Thursday, April 18, 2024

Granblue Fantasy: Relink Review — Well Worth The Wait

Granblue Fantasy: Relink is finally here, and as a quick cursory glance at the series many forums and communities tell me, it’s a game that its most beloved fans have been waiting for for a very long time.

While this is my very first venture into the fantasy world of skyfarers, airships, and godlike primeval beasts, Granblue Fantasy has been around since March 2014, when it launched on Android, iOS and web browsers. Its popularity cannot be understated, with the mobile and web gacha game having over 25 million downloads by 2019. Not only that, but it has several spin-offs, including its very own fighting game with Granblue Fantasy Versus, as well as its own manga and anime adaptation. Suffice to say, Granblue has more than its fair share of fans.

Now nearly 10 years later, Granblue Fantasy: Relink looks to retell that story as best as it possibly can, focusing on the story of a Captain (Gran, if players choose a male avatar, and Djeeta, if female) and their connection with Lyria; a blue-haired girl with a mysterious past. They are joined by the Captain’s best friend, a dragon called Vyrn, as well as several others who make up the Grandcypher crew. These characters are Io, a young mage with a lot to prove; Rackam, the captain of the Grandcypher; Rosetta, a secretive woman who seems to harness an otherworldly power; Eugen, a cranky mercenary who loves a good beer; and last but not least, Katalina, a knight of the Erste Empire before her love for Lyria caused her to betray the Empire and become the girl’s protector.

Once the crew is established — and I got to pick just which Captain I’d be playing — the game quickly thrusts you into a bombastic opening. It has everything: a tutorial that showcases combat, a humongous boss battle that ups the stakes from the get-go, and an original soundtrack that’ll give you goosebumps all over your flesh. It’s a strong start, and the action doesn’t ever feel close to stopping.

Granblue Fantasy: Relink
Image Source: Cygames

The moment I caught sight of the glittering skies and the regal presence of the Grandcypher airship, I immediately whistled. Delayed this game may have been, but all for a good cause because it’s one of the best-looking games I’ve seen. The level of detail in the designs of the main characters (which can be viewed in an in-game gallery) is glorious to witness, particularly Rosetta, whose vines and rose imagery make up not just her aesthetic, but combat mechanics too. The same can’t be said for the NPCs that inhabit the towns you visit, with many sharing the same face.

But as someone who didn’t give one damn about the multiple NPCs that shared the same pixelated faces in games like Dragon Age 2, I can say that Relink doing just that doesn’t bother me either. Something as small as NPCs looking the same doesn’t take away from just how intricately designed and gorgeous the environments you explore are, nor the level of scale of the buildings, ships, and even enemies that you encounter. In more ways than one, Relink is a wonder.

One of the first things that Relink establishes is that these loveable rogues have been together for quite a while. On one hand, this makes you feel as though you’ve just jumped straight into a story you had no part of, but on the other? Cygames formatting the narrative like this is to be expected. Granblue Fantasy has been around for a long time, and the number of chapters, side-events, and quests to be squashed into this action RPG would have probably made it so that trying to squash all that experience into one big game unwieldy, if not impossible for Cygames. Seriously, there’s a reason that there’s a 100+ page guide on getting into the mobile gacha.

That said, I never felt as though I was being punished for not knowing previous events, and this is notably because of the game’s Fate Episodes features.

Granblue Fantasy: Relink
Image Source: Cygames

Fate Episodes follow all of the crew of the Grandcypher, which includes the player character, and explains in detail about who they were before and during this adventure. As I continued to progress through the main story and leveled up my characters, I earned different Fate Episodes for everyone, and while most are just the character’s actors reading text, some actually open up into mini-quests. These directly relate to the chosen character and gave me a little more to chew on when it came to the cast. As a newbie, I appreciated that there was a lot more to these characters than what we see at first, but for players who want to play the main story? I’m not sure they’ll be able to achieve the same satisfaction as I did with Relink.

Alongside Fate Episodes is a plentiful amount of side quests. None are particularly exciting, with the majority being fetch quests or ‘go to location X and slay creature Y’, and it is incredibly easy to feel overpowered if you’re completing one quest after another.

However, Relink does try and keep exploration and side quests from being completely monotonous. There are a variety of different puzzles that you can encounter, with my favourite being the golden Shrouded Treasure you find throughout your adventures. Interacting with it reveals a path of crystal shards you must collect before the timer runs out. If you succeed, you get a handful of useful loot for crafting, but even if you fail, Relink allows you to try again.

Then there are Omen Stones. Dark red crystals that players can interact with to summon a wave of creatures (or just one) that are significantly higher in level than the group. These, too, give rewards and can often help with leveling up.

Granblue Fantasy: Relink
Image Source: Cygames

But where Relink shines, even more so than with its capability of retelling such a tremendously-sized story, is its combat. While you can play as the main protagonist and stick with wielding a longsword to slice and dice your enemies, Relink offers you the opportunity to play as all of your party members — as well as over 20+ more familiar faces from the franchise, if you claim them from Sierokate’s Knicknack Shack.

Each character has a unique attack button. Rackam’s gun delivers a devastating shotgun fire depending on how full his Heat gauge is, whereas Katalina summons a primal beast called Ares that bolsters her combo link power and skills, as well as her Skybound Art, an ability that can be summed up as the ‘ultimate’ move unique to each character. Throughout my time with Relink, I relied a lot on Katalina, Rackam, and Rosetta, as each of them had the perfect push and pull of skills and uniqueness that kept them entertaining even by the time I was so overpowered that I was practically mowing through enemies.

That said, Relink does encourage you to swap between your party. Not only to pull off different link attacks and Chain Bursts (triggered after multiple Skybound Arts are activated in quick succession), but because each party member has different elemental properties that can make them effective (or weak) against certain enemies. For example, Rackam’s elemental property is fire, so he absolutely demolishes ice enemies without breaking a sweat, whereas he suffers drastically against water-based creatures and fiends.

All in all, Relink’s combat system has a surprising amount of depth. While you can certainly play as a simple hack-and-slash RPG, the level of know-how that makes fights feel more strategic cannot be understated.

Image Source: Cygames

The only downside is that the amount of UI on the screen feels a tad too much. As a newcomer, perhaps this is something to be expected from the Granblue Fantasy series, but the clutter of all of the character’s stats pressed to the left, as well as indicators at the bottom left and right, often felt overwhelming. At times I didn’t know where to focus on, and it was only after 5 or so hours in-game that I finally managed to navigate combat without feeling as though my eyes had to be plastered on everything. Eventually, everything just became vibes.

Overall, the level of scale with this game feels incredible to play in, and I can see why decades-old fans have been chomping at the bit to get this game in their hands ever since it was announced back in 2016. From its characters to its combat, what became clear to me is this: Granblue Fantasy: Relink has made a new fan out of me, and for fans who’ve been waiting so long to see this story be retold? Trust me when I say it’s worth it.

Score: 4/5

A copy of Granblue Fantasy: Relink for PS5 was provided to Gayming Magazine by PR.

Aimee Hart

[She/They] Aimee Hart specializes in queer fandom, video games and tabletop, having started her career writing for numerous websites like The Verge, Polygon, Input Magazine and more. Her goal now is to boost LGBTQ+ voices in the video games industry.