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Granblue Fantasy: Relink might be the king of chaotic JRPG combat

Platinum's touch certainly hasn't deserted its fights with large skeletons

A girl with horns is about to unsheathe a samurai sword in Granblue Fantasy: Relink.
Image credit: Rock Paper Shotgun/ Cygames

Granblue Fantasy: Relink has been on my most anticipated games list for two-years, with all of my anticipation based purely off bitty trailers that haven't revealed anything other than its flashy action RPG combat and deeply anime towns. So, I was rather excited when I had a chance to play it for all of ten minutes in one demo, then around 40 minutes at this year's Gamescom.

Blazing fast mental arithmetic puts my total time with the game at around 50 minutes... with a catch. The two demos were identical, though, so all of my time was dedicated to smashing the same large skeleton and large rock man. I got to know them and it's battle system intimately, I suppose, so while I can't speak for the quests, but the fights? Gloriously chaotic.

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The demo kicked off with character select, with loads of folks to choose from and all marked by a star rating which determined their ease of use. I tried out four in total: Gran the standard sword fella, Io the chibi mage, Lancelot the dual-sword knight, and Rackam, a bloke with a rifle.

Once I'd chosen my character, I was popped in a mountainous area swarming with armies of skeletons. In a sort of Dynasty Warriors fashion, I slashed them to shreds by pressing light and heavy attack lots, then proceeded to a vast arena with no bumps, no ridges, just a swathe of grass and a hulking great skeleton man. A skeleton man presented with zero context who simply wanted to beat me to a pulp. Presumably he'd been instructed to for the purposes of each demo, so I don't hold anything against him.

Immediately, I was impressed by the spectacle of skeleton man. He towered over our party and the camera did a nice job of zooming out to take in his hollow frame. As most bosses do, he wound up swipes of his boney hands or charge an explosion, so I needed to hit dodge or jump at just the right time to avoid them. What impressed me most was the fluidity of the game's attacks, as combinations of light and heavy attacks rolled into each other with not only style, but a satisfying weightiness. There's real finesse to the animations and the sparks that fly as your swords and fireballs slice and sear.

The Granblue Fantasy: Relink gang tackles a demonic skeleton called Gerasene.
Whether you're a mage, a guy with a gun, or a hulking great lad with a sword, each fighting style has its own interesting quirks and combos. For instance, the gun boy let you build up a heat meter which would supercharge his shots, while quick follow-up spells with a mage would speed up their casts. | Image credit: Rock Paper Shotgun/Cygames

Perhaps the combat's fluidity is a bit unsurprising considering Platinum Games were developing the game before they handed off full control to Cygames in 2019. Director Yasuyaki Kaji tells me it was due to resourcing, not any ill will. But I was worried that the handoff itself may have meant a tragic loss of Platinum's silky combat. Nope; Cygames have managed to retain Platinum's signature approachable style, which makes it easy to look cool and pull off wild combos even if you're not entirely clued into how things operate.

And much like my time with JRPG Tales Of Arise, I did find my battles with skeleton man - and, later, boulder man - a difficult prospect to understand. But once I scanned the many flashing percentage bars scattered all over the screen, it largely fell into place. The general rhythm is very similar to Arise, in the way you're meant to tag your enemies with basic attacks, build meters up, then press whatever buttons flash up on screen and go with the ensuing chaos of anime portraits and screams of things like "Chain Burst!".

For the most part, Relink's combat centres on syphoning enough juice from your attacks to satisfy your four-sided crystal in the corner. The first stage is hammering it until "Link!" pops up, which means you and your ally team up for a flashy bash. The next is to, from what I gather, press a shoulder button (I played on PS5) to toggle whether you'd like to activate one of four customisable skills you've got equipped. For instance, I could press R1, then either circle for a cool whirlwind slice, or X for a healing aura. Juggling all of this while moving and dodging is nicely balanced, too, and never once did I get lost in the visual noise.

A dragon spews fire in a volcanic arena from Granblue Fantasy: Relink.
A stone golem fires a laser from his hand in a desert area from Granblue Fantasy: Relink.
A towering green boss from Granblue Fantasy: Relink.
A huge four-legged, ice monster from Granblue Fantasy: Relink.
The scale of these... | Image credit: Rock Paper Shotgun/Cygames

The final stage of combat is waiting for two things to fill: an orange bar which lets you perform a cool move, and a flashing blue "Link!" bar, which also lets you perform a slightly less cool move. Crucially, if you and your mateys max out your orange bars in sync (which conveniently happens a lot) you'll all take it in turns to Chain your special moves one after the other, everyone whipping across your screen in brief anime intros, unleashing honking great tornados and sequences of fiery swirls. When prompted, I'd get my turn and fulfil the chain, seemingly maxing out the enemy's stagger bar so they'd topple over.

The hallowed "Link!" bar would let everyone dish out a chorus of over-the-top moves that would hoof a slowing zone onto an enemy and buff our attacks within it. Again, I don't know how it's actually triggered, aside from waiting for the prompt? The devs do say there's plenty of combat explanations and training in the full game, so told me not to worry too much about feeling overwhelmed.

So yeah, my fight with the boulder man wasn't, perhaps, the most strategic battle ever. But I can't argue with how fantastic it felt to link together some of the loveliest sequences of combos I've seen in a JRPG. While I'm miffed at how short and restricted the demo was, I have to admit I'm still excited for it. I was told by Kaji that it's "not one continuous play through" but a set of stages broken up by visits to towns that act as hub areas, where you'll be able to take on side quests and upgrade your characters. I'll be there for it when it arrives in February 2024, that's for sure.

For more of the latest news and previews from Gamescom 2023, head to our Gamescom 2023 hub. You can also find everything announced at Opening Night Live right here.

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