The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step, and for Cygames’ Granblue Fantasy series, it all started from building a mobile game universe. Having grown into a highly-popular gacha, lore-rich title, it made a bold foray into the fighting ring with Granblue Fantasy Versus and its sequel Versus: Striking, finding its own footing in a new field.
Granblue Fantasy: Relink, in the same vein, marks a drastic leap into the action role-playing game (APRG) genre. The fantasy adventure ditches turn-based combat for frenetic, real-time action, shifting gears to a cycle of chaining attacks, dodging, and blocking that frees it, partially, from the trappings of its progenitor’s legacy. Ultimately an enjoyable, charming affair, it falls short of scoring a home run due to several niggling issues, as well as its niche positioning in a well-established Japanese RPG market.
While set in the same world as the original Granblue Fantasy, the franchise’s latest tells a story that takes place in a different location. Players assume the role of Gran (male) or Djeeta (female), who embarks on a quest to uncover the mystery behind Lyria’s broken link with Astrals, a first-time occurrence for the young girl with the ability to control primal beasts. This journey takes them to various floating continents, opening the door to new towns, allies, enemies, and challenges.
It’s a straightforward, well-worn narrative that echoes throughout the entire 20-hour playtime, with much, if not all of the story beats panning out as expected. A couple of revelations may be viewed as twists, but with the standard handling of themes like comradery, forming alliances, and of course, saving the world, it’s all too easy to determine how things will pan out.
The predictability can be a double-edged sword. Where some take comfort in treading familiar ground, others may find the plot unfolding too quickly, especially for JPRG veterans used to slow-burn development. Here, the pace picks up often, with players flitting between lull periods and fight climaxes in every chapter of the main campaign.
Despite its link to the greater Granblue Fantasy universe, the game doesn’t require prior knowledge or understanding of its fantasy world. Naturally, fans will appreciate the neat way in which Granblue Fantasy: Relink weaves in existing lore into a standalone narrative, but newcomers aren’t left in the dust. The highly-accessible adventure does a good job at getting first-timers up to speed, with a glossary of terms that can be pulled up at any point in time – even during cutscenes.
The one-stop for all things lore, Lyria’s Journal further helps to establish lore expertise. Field Notes, for instance, give information about various foes, characters, and weapons, while Archives details the documents, records, and diary entries found in the game. A particularly noteworthy feature are Fate Episodes, accessed through the Quest Counter, which essentially act as character stories. Completing them yields rewards for that character, and offers a deeper understanding of their person.
Speaking of characters, Granblue Fantasy: Relink features many familiar faces from its mobile counterpart. Katalina, Rosetta, Rackram, Eugen, and Io are automatically fixed as the starting party members, of whom there can only be four (including the player). More members can be recruited with Crewmate Cards, earned by progressing through the main questline and completing select side quests.
Some playable fan favourites include Lancelot, Zeta, Narmaya, and Vane, but herein lies one problem. While their movesets and combo attacks are listed, players can only try them out after bringing them onboard, which comes across as counterintuitive. A major deciding factor in picking a character, after all, is play style, and this lack of a trial or practice area before recruitment can cause a disconnect between execution and expectation. Assigning the character to AI is the easiest workaround, although that would also limit player options and exacerbate the feeling of repetitive combat.
Where the party system shines is in its customisation offerings and distinct feel. Similar to the original mobile game, each Granblue Fantasy: Relink character is assigned to an element (wind, water, fire, earth, light, or darkness), and has their own abilities and perks. The individual differences, from build type to fighting style, translate very well to the battlefield – Perceival, for example, hits hard with a lot of weight behind his strikes, but attacks and moves slower than Zeta and Narmaya.
Between the pair, the former benefits those who enjoy pulling off aerial combos, whereas Narmaya presents a more versatile playstyle with her fast slashes and two attacking forms that can be switched out with a press of a button. Like many of its contemporaries, unlocking buffs, abilities, and upgrades on the skill tree will make a character stronger; unlike them, it’s divided into three categories: Offense, Defense, and later on, Weapon.
Other genre mainstays, including weapon upgrades, equippable bonuses called sigils, and skill customisation all form part of the core experience, bringing some depth (albeit standard fare for RPG veterans) to gameplay. The Mastery Points (MSP) are also shared between all party members, so there’s a need to manage and distribute resources across active and lesser-used characters.
The combat system bears traces of its own flair, too. Despite the ARPG classification, Granblue Fantasy: Relink is no Devil May Cry, Final Fantasy XVI, or Monster Hunter, catering instead to a more casual playstyle – a logical move, considering the Granblue Fantasy audience. Cygames’ latest features a simplified control scheme for executing combo attacks, where button-mashing, dodging, and blocking take centrestage.
Even so, there’s still a slight layer of strategy involved. Landing repeated hits on foes will fill the attacking gauge, and the higher its level, the more a character’s abilities are empowered. This means players will have to determine the best time and way to attack – do they chain their character skills at a lower level, or space out their attacks and only unleash them at maximum charge? Dish out enough damage, and the enemy will be stunned, opening up a window of opportunity to land more strikes.
There are also Link Attacks, activated in tandem with another party member. Similarly, the link level is filled proportionately with the frequency of use; hit 100 percent, and Link Time, which slows time down and regenerates health, will activate. Oh, and there’s no need to fret over dying, for party members will be able to revive their felled comrades.
As a whole, combat is a scintillating, thrilling affair that makes it one of the game’s biggest charms. Flitting between one enemy to the next proves to be smooth, and defeating enemies, especially bosses, always gives off a sense of satisfaction. Full Bursts are a standout, treating players to flashy tag-team animation and devastating damage. It’s a nice nod to the original Granblue Fantasy, requiring all party members to trigger their sort-of Ultimates (or Skybound Arts, for those acquainted with the mobile game).
In the thick of the action, Granblue Fantasy: Relink promises high-strung tension and constant focus – an experience best enjoyed with company. While primarily narrative-driven, the ARPG has incorporated co-op elements, and the fun can really pick up with the right group (the multiplayer segment was disabled for this review, but our preview teased an exciting time).
More impressively, the battle sequences offer variety in spades. There’s more to them than on-ground fighting, with airship spectacles, cannon blasts, and mech skirmishes (yes, you read that right) bringing a refreshing twist to the formula, and putting the PlayStation 5 DualSense controller’s haptic feedback to good use. Should any battle prove too difficult, the various difficulty levels and Assist Mode are here to save the day.
For all that the game is highly enjoyable, there are some concerns to note. The leader character can be swapped out for another that players want to control, but the inability to switch between party members mid-battle limits versatility, especially for longer boss battles. As is the case with most ARPGs, there will be a lot of visual clutter, making it difficult to track happenings on the battlefield amid the bullet-hell bombardment. The lock-on mechanic isn’t ideal either, as it snaps to destructible environmental objects occasionally.
On the note of environments, Granblue Fantasy: Relink features locales that ooze a distinct flavour. Folga, the first hub made available to players, is bustling with life and activity, while Dahli Island, reflective of its desert roots, sports sandy dunes and dilapidated architecture. In the same vein, the harsh, frosty realm of Leautagne brings Ice-type enemies, with the Fire-type foes of Phodam turning up the heat, quite literally.
Towns like Folga and Seedhollow are where individuals can embark on quests with others. The Quest Counter offers six different types of challenges: Boss, Conquest, Defend, Horde, Survival, and Explore, ensuring they are kept occupied with endgame content after completing the single-player campaign. Naturally, there will come a point where all this content grows stale (according to Cygames, the playtime can go up to 100 hours and more); until then, the side activities act as a nice break in pace from the main story.
In cutscenes or otherwise, the world is a sight to behold. It inherits a similar texture work and design language to Granblue Fantasy, navigating effortlessly between a pastoral and darker aesthetic. Coupled with nicely modelled characters and enemy variety, there’s much to enjoy about its presentation.
An enthralling spectacle through the skies, Granblue Fantasy: Relink is a welcome expansion of the mobile game universe, and serves as a reminder of how far the series has come from its humble beginnings. Cygames’ latest adventure might not soar to the heights of other ARPG contenders, but delivers enough excitement, immersion, and replayability to stand firm as an ambitious heavyweight – for both fans and series newcomers alike.
Granblue Fantasy: Relink releases 1 February for PS4, PS5, and PC via Steam.
GEEK REVIEW SCORE
Bursting with ambition and an ARPG flair, Granblue Fantasy: Relink should prove an exciting prospect for genre aficionados, and a delight for longtime fans. An all-around commendable effort, but don’t expect it to be on the same level as its full-fledged contemporaries.
Gameplay - 8.5/10
Story - 7/10
Presentation - 8.5/10
Value - 7.5/10