I Want to Stay Lost in Granblue Fantasy: Relink’s Gorgeous Towns
How much is rent in the Sky Realm?
Venturing into a new town is a great moment in any RPG. A good RPG town is an oasis from the hostile wilderness and a chance to mingle with the locals while gearing up for your next heroic quest. But how many towns do you even remember from any one particular game? Instead of packing its world with copy-pasted settlements, Granblue Fantasy: Relink features just one village and just one city. But both are so full of life I can’t stop walking their gorgeously rendered streets as I play.
The first glimpse of the idyllic village Folca comes early in Granblue Fantasy: Relink. After a dramatic plunge from their airship, Folca offers the game’s party a welcome respite from the monsters lurking in the forest. Folca introduces itself with a churning water wheel on a stone path lined with trees. Welcoming folksy music plays, just to drive home the town’s cozy charm. Just down the path, the view opens up on a wide central plaza with a lone tree in its center. A massive church dominates the view in one direction, and an airship dock where you’ll later park your ship hangs over the other.
I immediately fell in love with Folca. Granblue Fantasy: Relink is a visual treat to begin with, and the town’s beauty is a standout example of this. It’s a place you’re meant to spend a lot of time, so it’s clear that a massive amount of work went into making it somewhere you’d want to inhabit. Everything from individual stones in walls to the grain of wooden doors is rendered with care, as are the flowers sprouting from every open space. Its trees are a particular wonder, with sunlight shining on their leaves in a way that absolutely glows with the game’s watercolor art style.
Starfield got a lot of criticism for not including city maps, making their winding streets difficult to navigate. Folca doesn’t have a map, either, but you won’t need one. The town is laid out like the kind of place people actually live (imagine that!), with the blacksmith, an item-seller, and other useful services all surrounding the town center. After just one trip through town, I remembered exactly where everything was located, from the pond where a strange kid would give me rewards for finding crabs hidden throughout the world to a side path with a reliably respawning chest full of gold.
Since everything useful is clustered in one place, there’s no real need to explore the whole town each time you visit unless you’re picking up side quests. But I took a stroll through its streets every chance I got. Side characters are everywhere in Folca, stopping to chat with each other or eating at outdoor cafes, as cats stalk through tall grass. There’s noticeably just a few character models that repeat over and over, which is the only thing that spoils part of the illusion, but it’s easy to look past.
As you pass these NPCs, you’ll see a text bubble pop up above their heads with whatever is on their minds. Some even have stories that evolve over the course of the game as you return to Folca. My favorite were the two characters who said they’d meet at the water wheel, but didn’t say which of the two in town they meant, so they kept missing each other. By the end of the game, they’ve finally worked it out, and after a little spat over being late, one proposes and they agree to marry.
Folca is so detailed that I figured it would be the game’s only town. Clearly the only way Cygames could pull it off is by pouring all of their resources into this one, right? But partway through the game, Seedhollow appears. The mirror image of the pastoral Folca, Seedhollow is a bustling city, with crowded marketplaces filled with the sounds of excited shouting and seedy back-alleys hidden away from prying eyes. Folca could easily fit inside Seedhollow with room to spare, and while I prefer the peaceful village, the city’s fountains and gardens also have their appeal.
Granblue Fantasy: Relink has a mission-based structure that means you see its Sky Realm through a series of linear levels, not through an open world. It would be easy for that to break the illusion of the world as a real place, since none of its locales actually connect to each other. But thanks to Folca and Seedhollow, Granblue Fantasy: Relink’s setting feels more real than many portrayed in games with full world maps and dozens of towns.
The last time I was so smitten with a town in a game was Final Fantasy VII Rebirth. I still have a save from a point in the game where you’re able to wander freely through Midgar’s slums at night that I revisit from time to time. Both Granblue Fantasy: Relink and Final Fantasy VII Rebirth are action-packed games with apocalyptic plots, but in both, it’s the peaceful moments spent in a convincing environment that keep me coming back. There’s an escapist element to a lot of games, after all, and while that often means living out a power fantasy, sometimes the better escape is just safely strolling through a place bustling with life.
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