As you might’ve guessed upon entering, RPG Site typically doesn’t cover fighting games. Although the base Granblue Fantasy browser game is up our alley with traditional RPG turn-based combat, Granblue Fantasy: Versus was somewhat of an iffy venture since it’s a fighting game first and foremost. Discussions on whether to cover it or not were pretty much cleared up with the announcement of the game’s big single player option - RPG Mode.
After spending some time with the early southeast Asian release containing the full English version, I’ve completed the game’s base normal difficulty and slowly working my way through the substantially more difficult hard mode unlocked after clearing it once.
First things first, will you be completely lost progressing through the story mode if it’s your first exposure to the world of Granblue Fantasy at all?
No. And yes.
GBF Versus contains a rather straightforward storyline, perhaps a bit too straightforward for my liking. It reminded me a lot about the first half of the Digimon Adventure 02 show when much of it revolved around freeing Digimon from brainwashing. A huge portion of GBF Versus’s storyline in RPG Mode is an excuse to combat the other playable characters in the game upon meeting them. Beating them has them join your side, they become playable, and life goes on.
At the same time, brand-new players will quickly catch on that every character in this game has some significant history with the main characters. After ridding the enemies that caused the characters to turn against them in the first place, familiarity between the cast is swiftly established without much room for new players to be extensively filled in. Of course, I imagine Cygames wants new blood to try out the base game if they want the full story behind each of this game’s relationships.
Fighting games often don’t have full-fledged RPG modes. How is this game laid out? Is it easy to navigate?
Yes for stage and quest navigation. And a learning curve when optimizing your equipment with the inclusion of Granblue’s staple ‘weapon grid’ system.
Progressing through RPG Mode is simple enough to grasp. You travel between a handful of sky islands each with their own arc of how another character became brainwashed and big corresponding boss battles that tend to close them off. Sidequests open up when a new character joins you that serves as a tutorial on how to use that character should you so choose to not be boring and not stick with Gran only. The big technical downside getting around through RPG Mode's is its frequent, and often lengthy, loading times. They're a stark contrast to the rest of the game which still has its fair share of loads, but it isn't as obnoxious as the ones present throughout RPG Mode.
Nevertheless, GBF Versus’s RPG Mode has some nice teases for the game’s fans. A few certain unannounced fan-favorites do make an appearance here and there. Whether these characters will eventually be added to one of the game’s two already announced Season Passes is anyone’s guess. I still feel a bit mixed on this situation, but Cygames and Arc System Works know the immense brand loyalty will allow for it.
Now onto weapon grids. Existing Granblue players must be smiling right now at the thought of them.
The concept behind these grids is easy enough. Everything has an elemental affinity in this game; use the opposing element to deal bonus damage to said thing. Grids, as you might expect, involve a main-hand weapon and a 3x3 grid of off-hand weapons that augment the main-hand’s effectiveness and vice-versa - all depending on what you’ve slotted in.
Before diving a tad deeper, it’s worth mentioning that normal mode is tuned in a way that fully auto-selecting your elemental weapon grids is fine. You don’t have to worry too much if you’re satisfied with seeing the story through and tying a knot to it there. Just auto-select each of the game’s multiple grid tabs for each element and presto!
Every weapon in RPG Mode comes in one of three rarities - R, SR, & SSR. Gacha players know what this means and to the uninitiated, SSRs are essentially the “best” quality of a weapon. Weapons in GBF Versus are obtained by drops upon stage completion, buying them from a shop for in-game money, crafting them if you have the necessary materials, or the in-game gacha system.
Yes, GBF Versus does have a gacha system but obtaining currency for it is strictly done with in-game activities only. There is no way, shape, or form that suggests or advertises that actual real-money can be used to purchase the draw tickets used for it. The only way to obtain them is through story progression and completing RPG Mode achievements. Unlike the browser game, GBF Versus’s gacha only yields weapons - no new characters will join you if you happen to roll a new one. Some weapons do unlock weapon skins that can be used outside of RPG Mode, but they’re cosmetic-only additions that do not add any sort of stat or range advantage to characters when fighting in the other modes.
Where this can get tricky is exactly how these systems can synergize your weapons with one another. A main weapon’s aura can simply be a flat 50% boost to a weapon’s skills, so actually having multiples of that weapon slotted into the grid that it’s a main-hand weapon of would boost their effectiveness as well.
Now couple in the caveat that weapons have a low level cap unless you fuse in duplicates to further uncap their level to reach their full potential. You can see where this is going, especially when you’ll need duplicate SSR weapons to not only slot into a grid, but also level uncap. The main two stats that weapons are concerned with are total max HP and attack power.
I don’t really think it’s all that necessary to grind super hard for perfectly optimized weapon grids in GBF Versus, unless you’re a sucker, like me, for wanting to see numbers go higher and higher.
Okay wow, you’ve somehow got this far and you haven’t mentioned a lick of how RPG Mode actually plays like. What am I in for?
Unlike the game’s core as a fighting game, GBF Versus’s RPG Mode is presented more like a brawler. You’re usually tasked with beating up enemies until no more show up and then proceed onto the next screen. Much of it controls the same as when playing it in its fighting game modes, but you’ll be relying more on the block button to guard against attacks. If you’re used to holding back in a fighting game to block, be prepared to get used to that since holding back will just have your character face the opposite way and enemies tend to come from both sides of the screen.
Unfortunately, the levels are shallow for the most part. They boast great backgrounds but you’re confined to a single screen stuck waiting for enemy waves. It’s not like Final Fight or Streets of Rage where there’s an actual progression through stages traveling to the right. I found that the normal stages got repetitive pretty quickly with not much mission variety outside of surviving a certain amount of time or in one isolated instance, escaping a forest by going through multiple screens as fast as you can until you have to fend off enemy waves at the last screen.
Hard mode does make the boss battles more exciting though. They either have new attacks or new properties to existing attacks. They’re somewhat exciting to see the first time in normal mode, but hard mode made me appreciate them more. It’s also a nice payoff for the pain-in-the-ass weapon grids I’ve been grinding too.
You can play most of RPG Mode either locally or through online co-op with one other person as well. There’s also a tower mode that you can ascend for more rewards, but it’s pretty much all recycled assets from what you see in story mode.
If you’re feeling bold, there’s an auto-battle mode in which you and your partner character are both controlled by the AI. This tends to be inefficient because the AI takes way longer to complete a stage. On the other hand, if you can manage auto-battling certain bosses in hard mode for their drops to craft some good weapons but you don’t want to give the game your undivided attention, then the passive grind life may work out in your favor.
Both you and your partner character can equip up to two support skills. These range from a heal, damage buff, additional attack, and so on - there’s even one that places a bounty on a boss for additional chest drops.
So… is Granblue Fantasy: Versus worth it if I plan to play it just for the RPG Mode after all?
My gut response is no, unless you can get the game on discount. A playthrough of it lasts 5-8 hours. The story is fully voiced both in Japanese and English; I played through the entirety of it in English and the dub cast is rather great. There were instances where the lip syncing was noticeably off from the spoken lines in English; it wasn't enough to deter my enjoyment from it though.
Of course if you’re an existing base Granblue Fantasy player, GBF Versus at full price may already be a discount considering the goodies you can claim with the serial codes it has for it. Completing RPG Mode in normal and hard mode also nets even more substantial bonuses if you're already a player as well. The original, slightly more risqué, character designs for Metera and Zeta unlock as well upon completing RPG Mode once. Their GBF Versus designs aren't all that different to be honest, but they do cover up their lower halves slightly more.
I’m actually curious to see if GBF Versus’s RPG Mode will receive any additional story updates down the line. It ends on a rather open-ended note and I’d be disappointed if I had to wait for some sort of sequel to get the rest of it. Or maybe they’ll just continue it in the browser game because they hate me.