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In our previous sessions with Granblue Fantasy: Relink we've seen Gran and the rest of his sky pirate crew take on a single-player story mission; now we're going hands-on with a demo showcasing the online co-op section of the game. What better way to do that than with the series' four pretty- boy Dragon Knights (Lancelot, Vane, Percival, and Siegfried) battling their way to a crashed airship?
As Relink is based on a mobile RPG where players can link up with friends worldwide to fight big bosses, it makes sense that this console-based character action RPG should also embrace multiplayer. Though as PlatinumGames collaborated on designing the base of the game, you can expect some stylish, in-depth combat as well. (Platinum has since moved on to other projects, replaced by developer Cygames.)
Characters have unique weapons, from guns to fiery swords, which change how each one plays, and with four players to a party that gives you plenty of options. (Expect your favourite emotes from the mobile game to appear.) Plus, in the campaign, we've seen Lyria tagging along to give the party access to special Final Fantasy-like summons. The Dragon Knights, however, go it alone in our preview, albeit with their own special weapons, each providing mastery of different elements. That means they've got a lot of bases covered.
Members of the party battle alongside each other like in a character action game, with the sort of moves you'd expect – attacks on Square and Triangle, with the option to jump into air combos using X and dodge out of the way of incoming attacks with R2. But you have to team up with your pals to pull off the best combos against the skeletons, drakes, and other monsters of the sky. The link attack button is Circle, a press of which has you performing attacks together with nearby allies, increasing your overall link level to give buffs. Kick monsters into the blue sky all you like, but if you're not increasing your attack by fighting alongside the rest of your party, it'll take you longer to clear the decks.
Every character also has four skills operating on cooldowns, which you can always see on the UI. To use these, you hold R1 and tap a face button; they can be devastating, crowd-clearing attacks, or skills that will help out the rest of the party. Lancelot's icy daggers, for instance, can freeze enemies in their tracks, even working on stronger enemies and bosses.
In our session, our Dragon Knights battle monsters across lush grass and rickety plank walkways through sky canyons, before coming up against an enormous Ancient Dragon in front of the crashed airship. Because it's got a massive health bar the beast takes a while to beat, forcing all of us to make the best use of our full range of skills and charge attacks. If an ally falls, we can revive them by running up them and spending a few seconds to help get them back on their feet.
Tackling a creature of this size, Relink's almost like Monster Hunter by way of Devil May Cry. The link-based content even spills over into special moves. After building up charge meter, we use special attacks (pressing in both analogue sticks), chaining them one after the other to do a bigger final burst of damage. It's enough to take down the dragon and uncover treasure chests, but what bigger beasties might await us on the other islands?
What's great is that, despite the spectacle, this co-op quest is representative of the type of side-missions you're able to take on in addition to the more scenario-based main campaign. On some islands you'll find towns where you're able to walk around, adjust your gear, and link up with other players, using these hubs as a sort of lobby. Speaking to us, Cygames calls it an "on-the-fly co-op system", and teases plenty of side-quests.
If Cygames can get slick, stylish action to work in an ongoing online context as well as the single- player story, this could end up being one of our favourite ways to spend evenings with friends. After all, its work on the mobile game proves the dev's got the chops to keep players engaged over the long- term. We've yet to see a developer really get a Devil May Cry-styled online game right, but we'd put good money on Cygames being the one which could do it. Alongside the great fighting game Granblue Fantasy Versus (check last issue), it seems that the Granblue franchise is ready to take PS4 by storm, and we're prepared to set sail right into its heart.