Cygames is really pushing the Granblue Fantasy IP to all-new heights. The first game from the franchise launched almost a decade ago exclusively in Japan as a mobile and browser-based JRPG. Over 35 million people played this iteration of the game, but it never really made it to the West other than an English patch.
Granblue Fantasy: Relink is somewhat of a reimagination of the original game, but as a full-fledged action RPG. Instead of waiting out timers or saving up for gacha pulls, you’ll progress through a series of missions unlocking new quests and characters along the way. More importantly, you’ll engage in real-time action RPG as opposed to tapping buttons when it’s your turn to attack.
The best way to describe how Granblue Fantasy: Relink plays is this: Fast-paced action combat similar to that of the Tales series, with a progression system and overall gameplay loop akin to Monster Hunter. Yes I know, it sounds weird. But it actually kind of works if you’re looking for an action RPG with fast-paced combat and a big grind.
Granblue Fantasy: Relink (PC, PS5[reviewed], PS4)
Released: February 1, 2024
A journey in the clouds
Granblue Fantasy: Relink takes place in the Sky Realm, a massive skyscape littered with floating islands that serve as the bastions of life in a never-ending sea of blue sky. The single-player campaign puts us in the role of either Gran or Djeeta, captain of an airship and its crew who are seeking the fabled island of Estalucia. Each of the two potential main characters has very different playstyles, which is an interesting choice. Gran is more support-focused, while Djeeta can sort of do everything at a solid level.
However, the adventure to the end of the known world quickly turns sour. One of your crewmates, a young girl named Lyria who has the power to control primal beasts, suddenly has trouble doing so. At first, she uses one of her controlled beasts Bahamut—yes, a massive dragon—to fight off some monsters attacking your airship. But suddenly Bahamut defies her control and turns on her and your crew.
This is actually the opening boss of the game and serves as a glimpse into the typical flow of missions in Granblue Fantasy: Relink. Progress through a mission killing some easier monsters, culminating in an epic final boss battle at the end.
Story-wise, you and your crew continue to search for Estalucia while also trying to determine what’s going on with Lyria’s powers. As you might have guessed, the two storylines converge and overlap. Unfortunately, I kind of saw where the story was going pretty early.
In the end, the roughly 15-hour single-player campaign of Granblue Fantasy: Relink is decent, but has its flaws. Don’t expect open-world traversal or anything similar. In fact, most of the story is linear, sending you from point A to point B to continue the story and unlock the next encounter in order to progress. However, while most games are all about their single-player campaign, some would argue that’s all pretty much just the tutorial/prologue for Granblue Fantasy: Relink. Upon completing the campaign you unlock the post-game, which is where Relink transitions into a Monster Hunter-style mission system.
Time to grind
You could make the argument that the campaign for Granblue Fantasy: Relink is the appetizer, and the post-game is the main course. Once you’ve rolled credits, it’s time to start grinding out missions for materials to enhance your weapons and character levels to unlock new skills and masteries for the broad cast of characters.
Once you’ve unlocked the post-game, you can still choose to play solo and have the AI take on the role of three other characters in your party that you have unlocked. Or, you can play online with up to three friends. In fact, a lot of missions are actually co-op-required missions, that in turn give you better rewards for teaming up with others to tackle them.
While I like the idea of co-op in this game as a whole, I don’t really like feeling as though I need co-op to get better rewards. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to test out the co-op too much because there didn’t seem to be others with access that had gotten as far as I did. It’s not that I don’t have friends or anything. Seriously, I have friends.
So either by yourself, or with the friends you have that totally exist, you’ll start out in a familiar hub—once again, think Monster Hunter—full of vendors, quest givers, and other NPCs. Here you can use the materials you’ve acquired from completing missions to upgrade and enhance your gear, increasing your damage.
Next, you head to the mission counter and select a mission to head out on, unlocking more as you complete existing ones. There are a whopping seven difficulties in total. Each one is, of course, more challenging, but also increases the rewards for completing them. I started on the Action difficulty, which was the default difficulty. I found it super easy, so I increased my difficulty to Hard, and found it pretty easy as well. The rest of the difficulties don’t unlock until you progress through the post-game, but it does eventually get quite challenging, requiring you to level your characters and gear them up appropriately to have a chance against some of the tougher encounters.
Quite the roster
There are currently 20 characters, each with their own playstyle, weapon, and mastery tree. A few of the characters are unlocked as you play through the story, but the rest have to be unlocked via Crewmate Cards. As you progress through the post-game missions and complete Side Quests, you’ll earn those Crewmate Cards; you can then exchange them to unlock a single new character of your choice.
With so many characters and the mobile game background, I genuinely was expecting this to be a random or gacha process. But I’m happy to say it’s not. You can eventually grind and obtain enough Crewmate Cards to unlock all the characters, though I’m sure a lot more characters are coming via DLC.
Just like in Monster Hunter where every weapon has its own unique playstyle and purpose, the same can be said about the characters in Granblue Fantasy: Relink. For example, the main character, Gran, is a great support character, efficient at immobilizing enemies while also healing allies. Meanwhile, Zeta is a dragoon, able to jump around between targets while chaining attack combos to deal massive damage.
If you’re playing solo you can set up your party, choosing all four characters to bring along. You can manually switch between characters while on a mission, or control the varying levels of assistance from the AI and focus on playing your main character. In online co-op, you’ll just control your character while other players in your party control theirs. This culminates in a fun “MMORPG-style” combat, where you try to make sure you have a tank, healer, and some damage dealers and extra support.
From Dragons to Goblins to Dragons again
You have the option of mitigating attacks by pushing L1 to Guard, or R2 to Dodge out of the way. Square is your Basic Attack, while Triangle is your Unique Attack. X causes you to Jump which, while not an effective defensive maneuver like Dodge, feels nice to be able to do. If you hold down R1, you’ll then be able to follow up with Square, Triangle, Circle, and X to perform skills that are unique to each character. As you progress through your character’s Mastery tree you will unlock and upgrade your skills. It’s a very fast-paced and fun combat system overall, similar to that from the Tales games, the newer Star Ocean games, or for a throwback, the classic Ragnarok Odyssey.
I’m a huge fan of epic boss fights, and thankfully Granblue Fantasy: Relink is full of them. There are dozens of unique bosses in the game, each with their own attack patterns and mechanics you will have to learn. On earlier difficulties, you can mostly just spam your attacks and skills. But on tougher difficulties, you have to make sure you’re actually dodging attacks and attacking in a more coordinated manner.
One strange result of the post-game being essentially a whole new experience is some immediate contrast in the missions you take on. As you complete the campaign you’ll be fighting massive powerful creatures that protect the ends of the known world. But at the start of the post-game, you’ll find yourself back to fighting Wolves and Goblins. Definitely a weird feeling.
A game of numbers
For the most part, Granblue Fantasy: Relink becomes a game about numbers. Once you’ve chosen a character that you like and a playstyle that caters to you, you want to make that character as strong as possible. There are many ways to increase your character’s power, from finding new weapons to enhancing and upgrading existing ones, as well as leveling up, empowering your skills, and unlocking new masteries.
I think this is where Cygames’ history as a mobile developer really serves them well. Like it or not, mobile games are typically full of little dopamine rushes. Unfortunately, this can be used to create arguably predatory spending practices in such games. However, in Granblue Fantasy: Relink, you get the dopamine hits without having to grab your credit card.
Each mission itself has chests at the end that grant you rewards, but you’ll also get rewards for completing the mission. There are also sidequests such as “Kill X of Y enemy” or “Gather X material” that you will pick up at the hub in between missions. Oh, and there are also Trophies and Achievements you will acquire just by completing long-term tasks, such as defeating so many of a certain enemy type or opening so many chests. I can’t deny the joyful feeling of completing a mission, only to receive a ton of rewards for also completing various side quests and finishing some Trophies. All the rewards go towards upgrading and further powering up your character, and then the loop continues.
Granblue Fantasy: Relink features an incredibly satisfying gameplay loop on the back of an outstanding, fast-paced combat system. If you’re looking for a narrative-driven experience, this isn’t it. But if you’re looking for a fun grind that constantly feels satisfying and rewarding, that’s exactly what you have here.
In my opinion, the gameplay makes up for the shortcomings of the campaign. And even though the mission-based system feels grindy by design, it’s a fun grind, and one I look forward to continuing. In a year full of RPG releases, Granblue Fantasy: Relink is a solid early entry into the genre, and has earned its spot as one of the good ones.