How do you review a game that is essentially one giant ad for another game entirely? That's kind of what Granblue Fantasy: Relink feels like to me, the first fully-fledged, 3D, RPG take on Cygames' long-running mobile gacha game. It's a difficult question to answer, especially when – spoiler alert – Relink is actually pretty good! And it's even harder to answer when the ad kind-of works.
A quick disclaimer: I've never played the original Granblue Fantasy mobile game. I've appreciated its character designs from afar, I've heard from friends that there are several LGBTQ characters that are well-written, and I even tried to set up an account once, but never followed through. I wanted to review this game because I wanted to see what if it felt like an approachable entry point for a newcomer to the series. So, is it? Yes and no.
Relink's particular adventure starts at some point during the skyfarers' adventure, though from just the main story I couldn't tell you where. The whole crew is there (I think, anyway), with the player-named Captain, Milhouse-sounding-sidekick-dragon Vyrn, mysterious blue-haired Lyria, and several other characters, too. It quickly establishes that we're off to visit Estalucia, a fabled land that is also supposedly where the player character's father is. Sounds like the usual kind of thing you'd expect from an RPG, but that's not what the story is about at all - this is where it feels like an ad for the mobile game in places, because you don't actually find Estalucia in Relink.
Instead, you meet some new original characters, including a new friendly face in the form of Rolan, and some not-so-friendly faces in the form of the Church of Avia and its leader Lilith. Overall, the story is mostly just serviceable. To be honest, my favourite bits happen towards the end, which I'm not supposed to talk about, but even those are mostly just your typical "my friends are my power" kind-of moments. Those moments did hit the emotional beats pretty well thanks to some well rounded voice acting, performed by a stacked cast.
An important thing to note is that you won't be experiencing some big, grand, 50-hour-long RPG here, as Relink is quite short. I managed to beat just the main story in around 15 hours, which didn't leave enough room to truly flesh the characters out enough, but it endeared me to them to a degree where yeah, I want to see more of them. Perhaps in a mobile game! Hmm, funny that.
With it being so short, there isn't a whole lot of exploring to do either, as it's technically somewhat level based - there are off-the-beat paths you can check out, but they mostly result in a bit of extra treasure rather than anything interesting. I'd say this is mostly balanced out by the fact that this game is simply gorgeous, though. Seriously, the first hub-town, Folca, is incredibly detailed and colourful, and even just random NPC designs feel like a lot of love was put into them, so I can forgive a lack of exploration when the world feels so alive in other ways.
You won't really find much story in what the game calls 'side quests' either, as they literally just follow this pattern: an NPC is stood in one of the two main hub-towns, they want you to either get a resource item/kill some particular enemies, there's a paragraph of flavour text, you're rewarded with resources and/or money. There is another kind of quest type, called Fate Episodes, and these do offer side-stories about all of the game's playable characters, but are mostly delivered in the form of paragraphs of text read allowed by whichever characters' episode you've selected. Exciting they're not, but there is the occasional Fate Episode where you actually go out on a mission. And get to play the game.
With the story content a bit lacking, it's a good thing that the actual gameplay itself is plain, simple fun. Relink is an action-RPG, but where something like Final Fantasy 16 has you playing as just one character with lots of options, Relink instead has a lot of characters, with a few options. Each character has their own combos you can pull off (all of which were surprisingly unique given how many playable characters there are), and they all have their own skill trees that unlock unique skills that you can mix-and-match.
I had a lot of fun trying out all of the characters, with one of my favourites being the ghost bunny woman Ferry, with her spectral companions and long-ranged whips. If I'd only been able to play as the player-character, I'd have said that the gameplay is 'simple, if repetitive', but the ability to mix things up so frequently really brought it all together.
You can play with up to three of your friends as any of the game's characters, with a separate set of quests you can attempt to take on with them, too, offering things like boss and wave-based fights, as well as longer-running missions. Luckily, you can play these offline, and I didn't find them all too difficult without the help of real people, so don't worry too much if you have no one to play with.
What we're left with at the end of all of this is an extremely tight game that has no obvious warts, and is a lot of fun to play, moment-to-moment. But outside of combat and environment design, Relink doesn't necessarily excel anywhere. It left me wanting more, not just of the game itself, but of the entire world. Given that it was in development for eight years (three of which were under the stewardship of Nier: Automata developer, Platinum, and the rest under Cygames), it all feels a little under-baked.
The problem is that, as many of us know, gacha games are inherently exploitative, and even though I'm confident in resisting spending any money on them, I still feel a bit strange about the pull I'm experiencing towards such a game thanks to a seperate, supposedly stand-alone RPG. Should you play Relink for a taste of Granblue Fantasy's world? I think so! But go in knowing that it won't give you everything you might want, and take it as it is.
Granblue Fantasy: Relink is out February 1 on PS4, PS5, and PC. This review was written using a PS5 code provided by the publisher.. If you're after something a bit longer, you can check out our definitive list of the best RPGs ever made.