Granblue Fantasy: Relink Hands-On Preview at Anime Expo 2023

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Announced back in 2016, Granblue Fantasy: Relink has been delayed several times for ‘quality enhancement’ as the developers suggest at the annual Granblue Fantasy live stream. And after seven years of development, the wait is finally over as Cygames treated visitors of Anime Expo 2023 to the latest demo of Granblue Fantasy: Relink, which is aiming for a release within the year.

As an avid Granblue Fantasy gamer since its debut nine years ago, I’ve been yearning to get my hands on Relink considering that it is the first video game that allows you to discover the franchise’s gigantic world with its own original story and characters. Yes, we do have Granblue Fantasy Versus, but instead of a 2.5D fighting game, my heart still heads for a title where you can take adventures with Gran and his crew members.

The 10-minute demo doesn’t offer much except showcasing its basic battle system, but it does allow you to select between Gran, Katalina, Rackam, Io, Charlotte, Lancelot, and Siegfried, among the 17 previously-announced playable characters. We took the chance to try the demo twice, with two different characters – Gran and Siegfried. Distinguished by their unique playstyles, the character selection led to a rather different experience though the core gameplay remains the same.

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Gran is an all-rounded character with a variety of skills including attacks, buffs, and heals. His combos are easy to chain, which is apparently a crucial factor in prompting Link Attacks– a special attack that combines yours with the attack of your party members. Characters can also use Skybound Art, something like a special skill that is shown in full 3D animation and can only be unleashed when its gauge is full.

Linking Skybound Arts into combos with your party members results in powerful Chain Bursts, a term that should be no strangers to Granblue Fantasy gamers. And again, just like the original game, if you use Skybound Arts at the correct time, it can chain combos with a maximum of four characters for a powerful blow–also known as a Full Burst.

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On top of this, Granblue Fantasy Relink also introduced a new Link Time system, meaning that if you fill the Link Gauge by using Link Attacks and Skybound Art, you can activate the Link Time to power up your party’s attack. As the opponent’s Overdrive and Break modes are still present, taking advantage of the Link Time can largely maximize your damage with additional buffs.

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As previously mentioned, if you are using Gran in this demo, there’re no problems getting used to the above systems with his easy-to-grasp control scheme and a variety of combo options. But things are not that easy for Siegfried, who specializes in precision-timed attacks with his heavy greatsword. The legendary dragonslayer only has two sets of basic combos, and compared to Gran, it takes you a longer time to finish the command. However, if you chain the combos with perfectly timed attacks, Siegfried rewards you with stronger combos and a unique finisher that can deal significant damage.

While the demo tasked players to clear the area dominated by a group of mobs before being thrown into a boss fight against a Goblin Knight, you can still handle it pretty well with Siegfried’s high-power slashes. But once you enter the battles with the Griffin boss (an additional enemy that appears after you defeat the Goblin Knight within 5 minutes), Siegfried’s lack of combo makes it difficult to catch up with the Chain Bursts of your party members. The powerful tornado attack of Griffin undoubtedly tested you to finish the combo command in time while dodging fatal damage.

Be that as it may, Siegfried may be harder to handle, but it does give you a sense of satisfaction when you successfully master his skills perfectly with just-in-time attacks. It’s also a surprise to see the radical differences between the characters in terms of commands and skillset. I’d actually love to get my hands on all characters if time was allowed, but it did prove its claim for a title that suits players with various play styles.

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Unfortunately, the demo didn’t showcase its RPG and customization elements. It’d be nice to take a look at Relink’s adaptation of the Weapon Grid and Summon System. It is weird to find that Gran is unable to summon Primal Beasts as it seems that Katalina can summon Ares according to the demo manual. But it is probably because of Lyria’s total absence in the demo or it would be strange if Gran can’t call for help from the Primal Beasts. The characters do come with an element that gives you advantages against different foes just like the original game. And it looks to be a crucial factor while you challenge high-difficulty content.

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In conclusion, Granblue Fantasy: Relink is a fun and exhilarating title that stays true to what the original game is beloved of–despite its action-packed gameplay, the title’s strategic elements are still present for you to tackle stages in multiple ways. I’m also impressed by the stunning 3D graphics, which have brought Granblue Fantasy’s beautiful 2D illustration to life without giving up its uniqueness. On this aspect, Arc System Works has done a pretty good job in Versus, it’s just a relief to see PlatinumGames too check this box perfectly. The game also runs extremely smoothly on the next-generation consoles which proves its claim to “nearing completion”. 

At its Anime Expo 2023 panel, Granblue Fantasy General Director Tetsuya Fukuhara, and Relink Director Yasuyuki Kaji also announced that in addition to the main narrative, the game will also feature over 100 side quests and can be played entirely in co-op with up to 4 players. It has also been confirmed that Relink is not an open-world title, instead, it features linear maps with new and the series’ signature locations. But the pair also promised that there’re areas that allow players to freely explore.

Apparently, Granblue Fantasy: Relink still has a lot of things in store. But as the information is still scarce at the moment, fans who are looking forward to the title will have to wait until its release this winter.

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