It wasn’t long before I watched Granblue Fantasy: Project Re: Link’s gameplay trailer that I thought getting excited about another action-RPG would take a while. Just as Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain made me lose interest in everything else in the stealth genre for a couple of years, finishing NieR: Automata had a similar effect on me. That’s it, I thought. I won’t be itching to play another action-RPG anytime soon.
I ended up eyeing Sword Art Online: Fatal Bullet a week or so ago, although in my defense it had a focus on guns and shooting, whereas NieR: Automata was heavy on hack-and-slash gameplay. Well, I guess it’s only melee combat-centric RPGs that I’m not interested in at the moment, I thought this time.
A few days after that, I had to eat my words again. Granblue Fantasy: Project Re: Link’s combat looked great and stylish, and in addition, the graphics looked somewhat fresh, even though cel-shaded art styles aren’t new nowadays. Besides that it was… oh look! A collaboration between Granblue Fantasy developers CyGames and the same studio behind my beloved NieR: Automata, Platinum Games! That explains why I got hooked by the combat, then.
To be honest, the gameplay actually didn’t pull me in instantly. The first time I checked it out, I felt that the (comparatively to NieR: Automata) grounded-looking combat here wasn’t really what I was looking for. It seemed a bit too slow for my current preferences and reminded me of something like Kingdoms of Amalur - not bad, boring or even sluggish, but just not as energetic or stylish as some faster-paced hack-and-slash experiences. Like most action RPGs with high fantasy-esque settings, I suppose. But upon second viewing, in which I didn’t stop watching after a few seconds, I realized that this difference wasn’t a bad thing at all. It offered something different - and thus fresh - from what I’d already played, while retaining Platinum’s flair for action.
That flair for action is important, because these days I’ve become picky about what games to get. Competency and polish aren’t enough - I need to get the feeling that whatever game I was checking out was somewhat special and unique, or at least made me really keen on getting my hands on it. That’s why NieR: Automata got me interested enough to consider getting a PlayStation 4 - it had ridiculously stylish gameplay, fantastic music, bosses that I was actually interested in fighting and a plot that seemed intriguing and tragic.
I’m not sure what Granblue Fantasy: Project Re: Link’s plot is, and I’m also unfamiliar with the mobile game it’s based on. Maybe that’s why I’m not itching to get a PS4 this time, although I’m fervently hoping that the game will come to PC. That said, the gameplay alone looks like it’d make me pretty happy. As previously mentioned it’s a bit more grounded in feel, so there’s less in the way of insane acrobatics or absurd moves. But plain it is not, with eye-pleasing attacks and abilities that fill the screen with additional colour and life. Some of these come from party members. RPG parties were never a feature I was crazy about, but now I was a little interested in exploring this feature thanks to the pretty effects and the real-time combat.
There were two more things about the combat section shown that appealed greatly to me. First, the boss. Like the bosses in NieR: Automata and Platinum’s third-person shooter, Vanquish, the massive shield-bearing Goblin Knight that appeared was the type of tough foe that made me want to fight it. That means a lot because wanting to fight a boss isn’t really the norm for me. I’d been wondering what it is that Platinum’s bosses possess that can make a boss fight-hater like me enjoy them. I think I’ve finally figured it out. Instead of feeling like a drag, their bosses provide energetic fights that feel like an epic event, and dodging their attacks is delightful because of how cool it is to do so. That’s the impression the Goblin Knight gave me as well.
It’s not exclusive to Platinum Games - I enjoyed some of the boss fights in fighting game BlazBlue: Continuum Shift for similar reasons, and there are likely to be many more games with great bosses that just haven’t caught my attention or interest for some reason. But in the realm of 3D action games, Platinum Games feels like the only supplier of those at the moment. Okay, the Souls games are famous for their boss fights too, but notorious difficulty and punishment isn’t really my thing. NieR: Automata and Vanquish’s boss fights - to me - feel involving and satisfying without being demanding as hell, and that’s what I personally want from boss fights. But I digress.
Second, the music. The tracks in the trailer weren’t the kind to stick in my head, but the one that accompanied the battle did a good job in conjuring up a high fantasy atmosphere whilst having a bit of a special air to it so that it stands out instead of fading into the background. Music like this is one of those things that create the “special and unique” feeling I look for, so its presence in the game is icing on the cake. While searching for the mobile game’s soundtrack I discovered that Final Fantasy composer Nobuo Uetmasu was involved with it, and it’s the same case here. That explains the better-than-standard music, then.
I’m not so sure how much the open world matters to me, but I can’t say that I dislike its presence either. But ultimately, it’s mainly the combat that’s got my attention. That alone is enough to make Granblue Fantasy: Project Re: Link my most-anticipated video game of 2018… or whatever year it’ll be releasing in.
I just hope it comes to PC.