Making Granblue Fantasy: Relink's watercolour visuals was "extremely taxing"

Granblue Fantasy Relink; anime characters pose against a fiery background
(Image credit: Cygames)
Granblue Fantasy: Relink details

Granblue Fantasy Relink; anime haracters in a grouo

(Image credit: Cygames)

Publisher XSeed Games
Developer
Cygames
Platform
PS4, PS5, PC
Release
Out now
Price
$59.99 / £49.99

Granblue Fantasy: Relink is the new Japanese role-playing game everyone is talking about. I've played and finished the game for my Granblue Fantasy: Relink review and it's a beautiful, often visually arresting adventure featuring gorgeous character design, graceful animation and elegant watercolour environments; it's like playing an epic anime TV series.

Based on the huge mobile RPG of the same name, the team at Cygames has spent years developing the style and technology to turn the original 2D game into a 3D experience for the PS4 and PS5 release of Granblue Fantasy: Relink, and it's paid off.

After playing the game I'm most taken aback by the deft detail and subtly in the scenery, which as director Yasuyuki Kaji reveals below are hand-painted. The game takes place in a sky-bound fantasy universe where its denizens live on floating islands, and Kaji-san also shares how clouds in the game are interactive. 

For more game art insights read my sit-down interview with the art team behind the art nouveau-inspired Songs of Silence. JRPG fans should also read my interview with Final Fantasy XIV's Yusuke Mogi. If you want to get into creating game art, read my guide to the best digital art software, too.

Below you can read my interview with director Kaji-san to discover more about how the art for Granblue Fantasy: Relink was made, including which new character design he has found the most complex to create.

The environments in Granblue Fantasy: Relink are hand-painted for a natural watercolour feel. (Image credit: Cygames)

What techniques do you use to get the 2D painted look in a 3D game engine?

"A lot of different things. We experimented with different materials (surfaces) and used art techniques like hatching to achieve that hand-drawn feel and make characters stand out even when they’re shrouded in shadows. We used different thicknesses, shades, and strokes to emphasise or de-emphasizse outlines to our liking. 

"When it comes to scenery, models that are farther away are replaced with less busy models to create a better composition."

Which character has been the hardest to get right in 3D?

"Pretty much all of them. A lot of characters have flowing capes or long, unique hairstyles, and it was tough giving those features proper weight and feel."

What defines a good character for Granblue?

"Out of all the amazing characters in Granblue Fantasy: Relink, I’ll highlight Id. His combat animations are packed with minute visual details, like the dragon aura emanating off his sword during combat."

How would you define the art style of Granblue Fantasy: Relink?

"As it’s neither photorealism nor cel shading, I’d call it a recreation of Granblue Fantasy’s signature 2D art style."

Can they explain the process of translating the 2D illustrations into 3D, and what challenges or solutions did they come up with?

"We painstakingly compared the 3D models to the 2D illustrations over and over again. If the emulations looked correct in 3D but didn’t quite achieve the desired effect from an illustrative standpoint, we’d keep tweaking it little by little until they matched the source material the exact way we wanted."

The heroes of the Granblue Fantasy: Relink JRPG. (Image credit: Cygames)

Was it hard to recreate such stylised characters?

"Translating the lengths of characters’ limbs, heads, and bodies from 2D art to 3D models for an action game was a bit tricky. A lot of fine-tuning had to be done."

Were there new characters and creatures created for the game, is there a favourite or one that stands out and why?

"Yes, quite a few new characters and monsters were introduced. I’m proud of all the designs, but when it comes to complexity, the colossal primal beast Excavallion stands out the most in my mind."

How long does it take to get a character just right in 3D?

"Including finalising the visual effects, we were polishing models from the start of development all the way till the very end of development."

The Cygames artists spent years developing a new technique to bring the 2D characters to life in 3D. (Image credit: Cygames)

Is creating a game with such a stylised fantasy look as hard as creating a real world photo?

"I’ve had experience making photorealistic graphics, so I know how demanding it can be. From photo-scanning to real-time lighting, a lot of techniques have evolved to create photorealistic graphics. Simply being unable to fully utilise some of those boons made creating the game’s graphics extremely taxing."

When it came to animating, did the characters have rules to abide by?

"There weren’t any special rules from a technical perspective. When it comes to character animations in an action game, we focus on making them look satisfying and true to the character."

All the characters in Granblue Fantasy: Relink have complex designs with flowing capes and hair. (Image credit: Cygames)

Every character has so much moving and rippling, how was this achieved? Is it pre-animated or are their real time simulations at work?

"We wanted characters to look cool at the press of a button, so animations and controls were closely linked together throughout the creation process. Objects that can freely flutter are simulated, but simulation-only objects would always get stuck in models during action-intensive sequences, so for those we did things manually and adjusted accordingly."

What work went into creating the skies and clouds of the game?

"They’re all hand-drawn using Granblue Fantasy illustrations as reference. Many of the foreground clouds have unique models, each with their own movement patterns."

In-game characters are complex. Drawing on the 2D designs they are impressively modelled. (Image credit: Cygames)

Can characters and players interact with the game's clouds, and how was this achieved?

"You won’t be able to touch the clouds directly, but there are situations where the airship is in the clouds. If you fire at the clouds with a cannon, they’ll react."

Finally, will there be an art book or art collection fans can buy?

"A digital artbook is included with the Digital Deluxe Edition of the PlayStation version. For physical editions of the game, the Deluxe Edition and Collector’s Edition come with an artbook, but supplies of the Collector’s Edition are limited."

The world of Granblue Fantasy: Relink is lush and vibrant, a wonderful place to explore. (Image credit: Cygames)

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Ian Dean
Editor, Digital Arts & 3D

Ian Dean is Editor, Digital Arts & 3D at Creativebloq, and the former editor of many leading magazines. These titles included ImagineFX, 3D World and leading video game title Official PlayStation Magazine. In his early career he wrote for music and film magazines including Uncut and SFX. Ian launched Xbox magazine X360 and edited PlayStation World. For Creative Bloq, Ian combines his experiences to bring the latest news on AI, digital art and video game art and tech, and more to Creative Bloq, and in his spare time he doodles in Procreate, ArtRage, and Rebelle while finding time to play Xbox and PS5. He's also a keen Cricut user and laser cutter fan, and is currently crafting on Glowforge and xTools M1.