When it comes to gacha games, few IPs ever manage to branch out beyond their initial launch. Sure, many titles happen to be incredibly popular and have stood the test of time but an extremely small number of them have ever expanded into full blown games unless they were already based around an established property. That is part of what makes Granblue Fantasy such an interesting franchise. Despite releasing in 2014 and given an English translation, the franchise has never properly been released in Western mobile stores but has still seen immense popularity in the West and incredible popularity in Japan, so much so that it has been given a two season anime and a fighting game four years ago as well as an enhanced version of said fighting game that launched just a few months ago to far better acclaim. Now, after some time in development hell, Granblue Fantasy is finally getting its very own console RPG in the form of Granblue Fantasy: Relink. With so much lore to pull from and a fanbase eager to see a full experience featuring some of their favorite characters, does Cygames have another hit on their hands?
Granblue Fantasy: Relink picks up near the beginning of Granblue Fantasy‘s main storyline, where either Gran or Djeeta (players can pick the gender of their captain and we chose Djeeta) have already started traveling on the airship the Grandcypher in their travels through the Sky Kingdoms. Those familiar with the larger story will find it a bit easier to place the beginning of this tale as it takes place shortly after Rosetta joins the crew permanently. The crew’s adventures are going smoothly as they approach a new set of sky islands only to be attacked by a group of flying monsters that, while not much of a threat on their own, begin to overwhelm the small crew. To ward off the foes, Lyria and Djeeta summon the Primal Bahamut to eliminate all of these foes with ease. Things quickly go wrong however when Lyria suddenly loses control over Bahamut and the Primal Beast starts running wild, attacking the ship and its summoners with abandon and forcing the ship to crash land, sending Lyria and Djeeta overboard and forcing them to regroup with the rest of the crew and search for a way to repair their airship.
After finding a suitable town to serve as a temporary base, Djeeta and the rest of the group learn that another Primal Beast has gone out of control. In an attempt to quell the beast, as the team has already proven they can in their previous exploits, they learn that a strange cult known as the Church of Avia is appearing everywhere that these Primal Beasts lose control. After a failed attempt to stop the church and being crushed by their overwhelming power, Djeeta and the crew must learn the truth about what is happening and try to put a stop to it in a completely original storyline set within the Granblue Fantasy universe.
Granblue Fantasy: Relink hits the ground running and already expects players to be at least somewhat familiar with the backstory of the game but newcomers should be able to quickly find their footing nonetheless. Part of this is thanks to how well-written the overarching narrative is as it moves at a brisk pace with intriguing plot points arriving alongside fittingly heightening tensions culminating in wonderful clashes before the next issue arises. It also helps that the cast of characters is absolutely wonderful and, especially for longtime fans of the series, seeing these characters interacting with one another in different ways, even commenting on each other and the environment when out on missions, is an absolute blast. This even includes brand new characters that have been created solely for this game as they fit perfectly in with the grander franchise even if this story is entirely self-contained.
Another reason that Granblue Fantasy: Relink feels rather welcoming to newcomers are the Fate Episodes. These episodes, which are usually simple text vignettes set against in-game artwork or featuring a small fight, help provide various bits of backstory for the chosen character including why they joined Djeeta’s crew or what events led to them meeting the members of the Grandcypher. Every character, including Djeeta herself, are given these episodes that unlock as players progress through the story and even characters that players unlock have episodes of their own. Each of these is a fun bit of supplemental backstory and also provides bonuses as well in the form of extra stats or bonus skills for a character. This works as both an incentive for newcomers to learn about the crew and longtime fans to get a refresher and a bit of a sampling of how Granblue Fantasy: Relink wants to classify certain character relationships including some of the more complicated characters like Cagliostro, Zeta, or even the knights such as Lancelot and Siegfried. All of this culminates in a more than welcoming storyline for newcomers all while letting longtime fans of the franchise see their favorite characters in a nicely paced story that may not be the most original as it pits the crew against a threat of a strange cult and rampaging Primals but is still highly entertaining thanks to strong writing and its lovely cast of characters.
Granblue Fantasy: Relink is an action RPG where players will spend some time in their current town and use it as a hub for their further adventures. In town they can take on various side-quests from villagers, purchase items from merchants, upgrade equipment at the blacksmith, and of course mingle with their allies and townsfolk for simple conversation. The bulk of the player’s time however will be spent on missions that come in the form of both plot based stages and guild missions. The former will, as it sounds, advance the storyline while placing the player’s selected party through a lengthy series of fights as they explore a larger stage and often face off against a powerful boss at the end while guild missions are simpler bite-sized missions meant for grinding purposes. These guild missions generally involve either challenging a mini-boss or even a boss again, surviving waves of monsters, and more while also giving players a chance to challenge them either solo with their team of three AI party members or online with a total of four actual players battling against the enemy.
Regardless of the mission players are on, they will find themselves selecting Djeeta and up to three allies that will battle alongside them with the AI controlling them. Interestingly enough, while the captain is required as a party member throughout the main story players are not stuck playing as them and can instead swap to any of their other party members at will. This means players can simply let the AI control Djeeta while they swap over to Katalina and use her powerful offensive moves and boosted Ares skills to crush a foe or deal increased stun damage to a boss in Overdrive or swap to Ferry and use her summons more effectively than the AI usually can. What makes combat in Relink so interesting is the fact that every single playable character fights differently and has their own unique toolset to compliment the team. Some characters are more supportive while others are better at tanking or dealing damage, but they can also be adjusted through Mastery Points and equipment to be just as unique as other characters as well. Rosetta for example may start as a more supportive character but can eventually be developed into a powerful witch whose mastery of plants makes her devastating in combat.
For the most part the game’s combat is simple to grasp and quite complicated at the same time. Players make use of standard combo attacks with most fighters and can utilize powerful strong attacks to serve as either combo finishers or extenders depending on the character used and every character has a slew of skills at their disposal that varies per fighter. As players battle a meter fills up allowing them to perform their devastating Skybound Art that players can either choose to allow their allies to use as they wish in single player or hold it until they choose, allowing them to perform a Full Burst of Skybound Arts for increased damage. Various other elements such as being able to pull off Link Strikes that, when triggered at 100% temporarily slows time and gives every party member a temporary boost in stats to dish out the damage.
Of course bosses have their own mechanics as well that make them more challenging than a standard foe with every boss having the aforementioned Overdrive gauge that fills up as they are damaged. When in Overdrive a boss will take less damage, gain access to new attacks, and depending on the opponent, even gain a new form. Players must continue to attack a boss in this state to drain it’s Overdrive gauge and force it into Break mode where it will be weakened immensely and take more damage, allowing players to really pile on the punishment and adding an extra layer of complexity to some fights as players will want to often time their specials accordingly, as a misused Skybound Art or Link Strike during an Overdrive can feel like a waste when Break mode is almost triggered.
This level of customization when it comes to characters is not only in-depth but also a bit on the overwhelming side as well, especially once players start to focus on building characters in specific ways. This isn’t helped much by the fact that players will not be able to unlock every single playable character simply by playing through the main storyline, requiring them to take on and often grind guild missions to obtain Character Tickets to unlock the extra characters. Meaning that players must prioritize unlocking their favorite characters first before anyone else as it will take quite a while to obtain the rest. Alongside this players also have weapon management and Sigils, both of which add an extra layer to customization and eventual grinding. Sigils are accessories that provide various buffs and abilities while the weapons themselves all can be upgraded through using materials obtained throughout missions. These weapons can be refined to maximum level and allow players to create even stronger weapons as well, giving players a lot of incentive to grind guild missions, especially in the post-game.
In fact, the post game is likely where players will eventually be spending most of their time as the title opens up a ton of new guild missions once players complete the main storyline. These post game missions are designed to be a time sink with over a hundred different missions available that all provide different drops used for upgrades, challenging missions for aforementioned Character Tickets, rewards that include the Mastery Points required to unlock a character’s skills and various buffs, and more. These missions are also where the aforementioned multiplayer aspect heavily comes into play as players can join three others on a mission should they choose or simply fight as their own character with the standard three AI controlled allies. This grind can be excessive, even for a game such as this and is something that is infamous with the gacha game itself but players can ease it a little by taking advantage of the game’s accessibility options. There are two levels of “assist” that will make combat easier for newcomers to the genre but can also be used to basically let the AI take over entirely and while turning on the most advanced assist option takes away a lot of the fun of the combat system for normal play, especially since the computer will basically control everything, it can be used to complete missions that would need to be grinded out otherwise. This is a decent middle-ground but it is still something a bit odd to see in a full blown game such as Granblue Fantasy: Relink when a mechanic like this would generally be found in its gacha origins.
Audio & Visuals
Granblue Fantasy: Relink is a very colorful and bright game with some gorgeous character designs that match exactly as fans would hope from a character’s original 2D artwork. The characters are wonderful looking in cutscenes and are even better looking in action as players explore the decently varied environments and take down the wide-range of enemies they encounter. Skills are animated nicely with some really impressive looking Skybound Arts and it must be said that some of the boss encounters, especially against larger Primal enemies, are quite epic in scale and feel, making nearly every boss feel like a memorable experience especially since the game’s action flows incredibly smoothly without a hint of slowdown even during Full Bursts.
The title appears to feature the same English voice actors reprise their roles from the fighting game, creating a consistent English dub for Western fans to enjoy should they be following the franchise’s other entries. The voice actors handle their roles excellently here including a few characters that have never been given English voice work before such as Io. It also must be said that the game deserves a lot of credit for giving Djeeta (or Gran) full voice work so the Captain feels right at home with the rest of the characters when talking during cutscenes or even out in the field. Of course, the Japanese voice track is also readily available for those who prefer that option and features the original actors for every character from the gacha game. The soundtrack features a wonderful collection of background music that works both during exploration and during battle. This includes some excellent tracks during most boss battles and the more intense multiplayer missions.
Granblue Fantasy: Relink traveled a long and difficult road to finally arrive on shelves and despite the developmental issues and shift in studios throughout the years, Cygames has managed to take their most popular gacha franchise and translate it quite successfully into a full game. Featuring a mostly standalone storyline welcoming to newcomers but steeped in lore and featuring some fan favorite characters from the franchise for longtime fans, Granblue Fantasy: Relink has a little something for everyone in its highly enjoyable combat and smooth multiplayer missions. There does come an issue when the end of the game begins to revolve almost solely around grinding for resources simply to boost a character’s stats or unlock a new character for use in combat, but this is a small issue when compared to just how robust and enjoyable the story is, making it one that even newcomers will enjoy while longtime fans will relish the opportunity to join their favorite Skyfarers in a full-blown game.
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