At a glance, Granblue Fantasy: Relink, Cygames’ action-RPG follow-up to the 2014 original, has all the key ingredients of something easily-dismissible, including all the typical genre stereotypes like impractical fashion sense and annoying voices. But what’s underneath is very much worth your time. This is a deep tale of parental abuse, and the struggles of the child to claw their way out from under the shadow of their parent and re-establish their own life – and, naturally, it has a cracking combat system to go alongside it.
That story’s really the driving force in Granblue Fantasy: Relink, especially towards the end of the game. The overarching antagonist Lilith is trying to bring about the end of the world, manipulating her adopted child, Id, into putting down anyone who stands in her path. Id’s struggles to break free often take precedence over the main plot of saving the world, and that’s no bad thing – trying to help Id is a really compelling storyline.
Equally hidden beneath the surface of Granblue Fantasy: Relink is that fact it’s quietly a sequel to the 2014 RPG from Final Fantasy veteran composer Nobuo Uematsu, and artist Hideo Minaba – one later spun off into a 2017 anime and the 2020 fighting game that some might know a little better. This time, all the original heroes are back for another bout, including the protagonist Captain, wisecracker Rackam, stoic Katalina, and gruff Eugen, all forming the Skyfarers that sail among the clouds atop a big flying boat.
That said, Relink is also cleverly standalone in nature from the original game. Every character has ‘Fate’ episodes, which play out as tiny text adventures at specific points in Relink, offering a deeper dive into their personalities. The first few Fates for every hero are a reflection back on their story up to now, and just as they threaten to become a little too backwards-facing, the Fates smartly pivot to offer little ongoing side stories for everyone.
Rackam, for instance, gets roped into saving someone’s ship, their lifelong source of hopes and dreams, while Eugen helps a stranger process their grief and frustration towards a deceased spouse. The Fates unlock at specific points in the 20-odd hour game, so you’re periodically dipping your toe in these often-touching side stories that give some downtime from clubbing monsters over the head repeatedly.
But still, the real-time combat is the star in Granblue Fantasy: Relink. It’s fast-paced by nature, relying on last-minute dodges and parries against monstrous foes to bestow brief windows of invincibility, letting you mash buttons to hit home. Relink’s combat does stray into that button-mashing territory sometimes, especially against tougher foes, but it’s never more than a few seconds until you’re made to duck and dodge around outstretched weapons and limbs.
Every main character offers a different way to play – Rosetta can summon thorns from the ground to strike out at opponents within a certain distance, while sniper Eugen lets you manually aim through a first-person-like scope to manually target a beast’s weak parts. Katalina and Io are a personal favourite pair though – the former can summon a huge spectral ally to the battlefield, while the latter scorches and zaps foes with area-based fire and lightning abilities.
The entire thing is really satisfying, even after dozens of hours in Relink. Continually dealing damage to a foe builds up a stun gauge, which lets you team up for a big ‘Link Attack’ strike where you join forces with an ally to deal one flashy decisive strike. Moving your eye from the gauge, to your attacks and abilities, to the enemy’s strikes is a great way to keep you on your toes, and Relink’s hordes of varying enemies like goblins and wyverns mean you never tire of battling the same predictable foe over and over again.
Also helping variation is the fact that Granblue Fantasy: Relink offers damn-near two dozen characters for you to unlock and play as, outside of the main cast. It’s sort of a Genshin Impact-like character collector in a way: you’ll periodically unlock tickets for undertaking especially punishing side missions, which can be traded in for the character of your choice. Aside from someone’s elemental-type abilities, it’s purely a vibes-based decision for who you pick, mind – no one character is “better” than another, they just vary in playstyles, whether that’s quick strikes or hefty lunges with a huge weapon.
Granblue Fantasy: Relink’s elemental system isn’t overbearing, it’s just there should you wish to take advantage of it. A water-type hero would work wonders against a fiery foe, which is just common sense, but Relink doesn’t actually punish you for literally fighting fire with fire – you’re just going to have a slightly easier time in a battle if you pay attention to the elemental system. It’s mercifully not overbearing in the slightest, but instead acts as an added layer if you want to get your time in a hunt down as low as possible, for example.
You can switch out the main Skyfarers entirely for a party of heroes unlocked via the ticket system that don’t factor into Granblue Fantasy: Relink’s overarching story at all. That sounds pretty bonkers, and in a way it is, but it’s so unapologetically bizarre that the entire thing just washes over you, as you’re handed a horde of differing heroes with upgradeable abilities and skills to customise and play as. The key drawback, however, is that newcomers don’t scale to the level of your most-played heroes. You can easily end up with a level 30 hero joining your roster of level 50-odd stars, which puts you in the slightly difficult position of repeatedly grinding out optional side quests to level them, or leaving them in the dust.
That’s particularly unfortunate – it means some of Granblue Fantasy: Relink’s most experimental and zany characters risk getting instantly cast aside – but still, if the mood strikes, you could easily spend dozens of hours combining heroes into different parties and levelling them up via optional Monster Hunter-style hunts. That’s how Granblue Fantasy: Relink’s side stuff is exclusively presented: via a counter in a town hub. You embark on a mission of your choice, which might be taking down an intimidating boss or slaying enemies within a time limit, all with the party of your choosing.
It’s also where Granblue Fantasy: Relink’s endgame slightly falls apart. In a Monster Hunter game you’d grind out foes and missions like this for crafting parts, which you can then use to make elemental-based gear suited to taking out other monsters. In Relink, it’s just a case of earning money and crafting materials to upgrade your heroes and make them stronger. The driving force is to simply upgrade your hero’s attack and health attributes for a better combined ‘Power’ score to undertake harder missions. Combined with a real lack of character customization here, Granblue Fantasy: Relink’s endgame becomes somewhat devoid of purpose once you’ve completed the main story. If you’re not grinding out side missions to make the main story missions easier, there’s not really much point to grinding at all.
The only other objective outside of pure power grinding is to reclaim a certain someone’s diary entries, right at the end of the game. It would spoil the story to outright say who, but suffice it to say that it’s not an ample motivation for tens of hours of grinding out the same hunt-style quests over and over again. Add into that the fact that endgame hunts take place in smaller portions of maps you’ve previously played through in the story, and there isn’t much motivation to keep fighting at all after the credits roll.
Relink’s other side activities are sadly relegated to the realms of fetch quests. That’s literally all side quests encompass: someone will ask you to get a certain number of items, and you’ll oblige. It’s a frustrating missed opportunity to expand on the people who live on huge islands among a sea of clouds, so they’re largely just left as a faceless crowd that we’re saving from destruction in the main plot because we’re good people, not because they’re actually worth saving.
All in all, and somewhat ironically, it means Granblue Fantasy: Relink is actually a great real-time action-RPG at first glance, that only falters once you look a little closer. Playing as certain characters is some of the best, most purely unfiltered fun I’ve had in an action game in ages, while Fate episodes greatly complement and expand upon a cast of characters, some of which are sadly left in the dust by a disproportionate levelling system. It’s just a shame the fetch quest-heavy side activities and somewhat redundant optional missions, especially in the endgame, can’t match the heights of its sumptuously frantic battles.
A copy of Granblue Fantasy: Relink was provided for review by XSeed Games.