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Granblue Fantasy: Relink Hands-On Impressions — A New Frontier

For the longest time, I heard of Granblue Fantasy: Relink, but I didn’t know what it was. I thought it had something to do with Granblue Fantasy Versus: Rising. Was it a mobile spinoff? Was it a beefy add-on? So while I was at the hands-on event to check out Granblue Fantasy Versus: Rising, I was pleasantly surprised and elated to learn that Relink is an Action RPG.

ARPG fans are eating well right now. Diablo IV, despite its current microtransaction issues, has a lot of players. Path of Exile 2 is on its way and that’s expected to continue Path of Exile’s greatness. Despite the debate around Final Fantasy XVI, many still consider it a great game. More exist, of course, but not many are  Japanese. Granblue Fantasy Relink will add to the buffet of choices.

Relink surprised me in that it’s a full-blown, beautiful 3D ARPG. The character models are fully realized beyond the hand-drawn anime style found in the rest of the Granblue franchise, and they look great. Characters lunge, jump, dart, and sway beautifully. The subtle details like hair and armor stick out clearly.

Relink will have a story, and the developers specifically noted that it will have a beginning and an end. I assume that means it will not be a live-service. Even if it is, Cygames looks like they’re attempting to make this stand on its own, regardless of how the rest of the franchise is performing. Based on the presentation, I can assure you they’re not treating this like an experimental mediocre spinoff.

Gran and other favorites, like Katarina, Io, Eugen, Rosetta, and Rackam, return and come with familiar traits related to their history in the franchise. I played a short demo and chose Katarina. I was dropped into a gorgeous dungeon. I was surrounded by tall mountains on nearly every side, the sound of a roaring waterfall filled my ears, and the sight of lush greenery created a beautiful contrast against the brown rocks and dirt. It almost felt unreal to see Granblue Fantasy in this form, but it was undoubtedly lovely.

I proceeded to fight minor enemies on a linear pathway. Relink will not be an open-world game. Some areas will be more open than others but most of them will be linear pathways meant to challenge your combat abilities which makes it feel like you’re constantly making progress. It felt tight and focused.

Similar to Versus’ simplistic combat mechanics, Relink also has very simple mechanics. It feels like a button masher compared to Versus, but it’s not mindless. In terms of feel, I’d compare it to Tales of Arise. Simply combining Square or Triangle with different directions of the control stick unleashes varying close or long-range attacks. There are abilities that you can also equip to the character you choose, but those weren’t available during the demo, but they’re meant to expand your combat options. I’m hoping that’s true. Near the end of the demo, I found myself using the same monotonous attack string because I had no reason to use anything else.

Enemies attack from all sides at randomized intervals, so it was important to keep an eye on my immediate vicinity, and not get caught up on pulling off majestic combos, but it’s so hard not to. With Katarina, ice stalagmites burst forth from some of her attacks. Bright flashes from other characters’ attacks fill the screen, and in true Japanese fashion, mini-combat cutscenes enunciate powerful attacks. All of it was glorious.

You’re able to fight alongside up to four players online. This seems to be the way Cygames intends everyone to play Relink. If you don’t have three other players to play with, you’re given CPU characters to help you through the dungeons. I learned you will be able to play completely solo by turning the CPUs off, but for the demo, the CPU’s were on. And they were helpful. At times I thought they were more effective than myself, but as I became used to the controls and style, I didn’t notice them as much. To be clear, they’re not good enough to carry you, but they’re not idle at all.

While you’re hacking and slashing, you’re also building up a meter that allows you to do chain attacks that can ultimately lead to a chain burst, which then leads to everyone unleashing a unified Skybound Art that does serious damage. I was able to see this in action against two large, spongey bosses. You have a window of time to perform it, signaled by a prompt on your screen. When an ally stuns an enemy, they create a chain and use a Skybound Art. If everyone uses their Skybound Art at the appropriate time, that’s when the link attack occurs. It felt easy to perform but I can imagine during tougher fights, saving your Skybound Art for the link attack might be a tougher choice to make.

Each character will have skill nodes (sounds like a version of skill trees) where you can choose different pathways to make your character more effective. That also wasn’t available during the demo, but it’s nice that it exists. It will add variety and, most importantly to me, ways to experiment with squeezing out as much damage as possible. To spice things up more, you’ll be able to use loadouts. The extent of their customization wasn’t detailed but I imagine whatever you can edit during the game is available to save for later use.

Cygames will continue their quest to make their franchise and games approachable to nearly everyone. While Granblue Fantasy Versus: Rising leans into simplified inputs, Relink relies on an assist mode for those who are brand new to the franchise or even ARPGs. In assist mode, there are different systems that fulfill different needs. Some assists auto dodge, some auto heal, some auto guard. Some allow you to pull off combos by hitting one button. Other assists activate Skybound Arts and link attacks when available. Cygames will even include an assist mode where you literally don’t have to do anything but move the stick and the game will handle the rest. I can see that working well with my toddler who loves to grab a controller and pretend to play with me. Now she can actually do something.

The caveat here is you will not be able to do any of the endgame content in assist mode. Not because it’s too hard, but because the endgame will be inaccessible to those using assist mode. Some assist mode users might take umbrage to that decision, but I see the logic. Endgame content typically requires precision, good decision-making, and resource management. Leaving those details to assist mode might be impossible to overcome without turning it off, anyway.

Whatever assist you decide to use or pass on, you’ll be taking characters through several stages and quests that put giant boss battles and other challenges in front of you. You’ll be able to test your skills and attempt to conquer time attack challenges and survival modes, as well. My favorite part is there will be matchmaking with these modes. It could be frustrating to be teamed up with randoms and then struggle with these kinds of perfectionistic modes, but it’s worth the headache to have something more than AI.

I went to this event excited to see Granblue Fantasy Versus: Rising. I’m happy with what I saw. But I left thinking about Relink. Cygames chose a great genre to expand Granblue Fantasy into and it seems like it will live up to the expectations.

Granblue Fantasy: Relink launches February 1, 2024 for PC, PS4, and PS5.

Podcast Editor | [email protected]

Anthony Shelton hosts and produces the Gaming Trend podcast and creates opinion videos occasionally on YouTube. He carries some of the strongest opinions among the staff and is generally harder to impress. But if impressed, he sings developers' praises just as loudly. He typically plays everything except horror and most RTS, but genres he gravitates towards are platformers, FPS, racing, roguelikes, fighting, and loot-based games. He has quit Twitter and uses Threads. Follow him at iamashelton.

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