Granblue Fantasy Versus: Rising Hands-On Impressions — Simplistic for the casual, deep for the expert

Cygames hosted an in-person demo event for Granblue Fantasy Versus: Rising, the next iteration on Versus, a fighting game that was spun off from a mobile, turn-based RPG released in 2014. Versus came out in 2020 and has since been Cygames’ area of focus, and for good reason. It scored well with many critics – David Flynn gave it an 85 – but it left opportunities on the table. Versus: Rising undoubtedly will rectify that by making a few necessary cuts and fascinating additions.

After speaking with the developers, I learned a couple of mechanics weren’t returning to Rising. One mechanic that I was delighted to learn isn’t returning is the obtuse grid system. If you don’t know what that is, I’ll spare you the explanation. You’re not missing anything. As I’ve noted in our podcast, it felt unnecessary. Cygames agrees. They want us to focus on what matters, the story and fighting. 

I didn’t expect their decision when it came to simple and command inputs. Versus gave a cooldown and damage advantage for using command inputs. That has been removed, which created controversy when it was announced during EVO 2023. Cygames heard the feedback but noted they haven’t had the chance to brainstorm potential changes or debate if they’re going to change anything. But what’s clear is removing those advantages doesn’t change much when fighting. You still have to focus on the chess match happening during battle and the obvious benefit is that no one has to struggle with missing button presses. Whether you’re comfortable with command inputs or not, all Cygames wants us to focus on is learning the moves and how to use them, and the fight itself. Their theory works beautifully.

From my time with Versus: Rising, I naturally shifted between command inputs and shortcuts and I felt nothing was lost. I played against someone who used shortcuts the whole time. We played five matches and I won four, but we both pulled off impressive combos, made mistakes, had close calls, and we had fun. Inputs didn’t matter. In fact, neither of us mentioned them except when my sparring partner realized he had command inputs disabled. Our focus was entirely on the stuff that actually matters in a fighting game.

Rewarding players for knowing how to maneuver their thumbs in ways some cannot or don’t have the time to learn disincentivizes the very players Cygames wants to court. And yet, Rising is even deeper than Versus. One example includes more robust frame data in training mode, something that was lacking in Versus. But beyond technical analytics, Rising includes two techniques that open Versus’ formerly somewhat bottlenecked fighting – Roaring Strikes and Raging Strikes.

Roaring Strikes are guard crushes for the exceptionally defensive opponent. They momentarily stun an opponent, but typically not long enough to land combos. Each player has three Bravery Points (BP). Every time you are guard crushed, you lose a BP. Lose all three and you will be stunned long enough for the opponent to land a significant combo. On the flip side is Raging Strikes. Raging Strikes act as counters and consume one of your BP but not if you successfully use it against a guard crush. If an opponent is drowning you with pressure, activate a Raging Strike and calm them down a bit. Both of these new techniques significantly eat away your Skybound Art (SA) gauge, so you can’t use guard crushes infinitely until your opponent is out of BP.

These additions create more opportunities for offense, which is great since blocking’s power in Versus created too many guessing games and reliance on whiff punishing. This adds pressure to the equation, giving more opportunities to outplay opponents in exciting ways, and it’s much more fun to watch as well.

While Cygames made changes to create more depth for veteran players and fledgling experts, they are staying true to their idea that they want casual players to stick around, and they are further fulfilling that vision with Partners and Grand Bruise Legends. 

Partners are characters from Granblue that encourage you and give helpful tips. We didn’t get to see them in action, so I’m not currently sold on their effectiveness. They’re cute and the voice acting continues to be great, but the examples they showed weren’t very motivating. If they do add commentary that is genuinely insightful, partners can be great.

Grand Bruise Legends seems like it will be a lot of fun. Apart from Versus, Grand Bruise lets you participate in Fall Guys or Mario Party-style minigames. Only three minigames have been announced but more will be added as well. Unfortunately, it wasn’t part of the demo session but Cygames fully expects some people to spend more time playing Grand Bruise than anything else, so they’re confident in its leisurely design.

Versus: Rising will also have a free to play version. You will have access to every mode but with limited features, as well as private matches. The story will include Part 1 which is 40 chapters and PvP includes four characters in rotation – Gran will always be one of the four – but Cygames noted they haven’t decided how that system will function yet. You can also create private matches to play with your friends and go online to participate in the PvP. As long as they allow people to play all the characters in some way, I think it will be fine considering the access you’re getting.

Granblue Fantasy Versus: Rising is coming to Steam, PlayStation 4, and PlayStation 5 November 30, 2023.

Podcast Editor | [email protected]

Anthony Shelton hosts and produces the Gaming Trend podcast and creates opinion videos occasionally on YouTube. He carries some of the strongest opinions among the staff and is generally harder to impress. But if impressed, he sings developers' praises just as loudly. He typically plays everything except horror and most RTS, but genres he gravitates towards are platformers, FPS, racing, roguelikes, fighting, and loot-based games. He has quit Twitter and uses Threads. Follow him at iamashelton.

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