[Game Review] Granblue Fantasy: Relink ingeniously blends the original mobile game elements into ARPG gameplay

[Game Review] Granblue Fantasy: Relink ingeniously blends the original mobile game elements into ARPG gameplay

The ARPG spinoff of Granblue Fantasy, Granblue Fantasy: Relink, was originally set to release in 2018, and had PlatinumGames, the team behind NieR: Automata, working on it initially. However, for undisclosed reasons, development shifted back to Cygames, leading to a delay, and it's now finally released in February 2024. When a game takes more than 6 years to develop, you'd naturally anticipate it to surpass everyone's expectations, wouldn't you? I can't vouch for "everyone", but speaking for myself, even though I'm not a huge fan of ARPGs, this game managed to keep me hooked for what feels like forever.

Similar to the original story, the main story of Granblue Fantasy: Relink follows the mostly silent protagonist (Gran or Djeeta), who, as a Skyfarer, leads their party on an adventure towards the legendary Island of the Astrals, Estalucia. In this game, the party has arrived at the Zegagrande Skydom, where they will encounter new allies and enemies not seen in previous works. Themed around "Relink," the story unfolds as an epic saga of separation and reunion. Although the main story lasts around 15 to 20 hours, comparatively short for modern JRPGs, it is packed with gripping anime-style animations and scenarios that will leave players satisfied despite its brevity.

The game’s battles centers around a diverse cast of characters, each equipped with unique combo moves and playstyles, encompassing short-range, long-range, or support roles. During the course of stories and quests, we can only assume control of one character at the same time, while the remaining three team members are either AI-controlled or managed by fellow players. The main storyline affords us the autonomy to construct our own teams, commencing with seven characters and progressively unlocking additional ones through story progression and quest completion.

Several characters retain skills from the original mobile game, although there’s still variations in combat effects due to the distinct nature of the game. This clearly shows that the developers are committed to seamlessly integrate this game, with its distinct playstyles, into the Granblue Fantasy IP. It not only serves as an attraction for new players but also resonates with the existing fan base.

It appears to me that the game has put a lot of thought into the design of character customization. As characters gradually unlock their Masteries, they not only gain stat enhancements but also unlock a series of new skills, four of which can be brought into the battlefield simultaneously. Although I haven't had the chance to explore all the characters yet, based on my current observations, different skill combinations allow each character to play at least two roles on the battlefield. The most notable example is the protagonist, Gran or Djeeta, who possesses a comprehensive set of offensive, tanking, and support skills. While I personally find them a bit challenging to use, once mastered, they can indeed function as versatile characters, filling in any roles in the team as needed.

Furthermore, the combination of diverse weapons and sigils enables different characters to assume various roles in the hands of individual players. Each weapon possesses distinct traits, and sigils themselves also offer various stackable trait bonuses. We have the flexibility to select different skills, weapons, and sigil combinations to construct an optimal offensive or support build for our favourite characters based on our playstyle. Whether opting for a solo experience or teaming up for co-op, the game affords ample freedom for us to personalize our beloved characters.

The combat system in Relink integrates components from the original mobile game, including the "Chain Burst" and "Overdrive" systems. Initially, players not familiar with the Granblue Fantasy games might feel a bit overwhelmed by these features, but in practice, they become intuitive after a brief learning curve. One of the simpler ones is the "Skybound Arts" (SBA) system, also known in the original game as "Charged Attacks". As characters attack and unleash skills during battle, they will accumulate the SBA gauge. Once the gauge is full, the character can release a potent ultimate move with an exhilarating animation, inflicting significant damage on enemies. Following the activation of the SBA, a short countdown allows other team members to follow up with their SBAs. If multiple SBAs are triggered in succession, it leads to an additional Chain Burst with variations like 2-CHAIN, 3-CHAIN, and FULL CHAIN, each escalating in power based on the number of users.

Meanwhile, it's essential to highlight the brand-new "Link" system introduced in this game. Causing damage to enemies during battle accumulates a blue stun gauge, and once filled, we can unleash a "Link Attack" that will disrupt the enemy's actions and increase the Link Level displayed on the right side of the screen. When the Link Level reaches its maximum, "Link Time" can be triggered, enhancing our team's overall stats while significantly slowing down the enemy's actions, making them susceptible to our relentless attacks. However, activating Link Time requires collaborative initiation of a Link Attack by the entire team, emphasizing the need of unanimous agreement from the whole party to unleash such a powerful skill.

Regrettably, Link Time doesn't provide a substantial advantage for characters like Io and Cagliostro, who rely on slower or charge-based attacks, despite being highly advantageous for those with infinite combos, such as Zeta and Lancelot. However, mechanics like Chain Burst and Link Time do add an additional level of teamwork and coordination challenges in battles, as we must carefully time our moves, taking into account the current situation on the battlefield.

On the other hand, another essential gameplay aspect well-known to fans of the series is the "Overdrive" system. When enemies are under attack, they not only accumulate a stun gauge but also build up a "Mode Bar" beneath their health. Much like in the original game, when this bar is full, the boss enters Overdrive mode, amplifying its abilities and unleashing a barrage of powerful attacks. It's noteworthy that some bosses in this game simultaneously acquire the "Bloodthirst" effect during Overdrive, heightening their resistance and rendering our SBAs ineffective. During this phase, our focus is solely on evading and blocking, awaiting a safer opportunity to launch our attacks. Breaking the Overdrive mode is a matter of dealing damage to the boss. Once they enter the "Break" status, it's our time to wreak havoc.

Relink features a concise main storyline, but it's evident that the narrative experience of the main plot constitutes only half of the game's charm, and we must venture beyond the story to discover more of the game's enjoyment. The game cleverly incorporates the classic character development system from the mobile game, while also adopting a gameplay reminiscent of Monster Hunter. As the main plot progresses, we will gradually unlock higher difficulty Quests. Whether through solo or multiplayer modes, we can overcome challenges like Survival, Defense, and Boss battles to earn various materials for upgrading weapons, sigils, Masteries, etc., preparing for more challenging post-game quests.

What's even more exciting is that the developers also did not forget to introduce the classic and thrilling gacha mechanic from the mobile game into Relink. Sigils in the game have varying level caps depending on their rarity. To fully develop a character, we need to utilize vouchers at Siero's Knickknack Shack to draw the desired high-rarity sigils. However, players can rest assured that that the gacha mechanic doesn't involve any additional charges. By exchanging surplus materials obtained during quests for vouchers, drawing the desired sigils is only a matter of timing. This not only significantly boosts the game's replay value but also elevates the sense of achievement we can experience when building our favourite characters.

Ventured deep into the postgame and still finding no signs of slowing down, that's my acknowledgment for Granblue Fantasy: Relink. The intense and exciting combat mechanics, combined with character development features that enhance replayability, along with the aspiration to master the diverse array of characters — this game effortlessly keeps me absorbed. If I were to liken this game to a culinary delight, Cygames takes the unique character roster and story of Granblue Fantasy as the primary ingredients, infuses the engaging quests and character development mechanics inspired by the Monster Hunter series, and embellishes it with various innovative combat and development mechanisms. The outcome is Granblue Fantasy: Relink, a masterpiece worth savoring over and over.

And that concludes Lluvia’s impression of Granblue Fantasy: Relink on PS5. Big thanks to SEGA and Cygames for the review opportunity. Granblue Fantasy: Relink is now available on PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, and PC.


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