Action Anime JRPG Review

Granblue Fantasy: Relink – Review

Granblue Fantasy: Relink is a Japanese action-rpg developed by Cygames. The game is a follow-up to Cygames’ smash-hit gacha title, Granblue Fantasy. To be clear for those concerned, Relink is not a gacha title. The game was first revealed way back in 2016, and at the time it was a collaboration title between Cygames and Platinum Games. Somewhere along the way, Platinum Games left the project, and the game was delayed several times. Granblue Fantasy: Relink was finally released on February 1st, 2024. Now, it’s time to see if the wait was worth it.

Gacha No More

As I mentioned, Granblue Fantasy: Relink is not a gacha game. It is however something of a sequel to the original Granblue Fantasy. Players take on the role of the Captain of the Grandcypher as they explore the Zegagrande Skydom, a collection of floating islands with all manner of inhabitants, both humanoid and monstrous. If you haven’t played the original Granblue Fantasy, it can feel like you’re crashing a party midway through.

I have not played Granblue Fantasy. I am also not terribly familiar with its lore. After picking which version of the Captain I wanted to play – you can choose between the male Gran or female Djeeta – I was thrown into a story-in-progress, with a cast of characters with established histories and relationships. The opening cutscenes were definitely a tad confusing, but I got to grips with things relatively quickly.

Granblue Fantasy: Relink has a few tools that allow for series newcomers to familiarize themselves with the lore and characters. The most straightforward of these tools is Lyria’s Journal, a glossary with all sorts of information regarding the world, its inhabitants, and previous events. There are also fate episodes. Each character has a series of short vignettes that you can watch which cover their past, how they met the Captain, and then a little bit of a story in Zegagrande which gives you more insight into their personality. Watching fate episodes also provides permanent character buffs, so it’s a win-win. It requires some effort on your part, but if you’re willing to slow down, read a little bit of the journal, and watch some fate episodes, then you should have no trouble understanding and enjoying Granblue Fantasy: Relink’s story.

Granblue Fantasy: Relink - Djeeta

Tale As Old As Time

On the story, I have to say there’s not much here that’s going to surprise you if you’re familiar with JRPGs. The crew of the Grandcypher are on a quest to travel to Estalucia, a realm separate from the Sky Realm they’re currently scurrying about in. What the crew, and therefore the player, know about Estalucia is rather limited. It is supposedly home to the Astrals, a kind of higher humanoid being that once dominated the Sky Realm, and it’s also where the Captain’s father supposedly is. We don’t need to worry too much about Estalucia though, as their adventure is soon scuppered by a series of unfortunate encounters.

Granblue Fantasy: Relink’s story focuses on the crew helping out the people of the Zegagrande Skydom, and also fighting against the mysterious Church of Avia who cause all manner of trouble for the Captain and company. The stakes of the story escalate at a natural pace, leading you on a series of adventures complete with epic battles and world-threatening baddies, before a final confrontation and some post-game narrative segments that tie up any remaining loose ends.

The story is straightforward, it takes no risks and delivers only the most basic of emotional beats. I don’t think this is a bad thing, but it is worth noting. Granblue Fantasy: Relink’s primary focus is on creating an engaging gameplay loop, with the narrative existing to provide character and world-building to imbue that loop with some worthwhile context. The world and characters of Granblue Fantasy are, thankfully, pretty interesting, so it achieves exactly what it sets out to do.

The otherwise rote nature of Granblue Fantasy: Relink’s story does get a booster shot of excitement through some impressive set pieces across the main campaign. I was reminded at times of the visually stunning Eikon fights of Final Fantasy 16. Granblue Fantasy: Relink might not achieve quite the same level of quality in set pieces, but there are some really incredible moments here. From airship battles against sky-faring behemoths to reality-tearing clashes between primal beasts, Granblue Fantasy: Relink goes out of its way to communicate an impressive sense of scale and destruction throughout the campaign.

Every Moment A Mission

That campaign is quite short. If you focus on the main story, you can see credits roll on Granblue Fantasy: Relink in about 15 hours. That’s not even close to all the game has to offer though. As I said, the story is more of a means to an end here. Once you’ve cleared the main story, the full scale of the game is revealed as you gain access to a series of increasingly difficult battles via the Monster Hunter style quest counter.

Monster Hunter is just about the best comparison I can make here. Granblue Fantasy: Relink’s main attraction is repeatable quests that pit you against massive monsters. As you work through these quests you’re building up your characters, gear, and practical skills to become the most efficient monster-slaying machine you can. The grind is the game, and the grind is good.

If you’re one of those people, like myself, who adores the gameplay structure of Monster Hunter, God Eater, or similar titles then Granblue Fantasy: Relink is an easy recommendation. If you like that kind of game, this is a good one of those. I will provide a bit more insight and criticism of course, seeing as that’s my job. I just wanted to offer that recommendation now, in case my lukewarm impression of the main story diminished your interest at all. The story is maybe 30% of the game and, to be frank, I’m not all that bothered about it.

Granblue Fantasy: Relink - Earthwyrm

Monster Huntering

Onto the good bit now, Granblue Fantasy: Relink’s gameplay is stellar. Platinum Games may have left development some time ago, but Cygames has achieved the same level of mastery of tight, thrilling combat all on their own. It can be difficult to express the joy of good combat with boring old words, but I think I have a good angle for you here. The hook that keeps the player coming back with these quest-based monster-slaying games is progression. Gear drops, leveling, and optimization – these are the concepts that encourage you to fight the same bosses over and over. The distinguishing mark of quality for these types of games though, is when the fights themselves are compelling enough that repetition does not give way to tedium. Granblue Fantasy: Relink has that distinguishing mark, the fights themselves are inherently rewarding. Disregarding any element of progression or grind, it’s just plain fun.

Monster Hunter, to me, is divine. It feels blasphemous to offer a comparison to it, but Granblue Fantasy: Relink is so good that I will push through that. I get the same rush playing this game as I do playing Monster Hunter. Fighting the Corvell Earthwrym reminded me of the thrill of squaring up to Diablos, in aesthetics and substance. I don’t even want to be writing this review right now, I want to go play Granblue Fantasy: Relink. I’m not sure if it’s appropriate for me to say that, but it is the unvarnished truth.

Granblue Fantasy: Relink - Griffin Fight

The specifics of combat are never going to be as fun to read about as they are to play, but nevertheless… It’s action combat, with a party of four characters. You control one character, with the remaining three controlled by AI (or other players if you’re so inclined). The main loop has you building stagger on an enemy, which then allows you to perform a link attack with your party that stuns the enemy briefly and deals heavy damage. Enemies will enter overdrive when they’ve lost enough health. Overdrive can be incredibly dangerous, as enemies enter a frothing rage and pull out their most damaging moves. The way to stop overdrive is to keep dealing damage, gradually depleting their overdrive gauge until it’s empty and they enter a break state, allowing you to dish out your own heaping helping of damage.

Granblue Fantasy: Relink wants to keep the player on the offensive, and it gives you plenty of tools to accomplish this. You have a selection of basic combos for each character, and a selection of skills, of which you can equip four. These skills have a wide range of utility, from damage output, to combo starters, to buffs and debuffs, to heals. Every character’s skills are unique and remarkably well thought out. Where the combat really shines though, is in how varied each character’s basic playstyle is. Every character has a unique mechanic that changes how you approach combat, and I was shocked by how engaging these mechanics are.

Granblue Fantasy: Relink - Zeta Stat Screen

Thoughtful Fighters

To give you an idea of what I’m talking about with these unique character mechanics, I’ll give you a rundown of the Captain’s. The Captain is the first character you’ll play as, and their gimmick is nice and simple. As you execute basic attack combos with the Captain, their art gauge will level up. The strength of the Captain’s skills is based on their arts gauge level. So their gimmick encourages the player to press the attack and stay aggressive in order to maximize the utility of their skills. The arts gauge increases the power of all their skills too, not just damage. So regardless of if you’re using the Captain as DPS or support, to get the most use out of them you have to pull off your basic combos.

The Captain’s unique mechanic alone is solid, so it’s impressive that the 18 other playable characters also have their own fantastic gimmicks. I would love to talk about all 18, but no one is going to read that (understandably) and it would also be something of a spoiler I think. So I’m going to talk about some of my favorites broadly, and then my absolute favorite in some detail. Before I move on though I do want to say I found every character enjoyable to play as which was genuinely surprising. I kept expecting a stinker, a mechanic that felt useless, or a boring set of skills, but I never encountered one. There are two additional characters arriving in an April update, perhaps one of those will disappoint me, but I doubt it.

The first character I spent a lot of time playing after the Captain was Rosetta, one of the 6 playable characters you have access to at the start of the game. Rosetta is a lot of fun to play. Her gimmick is based around plantable roses that act as AoE damage zones against enemies that level up and increase their range as they attack enemies. When Rosetta finishes a combo the roses also provide a buff to party members in range. It’s an interesting mix of a support and DPS role, with an engaging focus on positioning.

Granblue Fantasy: Relink - Siegfried

After being impressed with Rosetta, I branched out and tried as many characters as I could unlock – characters are unlocked via vouchers which are awarded by specific quests. You get plenty of vouchers across the campaign and the remaining vouchers are awarded fairly soon into the endgame. I had a lot of fun with Siegfried, a slower heavy attacker whose attacks hit harder if you time your inputs well and Narmaya, an attacker with two stances – heavy and fast – who acquires butterflies by performing combos which are then consumed to power up her skills.

My favorite character by far though, is Zeta. A fast-paced aerial attacker. Zeta can sustain a killer aerial combo loop if you time your inputs correctly, allowing her to stay clear of ground-based attacks while dishing out massive damage to enemy weak points. Zeta has a great range of skills that provide buffs for herself and the team, with my favorite being Vengeful Flames, a buffing skill that grants supplementary damage to every attack she lands. By mixing her buffing skills with her aerial combos I was able to absolutely melt bosses regularly. I love playing as Zeta, it’s incredibly rewarding when you’re able to maintain high-flying multi-hit combos while dodging through the air past enemy attacks.

To summarize how wonderfully diverse and interesting the character mechanics of Granblue Fantasy: Relink are: I even regularly played as male characters, which is a big development for me. I’m only like 50% joking.

Granblue Fantasy: Relink - Ferry

Grind Your Gear

So, whilst the combat is fun enough in its own right, it’s still worth talking about progression. There are a few vectors of progression present, but thankfully only one of them is particularly complicated. First off, every character has their own absolutely massive skill tree. These skill trees are very much linear though, and they’re closer to a leveling mechanic, as after unlocking your core skills they mostly provide stat buffs. You progress the skill tree by investing mastery points (MSP), a currency that you’re rewarded at the end of every quest and also when a character levels up. MSP can be invested in any character you want, even MSP acquired via character leveling can be assigned to another character. You get plenty of MSP as you play, and I never felt like I had to grind excessively for it.

Characters do level up with the standard RPG experience system, but that level is much less important than the skill tree progression. A level 10 character with a maxed out skill tree is going to outperform a level 100 character with no MSP investment whatsoever. To unite the various means of character progression you have a “power level” which gives you a better idea of how your party stacks up. I’m not sure where the power level caps out, but at the moment I’ve got Zeta sitting at just under 15,000. Quests have a recommended power level that you can use to judge the difficulty before you depart.

The last element of progression is your gear. This is where things get more complicated. Every character has a variety of weapons they can equip – they all function the same but offer different buffs. These weapons are leveled with materials you acquire through questing, and they level exponentially. At the higher end of weapon leveling your attack power can jump by over a hundred points. The real complexity though is in sigils. Sigils can be slotted to your characters and they provide a wide range of passive buffs. The level of optimization available through sigils is insane, and I’m not even close to mastering it. To give you an idea though, I was able to boost my critical rate to 100%, and add a 30% chance to deal supplemental damage on every attack. You can really juice up your characters through sigils, but they are largely random drops so the grind to perfect optimization is long and perilous. Good fun though.

Granblue Fantasy: Relink - Roland

Snags To Breeze Past

So, I think it’s pretty clear that I loved my time with Granblue Fantasy: Relink. There are some little issues though. The biggest of these is enemy variety. The set of bosses isn’t small, but it’s definitely lacking. This issue really comes into focus as you progress through the endgame. You quickly find yourself coming up against the same set of bosses as the difficulty increases, with the only significant difference being their ability to absolutely slaughter you if you make a single mistake.

Another small issue is the RNG I mentioned regarding sigils. Progression can somewhat stall out once your skill tree is maxed out, your weapon is maxed out, and your main form of progress is then sigils. This doesn’t bother me much, but I think it’s worth mentioning as it could be a sticking point for some people. I also am only really at the beginning of needing to focus on sigils, as I said the system is quite deep and even after 60 hours I still have a long way to go.

These are the only issues that stuck out to me enough to recall, aside from the occasional dull quest. The story might be a bigger issue for some looking for a more narrative focused experience, but that’s not a mark against the game as much as a point of clarification. Do not pick this up for the story, unless you’re a Granblue Fantasy diehard. Do pick it up for the gameplay.

Granblue Fantasy: Relink - Airship Scenery

Peak Anime Chic

As a delightful little side dish to the gameplay, you’ll also be treated to some of the best anime-style visuals I’ve seen in a game in recent memory. Granblue Fantasy: Relink is a beautiful game. The game makes use of a vibrant, expressive color palette, which it applies to an aesthetically interesting fantasy world. Floating islands aren’t a new concept, but you don’t see them too much, and they’re done brilliantly here. The designers took great advantage of the freedom in geometry and terrain presented by floating islands.

The characters look great for the most part too. Some designs definitely feel a little lacking, especially the Captain, in both female and male form. They’re only lacking by comparison to the rest of the cast though. Some of my favorite designs were Ferry, with her ghostly pets complimenting her ethereal aesthetic, and Siegfried, a beautifully rendered, albeit traditional, fallen knight design.

The world and its characters are brought to life with a masterfully crafted soundtrack, and reliably solid voice acting. When I say the soundtrack is masterfully crafted I do mean for the game itself. There is the odd track that I could perhaps enjoy listening to outside of the game, but for the most part I’d say the music is well tuned to fit with the game itself. Be it battle themes or town music, tracks are finely put together and appropriately assigned to enhance the experience.

On voice acting, there is both an English and Japanese voice track available. I opted for the Japanese dub for most of my playthrough, but the English dub is perfectly serviceable. I did feel that the in-battle voices in the English were a little bit lacking in energy though. Neither voice track excels regardless. The voice acting fits nicely into that spot of high quality, but unremarkable.

Granblue Fantasy: Relink - Zeta

Verdict

Granblue Fantasy: Relink was a bit of a surprise for me. I was expecting a good time to be sure, but I am shocked by how deeply engaged I’ve become with the game. The story might disappoint some who were expecting a long, in-depth JRPG, but if you know what you’re getting into that shouldn’t be a problem. The combat is phenomenal. The character variety provides an endless supply of fun, with tons of opportunity to experiment and optimize your play. I’m going to be playing Granblue Fantasy: Relink for a long time, even after finishing this review there are a wealth of characters I want to dive deeper into and master, and I want to continue playing with those I’ve already spent hours upon hours with. I hope we see more games like this from Cygames going forward. They have a killer foundation to build on here.

GRANBLUE FANTASY: RELINK IS HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

Platforms: PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5

If you are looking for another action RPG, you might want to check out our review of Sword Art Online: Last Recollection. For another game in the Granblue Fantasy world, you could also check out our review of Granblue Fantasy Versus: Rising.

Thank you to Cygames for providing a PlayStation 5 review code for Granblue Fantasy: Relink.

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