With Baldur's Gate 3, Final Fantasy XVI, and next month's Starfield in its back pocket, the RPG genre is on something of a tear at the moment. Enthusiast gamers could be losing 100 hours of their free time to a number of different universes right now, and the best part is there's always another enticing adventure right around the corner. Case in point: the RPG spin-off Granblue Fantasy: Relink is now (finally) dated for 1st February 2024. Just as you've cleared your backlog over the Christmas and New Year period, it'll be time to step into another PS5 must-play.
We were invited down to a swanky London hotel to play the game and Granblue Fantasy Versus: Rising, as well as take in a presentation for both titles from developer Cygames. What we played is the same PS5 demo you could experience this week at Gamescom 2023, if you so happen to be attending the show. Given the demo had a 10-minute time cap — which we played through twice — most of our impressions are based on the presentation prior to the hands on session.
Our biggest takeaway is Granblue Fantasy: Relink appears to play a lot like Tales of Arise. With around 12 characters to play as, the real-time combat system is all about popping off flashy and spectacular abilities as much as possible. You have your own roster of skills to utilise and party members have theirs, with special attacks bringing everyone together for huge bursts of damage. Much like the Bandai Namco title, it oozes style and class with really colourful visuals and impressive character moves — in the same way, bosses seem to have very large health pools.
Despite the fact you can take the experience online with a four-player party, Cygames stresses the title is still designed around single player. In fact, even though the RPG is based on a Japanese franchise most popular on mobile phones, the developer is pitching Granblue Fantasy: Relink to newcomers just as much as the current fanbase. Prior knowledge may help your understanding, but reading webpages dedicated to Granblue Fantasy lore isn't a requirement for your visit to the Zegagrande Skydom.
Across the campaign — which is said to comprise of more than 100 quests all packing collectibles and side activities — you'll tour various islands all in the name of character customisation and upgrades. Cygames was also keen to point out the story's ending should prove satisfying and won't be left on a cliffhanger.
In between those narrative beats, it's the combat that'll keep you engaged. With so many playable characters on offer, the developer wants to create "a completely different game experience with every character". There'll be abilities unique to each one, as well as different weapons to wield like swords, guns, and magic attacks. We purposefully played as different characters in our two playthroughs of the PS5 demo, and there certainly is a contrast in playstyle. Our first run-through was with a sword and fire-based spells, while in the second we opted for a gun-based build with skills based around bullets. As you can imagine, the former was all about close-quarters combat while the latter was conducted at more of a distance. It remains to be seen whether that's a "completely different game experience", but it does at least introduce some variation.
With many modes of attack, meters to fill on-screen, and up to four skills to govern at any one time (all with cooldown meters), Cygames will include an Assist Mode in Granblue Fantasy: Relink for RPG newcomers. This will allow you to perform combos with a single button press, enable automatic healing, guarding, and dashing, and even activate abilities without any input on your end. There's then a mode that takes an even bigger step: Full Assist Mode. Entirely focused on delivering the plot, you just move the thumbsticks and everything else is done for you. These modes won't be available during end-game content, but you're free to use them anywhere else in the game — even online.
It's another example of how developer Cygames is opening the Granblue Fantasy series up to everyone once more. By making Relink an action RPG, it's able to capture a larger audience than its fighting counterpart and essentially launch the series here in the West — as the main mobile title did for the Japanese audience. We didn't get to play enough to make any definitive statements, but Granblue Fantasy: Relink comes with a lot of promise. Resembling Tales of Arise more than anything else, it has every chance to be just as good as it — or better. We'll know for certain come next year.
Granblue Fantasy: Relink is now slated to release for PS5, PS4 on 1st February 2024. Are you excited for this upcoming action RPG, and did the new trailer debuted at Gamescom Opening Night Live do anything for you? Share your thoughts in the comments below.