Later this year, Arc System Works’ latest balls to the wall, anime-lookin’-ass-fighting game will be releasing worldwide. This new fighter, which is following the likes of Guilty Gear Xrd, BlazBlue Cross Tag Battle, and Dragon Ball FighterZ, is called Granblue Fantasy Versus. That may sound, to a layman, like another original IP from the BlazBlue team, but it actually isn’t. It’s based on a mobile game from Cygames, which is one of the most popular mobile games out there internationally. A second game based on Granblue Fantasy is set to follow the ArcSys fighter, called Granblue Fantasy: Relink, which was developed in part by Platinum Games. Both of these games look awesome regardless of the property, but the fact is that they’re also the first time North American players are being directly introduced to Granblue Fantasy. That said, people in the know have been enjoying the original title for years now. If you aren’t one of those people, you may be wondering what the heck is going on here. That’s what I’m here for.
What is a Cygames, Anyway?
Granblue Fantasy is one of the biggest titles from Cygames, a developer that has been on a serious rise since being established in 2011. Its first game was Rage of Bahamut, which is also one of the few games in Cygames’ library to get localized and released in the west. The servers have since shut down in North America, but that first game did a lot to establish Cygames’ own internal canon of sorts. While Cygames doesn’t really have a house art style, it has reused illustrations across multiple titles, and definitely has a suite of recurring characters. Cygames has several more mobile titles in its history, but many of them were Japan-only, licensed for anime and other IP, and have since shut down. A few other titles that have been localized include Battle Champs, Shadowverse, and Dragalia Lost, which was made via a partnership with Nintendo.
Cygames has also established a console game division, which is where Granblue Fantasy: Relink is being developed. You may also recognize Cygames from its involvement in Zone of the Enders: The 2nd Runner M∀RS. Cygames’ console division also announced Project Awakening, which is a wholly original new title in the works for consoles. The takeaway here is that Cygames is a primarily mobile-based Japanese developer, which has made a ton of money and is using that money to ambitiously expand its portfolio.
A Grand(blue) Fantasy
Before all of that other stuff, Cygames dropped Granblue Fantasy in 2014. Not only is it a mobile game playable on iOS and Android, but it’s also browser-based, making is that much more accessible. While Cygames is still busy making a name for itself off Rage of Bahamuts’s success in 2014, the developers of Granblue Fantasy did score some serious name power that helped the game hit the ground running. Over half of Granblue Fantasy’s initial soundtrack was composed by Nobuo Uematsu, who most readers of this site probably know from the Final Fantasy series. While less of a household name, Granblue Fantasy’s art director is Hideo Minaba, who also has tenure in Final Fantasy, working on numbers V, VI, and IX. He also worked on Mistwalker’s Lost Odyssey, which is a Xbox 360 JRPG not nearly enough people played.
At a glance, Granblue Fantasy might not impress you in 2019. It’s a turn-based, mobile RPG that’s based almost entirely around gacha pulls for new characters. Through its various roulette-style pulling options, players try for new characters, summons, and more. Yes, this game is powered by loot box mechanics, and several different permutations thereof. But while grinding turn-based battles and pulling for characters is a super niche kind of appeal, what Granblue Fantasy has always had going for it is not only its high production values for a mobile title, but its legitimately compelling writing. This is a mobile game that wants to tell a story just as much as it wants to sell you loot boxes, and it won’t charge you for accessing that critical path. Much like Cygames’ other fare, such as Dragalia Lost, this developer is more than happy to allow free players to get through the whole story, leaving things like limited-time events and hardcore boss challenges for the serious, potentially high-paying parts of the fanbase.
Great, A Japan-Only Mobile Game – Why Care if I Can’t Play?
Well, that’s the weird thing about Granblue Fantasy. It’s a huge game, with billions of yen in revenue since it launched over four years ago. Even in 2018, Granblue Fantasy sat in the top ten of Japan’s highest-grossing mobile games. And Japanese gamers love mobile games. But despite all that success, Granblue Fantasy has never been localized… or has it? Believe it or not, Granblue Fantasy is actually available, in its entirety, in English. You can play it right now, although you might have to jump through a hoop or two for it.
Like any other region-locked storefront that doesn’t actually contain region-locked software, you’re going to have to make an alternative, Japanese account for your mobile platform of choice. That’s the easy part. On either Android or iOS, log into your Japanese account temporarily, and download the game client. You can then go back to your primary account and boot the game. Alternatively, you can hop over to the browser version. Either way, the trickier part is making a Mobage account. Luckily, plenty of resources exist to walk you through it.
If you’re curious about the upcoming Granblue Fantasy console game spinoffs, but don’t want to lose your life to a tremendously grindy mobile game, you could always watch the anime. Officially licensed and available via Crunchyroll, the Granblue Fantasy anime adaptation is a much less intensive investment at 12 episodes and should be plenty for you to decide if you’re willing to drink the Kool-Aid or not. If you do end up liking it, a second season is on the way for later this year.
Get Ready for Granblue
Hopefully, if you were wondering what the heck these upcoming, mysterious Arc System Works and sorta Platinum but mostly Cygames projects were all about, this cliff notes version of history was helpful. Cygames is definitely a developer to keep an eye on for 2019 and beyond, especially as its efforts to expand into the console space begin to come to fruition. Granblue Fantasy Versus is already looking as slick as ArcSys’ other titles, although we’re still curious about how it will play based on comments from people involved. Granblue Fantasy: Relink is further out, but it’s looking like a pretty slick action/RPG romp. Both of these games are a ways out yet, so there’s plenty of time to do your own digging into this relatively niche phenomenon, and feel our your true hype levels. Just be sure to tread carefully when it comes to the gacha.