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Austin Wood

Granblue Fantasy Relink is what I always wanted from the series: a great RPG with no gacha baggage

Granblue Fantasy Relink.

Not long after getting into Genshin Impact, I began to wonder – inadvisedly, in retrospect – if I could learn to love any other gacha games now that the seal had been broken. One had always piqued my interest: Granblue Fantasy. I'm a sucker for its penciled illustrations, sky islands, and romantic view of adventuring, plus I liked the anime adaptation well enough. So I gave it a try, and promptly uninstalled it within an hour. I was immediately fatigued by its fractally padded grinding, questionably balanced combat, and downright terrifying wiki. Sadly, the other big Granblue game, Granblue Fantasy Versus: Rising, is a fighting game and therefore kryptonite to me. Will I never get to play through this cool-looking universe in a genre that clicks for me? 

Enter Granblue Fantasy Relink, fast becoming the top contender for my 2024 GOTY. Finally, something my speed: a flashy 3D action RPG that has a huge cast of playable characters with diverse moves, fun but crucially optional co-op, and a wealth of quests to grind for that juicy S++ score. The boss fights and timers speak to my Monster Hunter-loving heart, the epic Primal battles are outdoing even Final Fantasy 16's giant monsters, and I've found myself surprisingly endeared with the (mostly) lighthearted story which does a good job of incorporating so many different people. It's chock-full of weapons to upgrade, secrets to dig up in bite-sized open zones, and irresponsibly large skill trees that are optimization catnip. 

Relinkuish all my free time

(Image credit: Granblue Fantasy: Relink)

The core game is only as long as it needs to be, and the post-game buffet is perfect for sickos like me who want to master the fighting styles of all the characters. I maxed out almost every single Blade in Xenoblade Chronicles 2 even though it could get boring at times, so you'd better believe I'm going to grind Relink into dust when simply leveling things up is this fun

As I throw myself headfirst into this self-imposed grind, I can't help but shudder to think of what this game could have been: a time-gated, overly monetized, RNG mess in line with its gacha origins. And yes, I have heard that Granblue Fantasy is free-to-play friendly, but that's by the subterranean standards of gacha games where this kind of assurance is seen as a good thing.

It is, for instance, immensely depressing to imagine a version of Relink where I couldn't just up and pick Zeta as my first main character because I got stonewalled by RNG. That singular choice, and the fact that I had the freedom to make it, has transformed and elevated my experience with the game in a way no gacha system would ever allow. I wanted a parry-focused character with extravagant combos, and that's exactly what I got.  

Zeta is super fun to play, and after getting comfortable with her style, I started to wonder who I should invite to join my crew next. After much deliberation, because everyone is cool, I went with Narmaya, a katana-wielding warrior who switches between two fighting stances with hugely satisfying animations. Within minutes of meeting her, I was able to boost Narmaya to combat-ready strength without even spending that many resources. Great, now I can build different loadouts for both her and Zeta to make a more balanced party based on who I'm currently playing. I'll do the same thing dozens of times over in the future, savoring every decision. 

The anti-gacha game

(Image credit: Granblue Fantasy: Relink)

I realize that Relink was never pitched as anything other than a premium, no-strings-attached game, but after trying Granblue Fantasy itself and playing Genshin basically every day for over three years and counting, I can't help but see the gacha bullshit that so easily could have been. 

I wouldn't be able to pick and choose what characters I unlock, and leveling them up would take weeks. I'd only be able to farm for so many rewards per day, leashed to a stamina system that dispenses an allowance of fun set by the passage of real-world hours. A handful of characters would totally outshine the rest (instead, Relink straight-up tells you that anyone can become a powerhouse, and it's true). The skill trees that stretch like yawning voids would intimidate and not excite me because filling them out would be a slow and tedious grind that feels mandatory, not an enjoyable one I set for myself. 

A popular counterpoint with this stuff is that you put up with it because the games are typically free and have to monetize elsewhere and consequently push player retention, but fuck that. It still sucks. I love Genshin, but it has a lot of these exact problems and they suck there too. All games balance making money with delivering fun, and ostensibly free games very loudly rank money far above fun much more often than the full-price ones.

(Image credit: Cygames)

It's grimly fascinating how quickly a change in rewards and motivation, warped by psychological triggers indifferent to the joy of play, can change how you feel about otherwise functionally identical game mechanics. Because of the game that it's based on, and the familiar progression systems it uses, Relink puts a bright spotlight on how damaging some live-service and especially gacha conventions can be. This isn't news to anyone, not even to me, but it's harrowing to see such a clear example and how easily this amazing game could've been dragged into games-as-a-service Hell. 

I've always said that games like Genshin are good or that the likes of Arknights: Endfield are promising despite being weighed down by gacha baggage, and never, ever in any way because of that side of the experience. Relink helps illustrate why. Those games are fun to play, but there's always a catch. There's no catch with Relink; it's just a lot of game – and for my money the best parts of Granblue – for $60.

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