So you’re playing the new fighting game Granblue Fantasy: Versus, and you’ve got Lowain on the ropes; just a couple more hits and he’s down. But as you run in on him, it happens.
Fans of the game already know what I’m talking about, but if you’re new to this popular fighting game, it may be best to introduce you to this controversy by showing you exactly what the move looks like. Buckle up.
You hear someone scream “WHAT?!”— maybe it’s the game character, maybe it’s you— as a gigantic woman, the summoned, primal Yggdrasil, jumps in to save Lowain and fights on his behalf.
Yggdrasil can’t be knocked out while during her 10 seconds on screen. You have to deal with her onslaught of crushing projectile attacks, each difficult to avoid unless you understand them intimately. It’s likely Yggdrasil blasts you into oblivion and leads the Lowain player into a comeback victory … without the character himself lifting much of a finger.
The fighting game community has thoughts about this move, to put it very lightly.
This is the winpose of a character who knows they just robbed you by activating their low health super and making you dodge an invincible Castlevania boss for 7 seconds— Jake Neal - Mustard (@PNDMustard) February 10, 2020
Fuck you Lowain you piece of shit pic.twitter.com/tvofXSsX55
It’s the most annoying move in the game. Everybody hates it, except for the person using it. Is calling a giant woman out of the sky and forcing one’s opponent to dance through a barrage of attacks unfair?
I’d say no, and I’m not just telling you that because I play a mean Lowain. The move is fine, and it’s going to ultimately help the evolution of the game.
Allow me to explain.
Why is this so annoying?
Every character in this game has a powerful super attack (called the Skybound Art) that they can use when their super meter fills up, and an even bigger second attack when their life drops low as well (the Super Skybound Art).
For most characters, except Lowain, this is a single, highly damaging strike with the potential to either finish off the opponent or start a comeback. It’s a way to make sure matches stay interesting, even if they seem one-sided until the very end.
But Lowain sacrifices basic damage for a more complicated trump card in the Yggdrasil summon, which effectively removes him from the game for a little while so this other character can deliver the massive attack. But like the attack super moves, Lowain’s Super Skybound Art activates instantly, so he can escape as soon as he stands up, or any time an opponent leaves a gap between attacks. If a Lowain player is at low health, it’s not a matter of if they will call Yggdrasil, but when.
Once Yggdrasil is summoned, the game — and the nature of the meta — change instantly. Suddenly you’re forced to jump and dodge projectiles, as though battling a boss from an old Castlevania game, except you have no way to hit back. Combine this with the fact that Lowain is usually just in range of a KO when he calls Yggdrasil and you have a recipe for intense frustration.
Lowain's super skybound is a real bad idea for a game looking to keep new players around. This thing is a scrub killer in the worst way and is going to have new players frustrated as all hell.— Adam Heart (@TheKeits) February 7, 2020
You’re guaranteed to get burned the first time you run into this move, and will continue to lose to it until you specifically learn to counter it. Until you do, you’re going to feel one of the worst frustrations in competitive games: losing without understanding how you were beaten. The Japanese call the feeling “wakarangoroshi.”
The unreliable nature of delay-based online matches also plays a role here. Many of Yggy’s attacks call for a tightly timed precision dodge, and irregular shifts in delay time give players even less time to react. As a result, opponents are going to miss jumps and dodges that they were quite certain they’d make.
But you’ll get to know Yggdrasil if you often fight Lowain, because he can call her every round. It’s not strange to see Lowain call Yggdrasil once in all three rounds, especially during close matches. You’ll start to expect this late-game stall, but knowing that it’s coming only intensifies the frustration if you don’t know how to neutralize it.
Lowain was the scourge of the first few weeks of the game and the definition of a newbie-killer, particularly in low-level public lobbies. But when the level of play goes up, the story starts to change.
Yggdrasil is readable and punishable
But Yggdrasil is by no means invincible. If you learn her moves and play a calm, deliberate defense against her, dodging her attacks, you can survive her onslaught with just a scratch or two from blocking. Each one of her massive attacks has a brief startup — so you can always see it coming — and they are all designed with specific defenses in mind. You can see this in action below.
The best way to survive, and set yourself up for a counter attack: close the distance. Jump towards Yggdrasil while blocking, and use your dodge moves to evade her ground attack. It’s easier to say than it is to do, of course, but that’s at the heart of it. The mechanics aren’t complicated, but the execution requires a good deal of practice to get right consistently.
The Lowain player has ways to read and punish this plan, too — that’s what’s great about fighting games, after all — but it cuts off a lot of their options. If you ignore these best practices and panic, try to attack Yggdrasil, or even retreat to the other end of the screen, you’ll get hurt. It may not be comfortable, but you basically have to engage if you want any chance of surviving.
Crucially, Lowain can’t block for a moment after Yggdrasil leaves and he reappears onscreen in her place. If your timing is good (training mode is your friend here!), many of characters have a way to punish Lowain in that instant, dealing guaranteed damage and possibly ending the round.
This vulnerable moment is a major liability, especially considering that Lowain tends to use this move at low health in the first place. Calling Yggdrasil at very low life isn’t a life-saving move so much as a life-or-death bet when you’re playing against a more skilled opponent who knows what’s coming. That’s always key in fighting games: The player who knows what the other player will do next will always have the advantage, even if it doesn’t feel that way at the moment. And this part of Lowain’s game plan is pretty predictable.
The Yggdrasil summon isn’t an all-powerful ending move, it’s a stalling maneuver once you understand how to fight back. The best way to deal with a stall is not to push against it, but to accept it and move with its flow. If your opponent wants a little extra time, give it to them while defending yourself, and then punish them for making you wait.
If it isn’t genuinely insurmountable, an overused move in a fighting game will create opportunities for opponents, not challenges. Once you practice how to deal with this move, and learn how to fight back, you’ll begin to see how reliance on this play is actually a weakness for Lowain players.
To be blunt, however, it’s a character who’s already plenty weak.
A weak character who helps give the game its spice
Lowain is a relatively weak character in terms of overall balance. When you compare Lowain to other characters, with their superior attacks and heavy damage, he’s actually in need of some kind of trump card to make up the difference in order to stay competitive.
Lowain is a trickster: he uses his friends and figments of their overactive imaginations (Yggdrasil among these) to attack ahead of him, pinning down the opponent as he moves in to strike. This pressure can be overpowering, so to compensate for this ability, Lowain’s standard attacks are not great, and his damage is relatively low. Lowain must stall, trick, and trap the opponent many times to win a round.
This is fun, but not an easy way to play the game, but it’s not particularly efficient when the best characters simply deal a ton of damage directly, finishing off opponents with a few clean hits and a big combo.
Player consensus puts Lowain towards the lower-middle or bottom of the pack in tier rankings; here high-level player Lord Knight places him low in raw power, high in “bullshit,” i.e. tactics that are tricky or hard to defend. Notably, he doesn’t place Lowain as high in that category as one of the actual best characters (Ferry). Lowain’s low position among players has not stopped pros like Dora from ascending the ranks with him. When you’re good, you’re good.
GBVS tiers, don't @ me— bc | Lord Knight ☁ (@LordKnightBB) March 21, 2020
Video soon. pic.twitter.com/fK1zd6X0mu
Players who want to win above all put aside what character they think is fun to play or looks cool. If winning is the only thing that matters, it’s best to choose the character that deals the most damage, with the most efficient attacks. But Granblue Fantasy: Versus designer Kazuto Sekine (aka Pachi), a former top-class Guilty Gear player himself, revealed something else important about player psychology in an interview with Famitsu.
“There are a lot of fighting game players who say “I don’t want to do what everyone else does, I want to do my own thing,” Sekine told Famitsu. “I’m one of those, (rueful laugh) and I thought Lowain would be necessary for players like that.”
A truly great fighting game shouldn’t consist only of straightforward, super-efficient characters for a very simple reason: that would be boring. Players need a variety of play styles to suit their individual tastes, and spectators quickly became bored of watching, for example, Ken fight Chun Li over and over again in Street Fighter III: Third Strike.
Oddball characters with weird styles and unexpected tricks keep games fresh and novel. Granblue Fantasy: Versus developer Arc System Works has been responsible for some of the strangest of them, like the character Jack-O in Guilty Gear Xrd, who turns the game into real-time strategy by building bases and commanding minions. By Arc standards, Lowain’s tricks are pretty mild.
So yes, the Yggdrasil summon is still uniquely irritating. I want to groan or throw my stick when I’m on the other end of it. But I can’t complain.
Competitive games are unique in that we want to frustrate and annoy our opponents; it’s one of the best ways to get their guard down. Nor is there a balance issue here: the move is easily dealt with, and Lowain is not at all dominating competition. You just have to be willing to put in the time to learn to counter that one move, a move that seems at odds with so many of your other skills in the game.
So long as there’s a reasonable counter, calling a giant woman out of the sky remains fair game. But more importantly, it’s interesting, and figuring out ways to counter the attack and stay competitive is a big part of why we love games like this. Yggdrasil isn’t a failure of design. She’s an example of fighting games doing what they do best: giving players something new and unexpected to fear, study, and, ultimately, conquer.