The Granblue Fantasy franchise originated in the mobile and web browser space as a turn-based gacha game with microtransactions. The franchise has since expanded to include the 2D fighting game Granblue Fantasy Versus, its upcoming sequel Versus: Rising, and the action RPG Granblue Fantasy: Relink.
Relink was announced all the way back in 2016, but faced a somewhat rocky development cycle. It was originally developed by PlatinumGames and Cygames, but eventually, the former left the project, leaving the latter to carry out the rest of development. After playing four hours of Granblue Fantasy: Relink, I was surprised at how much it emphasized multiplayer and co-op without compromising the single-player experience.
Granblue Fantasy: Relink’s real-time combat is its main selling point, and it reminds me of Tales of Arise with its flashy attacks and combos. It’s incredibly fun and high energy as it deftly balances offensive and defensive options. Characters can equip a variety of different skills to fire off attacks that add to the spectacle, but also have the ability to block and dodge incoming attacks. This fluidity between options makes Relink’s combat feel smooth to play.
There’s a lot of flexibility in the game’s combat since you can also switch between playable characters in your party of four during the single-player story. Seemingly, the only restriction is that the main character, Gran or Gita (male or female), must be included at all times. Because of the ability to switch between characters, combat never really feels stale, and you can build out your own party however you wish.
There are some other combat features that also make Relink stand out among its contemporaries. When unleashing normal combo attacks, you are constantly building up your Arts Level, which impacts how effective your skills are. For example, Gran has a skill that can increase the party’s attack power, but it might be a better idea to hold off on activating it until you reach Arts Level 4, when it has a higher potency, instead of using it immediately at Arts Level 1. This provides a really interesting risk-versus-reward dynamic, rewarding you with a more powerful version of your skill if you’re patient, but leaving you more vulnerable than you could be until then. “Should I use my skill now, or should I risk holding off and potentially losing my Arts Level if I get hit too much?” was a question I constantly asked myself during my demo.
However, my favorite feature is the Link system called Skybound Arts, which ties into each character’s ultimate attack. It works very similarly to the Tales franchise’s Mystic Artes system, where a gauge fills up over time and lets its corresponding character unleash a powerful attack once full. What makes Skybound Arts truly stand out compared to Mystic Artes in Tales or even Limit Breaks in Final Fantasy VII Remake, is how Relink once again encourages players to be patient and wait for the right moment to use them.
If your party fires off all of their Skybound Arts in short succession, they’ll band together to unleash something called Full Burst, which is similar to Persona’s All-Out-Attack. Full Bursts deal massive damage to enemies and can wipe a decent chunk of HP off bosses. This is another way that Relink incentivizes players to delay their gratification to receive a greater reward. Thankfully, you can command your party members to wait until you set off your own Skybound Art before they use theirs, so you don’t have to worry about them activating too early.
Cygames told us during the preview session that Relink’s main story takes about 20 hours to complete, as well as an additional 20 to 40 hours for sidequests. Players can also extend their playtime to over 100 hours when including endgame content. A majority of that can be spent doing multiplayer sessions with friends. Fortunately, you can also tackle this content with your AI-controlled party members.
Relink has a vibrant cast of characters, some of which can be unlocked throughout the story and others through completing side content. Playing as these characters through the story first allows you to get more attached to them. The multiplayer component feels like an extension of the single-player experience rather than just a tacked-on mode. The fantastic art style helps too. The watercolor-like anime aesthetic makes the colors pop off of the screen and adds even more charm and personality.
The lobby experience was straightforward when I tried this component with three other players. We were in the middle of a town square and able to run around with townspeople walking the streets as we waited for all of us to get into the same lobby. Multiplayer is reminiscent of Monster Hunter, as the main goal typically is to battle hordes of enemies or work together to take down a big monster. After completing these quests, you’re rewarded with components to upgrade your gear, money, and a bunch of other items.
The online experience and conditions were quite favorable given that Cygames provided the PlayStation 5 hardware. I didn’t have any issues or frame rate drops, and I hope that remains the case with the final release. While I didn’t play any endgame content, the producers had us watch them take down a huge white dragon boss called Radis Whitewyrm that was able to knock out their level-150 characters in one hit.
They also showed us the armor and weapons they equipped, which were filled to the brim with different attributes like skill cooldowns and defense stat increases built specifically for endgame content. It was staggering to see how much preparation you’d need to tackle these endgame enemies, and I think players who enjoy customization and optimization will surely have a blast after the credits roll on the main story.
It feels like Cygames put an equal amount of effort into providing a robust story campaign while also implementing multiplayer mechanics. The multiplayer adds another layer of replayability that really helps Relink stand out among its purely single-player Japanese RPG contemporaries. I’m really excited to experience the whole story and explore the depths of its battle system when the game releases. Granblue Fantasy: Relink launches on PC, PlayStation 4, and PlayStation 5 on February 1, 2024.
Courtesy by: Digital Trends