Want to get into fighting games but are intimidated by obtuse mechanics and exhaustive move sets? Check out Granblue Fantasy Versus: Rising. This exceptional fighter is the definition of ‘easy to learn, hard to master,’ while offering a healthy amount of modes. There’s a free-to-play version, too.
Phenomenal presentation and soundtrack
Welcoming new player experience
Excellent, stable online netcode
Server connection can take a while on startup
Online lobbies are poorly optimized, performance-wise
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Platform reviewed: PC
Available on: PS5, PS4, PC
Release date: December 14, 2023
Granblue Fantasy Versus: Rising is one of the most accessible, beginner-friendly fighting games ever made. It goes to great lengths to ensure new players can get in on the ground floor comfortably, be that through its detailed tutorials or the fact it offers a free-to-play version with a rotational selection of characters that swap out on a weekly basis.
To its credit, beginner-friendly doesn’t mean the game or its mechanics suffer in any way. There’s still an exceptionally high skill ceiling on offer in Rising; some characters are tougher to get to grips with than others, not to mention a heap of mechanics and complex combo strings available to learn that’ll gradually help you improve your game.
And if you’re not the online type, Rising still offers a very healthy amount of solo-friendly and more casual modes. There’s an offline arcade mode, a lengthy beat-em-up style story mode as well as the Fall Guys-esque Grand Bruise Legends (a competitive platformer with a more cutesy art style) if you’re looking for something more laid back than those intense online matches. Whether you’re a seasoned pro or just dipping your toe into the genre for the first time, then, Granblue Fantasy Versus: Rising is a hell of a game to jump into.
A grand old cast
A fighting game’s most vital component is its roster of characters, and Granblue Fantasy Versus: Rising doesn’t disappoint here. At launch, there’s a total of 28 fighters (24 from the original Granblue Fantasy Versus alongside four newcomers), with six more being added as post-launch DLC throughout 2024.
There’s an eclectic mix on offer here. If you’re just starting out, Gran and Djeeta are very accessible beginner characters. Both have easy-to-use projectiles and straightforward special moves that’ll help you get familiar with the general flow of the game. Beyond them, everyone on the roster typically has one or two characteristics and a game plan that makes them unique.
Metera, for example, excels at long-range with extremely strong projectiles. Seox is kind of the polar opposite; a master of rushing you down with fast-flowing close-range attacks. There are some more specialist characters, too, like Ladiva with her powerful grapples and Nier’s ability to summon and control a puppet - effectively forcing you to contend with two targets simultaneously.
While some characters are certainly harder to grasp than others, the mantra of ‘play whoever you think looks cool’ remains true here. That’s because several mechanics are universal; every fighter has access to spot dodges and a forward evasion, as well as three-button auto combos that can then lead into special moves for big damage.
One huge boon Rising brings to the table is that special moves do not require more technical inputs to pull off. Those inputs like ‘quarter-circle-forward’ or the iconic ‘dragon punch’ motion are present - and you’ll get an extra 10% damage for the trouble - but you’re also able to activate your specials via a simple press of R1 (RB on an Xbox controller) and a single direction. This is fantastic for helping you input special moves more reliably and, in many cases, much faster.
Spoiled for choice
One of the best things about Granblue Fantasy Versus: Rising is a substantial number of modes to suit players of all kinds. You of course have the standard ranked and unranked online suites and player lobbies, and your typical eight-round arcade mode for solo players.
My experience with Rising’s online play has been sublime. The game has implemented rollback netcode, which provides more stable play and significantly less input lag than traditional delay-based code. I’ve frequently been playing with a friend in the US and, with an ethernet connection, I haven’t encountered a single instance of lag or dropped frames despite the distance between them and myself in the UK. Experiences here will vary, of course, and I highly recommend playing with a wired internet connection, but, by and large, the online experience has been relatively seamless.
Nothing beats putting in the time to learn your favorite character, to then head online and successfully land that lengthy combo you’ve been practicing for a massive damage payout.
Heading offline, there’s also an excellent story mode that presents a sprawling narrative involving the whole cast. Cutscenes are largely driven by (voiced) dialogue boxes, and it would’ve been nice to have a bit more variety there. But these are broken up nicely by beat-em-up style quests that’ll see you charging from left to right, using your character and unlockable skills to dispatch swathes of baddies. Overall, story mode is worth playing to learn more about the wider world of Granblue Fantasy and to familiarize yourself with the cast of playable characters. It may even be where you decide on your main.
Another highlight is the online Grand Bruise Legends mode. This is a hyper-casual Fall Guys-style side attraction with a progression track all of its own. In this mode, 30 players will engage in a set of three minigames which can be obstacle courses, team-based collectathons, or more intense survival challenges.
The ability to smack opponents or hit them with a range of special weapons adds a bit of intensity, too, making for a mode that’s far less of a throwaway than it might initially seem. The current selection of maps is rather limited, though, so I'm looking forward to further updates throughout 2024.
A feast for the skies
Granblue Fantasy Versus: Rising is a visual spectacle. Developer Arc System Works has a knack for translating anime-style visuals into a 2.5D space, and Rising represents its most successful attempt at this to date, even more so than the utterly stunning Guilty Gear Strive.
Characters all look amazing and animate with such impressive fluidity, it’s easy to forget that they’re fully 3D models and not hand-drawn sprites. There’s just so much personality on display here, furthered by the fact that every single character has unique match introductions with one another.
Equally, the game’s stages look excellent with a striking amount of background detail, all while still being unobtrusive in the face of all the flying sparks and particle effects created by your bouts. And while no, Rising doesn’t reach the jaw-dropping visual fidelity of, say, Alan Wake 2 or Resident Evil 4, its strong sense of style and flawless presentation still make it one of the most visually impressive titles of 2023.
Despite being an easy game to get into and play, Rising doesn’t have the most robust accessibility suite. It doesn’t have the in-depth settings on offer in Street Fighter 6, nor more basic features like colorblind options. Some notable settings are here, though, such as the ability to adjust HUD position and setting your opponent to their default color should you need the extra readability.
At the end of it all, I really only have a couple of gripes with Granblue Fantasy Versus: Rising. Often, the initial server connection on startup can take a while. Sometimes upwards of a minute, which is clearly something that’s sorely in need of a fix. The game’s interactive online lobbies could also use some work; both frame rate and resolution absolutely tank here, which quickly had me preferring to queue up for online matches from the main menu instead.
Granblue Fantasy Versus: Rising is the full package, whether you prefer to play fighting games online or off. Connection quality is excellent thanks to its implementation of rollback netcode, and progression feels constantly rewarding thanks to unlockable goodies as you level up your favorite characters. Offline, the game’s arcade and story modes provide a more casual-friendly, laid-back space if you’re looking to take a break from online play, or aren’t quite ready to jump in. If you’re unsure, give the free version a go. It’s risk-free and you may just find your new favorite fighting game.
Want to play more games like Granblue Fantasy Versus: Rising? Be sure to check out our guide to the best fighting games for some of the most rewarding experiences you can have in gaming.
Rhys is TRG's Hardware Editor, and has been part of the TechRadar team for more than two years. Particularly passionate about high-quality third-party controllers and headsets, as well as the latest and greatest in fight sticks and VR, Rhys strives to provide easy-to-read, informative coverage on gaming hardware of all kinds. As for the games themselves, Rhys is especially keen on fighting and racing games, as well as soulslikes and RPGs.