Granblue Fantasy: Relink is finally dropping on February 1, 2024, after playing hide and seek with its release date. Even though they teased us with the game ages ago, not many have got a sneak peek at the actual gameplay, let alone getting hands-on with it. The good news is that a demo is finally coming next month, but before that, thanks to SEGA, we got a quick taste of the game at the Comic Fiesta 2023, held at Kuala Lumpur Convention Centre for the past weekend. Though limited to just around 10 minutes of combat gameplay, I was enthralled by the game's stunning visuals, snappy controls, and its potential to become a major multiplayer ARPG hit.
The demo kicked off by letting me pick who I wanted to control. If you didn't choose, Rackam, Gran, and Katalina join your party by default. Since each character has a unique playstyle, there is a variation in the difficulty of controlling them. I opted for Siegfried because of his straightforward mechanics.
Playing as Siegfried, I had to time my hits just right to unleash powered-up attacks. You know you nailed it when you hear that satisfying sound and see the flashy signal – a little positive reinforcement for not mindlessly spamming the attack button. By pressing R1, four character-specific skills became available, capable of dealing significant damage, providing buffs, or healing the party. With their own special moves, playing each character feels like a whole new game. While it might take some time to get the hang of each character, mastering their controls seems like it would be highly rewarding for players who are all about their favorite character.
The demo threw me into a valley, where the first challenge was dealing with a bunch of skeleton mobs. Playing as Siegfried, it wasn't a walk in the park because of his slow attack combos, which kept getting interrupted mid-attack. But, credit where it's due, those mobs weren't brainless. Instead of standing around while I took out their pals, they proactively launched attacks when I got close. It made the combat reasonably challenging, forcing me to be on point with my attack timing and dodges even when facing weaker enemies.
But mobs are still mobs, as I cruise my way through waves of skeletons, the first boss finally made his entrance. Gerasene the skeleton knight had huge amount of HP, but his attacks were too slow to present a challenge even for someone who’s as noob in ARPG as me. But the second boss, the giant Rock Golem, that's a different story. I've never seen a giant rock move that fast, and those one-hit-KO attacks definitely had me sweating. At first, it was a struggle juggling between dodging his moves and landing my slow Siegfried attacks. Luckily, things got smoother once I figured out his attack patterns and did some fancy footwork to sidestep his massive AOE attacks.
To be honest, without doing any prior research before diving into the demo, the game’s flashing gauges, bars and icons probably wouldn’t make much sense to you (they sure didn’t for me). But as the battle goes on, the game conveniently pops up button prompts that nudges you to bust out whatever combos or move that you can pull off at the moment. I find it super user-friendly because it lets players get the hang of things without slogging through a bunch of tutorials. I mean, who actually reads all of those, right?
But hey, let's try to break it down. There are two main things to keep an eye on: a blue "Link%" gauge on the right side of the screen, and the orange bars under each character’s HP. I wasn't exactly sure how that Link% gauge gets filled, but when it's all charged up, pulling off a successful link attack kicks off "Link Time" that slows down the enemy and throws some buffs our way. When it's Link Time, we can go all out on the damage without stressing too much about getting hit.
Meanwhile, the combat feature that I was enjoying the most is the orange bar that, once fully charged, lets us pull off a super cool Ultimate move called "Skybound Art”, dealing massive damage after an epic animation. If you and your friends happen to have your Skybound Arts ready at the same time, you can link them up for a devastating follow-up called a "Chain Burst", a game-changer against both tough bosses and hordes of enemies. What's interesting is that this gameplay feature adds a touch of teamwork decision-making: "Do I save my Art for the Chain Burst, or do I let it loose right now for potentially more damage in the grand scheme of things?"
After I pulled off that final Chain Burst and the boss went down, I found myself itching for more of the game's battles. Honestly, it was chaotic but so darn enjoyable. Even though the mobs are smart and hit hard, the difficulty is just right for a noob like me in the world of ARPGs. The attacks and skills are neat and easy to pull off, plus those incredibly satisfying and cool animations, I can totally immerse into the combat, even with all the chaos happening around me. The unique playstyles of different characters and the teamwork needed for some of the combat features have me super excited for the demo launching for consoles next month, which promises multiplayer co-op quests.
Even though I'm not typically a huge fan of ARPGs, Granblue Fantasy: Relink somehow hooked me with a short 10-minute demo. I’ll definitely be there when it drops on February 1, 2024, for PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, and PC (Steam).