When I first played Granblue Fantasy: Relink, I think I was a bit underwhelmed. The bite-sized demo only showcased a simple mission select screen before I was thrown into an arena. While the combat was responsive and flashy, I couldn’t help but want more. Thankfully, Cygames saw this and hosted an additional preview session where I was able to play through the first three chapters of the story and even hop into some post-game multiplayer matches. Suffice it to say my expectations were blown away. The story mode gave me an understanding of the mission at hand, explorable areas, several character playstyles, and game flow. There’s a synergy within the game design that keeps many of the systems balanced. While approachable to newcomers, the depth of combat increased across each passing mission, with the addition of strategical team loadouts to encourage players to try new things. After 3 hours with the game, I can’t wait to play more.
Granblue Fantasy: Relink begins with players able to choose their player character. The choice is between Gran and Djeeta, and while the voices change, the structure of the story is more or less the same. So, of course, I chose Djeeta. Alongside the crew is a strange girl named Lyria, who has the power to summon Primal Beasts, which is needed after the crew is attacked. However, the summoned Bahamut turns on the crew and crashes their ship in the Zegagrande Skydom. As the crew waits for repairs, they investigate why this happened and find themselves doing a few jobs for the Church of Avia.
That’s the general introduction to the first hour of gameplay, and I’ll say there are a few twists that creep up to encourage the crew to continue on their investigation. Further, news of other Primal Beasts losing control comes their way, which just ends up complicating the situation. Questions surrounding the attacks and other conspiracies come to light to keep players invested in the narrative. However, outside of main story quests, players can take on side missions and explore the various environments for items and materials.
What gets me in during these story missions is just how big these levels are. While They are fairly linear as you push from one end of the map to the other, there’s plenty of reason to explore for items, secret battles, and materials for crafting. There are even puzzles that require players to quickly get through areas to unlock chests. It’s more than I assumed the game presented after my first time playing, and even though the setup is reminiscent of entries in the Monster Hunter series, I still found the environments a bit more detailed here.
Now, the Monster Hunter similarities are pretty easy to spot as you play through the adventure. It’s further found in the multiplayer mode as you group up with three of your friends to go on a hunt, take down powerful enemies, and collect loot. I was able to play a post-game multiplayer match with a group and found the Team Link attacks an excellent system that rewards players for working together. Depending on the character you choose, you could work together further, such as setting up a shield as a magic user charges a powerful ability.
I mentioned this in my first preview, but there are several difficulty options that make this game approachable to all playstyles. I found the Normal difficulty to be challenging, but I found myself wanting to increase it if only to force me to strategize my combative approach. The most satisfying element of combat is how responsive it is. Dodging out of a combo, whether you’re in the air or ground, feels awesome. You can even block some of the heavy attacks. The drawback is there’s a short cooldown after three consecutive dodges, and the block will work only a number of times before your guard breaks, so planning how to utilize these defensive actions is key to surviving the battles.
One interesting aspect is the amount of fanfare that follows a completed mission. First, you’re ranked, and then you get to see your rewards. What follows is several screens of shiny objects being showcased to the player, similar to winning at a slot machine. I can see why people love gacha games now, but I’m glad I don’t have to put in premium currency in this release. Each weapon can be further leveled up and customized, which alters the character’s base stats. Further character customization is found in Sigils. These can buff up character stats with more slots opening as the character levels up.
The best part about my experience with Granblue Fantasy: Relink is that I wasn’t really making exceptions while I was playing. I found the scale and options during gameplay to be just what I wanted, and the unique elements, such as Link Attacks and deep character customization, were just the icing on the cake. I should also mention that the experience doesn’t require you to know about Grunblue; I mean, I’ve only really watched the Anime and played through Versus, but I have never played the mobile game. So, as a general fan of the series, I can’t wait to jump back in when the game releases on PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, and PC via Steam on February 1, 2024.
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