Publisher XSeed Games
Platform PS4, PS5, PC
Release Out now
Price $59.99 / £49.99
Let’s nip something in the bud early on, Granblue Fantasy: Relink is not Monster Hunter: World. The comparisons were commonplace for this beautiful anime-style RPG but in all reality, this is too stream-lined, too direct to really be compared to Capcom’s complex hit JPRG. I waited until I'd finished the main campaign to write this review, as it's important to judge how Granblue Fantasy: Relink works in its endgame, and why those Monster Hunter comparisons aren't helpful.
That’s not to say Granblue Fantasy: Relink is any worse off for being less than Monster Hunter. Cygames action RPG places more emphasis on action and less on roleplaying, and it’s more immediate and fun for it; playing through the game’s main quest is just a geelful joy. A breezy story, easy to grasp combat and a plethora of quirky, unique characters to party-up with ensures every quest is an explosive sensory overload.
Cygames just wants you to have fun in its world; it loads you up with the tools of destruction needed to overcome some creative and often towering boss battles, it pats you on the backside and ushers you gently into the strikingly art-directed chaos. The main story is around 12 hours long, and it’s just fun.
Granblue Fantasy: Relink is enjoyably direct
I can see where some of the Monster Hunter comparisons stem from; Granblue Fantasy: Relink does treat its main story mode as a training camp for the main content you unlock post-credits - with a refocus on co-op mini-quests and grinding for XP and treasure to upgrade your characters.
The difference is there’s a lot less grinding in the main story mode and the solo-campaign is enjoyable as a standalone experience, akin to a action-melee adventure with light RPG stat-tweaking. More so because Granblue Fantasy: Relink is less technical than Monster Hunter; bosses for example have basic elemental weaknesses and immunities that can, on replay, make you consider your party and skills in more detail, but really it’s nothing like Monster Hunter’s complex load-outs, traps and tactics.
Even though this is a direct sequel to the Japanese mobile and PC game few have played in the West, you needn’t have played Granblue Fantasy before. The game picks up after the events of a game you’ve likely not played, and just, well… runs with it. The team is set, the adventure is on and really you’ll just be glad to be along for the ride.
Cygames actually does a really good job of onboarding newcomers to this fantasy anime universe. There are recaps of who characters are - called Skyfarers - during the brief loading screens, along with explanations of the Sky Realm Zegagrande - a world of floating fantasy islands in the clouds that neatly fit into themed biomes such as desert, snow, forest and more.
Getting between islands takes place on the sailing ship the Grandcypher, captained by protagonist Gran and side-kicked by a crew of misfits and the Lyria, a girl who can control a 'Primal beast' in battle. This ability catches the eye of the mysterious Church of Avia, who kidnap Lyria and so a lean race across Zegagrande's sky islands follows suit.
The story mode is a solid solo-campaign and constantly changes up its approach; while for the most part maps are fairly linear runs to an epic boss battle some stages do throw out the rule book - one sequence embraces Space Invaders while another boss confrontation is a love-letter to Shadow of Colossus - this massive rock-made god-thing really is a beautiful creation, like a Mayan monolith come to life. It's just one of the many moments when Granblue Fantasy: Relink's art team demonstrate their talent.
There are side missions to take on but these are shallow fetch-quests that can in all honesty be completed randomly by simply killing enemies and collecting their loot. If you're expecting narrative-focused side questing you'll be disappointed. Further to this each of the 20 playable characters have Fate Episodes to play through; these reveal each hero's backstory and play out as narrated illustrations with a couple of boss fights to teach you a particular character’s moves and abilities.
While combat is largely templated - each character can perform a basic attack, a power move, block and dodge, along with a choice of four skills and metered 'Burst Attacks', including Link strikes that can be banked and timed as devastating team attacks. How this transfers to each character is what keeps things fresh. During the story campaign you only play as hero Gran, so things are quite vanilla, but once the endgame starts I begin experimenting with how other characters play, and Granblue Fantasy: Relink begins to show its hand.
One character for example can power-up into a new shapeshifting dragon form, another specialises in parries instead of power attacks, meaning my timing needs to be completely different to other characters - get it right and she bounces, somersaults and cartwheels at enemies and avoids damage. Others fall into standard RPG templates - supporting mages, gun-wielding distant and sword-toting melee styles.
Nuances aside, combat is just a joy to bash around in; even at its most expressive and explosive, when the VFX team has been let loose, you still feel in control and are able to block, parry and react. The game’s director Yasuyuki Kaji, previously worked on Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance, Bayonetta 2, and NieR: Automata, and I can see the influence of those games in Granblue Fantasy: Relink; in fact as comparisons go, those action games are a better fit than Monster Hunter.
With its accessible combat it's easy to enjoy Granblue Fantasy: Relink, but that approachable nature comes with some drawbacks. This game isn’t a complex JRPG and the role-play elements that are in here can be a little confused, with multiple sellers and dealers, weird treasures and various ways to filter though levelling, weapon upgrades and more. It can be confusing just to work out a root to an upgrade if you approach levelling tactically. Instead, just whack a button and see what comes out the upgrade slot machine.
Granblue Fantasy: Relink is enjoyably shallow, and I mean that as a compliment. Just experiencing its vibrant world and art direction is a simple pleasure. The beautiful character design, the watercolour-like world presentation and the sublime animation really needs to be dwelled upon.
The textures in the game’s scenery have been hand-drawn and there are some wonderful background illustrations; the character models have the tactile feel of being 2D illustrations, too. At times it feels like I’m playing through a painting, only one that explodes into chaos at any moment.
I'm glad I held back my review until I was able to experience the endgame and co-op, as this is where the game shows its true hand, for good and bad. The post-story game refocuses around co-op, with simple online quests taking the form of six core styles, including boss fights, a horde mode, survival and more. These are short quests that last between 10-20 minutes, so if you're expecting complex quests akin to Monster Hunter: World of even Destiny 2 you'll be disappointed.
Yet the menu of simple and accessible, short-lived online quests fit the approach to combat in Granblue Fantasy: Relink; it's fast, lively and rewarding in short bite-sized chunks. Developer Cygames is promising comprehensive post-launch DLC too, so expect new characters, islands and likely some more in-depth quests.
The other plus point for me personally is the simplicity of game design leaves more room to absorb just how visually arresting Granblue Fantasy: Relink is to play; at times I'm happy just to stand still and take in the lush watercolour scenery, and when it does explode the lively VFX and bouncing animation just drips with class. Simple and perhaps shallow, but Granblue Fantasy: Relink is rarely dull.