Believe in Victory!
I was able to get my hands on a copy of Granblue Fantasy Versus, and I figured I'd give my initial impressions after a couple hours of practice. I haven't actually gone online yet — in fact, 100% of my time has been in the training room. This is actually a good sign, because it means I'm taking your fighting game seriously, which would only happen if I was enjoying myself.
Granblue Fantasy Versus is a fighting game spin-off of the ridiculously popular gacha game, developed by Arc System Works, who are currently dominating the genre space with Guilty Gear, Cross Tag Battle, and the extremely popular Dragonball Z FighterZ. Personally, though, I've never been a huge fan of how ArcSys games play. Nothing wrong with them! They're just very "anime" in their handling, with high speed and big combos being the name of the game. GBVS is a different beast entirely. In the time I've spent getting used to it, I learned quickly that it's much slower-paced, akin to something like Street Fighter V. It's even more grounded than Under Night, which was my main fighting game of choice for a few years. The game is very neutral-oriented, and doesn't have much in the way of high combo potential. Attack strings are most lethal up against walls, otherwise they'll max out at about 7 or 8 hits. I personally enjoy this style of fighting game the most, because a match ends up being about strong fundamentals rather than high-level execution (which, full disclosure: I'm bad at haha).
The most interesting things that separate Granblue Fantasy Versus from other fighting games are twofold. I'll talk about the one I like most, first. In GBVS you can hold back to block. However you can also press a button to block (R2 on the PS4 controller). Doing so means you don't have to worry about cross-ups and the like, so you won't get caught off guard (pun intended). This adds a layer of accessibility for people who might not be used to these more complex fighting game techniques.
The other unique feature is the special button. Rather than input a technical command input, like a quarter-circle medium, in GBVS you can press the special button + a direction to execute a special attack instead. Gran's special button shoots a fireball, right + special button executes a shoryuken, etc. This is a super cool and accessible way to get people into fighting games easily. Rather than worry about execution, they can get jump right into the action and pull off flashy moves without having to be taught how to rotate a stick. The downside, however, is that Granblue Fantasy specials are on a cooldown. And when you use the special button instead of a technical input, your cooldown lasts noticeably longer.
The special button is great conceptually, and will work well for casual play, but it still feels like a half-measure when it comes to accessibility in fighting games. The cost of using the special button makes it so that it's simply not viable in high-level play. The alternative, in my opinion, would be to take out technical commands entirely, and have the special button the only method of pulling off specials, leveling the playing field. Alas, I've a feeling the fighting community as a whole is not on the same page with me here, so I'm sure that was never in the cards, conceptually.
All that said, the game does do a lot to get you acquainted with fighting game tech, more than any other I've played before it. Not only does it have an extensive tutorial that you can mostly play with your preferred character, but it includes match-up tutorials that you can play against characters that might be giving you trouble so that you can deal with them effectively. On top of that, there's an extensive encyclopedia that gives detailed descriptions on common fighter terminology. I don't think I've ever seen a fighting game actively describe things like numpad notation, tick throws, or cancel buffering, but I welcome it and hope to see more games be as thorough in doling out knowledge to newbies.
I haven't played every character in the game yet, but I do have a few faves.
She owns. She has cool horns, and she's very cute. Oh and uh, she's fun to play as too. Her ability to sheath and unsheathe her katana to use two entirely different sets of moves makes her mix-up game strong and unpredictable. She has lots of options to deal with things, allowing her to rushdown but play a mean keep-away game too. My only issue so far is personal, in that I sometimes lose track of which form I'm in, causing me to use a move I didn't mean to. But it'll probably work out alright — there aren't any attacks that Narmaya has that I'd call bad. She's a strong character overall.
Also very powerfully cute. She seems like a simple rushdown character, but she has a deceptive amount of depth. The spear she wields is versatile, letting her attack at range, use a flurry of hits, or charge in multiple times. She also has a Ducktales-like pogo-move that she can combo pull off some tricky stunts with as well. I'd argue she's more complicated than Narmaya, surprisingly enough — I found myself going into her parry stance on accident a lot. With some practice, though, I could see myself having a grand time with Zeta.
Katalina is probably the character closest to Wagner, my main in Under Night, with a few differences. She's very much in your face, but her long sword means that she can poke very effectively. She has a ranged option as well. Essentially, Katalina can control the pace of a match, which is pretty important in this neutral-heavy game. All that said, I'll be honest — she feels a bit boring to play. She's a bit like the Ken to Gran's Ryu, which is fine, but not exactly unique. However, she might be worth picking up anyways — a boring character is usually very well balanced, and can do any job against any opponent.
That's about where I'm at so far with Granblue Fantasy Versus. I'm really enjoying my time with the game, to the point that it almost makes me want to get back into fighting games as a whole.
I'm sure getting online will cure me of that ailment, however.