GRANBLUE FANTASY: Relink will be released worldwide on February 1, 2024, developer and publisher Cygames announced on August 23. The game, which will be available on PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, and PC (Steam), is now available to preorder.
Granblue Fantasy: Relink (hereinafter Relink) is an action RPG based on Cygames’ highly popular mobile and PC browser game Granblue Fantasy. Relink includes a single-player story mode in addition to over 100 quests that are unlocked as you progress through the game. Quests can also be played co-op with up to four players.
A press event was held prior to the release date announcement, during which we were lucky enough to get the chance to sit down and talk about the game with Relink’s director, Yasuyuki Kaji, and general director, Tetsuya Fukuhara. Fukuhara is also the creative director on the upcoming Granblue Fantasy Versus: Rising, so those looking to get their fill of Granblue Fantasy can head on over to our Versus: Rising interview for more (Related article).
──What are the unique elements of Relink that set it apart from other titles in the ever-popular action RPG genre?
I would have to say the ability to play co-op with four players. You can enjoy Quests online with four players, and even those who don’t like playing online can still fight alongside the CPU. The CPU-controlled characters act quite aggressively—almost as if they were real players—so you’ll still be able to experience the fun of coordinating attacks with your allies.
Also, just the high quality of Relink as an action game and how great it feels to play. These are aspects that we feel have been well conveyed to all the people who have tested the game out thus far. As such, we consider the game to be the fruit of our conviction and effort in pursuing these aspects. We’d be thrilled if many people played Relink and then developed interest in the rest of the Granblue Fantasy series.
A fast-paced action game that you can play co-op with four players is something I haven’t had much experience with, even among all action games that I’ve been involved with as a developer. In Rising, there is also a Chain system, which lets you perform Skybound Arts in succession with your allies, as well as Skills, which let you do things like heal allies or stop enemies in their tracks. Successfully implementing these kinds of cooperative elements into an action game is where I think Relink really shines.
──How are the main story and quests structured?
The main story is told through what I guess you could call the campaign mode. In the towns that you visit on your journey, you will find a quest counter where you can undertake quests. The variety of available quests increases rapidly as you progress through the story, so if you happen to get stuck on one of the main story bosses, it might be a good idea to complete some quests and gather materials that you can use to strengthen your characters. Another benefit is that if you complete the quests as soon as they are unlocked, then you will be able to craft powerful weapons much earlier than usual. If you steadily complete many quests during the main story, then you should basically be able to make it through to the ending without too much trouble.
──In order to take on quests with other players, is it necessary for all players to have progressed to the same point within the main story?
It is possible to participate in quests with players who are further along in the main story than you are, but you can also adjust the matchmaking settings if you wish to avoid spoilers. For example, you can make it so that you won’t be matched up with players who know about story elements that you have yet to discover for yourself, or players who are clearly too powerful for the level of quest that you have chosen.
──How is the gameplay balanced when you play quests in co-op?
In addition to playing quests with a full party of four players, you are also able to play solo and fight alongside the CPU-controlled companions who you have trained during the story. It’s also possible to play with a mix and have, say, two human players with two CPU characters. You can even play completely solo (not bringing along any CPU party members). Taking on the high-difficulty quests like this will undoubtedly present a tough challenge, but I hope that players will give it a try. I believe that we have balanced the game in a way where you will be able to complete even high-difficulty quests provided that you put in the time. Of course, if you play through quests with four human players, then you will be able to defeat bosses much more quickly.
──Will it be necessary to grind quests?
If you’re aiming to develop many different characters at an even rate, then yes, to some degree you will need to grind quests to gather specific materials and defeat enemies multiple times. Furthermore, things like the strongest weapons will only be obtainable if you put in a great deal of effort. We’ve adjusted things in a way that encourages players who want to get stronger to play content many times over.
We designed the game in such a way that the first-time rewards for clearing a quest will include key items and important materials, so generally, even if you only clear each quest once, you will make it through the game relatively smoothly. However, if you’re hoping to create specialized builds or develop multiple different characters, then you will need to play more quests for specific item drops.
──What kind of systems are there for developing characters and improving your gear?
We’ve included a multitude of Sigils in Relink, which grant passive effects to characters. You can do things like craft and strengthen Sigils in addition to crafting and uncapping weapons, but you will need a variety of different materials to do so. The game has a reverse lookup function to help out when you are trying to find which quest you should do in order to gather the materials that you need. We hope that you’ll make good use of this function when farming materials.
──On the topic of character customization and builds, are there any systems that change the animations of regular attacks or alter passive abilities?
There isn’t really anything that makes big changes to the regular attack animations, but each character can be enhanced in various ways, including learning new moves or input variations. For example, there are many technical commands like charging an attack more quickly by holding the Heavy Attack button, or starting a charge at the right timing after a combo finisher to complete the charge instantly. As far as character builds, it comes down to the selection of Skills that you take with you on a quest. You can greatly change the nature of the gameplay by choosing Skills that suit your combat style or fit the objective of the quest.
And as for passive abilities, you can keep increasing them. There are a variety of different abilities, like one that grants your character a buff when you perform a perfectly timed guard and another that does the same after a perfect dodge. By developing your characters, you can also enhance some of their Skills, so opting for builds where you prioritize enhancing your favorite Skills is another route you could take.
──It appears that you will also be able to control Proto Bahamut in Relink. Is the ability to control characters other than the regular ones something that is being implemented as one of the game’s main systems?
The ability to control Proto Bahamut is something that is included as part of a certain major battle. Just like with the main battle system, we were very particular about how the controls feel, so I’m sure players will be surprised by how smoothly the game plays even when controlling Proto Bahamut. You will be able to experience the flair of an action game while also enjoying the spectacle of battling with a gigantic creature. There are several other sequences like this throughout the game, so please look forward to them.
──How long is the expected playtime to reach the game’s ending?
We imagine that most players will take around 20 hours to get to the ending. However, the story itself continues for a while longer even after the credits roll, so it will probably take somewhere between 30 and 40 hours to fully complete the story even if you try to play through the game quickly.
──We were quite surprised to learn that every playable character has their own unique moves. Is this an element that you put a lot of focus on?
Yes, it’s something that we absolutely wanted to do in Relink. Development was incredibly tough, of course, but we didn’t want to compromise whatsoever on the idea of being able to play as the Granblue Fantasy characters to one’s heart’s content in an action title. We designed the characters so that each one feels unique to play, and we also focused a lot on the finer details of the graphics and animations in order to satisfy even those who are fans of the characters.
We’ve assembled a roster of characters that sport a variety of different move types, so fans of action games will easily be able to find a character that fits their playstyle. We also put a lot of consideration into the game balance so that you will be able to play comfortably until the end no matter the character you choose, and to avoid situations where battles become a chore to get through because your character matches up poorly with specific enemy types. We’re confident that this will satisfy both players who choose one character to stick with until the end as well as those who prefer to try out a variety of different characters as they play.
──Will Relink feature things for fans of the original Granblue Fantasy to enjoy, like exclusive character episodes?
Each character in Relink has around 10 chapters worth of short stories that are separate from the main story and take the form of Fate Episodes. While playing through these episodes, you will sometimes encounter quests with objectives like, “Use this character to defeat this boss.” So these episodes are more than just cutscenes; we have included full-fledged action elements and quests. What’s more, completing these episodes will reward you with items that you can use to strengthen your character.
When you factor in all of the collectible elements and the process of maxing out your characters, alongside the Fate Episodes, the game has quite a lot of content. Additionally, some of the dialogue in the main story will change depending on the character that you are controlling, and there is an astounding amount of such dialogue too. I think you will be able to enjoy replaying the main story while using different characters to see how it changes.
──Have you made the game in such a way that even those who don’t know anything about Granblue Fantasy will be able to learn the backstories and other details of the playable characters?
The introductory part of each Fate Episode provides a brief look into a character’s backstory, and we have also prepared explanations on things like how a character first met the protagonist. Reading these should give you a general idea of what makes each character tick. We’ve also included a lot of banter between the characters that plays during battle, so I think that by listening to this you will naturally come to understand a character’s personality as well as what kind of relationships they share with the other characters.
──We found the graphical quality of the environments in Relink to be incredibly stunning. Were there any aspects that you were especially meticulous about?
Sotaro Hori of CyDesignation, who handles the backgrounds for the original Granblue Fantasy, is also working on Relink. He has worked on the backgrounds for major games at his previous jobs, and he applies that same perfectionism to the backgrounds of 3D games. When it came time to depict the world of Granblue Fantasy in 3D for Relink, he put this devotion to his craft on full display. In this recent age of mainstream games with photorealistic graphics, I think we have developed a unique visual style.
As a matter of fact, I was also a background artist at the start of my career, and I went through a lot of trial and error with Hori while we discussed how best to recreate the world of Granblue Fantasy in 3D. We went through the painstaking effort of creating the textures for each object by hand, one by one, but I believe that this hard work has culminated in a world and backgrounds that adequately capture the feel of Granblue Fantasy.
──Relink has been through a rather long period of development since first being announced back in 2016. Were there any parts that took a particularly long time?
At Cygames, we always place great importance on having a highly polished UI and comfortable gameplay experience in every title we develop. In particular, the playability of tasks that you must perform over and over is of top priority, so we have CEO Koichi Watanabe and staff from outside the project play the game and provide feedback. We use that feedback to make improvements and then repeat the process many times over.
We were also very meticulous in our approach to the graphics and spent a significant amount of time on that aspect. But the long development period was not the result of putting extra effort into any single part of the game, but rather it was due to the time we spent on repeatedly polishing and improving the overall quality. I believe that we have put together a game that will allow you to experience firsthand the high quality of a Cygames-developed title.
──How large was the development team?
The game isn’t just being developed by Osaka Cygames, as we also have staff from the main studio in Tokyo working on it. In total, around 200 staff members are involved in Relink’s development. We’re putting quite a lot of manpower into it.
──Relink started out as project that you were co-developing with PlatinumGames, but in 2019, you announced that Cygames was taking over as the sole developer. Could you tell us a bit about what led to this change in the game’s development structure?
I was actually a member of PlatinumGames when Relink began development and have served as the game’s director since the very beginning. From that time, I had worked closely with Fukuhara as the project progressed, but once the development period began to lengthen, it became difficult to maintain an optimal development structure, and it was decided that the project would shift to being handled solely by Cygames. It was a very painful decision for me and for both companies, but personally, I couldn’t give up on my desire to complete the game no matter what it took—especially after working with so many others to make it the best it could be. Thus, I made the decision to transfer to Cygames so that I could finish working on Relink.
──From now until the game’s release, what kind of approach will you take in trying to encourage people who aren’t fans of Granblue Fantasy to give Relink a try?
We’re making the game in such a way that it can still be enjoyed by those who are unfamiliar with Granblue Fantasy, but I think that knowing about the relationship between the protagonist and Lyria and the events that set them on their journey will help you understand various things both more quickly and more deeply. As such, there are a number of possible ways we could promote the series; for example, directing players to the Granblue Fantasy anime series or publishing a web manga for those who don’t know the series. Granblue Fantasy is a series that has branched out over a lot of different mediums, so I would like to make use of those, but at the end of the day, our approach should be something aimed predominantly at gamers. This is also why I believe that the overseas release of the game is crucial. I don’t think Granblue Fantasy is as well-known overseas as it is in Japan, so we need to put a lot of effort into reaching overseas players. Further details regarding this will be announced in due time.
──Finally, please share a message with all the players out there.
We’ve kept you all waiting a long time, but the release date for Granblue Fantasy: Relink has finally been set for February 1 next year, and we are thrilled to deliver the game to everyone at long last. We’ve designed the action elements with a great level of care and passion, and I believe that we’ve achieved a level of quality befitting the extended development time. Please look forward to it!
We made you wait a long time since the game was first announced, so I’d like to express my sincere apologies to fans of Granblue Fantasy. At the same time, I’m confident that the amount of time we have put into the game will be well worth it in terms of quality. Granblue Fantasy will be celebrating its 10th anniversary in March 2024, so with the release of Granblue Fantasy: Relink, along with various events and updates for the original Granblue Fantasy, and Granblue Fantasy Versus: Rising, which releases on November 30 this year, we want to make 2024 a magnificent and memorable year for Granblue Fantasy. I’d be delighted if all the fans out there could join us in this celebration.
──Thank you very much for your time today.
Translated by. Marco Farinaccia (original Japanese article’s publication date: 2023-08-23 10:00 JST)