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April 2024

Granblue Fantasy: Relink

Platform(s): PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5
Genre: RPG/Action
Developer: Cygames
Release Date: Feb. 1, 2024


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PS5 Review - 'Granblue Fantasy: Relink'

by Chris "Atom" DeAngelus on Jan. 31, 2024 @ 7:00 a.m. PST

Engage in real-time combat with a party of up to four characters in Granblue Fantasy: Relink.

Granblue Fantasy: Relink joins the crew of the airship Grandcypher on a dramatic quest to reach the ends of the sky. The captain (the male Gran or the female Djeeta, depending on player choice) has linked their life with a young girl named Lyria, who commands powerful primal beasts. Along with an ever-increasing crew, they have gone through multiple adventures and collapsed an empire. The latest adventure begins when an attack by monsters leads to disaster; Lyria's summoned beast Bahamut goes wild and causes the ship to crash on a nearby sky island. Before long, they're caught up in a plot involving a cult, rampaging beasts, and the dark history of the world.

As with many tie-in games, Relink is playable as a stand-alone game but is clearly intended for fans or to introduce people to the franchise. The story feels like something that's been designed to fill space and add some drama rather than something genuinely self-contained. It's an excuse to see all of the various cast members in a cool new adventure. It does a good job of introducing the world without feeling overwhelming, and this is probably the most accessible introduction to the world thus far.

Relink is based on two different kinds of sequences: plot stages, which are big, involved levels with cut scenes, multiple bosses, and dramatic sequences; and guild missions, which are bite-sized chunks of gameplay where you complete objectives. You'll generally go from big plot missions to resting in a town where you can take on the smaller missions, and then back to bigger missions once you have additional power.

Combat in Granblue is pretty engaging. You go into battles with teams of four; the team consists of either one player character and three AI characters or up to four different players, depending on if you're playing single-player or multiplayer. As is the standard for the genre, you can dodge, block, combo attacks together, use healing items, and so on. If you've played a lot of action-RPGs, much of this will be familiar, but the focus is less on brute force and more on perfecting actions.

Generally, there are various fights between epic boss fights, with the latter being the highlights. They can range from fighting skilled swordsmen to giant beasts and tend to be longer and drawn-out affairs that make full use of the environments. The smaller fights tend to be more like cleaning up relatively weak enemies or using various gimmicks, such a turrets, to keep enemies in check while you deal with something bigger and more dangerous.

While bosses come in different sizes, they all share some characteristics. Bosses start in a standard combat form, but as they take damage, their Mood meter fills. Once the meter hits the max, the boss goes into an Overdrive mode, where they attack more quickly, gain new moves, and are generally more dangerous and take less damage. Many  gain further buffs while in Overdrive mode, such as "Bloodlust," which makes them all but immune to certain special attacks. Attacking them while they're in Overdrive mode weakens the boss, and draining their Overdrive meter Breaks them, leaving them temporary vulnerable to additional damage.

That's why combat becomes a game of managing damage and Overdrive. You want to prioritize damage during their weaker moments and focus on getting their Overdrive down when they're strong. You can do this in a variety of ways. Damage is one way, but some characters specialize in Stun damage, which temporarily leaves enemies open to a Link Strike. With the appropriate button press, your party members can do a follow-up attack and build up their Link gauge. Fill the Link gauge, and the entire party enters a temporary super mode where they are stronger, faster, replenish health, and their skills and abilities gain extra attributes. This is phenomenal during a weak phase but can feel wasted at the wrong time. You can also build super moves called Skybound Arts, which can also be chained together; the more Skybound Arts you chain together, the stronger the final finishing move is.

Relink begs comparisons to Monster Hunter, but I don't entirely agree. It has big dramatic boss fights against monsters for more loot to exchange for more gear, but the actual structure doesn't feel like Monster Hunter. I'd say it feels more like a scaled-down MMO, with the various missions feeling like gameplay bites of something like Final Fantasy XIV than Monster Hunter. You're still doing a lot of repeating fights to power up, but the focus is on gaining stats rather than system mastery.

The game is extremely focused on the characters. Rather than picking weapons, you pick from a variety of different characters with different play styles, each of whom can be further customized by spending points to unlock small stat boosts or new skills. While you can get different weapons for the characters, they tend to be more specialized like "more defensive" or "more attack power" or an affinity for a certain element. You can customize them with traits that allow you to do more damage or heal additional amounts, but none change the play style.

Fortunately, the game makes each character feel distinct, so it feels fun to find the right character for your play style. Your captain is a jack-of-all-trades. They mostly fight by doing combos, which power up their Arts level. Then they can spend their Arts level to do powered-up versions of their special skills, which range from combat spells to support spells. You can build the captain as anything from a combat machine to a pure support character and do so effectively and enjoyably.

Other characters can be more specialized. For example, Eugen the sniper has a play style where he goes into first-person aiming mode and targets enemy weaknesses to further build up their stun gauge. This allows for additional Link attacks, or plant a ton of grenades, which he can then target to do big explosive damage. Katalina does powerful combos that build up her Ares meter, and when it is full, you get a single super-charged use of one of her combat skills. My favorite was Rosetta, a plant-controlling witch who fights by planting deadly vines that attack enemies and buff nearby allies. When you're starting off, she's great for controlling areas, but as you unlock new skills, she can reposition plants, make them explode, supercharge them, cause them to attack every time she does, and more. Depending on the needs of the mission, she can be a fantastic support character or a high-damage dealer.

In short, the character you select and how you choose to build them has a tremendous impact on how you play. In single-player mode, you bring an entire team with you at all times, so it's worth considering not just your playable character but also who can best support them. Do you want a healer to give you some extra safety? A buff-bot that can reduce or even nullify damage? A strong stun-causing character to support your raw damage? The game has a huge selection of playable characters, and each one specializes in multiple things, so even if you really enjoy one character, you can easily switch between damage to support to tanking.

Overall, the combat in Granblue is quite fun. It doesn't break any molds, but it is simple and accessible and very smooth to play. It's more basic than Monster Hunter, but as mentioned, the focus is less on mastering your weapon and more in figuring out how your play style works as a unified MMO-style party. There's a lot of room for mastery, with advanced technique likes perfect block/guard, link attacks, parries and specialized character effects.

If I had one major complaint, the non-boss fights feel lacking. They're not bad, but I wanted to run through the plot and guild missions to reach the cool boss fights. The guild missions don't feel engaging unless they involve a boss fight, but the game tries to make them more engaging with gimmicks, like shooting down flying foes before they land or defending a specific object, but it never quite hits its stride.

Outside of combat and plot missions, there's some additional stuff to flesh out the world. You can wander around villages, taking on side-quests or finding lore, which rewards you with crafting materials and weapons. There are also FATE missions, which give a CliffsNotes version of each character's plot and story up until the beginning of Granblue Fantasy: Relink. It's  a nice way to catch up if you're not a Granblue fan. Each mission gives you just enough of an idea about the characters to make the interactions work.

Relink is a bright, colorful and well animated game. The character models and environments look great, and the animations are smooth and frequently look very cool. The monsters look excellent, and only some of the environments are a touch lackluster. The voice acting is excellent and brings personality to the various characters. I'm particularly glad that the protagonist has actual voiced lines. The soundtrack is pretty excellent, so you have some memorable tunes while bashing monsters.

Overall, Granblue Fantasy: Relink is an enjoyable action-RPG, even when divorced from its gatcha origins. It doesn't break any molds and tends to feel more like an MMO than Monster Hunter, but almost every part of it is well executed and enjoyable. If you've been curious about the franchise and want a more friendly way to explore it than gatcha and fighting games, Relink gives you everything you need. If you're looking for a chill multiplayer RPG to play with friends, Relink absolutely nails the experience.

Score: 8.5/10

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