console games were just… a bigger App Store. This game was asking me to go through daily missions, combine weapons to level them up and break caps, and yes, even grind draw tickets so I could watch ten pulls and pray one of the little gems in each batch was rainbow-colored.
But instead of having to resist opening my wallet like I may or may not have in the past for Dragalia Lost (don’t look at me like that), this was all for affect. I didn’t really need to meticulously dig through my weapon inventory to use dupes, didn’t need to spend time making sure I had multiple weapon grids set up and organized efficiently, and didn’t even really need to save tickets until I could use them in batches of ten. But that’s exactly what I did, because apparently aping the actual Granblue Fantasy weapon grid UI was all it took for instinct and muscle memory to kick in. I blacked out, then looked up in horror at little images of swords and axes bearing various Ses and Rs, stars, and mostly arbitrary stats and levels. I didn’t actually black out, but the rest of that sentence is true.
Lately in games that use crossover appeal to push genre work, there have been a lot of great, creative examples of adapting source material. Persona 4 Arena latched onto Persona 4’s actual story, and continued it in visual novel-like dialogue sequences indistinguishable from the source game. Dragon Quest Heroes II incorporated JRPG tropes into a Musou brawler with style and cute chiptune jingles. Hyrule Warriors gracefully wove Zelda mechanics into… a Musou brawler.
Fire Emblem Warriors Smash Bros. Ultimate DLC characters don’t play like anyone else before them.
Granblue Fantasy Versus follows these examples, taking its origins as a predatory, gacha-driven mobile game that its brainwashed audience (I am 100 percent a part of) loves and molding several visual cues, mechanics, and other tangible nods to mobile gaming into the rigid structure of a fighting game. It does this so well in a way that almost makes me feel afraid rather than impressed, and I don’t know what that says about the game or myself. Anyway I gotta run, I still have some dailies in Dragalia and Opera Omnia to knock out. What?
Granblue Fantasy Versus is available now for the PlayStation 4 and PC.