Granblue Fantasy Versus | Title screen
Granblue Fantasy Versus | Lancelot Skybound Art
All the Skybound Arts in Granblue Fantasy Versus looks this good.

Over the weekend, Cygames and Arc System Works hosted a closed beta for Granblue Fantasy Versus. The beta was meant to stress test the online lobbies, meaning that only a few online modes were available, but it was a chance for players to try out the five characters who were shown off in the game’s initial reveal trailer: Gran, Katalina, Charlotta, Lancelot, and Ferry. (Unfortunately, Lowain and Ladiva weren’t available in this beta.)

The netcode, which the beta was mostly meant to test, seems fairly solid, although to be fair I was mostly playing with other players in my local Canada west coast lobbies. With that I generally got stable connections with under three frames of delay, barring the occasional bad connection with spikes up to ten or more frames, especially when one of us was playing on a wireless connection. Use an ethernet cable when you’re playing games online, kids.

Granblue Fantasy Versus | Match start
One of the tamer Arc System Works match introductions we’ve seen.

Lobbies were structured the same way they are in the recent BlazBlue or Guilty Gear games, with an open environment styled after an airship, with arcade machines where you can pair yourself up with someone else in the lobby. Unfortunately, there’s no way to see connection strength in these lobbies, but it’s possible that could be added in the final game. There were also a few brief periods where lobbies were down and players could use standard queueing, in which case you could set connection and regional preferences while searching, as well as see the connection strength when paired up against someone. There were also some bugs that I encountered in the lobbies, mostly involving either not being able to join a cabinet or ready up for a match, but hopefully those will all be sorted out by release.

Granblue Fantasy Versus | Versus screen
Gorgeous character select art, as one would expect from Cygames.

The characters on offer provide a solid mix of gameplay styles. Gran is an aggressive shoto-style character, similar to Hyde from Under Night In-Birth or Yu Narukami from Persona 4 Arena. Katalina has longer reach on her attacks and rewards good spacing at close range. Charlotta is a fast rushdown character with charge-style inputs. Lancelot is a trickier rushdown character with unusual movement options and short-ranged attacks. And Ferry is a zoner who controls large areas of the screen with her whip and ghost setups. I played a few games throughout the beta as Katalina and Gran, but the vast majority of my time was spent with Lancelot.

The gameplay in Granblue Fantasy Versus is quite different from the standard Arc System Works fare, with a relatively slow pace to the game overall as well as a greater focus on grounded movement and footsies (gameplay based primarily around movement and attack spacing). Characters generally can’t double jump or airdash, although superjumps and air throws are still there, and blocking in the air is restricted to aerial attacks and projectiles, while grounded attacks are air unblockable, similar to Under Night In-Birth. Running is also unsafe, with a lot of recovery when going from running to blocking, although it can be canceled into the universal dodge roll to try and bait your opponent into doing something unsafe themselves. In addition to the standard light, medium and heavy attacks, there’s a “unique skill” button similar to BlazBlue’s Drive, as well as special and block buttons. And this is where I’m going to get a bit technical with my explanations.

Granblue Fantasy Versus | Lancelot rekka ender
Special cooldown usually isn’t that much of a restriction unless you use the heavy versions, similar in functionality to an EX special in other games.

The special button is part of Granblue Fantasy Versus’ attempt to take a unique approach to simplifying gameplay; each of a character’s specials can be input easily using the special button and a direction, or using a more traditional directional input. Every special has a cooldown, which is slightly lengthened using the shortcut input compared to the more technical method, as well as being the substitute for meter cost when using the heavy versions of moves. The guard button is present as well as holding down to block, and has its own tradeoffs; while it allows the use of the universal dodge roll and spot-dodge as well as easily blocking crossups, it doesn’t allow for just-frame blocking (blocking as soon as an attack connects for less blockstun), as well as needing to release the button to attack or break a throw.

After connecting with a close-range normal attack, continuing to press the button will lead to two follow-up attacks, both of which can be cancelled into special attacks, unique skills, spot-dodge, and dodge rolls (all both on block and on hit), allowing players to get creative with their pressure and easily hit-confirm (ensuring that your starter has hit before using more unsafe follow-up attacks) into a combo. However, they need to be close for this to work, since medium and heavy attacks have both close and far versions, and only close versions lead to the follow-ups. There’s also a super meter, used exclusively for super attacks (known as Skybound Arts) and, at low health, a desperation super known as a Super Skybound Art. Professional player SKD has made a more in-depth rundown of the mechanics of the game, which you can find here.

Granblue Fantasy Versus | Lancelot match intro
Can you tell who I spent most of my time playing?

Granblue Fantasy Versus‘ presentation is beautiful, using the same graphical style as the Guilty Gear Xrd games and Dragon Ball FighterZ. Match introductions play out somewhat similarly to Mortal Kombat 11, with a unique interaction not only for each pair of characters, but different depending on who is player 1 vs player 2. The cinematic animations on the Skybound Arts and Super Skybound Arts are spectacular, although somewhat long, but it seems like they get used few enough times in a game that the long animations don’t get in the way of the gameplay too much.

Having played Granblue Fantasy Versus for roughly 12 hours over the course of the beta I was able to get a fairly solid sense for the relatively grounded, footsies-based gameplay. Naturally it remains to be seen what other characters will be added, what kind of single player content and modes the game will have, how it holds up in the long term, and if much gets changed before release. Still, the first impressions of the game are good. I’m interested in getting the chance to dive deeper into the game when it releases later this year, but until then we’ll need to make do with this gameplay footage from Cygames pitting their own sponsored players Daigo and Fuudo against each other:

Chris Melchin
Chris is a computer science student who has been gaming ever since he knew what to do with a Super Nintendo controller. He's a fighting game player, with a focus on BlazBlue and Under Night In-Birth games. His favourite games include Xenoblade Chronicles 2, Persona 5, and Little Busters. He started watching anime in high school, and his favourite series is Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood. He also writes Vocaloid music for his personal YouTube channel, and has a (slight) obsession with Megurine Luka.