Granblue Fantasy: Relink - PC Review

Granblue Fantasy: Relink by developer and publisher Cygames, IncPC (Steam) review written by Robert with a copy provided by the publisher.

Estimated Reading Time: 8 minutes
One of the terms I think that best describes Granblue Fantasy: Relink's approach to gaming is, "Respectful." This comes at odds for me, as I have a strong aversion towards mobile gaming design commonalities. While I do think mobile gaming has its place, it's just not something I find any enjoyment in (Gacha-style content/gaming is a hard no for me) and struggle to connect in any real way to the platform. There are echoes of Granblue's mobile heritage all throughout Relink and because of that, for me, playing Relink was like walking through a bakery with that fresh-baked bread smell, only to occasionally catch a whiff of something extremely foul-smelling; it's noticeable, horrible, but gone in an instant and replaced with that wonderful smell of fresh-baked bread.

The core quest line, when pacing yourself (and not playing on the lower difficulties) should see you complete the campaign in 18-24 hours, and while that seems like a hefty time investment for those of us that don't have as much time to spend gaming as we used to, the way that those 20 or so hours play out do so in a way that respects the time of busy gamers. Namely in its quest design, Relink focuses on moving you from scene to scene, point of action to point of action with very little fluff.

While it is entirely possible to drop 40 hours into a first play through, unlike the typical JRPG, Relink doesn't have a strong focus on the grind found in the genre. Start a mission, flashily hack, slash, and bash, your way through an aesthetically stunning level (whose design sometimes leaves a lot to be desired, even if they are quite gorgeous), beat a boss, rinse and repeat. It's actually not as dull and boring as it sounds as the simple combat is engaging, storyline is enjoyable (if not extremely robust or deep), has an absolutely spectacular soundtrack.

However, you can feel the mobile gaming bones to the game and it sets it just off-kilter to other action RPGs of a similar nature. There is a strong Gacha-like feeling to Relink, through some of the characters, and though the core group of characters is solid at times (Katalina, Rackam, and Io, were my personal favorites, who were yours?), I found it difficult to connect as deeply with the cast as I might in a more grounded series like Tales or Star Ocean. Where I am conflicted is in the fact that even though I struggled to connect with nearly half of the cast, I still found myself really enjoying the Fate episodes (character-specific stories/arcs, think a more focused Skit if you're familiar with Tales). 

The entire game is littered with this ghost of mobile frameworks that still confounds me as I prefer the thicker, meatier, and often more bloated experiences found in traditional console RPGs. Where I was expecting to grind like I might in a Soulslike title or be able to get lost for hours while exploring every nook-and-crannie the way I might in Xenoblade, instead I found myself appreciating the trimmed down "get to the action" style that Granblue brings to the table. Loathe as I am to admit it, the thinner, less "fluff-filled" mission structure of Granblue was greatly appreciated, so much so to the point that Relink is one of those spanning RPGs that you can pick up and put down after a short play session. A trait far more common in mobile gaming than in console-based roleplaying games and one that plays in Granblue's favor, especially when Relink's primary competition can clock in at four or five times longer. 

That's not to say that the structure is perfect either, as it can make the story feel more episodic even though I don't believe it's designed to feel like that. This leaves parts of the various arcs feeling insincere in its urgency while leaving you with a stop-and-go feeling not all that uncommon from sitting in bumper-to-bumper traffic. The "Diet RPG" approach to Granblue is appreciated though the structure of the Fate episodes is very much the most mobile-esque (and the weakest) aspect of Relink and it's hard to shrug the less-desirable influences of mobile gaming's influence.

While the story may stutter at times, where Relink shines is in its post-"campaign" gameplay and in its action. I spent much time feeling like a less intricate/finessed version of the Tales franchise's combat. There's nothing inherently wrong with the combat in Granblue Fantasy: Relink, it's just simple, straight-forward, and while wonderfully flashy, fairly no-frills. In fact, I found myself yet again begrudgingly-appreciating the slimmed down version of the roleplaying experience; combat is fun and engaging but not as complicated as the Tales games' combat can be. Characters each have their own styles, from the more traditional swordsman in Gran to Io's magic-y goodness to other more rogue-ish styles, there's something here for everyone. I personally enjoy Gran's basic sword-swinging ways for most of the game since I'm about as spicy as plain milk, but there is plenty here for everyone. The main cast is diverse in style so whether you're dropping into some co-op multiplayer or just tinkering around, there is always something here for everyone.

Where I am absolutely floored by the quality is in the quality of animation, art, and sound/music designs, Granblue Fantasy: Relink is hands-down one of the best looking anime-esque games out there. The 2d character art found in menus puts Xenoblade to shame- I'm horribly colorblind and every single time I popped up the menu I would take a minute to just marvel in the popping colors and crisp, clean lines. Every aspect of Granblue is beautiful, if not always presented in the most flattering of ways. 

Models and animations are stunning and don't have the more wooden animation qualities I've come to recognize as a trait in RPGs coming out of the East. Where this is lost is in the Fate episodes; while they are essentially text-heavy slideshows that aren't playable (hence the feeling of them being borne from Tales's Skits). Comparing that to the more cinematic storytelling of the main quest arcs and you can feel the lopsided mobile-inspired gaming roots. Where anime-style games can feel in-expressive and flat, Relink's facial animations are great in conveying emotion- from anger and frustration to adorably cute and touching, the range of emotion conveyed is rather impressive. 

Tying together the wonderful character art and stunning environment art are some great performances by the actors overlaying a phenomenal soundtrack. While it isn't going to dethrone titles like Final Fantasy VI or The Witcher II: Wild Hunt with regard to having a memorable soundtrack, the sweeping scores that underpin the more cinematic elements could feel at home in a massive Square-produced title and I'm here for it on every level. Composed by Nobuo Uematsu and Tsutoma Narita and containing a wonderful mix of more traditional fantasy scores, there are times when you might get a bit of guitar and drums peeking through here and there and it gives the music a complexity that outshines its story-based components more than once.

Granblue Fantasy: Relink was an interesting experience for me; my own personal disconnect with mobile gaming had me feeling the ghost of its influence throughout the entirety of my time with the game. This left me feeling a bit off throughout the entire experience- not enough to take so much away that it took me so far out of the game that I couldn't reconnect, but enough to be noticeable. While respectful of my time, it feels like it came at the cost of the more natural and flowing progression found in more traditional RPG experiences. 

The one unexpected benefit of the more focused, trimmed-down storytelling method found in Granblue Fantasy: Relink is in the fact that I was able to put the game down for a few days then come back to it without scratching my head wondering where I was. How many of us have sat down to a Final Fantasy, Persona, The Witcher, or other massive, sprawling title and thought to ourselves, "crap, now where was I?" The mission structure found in Relink, given the no-nonsense style, is far easier to put down then pick back up again than its contemporaries. 

Yet another win on Relink's side of things... which is where I'll leave you- Granblue Fantasy: Relink hasn't just made a successful transition from mobile franchise to serious RPG contender, but they did so in away that could change the way action RPGs are presented to us. In a world split between innovative gameplay mechanics and maintaining traditional roles, Granblue bridges the gap between the two in a way that is a win for all gamers.

Score: 8.5 out of 10


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