The hit mobile game gets another spin-off game and it didn’t disappoint
Whenever we see an Action RPG, we want something that’s a polished combat system where you can customize your preferred playing style and get hooked for hours just to get that strongest loot or the best dungeon clear score while having your jaw dropped with the insane boss battles. We got a good taste last year with Final Fantasy XVI and this year, CyGames finally released their highly anticipated Action RPG Granblue Fantasy Relink, it has been a long wait from the fans and will they be disappointed or would it be hell worth the wait.
Production (4 out of 5)
Granblue Fantasy Relink sets players in the fantasy world called the Sky Realm which is filled with floating islands each group forms a region called a Skydom, Relink’s story is focused on a new region called the Zegagrande Skydom. You play as either Gran (male) or Djeeta (female) who is the main character of the Granblue series as they venture into the new Skydom with their fellow Skyfarers. Newcomers may take some time to get familiar with the characters as Relink is set in the later chapters of the mobile game, so they may have to rely on reading the story archives to learn more about the characters, it would’ve been nice if there was a quick story recap video as an intro when you start the game, but it’s not a dealbreaker as you can enjoy the game on a fresh state with no knowledge about the mobile game and you’ll get to love the characters as you progress further. The plot is just your typical classic fantasy anime setup, so there aren’t any plot twists or deep character development to expect, which I feel the story is the weakest part of the game. If you’re the type that wants to learn more about the game’s lore, Relink has a codex feature called Lyria’s Journal, which provides a recap on the current story progress, details on each character, glossary, and the archive of notes that you may found during your adventure, it’s odd that whenever you discover any notes or documents in the field, you have to open Lyria’s Journal from the main menu to read it instead of opening it immediately after interacting with it.
What I love with Relink is how they still maintain that anime vibe for its visuals, though not as close as how Granblue Fantasy Versus did, it still looks great, especially during fights when all the flashy effects start kicking in, and if you did play GFB Versus, you’ll notice that all the signature moves and supers that they perform there are also recreated faithfully in Relink. The game will feature different environments from forests to the desert to ice caverns, but it gets repetitive in several missions on seeing the same area and there is not much variety for each region. Some NPCs especially in towns tend to reuse the same model with a different color variation but they’d still look identical, and they are noticeable in the early part of the game, like for instance you’ll encounter one NPC in town and the next thing you’ll notice, you’ll see the same NPC model from a different area during a story quest. Dialogue cutscenes let you open up the glossary to give you some info on certain lore and context being mentioned by the characters, it can be overwhelming at first as it lists down all of the available lore instead of what is only focused during the cutscene, some similar like the Active Time Lore in Final Fantasy XVI, but one thing that they applied from the mobile game is putting a summary of the cutscene when opting to skip it, and this is something that some games can implement. A weird thing you’ll experience in some cutscenes is the long pause after each line, the dead air moments can feel awkward as characters just stare for a couple of seconds before they proceed with their next line.
You can switch between Performance or Quality mode for the game when playing on the PS5. Playing in Performance mode provides a 60fps frame rate on a 1080p resolution, and the gameplay is very smooth with barely any noticeable frame rate dips and there are occasions where the visuals feel a bit washed out, possibly due to the dynamic resolution kicking in dropping the resolution on busy areas such as towns. Quality locks the game in 30fps but with a higher resolution, this works well if you’re not picky about having a lower frame rate and has a 4K HDTV to optimize the visual experience. The game includes both the English and Japanese dubs, I played with the Japanese dub on the demo and English on the full game and I enjoyed both thanks to the great voice performances of the voice actors, do take note that you may find some skill actions having the same repetitive voice clip that may become tiresome to listen after a while.
Mechanics (5 out of 5)
The characters are the main highlight of Relink, with 18 characters to choose from, each having different styles of attacks and mechanics that play differently from one another. What’s also interesting is that they borrowed the mechanics of the same characters from GBF Versus and it translated well that it works so well in Relink, some examples include the Rhapsody counterattack mechanic for Zeta and the Dawnfly/Freeflutter attack style mechanic for Narmaya, and same with its fighting game counterpart, choosing your preferred character varies on the type of playing style you prefer, and Relink gives plenty of choices. Unlocking all of the characters will be a chore as you start with 6 characters and you don’t unlock all of them through story progression but by using Crewmate cards that you acquire as rewards, and it may take hours to get all of them, there’s no way to try out the characters first before recruiting them so you will have to read their skillset and description just to get an idea on how they work.
You can identify your character’s overall strength by looking at their PWR, this can help determine if you can tackle some of the tougher quests by looking at the minimum PWR requirement, you can still accept quests if you are underpowered, but it may take longer or may be too difficult. You can enhance your characters in several ways; you can level them up by completing quests, acquiring weapons and unlocking more Masteries. Weapons can be crafted by the blacksmith in towns or in some occasions, you can find some from treasure chests in the main story quests, certain weapons offer special traits that either increase your stun power, add more health, or increase your critical rate, you can also imbue them with more traits by finding Wyrmstones through quests. You can add more traits for your characters by equipping Sigils, these can provide stat enhancements and status effects, and they come in different rarities and can be upgradable. Masteries can boost your stats and unlock new skills by spending Mastery Points or MSPs, you can earn them by leveling up or completing quests and side quests.
Boss battles are a spectacle in Granblue Fantasy Relink, each type has unique behavior and phases that add a layer of challenge when dealing with them. Certain attacks are telegraphed where the party may need to play defense just to survive, after dealing a certain amount of damage to the boss, it can go into a rage mode called Overdrive that makes them stronger and more aggressive, and it can turn into a much dangerous form called Bloodthirst where will unleash deadly area of effect and telegraph attacks. It reminds me of the boss raids in Final Fantasy XIV MMO and even an old mobile game by CyGames called Dragalia Lost where enemy bosses don’t just stand in one place and throw hard-hitting spells or attacks but move around and can force the players to strategize their attacks, this makes the questing more fun especially when playing in co-op. As you reach higher difficulties, the mechanics will become more aggressive, it makes it more satisfying whenever you beat a boss on extreme difficulty or manage to have coordinated attacks with other players, and it’s not just buffing the stats of the boss for each level of difficulty.
You have the standard attack and special attack buttons them you can mix them to create different combos, you can equip up to four skills that can be accessed from your right shoulder button and mapped to your face buttons, they come in a variety of attacks, buffs, debuffs, guards and healing abilities. You also have a special prompt attack called Link Attack where you can stun enemies if you manage to fill up its stun gauge, and performing actions can increase your link level where if it reaches 100 and you perform a link attack, you can execute a time-slowing effect to your enemies that also gives your party special buffs momentarily. Then you also have a special gauge if filled can execute a powerful move called the Skybound Art and can be chained with another one from your party member and if all of the party performed the Skybound Art consecutively, you can perform the Full Burst attack that lands a devastating spell that corresponds to the element of the player who initiated the Skybound Art first. For defensive maneuvers, you have your standard guard and dodge actions which when executed at the right time, can give your temporary invincibility or knocking back enemies. You have consumable healing items mapped in your directional pad and they cannot be changed. When a character has their HP down to zero, they end up in a critical state where they cannot perform actions but can move at a crawling pace, players can either consume a revive potion or have a nearby party member revive them, but if their critical state meters runs out, they’ll be dead and cannot perform for the rest of the quest if all party members are killed, it’s quest failed or game over.
The controls are responsive and you can execute your combos well and land perfect blocks and dodges with less chance of getting punished, but it wouldn’t hurt to allow players to fully customize the button layout and not just be limited to swapping the shoulder button layout. Camera controls have some slight issues, with some occasions of latency or the camera locking at an inconvenient angle, even if you don’t lock on a target, camera movement feels loose, and you may have to configure the sensitivity before you continue your playthrough.
Players have the option to play the game normally or with automated combat assistance. At any time in the game, you can toggle it from Assist to Full Assist where you can automatically perform full combos in a single button input with Assist and when in Full Assist, the CPU will handle the battle for you from attacking to evading and all you need to do is move your character to the nearest enemy. This has its pros and cons depending on how players will take this feature, as it may be helpful when grinding in a single quest several times just to farm materials but it may be an annoyance to some in multiplayer who don’t coordinate in their objectives, and using the Assist function has no penalties, I wish Relink would give bonus rewards to parties that complete quests with no Assist functions just to encourage them to try the combat system.
Content (4.5 out of 5)
Relink is an Action RPG through and through, you form a party of 4 in your adventure with the requirement of having the main character in the party during story quests. Story quests may run from 30 minutes to an hour and you can return to town at any time and return to the story quest on where you stopped. Map areas of main story quests are large but there are very few spots for you to explore for any hidden treasures, but the layout of the areas feels linear and its endpoint directs to the end boss, though some encounters in the story quests offer some fun side contents while venturing in the story quests such as finding treasure chests that can only be unlocked by collecting crystals within the time limit. There are also the omen stones scattered around the story quests where you can challenge yourself by beating tougher monsters within the time limit to reach a powerful boss where you can rake big rewards.
Aside from story quests, you can take other quests from the quest counter that will only take a few minutes to finish, and some may take longer if you’re raiding a boss. The design has a resemblance to how Monster Hunter handles its quests, and there are several types of objectives ranging from horde mode to survival to boss fights. More quests will be unlocked as you progress further, and you have the liberty of clearing the available ones before you continue with the story, and there are more than a hundred available with more planned as their post-launch plan. Side quests are the ones you accept from NPCs and they only revolve around fetching items or killing a certain number of monsters, it’s more of a supplementary for your questing as it gives out a generous amount of items when completed.
Another type of quest that can be taken is called Fate Episodes, they are episodic cutscenes for each character that tell a summary of their backstories and their perspective in the main story. They are presented in a visual novel style of cutscene with voice over and certain episodes will involve an actual quest. Completing the episodes will grant a permanent stat boost to a character, it’s more of a supplemental feature that feels very optional as you can just skip all the text just to complete an episode and not care about additional lore.
Towns are your hubs where you can upgrade your gear from the blacksmith, trade materials from Siero’s Knickknack Shack and tackle any available quests. The town design was intended for multiplayer sessions where it placed all the important NPCs together for quicker party setup and embarking on the next quest in one place. For some weird reason, fast traveling around town will become available in post-game which might have helped navigate around towns, especially in Seedhollow where it can be annoying to find certain NPCs for fetch side quests since the game only provides a compass instead of a mini-map and it wouldn’t tell the distance if it’s nearby.
Feature (4.5 out of 5)
Granblue Fantasy Relink is best played with other people, and the multiplayer functionality works like in Monster Hunter games; you go online and either open a lobby or join from other players’ lobbies, or you can do matchmaking when starting any quests. You can hop in and out of lobbies quite fast and you can vote to repeat the current quest without returning to town to save up more time. Communications can be done with stickers, emotes and preset messages, customizing the preset text is very limited with only a few characters allowed. One thing that’s missing is a proper photo mode, if you are going to play with friends, it’ll be a cool feature to have group photos and add more options on the poses, maybe CyGames can add this after the launch?
Finishing the main story will take you almost 20 hours including the other available quests. The post-game will unlock more quests with higher difficulty as well as a prologue main story quest. New features will become available such as a gacha-like system for getting rare Sigils and a Daily Quest function that rewards you with a gold voucher that you can use to double the rewards in multiplayer quests. Post-game sure will eat up a lot of game time like 40 to 60 hours and possibly more once the free content updates will roll out in post-launch.
As far as cosmetics go, you can change the appearance of your weapons, and for characters, there are color palettes available post-game or with the Deluxe edition, changing the outfits is only limited to Gran/Djeeta and Siegfried (with the option to have half or full helmet), but it may be possible to have costume outfits for other characters in the future.
It’s fun to play whether you like to go solo or have friends join you, Granblue Fantasy Relink offers a ton of action and easy-to-play controls. The different mechanics of the characters add variety that you’ll continue to experiment with just to get that shortest quest clear time. It doesn’t have the most compelling story for its main quest nor a large, open-world-like zone to explore, it’s just enough to streamline the game and focus on what makes it work well. It purely focused on the gameplay rather than adding more complexity to its core gameplay, but avoiding it to feel repetitive even if you are playing for hundreds of hours. Connecting to multiplayer is fast and you can start a quest with random players at your online lobby.
This is a must-play for any Action RPG fans and even JRPG fans who want an action-focused game that features an established franchise with fun characters.
We give Granblue Fantasy Relink a score of 4.5 out of 5
The game was reviewed on the PlayStation 5 and is also available on PlayStation 4 and PC. Special thanks to Sega for the review copy.