The heroic sky-faring adventurers aboard the Grandcypher airship brace as a massive dragon clings to the ship’s side, blocking out the Sun. It slashes at the deck, trying to pull the ship from the sky, as its occupants struggle to fight it off. They have little hope against its massive claws and the jets of blue flame it spits at them, until the pilot crashes the ship into its chest in a last desperate maneuver. You’ve been playing Granblue Fantasy: Relink for five minutes at this point, and it only gets more spectacular from here.
Granblue Fantasy: Relink’s first major battle says a lot about what to expect in the rest of the game. It’s a party-based action RPG featuring some truly incredible boss fights, with a cast of characters as distinct in their personalities as they are in fighting styles. Both the art style and music are staggeringly gorgeous, with a score by Final Fantasy composer Nobuo Uematsu and an immaculately detailed anime-inspired visual aesthetic. But Granblue is also a sequel to a ten-year-old mobile game that’s only playable through a browser outside of Japan, and if you somehow haven’t gotten around to it, the series is not particularly interested in catching you up.
The story of Granblue Fantasy: Relink certainly doesn’t rank among the RPG greats, but its combat is so phenomenal that I can’t stop playing it anyway.
What Are We Doing Here?
You play as the captain of the Grandcypher, whose name and gender you can change at any time with the push of a button. In the moments after your ship is attacked by the dragon Bahamut, you fall to the ground with crewmate Lyria, with whom you share a mystical bond due to an incident that happened well before the game started. Your fight against beings called Primal Beasts across Granblue Fantasy’s Sky Realm quickly gets you caught in the machinations of a doomsday cult who kidnap one of your crew members.
The story of Granblue Fantasy: Relink isn’t bad, exactly. It’s just pretty inconsequential. Since the captain and their crew are already established besties by the time the game starts, there’s really no work done to tell you who they are.
Character development instead comes in optional Fate Episodes, narrated text stories nestled along with other side quests, which vary wildly in quality but mostly aren’t that interesting. That’s a shame, since some of the characters seem genuinely fascinating in concept. Take Cagliostro, an egomaniacal, moderately evil alchemist who created a new body for herself to extend her life and is canonically trans in Granblue Fantasy, though that’s not touched on in Relink. The game’s characters have years of history behind them from the mobile game, and bringing some of their unique characteristics forward would have made up for a lot of the main story’s flaws.
The Thrill of Battle
But you won’t care about any of those shortcomings when you’re actually in battle, where the game shines. Granblue Fantasy: Relink pairs you with three companions on missions, which usually have you fight your way through hordes of enemies to reach the boss.
In a massive roster of 20 unlockable members, there genuinely seems to be a character available to suit any player. Using your default character, the captain, means chaining light and heavy sword attacks into combos while using a selection of abilities that include everything from ranged strikes to healing. Playing as the mage Io requires a whole different set of skills like maintaining distance, timing charged attacks correctly, and knowing when to risk taking damage to pull off a devastating spell. Discovering which characters suited me best and mastering their unique combat styles was a thrill each time I picked up a new party member.
There are only a few party members whose combat style turned me off, like the button-mashing Lancelot or Eugen, with his aimable rifle. No matter who you choose, combat feels fluid, relying on well-timed blocks and dodges while maintaining combos and using skills wisely. Especially on the game’s hardest difficulty, you’re constantly pushed to use every tool you have at your disposal — though you can also overlevel your character and weapons to brute force through challenges that are just too tough.
There’s really not a dull moment in combat, but nothing compares to the boss fights. Granblue Fantasy: Relink easily has some of my favorite bosses ever. These aren’t the kinds of battles where you can just spam attacks and block at the right time — every one forces you to adjust tactics on the fly and react to a shockingly varied set of challenges. The first battle against a Primal Beast starts by testing your ability to block and dodge sword swings from a massive four-legged monster. But once you get that down, the boss moves to the center of the arena and forms a cyclone, forcing you to stay away while dodging tornados it throws toward the party.
At a certain point in the fight, the boss flies offscreen, then zips across the arena in sweeping charges telegraphed with markings on the floor. I laughed with glee when I saw this, as all the time I’ve spent playing endgame raids in Final Fantasy XIV taught me exactly what to do. Over and over in boss fights, I was shocked at how complicated these MMORPG-inspired mechanics got, but quick thinking always got me out of jams so even the most devastating attacks never felt unavoidable.
There’s No ‘I’ in Team
Maybe the biggest surprise of all is how well your AI-powered party members react to all this. Only in the final few boss fights do things get too overwhelming for the AI to keep up, and there were some times my companions stood directly in the line of attack to charge a spell or revive me when I got knocked down (though I do appreciate the gesture). Up until then, Granblue Fantasy: Relink does an incredible job of making you feel like you’re fighting on a team. Crewmates seem to know when another character is in danger and come to fight alongside them, and they use healing and defensive spells in a smarter way than most AI companions.
Each crew member also fills up a gauge for a massive area attack, and chaining multiple attacks together effectively sells the idea that the whole team is working together rather than mindlessly soloing their own battles.
These moments even sneak in a bit of character detail with how different party members react to the attack. In a clever bit of design, each character calls out the name of the next party member to activate Skybound Arts after them, as if prompting them to join in. These quick dialogue lines vary based on the characters involved. Once I noticed that Io, the young mage who doesn’t want to be seen as just a kid, responds with an irritated “I know!” when she’s prompted by the ship’s pilot, I instantly felt like I understood her character much more.
If you’d rather play with flesh-and-blood humans, Granblue Fantasy: Relink also includes an online mode. With a preformed team or internet strangers, you can tackle specific quests or sign up for a random one. I almost always gravitate toward support classes in online games, focusing on healing and empowering my teammates. Granblue Fantasy: Relink has a few characters that are perfect for that, like Rosetta, who plants roses that attack nearby enemies and grant your party different buffs based on which combo you perform.
Granblue Fantasy: Relink has a lot in common with Monster Hunter. Even more quests unlock after you finish the main story. By repeating quests, you can earn rare materials (sometimes even by knocking them off of monsters) that you can use to build and upgrade new weapons and Sigils, which enhance your abilities.
While weapons and Sigils let you develop a unique character build, the game’s skill tree isn’t so great. Every character has an enormous number of upgrades to purchase, most of which are just incremental additions to stats like health or attack power. As you unlock node after node on a chain that seems to stretch on forever, there are few options to actually choose how to specialize your character. That makes the skill tree’s existence seem superfluous, when the biggest choice you’re making is which character to invest skill points in and when.
Clear Blue Skies
Granblue Fantasy: Relink isn’t without issues. A clunky upgrade system limits your ability to build characters, and a threadbare story drains the experience of any greater meaning. Normally, a narrative this dull would immediately turn me off of a game, but I just can’t help but love Granblue Fantasy: Relink. It has the kind of combat I’ve always wanted from an action RPG, rewarding mastery of technique, allowing a broad range of playstyles, and truly selling the idea that you’re just one member of a tight knit crew.
I’ve gone back to play quest after quest every night since I finished the main story and I can’t see myself stopping any time soon. Developer Cygames has already announced additional characters and bosses coming in post-launch updates. As long as there’s more on the way, I can see myself returning to Granblue Fantasy: Relink’s gorgeous floating world for a long time to come.
Granblue Fantasy: Relink launches on February 1 for PlayStation and PC. Inverse reviewed the game on PS5.
INVERSE VIDEO GAME REVIEW ETHOS: Every Inverse video game review answers two questions: Is this game worth your time? Are you getting what you pay for? We have no tolerance for endless fetch quests, clunky mechanics, or bugs that dilute the experience. We care deeply about a game’s design, world-building, character arcs, and storytelling come together. Inverse will never punch down, but we aren’t afraid to punch up. We love magic and science-fiction in equal measure, and as much as we love experiencing rich stories and worlds through games, we won’t ignore the real-world context in which those games are made.
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