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Granblue Fantasy Relink: The Kotaku Review

“That seems familiar.” It’s a phrase I said to myself a dozen times or more in the first two hours of Cygames’ Granblue Fantasy Relink. When a giant monster attacked my boat during the prologue. When I realized my sidekick was a tiny, flying mascot with a high-pitched voice and room for approximately one emotion at any given time. When a seemingly benign cult revealed its malignant intentions. And especially when the hero called on the power of friendship to save the magical girl that first saved his life in his rural hometown after an evil empire invaded.

Cygames mixes well-worn RPG concepts and systems, borrowing bits from Lunar: Silver Star Story, Bravely Default and Bandai Namco’s Tales of series—and several more besides. The result should be a hackneyed mess of tropes. But it’s not. Instead, Granblue Fantasy Relink’s brilliance comes from how it imbues familiar ideas with an earnestness and charm that feels almost impossible to resist.

Read More: What Are Your Most Anticipated Games Of 2024?Buy Granblue Fantasy Relink: Amazon | Best Buy | Target

Granblue Fantasy Relink is a sort-of sequel to Cygames’ Granblue Fantasy, a free-to-play mobile-and-browser game that never officially launched outside Japan. A young sky pilot named Gran, if you choose the male-presenting hero, or Djeeta, if you choose the female-presenting character, lives peacefully on a small, backwoods island in the sky. A girl with blue hair and magical powers named Lyria falls from the clouds one day, with soldiers from an evil empire in pursuit. Our hero intervenes and almost dies, and Lyria gives them half of her life to keep them alive. Accompanied by Lyria’s bodyguard Katalina, the duo flee and start an adventure of their own. Gran’s (or Djeeta’s) father left them a note encouraging them to seek Estalucia, a fabled island far away that’s home to legendary beings of old, and Granblue occupies much of its time following Djeeta (or Gran) and their friends as they travel to this mythical land and get entangled in dozens of smaller stories along the way.

An epic journey

Cygames faced a steep challenge with Relink. Gran and Djeeta’s adventures span 10 years, and the broader international audience probably never heard of Astrals or the Erste Empire, let alone Lyria. Cygames met the challenge by cramming a few paragraphs of plot summary into Lyria’s diary, which functions as Relink’s in-game archive, and then moving on. It sounds like an inelegant solution, but considering how long Granblue’s story has run for, that’s probably the best way to handle it.

Read More: Granblue Fantasy Versus: The Kotaku ReviewBuy Granblue Fantasy Relink: Amazon | Best Buy | Target

No evil empire looms over your adventure and main story follows a fairly predictable route, but the hero wrestling withtheir father’s legacy is a nice touch that elevates the narrative a bit beyond standard RPG fare. I enjoy RPGs with something big to say about life, such as Like A Dragon Infinite Wealth and Xenoblade Chronicles 3, so I was surprised that I didn’t mind Relink having nothing especially deep to say.

The real draw comes from Relink’s characters, anyway. And Cygames’ confidence in its cast means that Relink avoids some of the problems common to stories with large ensembles. Rather than trying to shoehorn everyone into every scene so you don’t forget them or focusing on lengthy side stories, Relink is happy to let characters and their relationships develop alongside the main story in small vignettes. The writing’s quality and the depth of the connections between characters mean that even small scenes, such as the precocious mage Io promising Lyria she’ll share makeup tips—once she learns how to use makeup herself—have emotional weight.

Relink perfects the skit-style storytelling that’s common to Tales of games, and the result is a more intimate experience. Relink has all the hallmarks of a slice-of-life anime one second, before switching to everyone trying to save the world the next, and the most impressive part of that switch is that it doesn’t fumble either side.

For the main party, anyway. The downside with the recruitable party members is that they never feel as fully integrated into the story as your original crew does. Their onboarding missions are surprisingly lengthy, but it seems evident Cygames included these additional characters for cameo purposes and to help make multiplayer monster hunts more interesting. They are awfully fun to use in battle, though.

The mechanics of adventure

Relink’s story and cast are charming, but Cygames’ excellent battle system shines even brighter.Each character has basic and strong attacks that can be chained into combos. Each character gradually learns new skills to weave into these combos—strategically, as they all have cooldown timers of varying length—and you’re expected to make use of blocking and dodging to stay alive.

Relink adds several flourishes to make it all feel deeper and richer, though. Pulling off combos levels up your skill power in a way similar to Xenoblade Chronicles 2, though the process is, mercifully, less opaque than in Monolith’s RPG. Characters can perform strong Link Attacks after meeting certain conditions, and if everyone pulls off special attacks at the right time, the entire party teams up for a powerful burst move. Each character also gets a Skybound Art, an ultimate skill that deals heavy damage. You can swap between party members at will, which is handy, since everyone has different elemental affiniites, and there’s a light AI system that lets you influence how your party members act.

Read More: Granblue Fantasy Versus Player Gleefully Wrecks The CompetitionBuy Granblue Fantasy Relink: Amazon | Best Buy | Target

While previews and demo impressions compared Relink’s combat to Tales of Arise, it reminds me more of Nihon Falcom’s Ys VIII and Ys IX. Relink feels less heavy and deliberate than Arise, and the lack of MP management encourages you to experiment with skills and different party combinations. It’s a blast, and it only gets more involved and enjoyable as you gather new party members.

Relink’s exploration and adventuring are more mixed. The world outside of towns is a series of large, semi-open areas with roaming monsters, secrets and treasures to uncover, and some beautiful vistas to stop and admire before moving on. While the treasure and and environments are never exciting enough to warrant exploring for the sake of adventure, finding hidden caches or taking down monster hordes is your ticket to better equipment, something you need plenty of with a party the size of Relink’s. The system works, but it does feel less inspired than pretty much everything else on offer here.

Less stale is Cygames’ take on RPG towns. The hamlets and bustling sky cities you visit in Relink have few points of interest and fewer activities to busy yourself with, but they feel more alive than most settings in the genre. Everywhere you visit is bustling with (voiced) activity – hawkers plying their trade in the market, people going about their daily lives, meeting, fighting, falling in love, and almost none of it is tied to quests or anything of traditional importance in RPGs.

There’s even a handful of voiced segments where seemingly inconsequential NPCs chat with you and Lyria about fishing or food or other small talk topics you’d expect to come up if you were visiting a place for the first time. It’s rare for RPG towns to feel so alive, and while it’s tempting to say none of it has any narrative significance, that wouldn’t be entirely true. All these little instances of emotional connection made me care about the islands and the people who live there, which, unexpectedly, lent an air of gravity to the story as it unfolded.

That knack of managing to evoke emotion with so many established storytelling conventions is what makes Granblue Fantasy Relink feel special. In a landscape full of attempts to rekindle nostalgia or capture the essence of yesteryear’s most memorable games, Cygames did one better. Relink isn’t interested in trying to recapture those feelings. It reminds me why they were special to begin with.

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