Granblue Fantasy: Relink Review
The Wind’s on Our Side
There have been many different iterations of CyGames’ Granblue Fantasy series since its launch as a mobile game in Japan in 2014. The mobile game’s success has spawned new media, including a fighting game in Granblue Fantasy Versus, an anime, and now an action RPG in Granblue Fantasy: Relink. It’s an active franchise, with the mobile game still harboring an active user base and sequel of its fighting game being released in late 2023. The adventure in the skies continues now in single-player form, and the results yield another successful hit with potentially its best adventure yet.
Since the series has already established some characters and the world, Granblue Fantasy: Relink works as a story arc within a larger series of arcs. Gran (or female protagonist option Djeeta), captain of the Grandcypher, and his skyfarer crew have been making their way to Esatlucia, which has taken them on grand adventures already. Lyria, whose life force is linked to Gran’s, hints at their adventure ending soon and wishes that the adventure could continue forever. She gets her wish as a detour thrusts them in a new region called the Zegagrande Skydom. The Primeval God Bahamut that Lyria controls goes berserk, causing the Grandcypher to be destroyed, which leaves Lyria and Gran separated from the rest of the crew. Relink lays out the crews larger goal competently and where their adventure is headed. It does make the player curious on where the Grandcypher has traveled previously, but other than instilling that general sense, the game’s story can be enjoyed fully on its own.
After a short tutorial of gameplay, Lyria and Gran find their way to a town called Folca. There they reunite with the rest of the crew and slowly piece together that other Primeval Gods have acted strangely as well. The skyfarers decide to try to take down these Primeval Beasts and also unravel the mystery of the secretive Church of Avia. The entire setup is a standard JRPG affair, even how it escalates, but that doesn’t mean the story isn’t any good.
The Zegagrande Skydom is brimming with stories to find and characters to meet, each getting an extensive look into their background, personalities, and struggles. Granblue’s effectiveness of simple storytelling pieces together so many great characters into a whole picture. Stories most often deal with some kind of adversity, characters having to be pulled out from some darkness to realize the light and potential within themselves, then using that to find purpose. These are told through Fate Episodes that feature the character narrating their own stories, giving insight into who they are. The Fate Episodes work wonders through simple, but effective and emotional storytelling. It’s an infectious cast due to their strong wills, and although there is a focus on specific characters in the main story, the strength lies in the sheer number of background stories and quality of them to make them all feel like an integral part of the crew.
The series already boasts a large ensemble of characters and most are brought over to Relink. Not all characters are available at the start, though. Crew members can be unlocked with Crewmate Cards, which can be earned by completing the main story and quests. Once a crew member is added, their Fate Episodes will become available. These easy to digest stories not only help to get emotionally invested in each of them, but also boosts the characters stats and upgrades when completed.
The player can choose between playing as Gran or Djeeta to lead the story at the start, and they are a great narrative tool that Relink uses for its storytelling. While Gran’s personality isn’t the most memorable in the cast, his steadfast leadership is essential to the story and is an agent of change. He is constantly reaching out to help those in need, and each crewmember has a story in which Gran’s helping hand pulls them towards a greater purpose. Gran doesn’t say all that much, and there are very few lines of dialogue for him throughout the game. However, actions speak louder than words and Gran’s actions bring about positive change and love between him and his crew.
The storytelling is astoundingly good and very descriptive, using briliiant similes and metaphors to create an almost storybook delivery. It can sometimes make characters sound like a children’s cartoon, but the tone is whimsical and adventurous anyway, so it doesn’t diminish the narrative. Where it is most effective is its cutscenes. These scenes contain dynamic cinematography with picture perfect frames. Although a simple story, the excellent presentation elevates it immensely. Editing, lighting, cinematography, soundtrack, and beautiful animation are all first class. The potency of it all leads to heart-stopping sequences that can induce tears of sadness, moments of reflection, and fist pumping action. Outside of the cutscenes, the worlds are vibrant and towns are full of life with bustling markets and children running about. Some structures can look a bit bland and the game doesn’t provide cutting edge graphics, but the high-spirited colors and detailed character models provide an appealing art style. Some areas especially look gorgeous as though backgrounds of landscapes, trees, and blue sky are hand painted beautifully onto the screen.
Despite its many successes, the narrative doesn’t feel like a complete story of its own. There were adventures before and seemingly plenty after the arc in Granblue Fantasy: Relink, which can make the game feel incomplete. That also lends to the story feeling a bit short, especially with the narrative being so good that it will leave the player wanting more from it. Thankfully, that is remedied by the large number of quests and postgame content available. There are over 100 quests for players to engage with and an extra chapter at the end that acts as the epilogue.
In the background of its lovely scenes is a melodic soundtrack put together by the legendary Nobuo Uematsu and Tsutomu Narita, who have provided the soundtracks to other Granblue Fantasy installments. Tracks are melodic and playful adding to the the whimsical nature of adventure of the narrative. It’s an epic soundtrack that makes use of an orchestra, choir, and stripped-down piano tracks that elevates each emotion. The main theme especially is a standout, as the credits are almost complete and the track builds to an epic conclusion fitting the end of an equally epic adventure.
With a large cast of playable characters, Granblue Fantasy: Relink makes the wise decision to make combat easy to figure out. All players need to use is two buttons for normal attacks, hold another button to access arts, and that’s really it. The strategy and fun comes from experimenting with different combos, learning each character’s unique playstyle and abilities, and using party-based mechanics. Gran, for example, has combos that end with a combo finisher. Each combo finisher builds on his Adept Arts level, with the highest level it can get is four. The higher the Adept Arts level the more potent Gran’s arts will be when used. Similar mechanics apply for each character, using combos or hold a button to charge to build up a meter, unleash powerful arts, and using powerful arts helps build party-based attacks.
There is a big emphasis on party-based attacks in Granblue Fantasy: Relink. The party builds two types of attacks called Link and Burst. A blue gauge will appear and can be filled by continuously attacking an enemy. Once the gauge is filled, a button prompt appears, allowing characters to perform a Link attack. Pulling off successful Link attacks will fill the Link percentage. Getting the Link percentage to 100% slows down time and allows the party to wail on enemies without having to worry about oncoming attacks. Damaging enemies also fills the individual characters’ Burst meters, which lets them use their Burst move when full. If all four characters chain their Burst moves together, they unleash a four-burst attack to deal significant blows to enemies. The continuous build of combos to arts to Link attacks then finally Burst is thrilling. Especially when the rest of the party follows suit and thankfully AI controlled characters are great at doing so.
The simplicity of the combat system never wears thin and there are a few reasons for that. First, the sheer number of characters keeps battles fresh. There’s not a steep learning curve for any of the characters since there are only a couple buttons to use. The fun comes in mastering the different skills and learning how to find efficient combos for whatever the situation calls for, and using different characters is encouraged through elemental affinity and weaknesses. Second, the variety of battles, especially in the main story adds in enough wrinkles to think beyond just combos. There are boss battles, horde battles, survival, and more types of quests. All of these types of battles offer different challenges and requires players to approach combat differently, while also offering different rewards depending on the type of battle chosen. Quests also have optional objectives to earn even more rewards, like completing the quest in a certain time or defeating a specific enemy a certain number of times. The only thing that can get tiring is the very linear area design, which sometimes offers very little exploration. There are not many discoveries to be found, only some chests and other items requiring only a short stray off the track.
There’s always a reason to push further ahead though, such as to adventure on further with new quests, use the material from quests to upgrade weapons, and then use more powerful weapons to earn higher scores in quests. Once characters reach a certain level, more of their Fate Episodes unlock and completing them boosts their stats as well. A large part of the charm is the thrill of adventure, discovering more about the crew and the people of the Zegagrande Skydom. It’s amazing that even when the credits rolled, the adventure still lives on through quests, upgrading, and Fate Episodes, always quenching that thirst.
Not only does the adventure continue on, there is a want for it to go on. Granblue Fantasy: Relink doesn’t offer anything complex, the storytelling is simplistic and combat doesn’t have a ton of depth, but it delivers it all excellently. The presentation is high quality with gorgeous cutscenes, epic battles, easy to pick up combat, and vivid storytelling. There’s nothing that ever knocks the wind out of its sails and always looks ahead to the vast blue skies, wondering what other stories there are to find.
Disclosure: This review is based on a free copy of the game provided by the publisher.
Fate Episodes tell excellent background stories for playable characters
The presentation all around is first class
Simple to grasp combat that makes it easy to try all of its characters
Area designs can be too linear
Feels like one of many arcs that can make the story feel short and incomplete