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Granblue Fantasy: Relink review: this fantastic adventure is the future of RPGs

An RPG party fights a dragon in Granblue Fantasy: Relink.
Granblue Fantasy: Relink
MSRP $60.00
“Granblue Fantasy: Relink has all the thrills of Final Fantasy XVI, but in a much tighter package.”
Pros
  • Detailed anime visuals
  • Fantastic combat
  • Unique character playstyles
  • Deceptively deep customization
Cons
  • Weak main story
  • Odd endgame

If any modern RPG is going to captain us into an uncharted future for the genre, I trust Granblue Fantasy: Relink to steer the ship.

It’s a thought I can’t help but have as I blaze through the riveting — and mercifully compact — adventure. There’s been a lot of talk about where the genre is headed in the past few years as studios like Square Enix look to reinvent its most iconic series to match a quickly changing landscape. What does an RPG even look like in 2024? Cygames’ console follow-up to its 2014 mobile hit Granblue Fantasy is the best answer I’ve seen to that question yet. It accomplishes that by taking cues from a wide range of its contemporaries, assembling gameplay systems like a ship captain assembling the perfect crew.

Whether you love the high-octane spectacle of Final Fantasy XVI or the character collection of Genshin Impact, Granblue Fantasy: Relink has a little something for you. It’s a smart blend of ideas, even if it’s a bit torn between console and mobile gaming philosophies. More importantly, though, it does all that without sacrificing the playful energy the RPG genre was built on.

Join the crew

While Granblue Fantasy Relink is a follow-up to a lucrative mobile game that’s been around for a decade, it’s an entirely different beast. It acts as a confident reinvention of the series built with a global audience in mind. Rather than giving players a turn-based riff on Final Fantasy, it’s a modern action RPG with flashy hack-and-slash combat. It introduces new players to the world of Granblue in a concise 15-hour main story where not an hour feels wasted.

As a newcomer, I was skeptical at first glance. The RPG’s weakest link is its core narrative, which follows a ragtag crew of skyfarers as they protect the Sky Realm from the nefarious Church of Avia. It’s a serviceable, but tired story of some do-gooders protecting the world from an evil cult hell-bent on summoning a god. Don’t expect thematic heft; it deals in more foundational RPG storytelling that, while a bit dated, is also admittedly charming in its commitment to the genre.

When it needs to be grandiose, Relink goes for broke.

Though the story lacks intrigue, it’s enough to make for some jaw-dropping, blockbuster thrills. Much of the quest has the crew hunting down “primal beasts,” enormous creatures hidden in the Sky Realms. The story’s best moments have players thwarting those monsters in spectacular battles — and no two of them are alike. The earliest set piece sees the crew fighting off an enormous dragon as it attacks their ship. A much larger battle in the desert pits the crew against a skyscraper-sized golem as they use fallen ship turrets to chip away at its weak points and eventually scale its massive body like a Shadow of the Colossus encounter. Each moment is every bit as surprising and exhilarating as an Eikon fight in Final Fantasy XVI.

It helps that Relink sports a slick and flexible presentation. In its quiet moments, the vibrant visuals give the Sky Realm a bright-eyed sense of wonder. It feels as breezy as the wind in my ship’s sails. When the action ratchets up, though, Cygames lets the deceptively simple look flex its kaiju-sized muscles. The most astonishing boss fights are a dazzling spectacle of light, triumphantly soundtracked by the legendary Nobuo Uematsu and Tsutomu Narita. When it needs to be grandiose, Relink goes for broke.

AN airship flies through the skies in Granblue Fantasy: Relink.
Cygames

What’s most successful is how Relink builds the world of Granblue through side stories and extra lore. Each member of the crew gets their own 11-part backstory, and that helps fill in a lot of the empty canvas left by the paint-by-numbers story. One tale chronicles the life of a former sword master who left his calling to become a fishing hermit up in the mountains. Others are more emotionally resonant. I connected with a crewmember early on when I learn that her parents had died in a deadly (and perhaps mystical) pandemic. Every tale builds out the wider history of the Sky Realm, while giving each member in a massive crew of characters a compelling reason to fight.

As an introduction to the wider world of Granblue, Relink feels like a steppingstone. We don’t see much of the world itself during the adventure, as sleek story missions take place in small, linear slices of various islands (like some nondescript fields and lava pits that are reused for side missions). Much of it is left up to the imagination, but that’s fine for now. Like my skyfaring crew, I left Relink excited to see where the series takes me next. I have the taste for adventure now, and that’s a feeling any budding RPG series should instill in players.

Full burst

What’s most impressive about Relink is its shockingly deep combat system. On its surface, it doesn’t seem very different from what’s seen in modern games like Tales of Arise. Each character performs combos with two primary attack buttons and has a set of flashy skills that operate on a short cooldown. I think I have it all down when I take control of my player character (the crew’s captain), who can store energy to perform more powerful versions of skills.

A few hours later, I realized that I’d barely seen anything. Relink features a wide cast of characters, some of which can be unlocked via crewmate tickets throughout the story. They don’t just look different or come with an elemental power; they have radically distinct playstyles. The salty Eugen can anchor himself in place to activate sniper vision, allowing him to freely aim and shoot his blunderbuss. Rosetta, on the other hand, plants roses that level up during battles. I’d equip skills on her that would add healing power to those roses, as well as grant nearby allies damage reduction.

A character fights a Griffin in Granblue Fantasy Relink.
Cygames

The more I experimented with new crewmembers, the more I grew to appreciate how complex the system is. That aspectespecially shines when building out the perfect, four-character party. The most fun I had with Relink came in the late game when I’d familiarized myself with everyone and started working to construct the perfect endgame team. By the last fight, I had a versatile crew that all had different attack ranges and functions that synergized with one another.

In a funny way, Relink’s approach to characters almost shares more in common with a fighting game like Tekken 8 than an RPG (perhaps it’s no surprise that the series’ last game was, in fact, a great fighting game). I spent a chunk of my adventure looking for my “main” hero. By the time I landed on Narmaya, a sword user who can swap between fast and heavy styles mid-combo, it really felt like I’d found a playstyle that suited my needs. And it was one I could personalize further on a nitty-gritty level with an enormous skill tree and perk-granting sigils — both of which add some deceptively deep customization that’s not immediately apparent until midway through the journey.

Both patience and teamwork are a virtue in Relink.

Considering that this is a game about a united ship crew, it’s no surprise that the combat is built around teamwork. Each character gets an ultimate Skybound Art that charges up via a gauge and naturally results in a flashy animation (they’re essentially limit breaks). If party members unleash theirs in short succession of one another, they’ll band together for an extra Full Burst attack. Similarly, characters can hit enemies with a charged-up link attack. When the entire party’s link level hits 100%, time slows down, allowing the party to pepper in some extra hits. Both patience and teamwork are a virtue in Relink, which goes a long way toward making my party feel like a real crew instead of a random assortment of misfits.

Any nitpicks I have with the system feel small in the scope of what Cygames pulls off here. Attacks don’t always feel like they have a strong impact, and an awkward jump makes my characters feel like they’re floating in a strange way during platforming and dodges. I can live with those few gripes, though, considering how fast and strategic battles feel.

Finding the formula

The more I play, the more I see the DNA of several RPGs coming together. The focus on characters feels directly connected to gacha games like Genshin Impact, while the combat isn’t far off from Tales of Arise. Reward-granting, optional battles feel like a nod to Monster Hunter. A late story chapter almost turns into a Dynasty Warriors-style Musou for the briefest of moments. I can feel Cygames taking every successful idea from an evolving genre and trying to pull them all together into one unified vision – once again fitting considering its central theme.

For the most part, those systems fit together surprisingly well. There’s a substantial story to complete for solo players, high scores to chase in boss refights, a slew of characters to collect (minus the microtransactions), and even full four-player co-op to really widen the appeal. There’s truly a little something for everyone, though I’d put a slight emphasis on little there.

It feels like the scope of the project changed entirely somewhere during its long development cycle.

I can’t help but feel like Relink struggles a bit to nail down its identity. It’s aiming to be a full-on console RPG with a strong narrative focus, but I can still feel the series’ mobile roots lingering around awkwardly. It’s not an MMO or a live-service game, but it almost asks players to approach it like one. When I finished the story, I was far from the game’s ceiling. There were tons of weapons I could collect for each character, doubling my current attack power. Harder sidequests would grant me rare sigils, while late-game character missions would give me even more slots to put them in.

I hadn’t even gotten halfway up the mountain, but getting to the top isn’t exactly an exciting climb. The late game would have me grinding out a list of horde and boss battles either solo or with friends. Though I appreciate having more to do, the effort doesn’t feel worth it considering that Relink isn’t meant to be an ongoing game. It feels like the scope of the project changed entirely somewhere during its long development cycle — one that saw PlatinumGames leave the project in 2019.

A dragon breathes fire in Granblue Fantasy: Relink.
Cygames

While the structure feels a little confused at times, there’s something oddly fitting about that. Beyond its generic tale of gods and cults, Granblue Fantasy Relink is really about characters finding their identity in a new world. The crew’s side stories show us vulnerable heroes that are still figuring out their place in the sky amid change, failure, and tragedy. Those piecemeal stories unfolded parallel to my own journey, as I locked down my own distinct playstyle in an unfamiliar sea of options.

The future isn’t just wide open for the crew or myself, but for a series redefining its voice too. Relink dares to imagine an optimistic future for Granblue and the RPG genre at large, one that sees a way to unite fractured creative visions that hover away from one another like floating islands in a vast sky. With a little more exploration, perhaps Granblue could be the series that harmoniously links them all together

Granblue Fantasy: Relink was tested on PC and Steam Deck.

Editors' Recommendations

Giovanni Colantonio
Giovanni is a writer and video producer focusing on happenings in the video game industry. He has contributed stories to…
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