Am I getting old? I think I might be, which isn’t a fun thought; the reason I mention it is because I keep thinking about PS2 games at the moment, and reminiscing about “the good old days” is something that only old people should do. It’s just, a lot of big video games don’t really capture me the way they used to. They’re either just way too long, bloated, or lifeless, and often don’t hold a candle to anything in the incredible library the PS2 has. Granblue Fantasy: Relink, on the other hand, while not perfect, is none of those things I’ve just mentioned, and honestly reminds me a lot of some of the best PS2 games out there – even if that isn’t always for the better.
I reviewed Granblue Fantasy: Relink for VG247 recently, generally coming away from it having enjoyed my time, but one thing I didn’t get to go into in enough detail is how this game looks. Triple-A game devs love to tell you about how good and realistic the lighting in their games are, going on about some guy called Ray who traces the light, or whatever, but real-time lighting just can’t beat baked lighting, which is predetermined and what changes depending on things like weather or time of day. Think Kingdom Hearts 2’s Twilight Town and its ever-present warm sunset, or this stunning bit of lighting from Silent Hill 3.
Granblue Fantasy: Relink is full of that kind of lighting, and my partner can attest to how much I let out expletives just from how stunned I was at the game’s beauty. There are some shots in there that are lit in a way that expertly captures the gravity of the content of a scene in a way that games with “realistic” lighting struggle to – not to mention the quiet literal skyboxes that have some of best clouds I’ve seen in a game. It doesn’t help that I watched a film like Suspiria recently that completely abandons any notion of realism in its lighting, furthering my agenda towards capturing Ray and preventing him from tracing anything else ever again.
This lighting goes hand in hand with some stellar environment design, the hub town of Folca stuff with so much detail and care that it really feels like a living, breathing place. NPCs have random bits of dialogue that appear too which offer morsels of characterisation, just enough for you to be charmed by them. Unfortunately, it’s past this point where the PS2 comparisons continue, but not in a good way.
Much like the frequently empty corridors of Kingdom Hearts 2’s worlds, Granblue Fantasy: Relink’s linear levels have plenty of enemies to fight, yet little else to do in them. Again like Kingdom Hearts 2 (these games are more similar in ways than I first thought), the combat allows for a lot of variation, and is incredibly fun, but I also do like to explore a lot in games, and Relink doesn’t really allow for that.
A lack of ability to explore massive worlds isn’t a constant across the PS2’s library, of course, but there are plenty of games that are quite linear, something that the PS4/ Xbox One era of gaming rapidly moved away from – even with titles like Uncharted 4, which allowed several paths you could take, even though the destination was always the same.
The benefit of having big open worlds is that it also meant it took a lot of time to get across them, meaning more time for character development. In turn this comes with the detrimental bloat that ruins a great many RPGs, but seeing the ways that characters grow, bond, and experience a range of emotions together makes that all worth it. Of course, there were a lot of PS2 games with incredibly tight, 8-12 hour runtimes too, and Relink doesn’t run much higher than that.
On the one hand, I love this! Much like how I’m sick of realistic lighting, I’m also bored of how long games can needlessly be now, so to be able to go on a short, bombastic adventure felt like a real treat. The downside is that the cast is as big as any Final Fantasy title 13 backwards, and they all already know each other, so that PS2-shortness actually acts as a knock against it, funnily enough. There’s just not enough time to get to know each of them in a way you would over the course of a 40-60 hour game, which feels like a shame.
It makes the experience of saying Relink is like a PS2 game a bit of an odd one – positives that come with negatives, cons that come with plusses, it’s a mixed bag, but it’s obviously one that has me wanting to write about it, so that has to be worth something, right? And much like many games towards the end of the PS2’s lifespan, there’s a foundation to potentially build something really special with the next one, if there is a next one. Maybe then I’ll get the PS2 game of my dreams.