Sunday, October 25, 2015

Game Review: Grandia II Anniversary Edition

RPG; PC (Via Steam/GoG); Game Arts; 2015 (original release 2000)
And here we are, my first review for PC, and it is.... a game released for the Dreamcast over 15 years ago. Yeah. For those of you who don't know, Grandia is a series made by Game Arts (the same company behind the Lunar series) and is known for three things: Campy "We can do anything if we believe" stories, Excellent music composed by Noriyuki Iwadare, and the greatest battle system RPGs have ever seen, and Grandia II is held to be the best game in the series. But does this PC port hold up?

Frog, are you wielding the Masamune again?
Long ago, the God of Light Granas fought against the God of Darkness Valmar in a war that scarred the very Earth itself. This war was known as the "Battle of Good and Evil" as Granas defeated Valmar and broke his body to pieces, but with that final blow, large cliffs divided the world. These cliffs are known as the Granacliffs, and they remain a reminder of the battle long ago. Now a young mercenary, Ryudo, is hired by a church of Granas to escort one of their Songstress, Elena, to a ritual to strength the seal on one of the pieces of Valmar. However, when the seal is broken and Elena is possessed by "The Wings of Valmar", Ryudo must now take Elena to the Granas Grand Cathedral in hopes of sealing away Valmar once more. But things get more complicated when a mysterious woman by the name of Millenia shows up, claiming to be the "Wings of Valmar". Who is this woman? Why are the remains of Valmar awakening? And will Ryudo ever finish this job?

The story to Grandia II is a pretty cliche and stock one: Ancient God of Evil, about to be resurrected. yadda, yada, yadda. You've all heard this song and dance before, but what helps Grandia II work is that the cast of characters are so wonderful. While characters like Elena and party member Roan are okay, other characters like Mareg and Tio just play off of each other wonderfully, Millenia is treat, but no one can surpass Ryudo for the role of protagonist. He has a sarcastic quip regarding EVERYTHING and it is helped out by a clever writing staff who did the original localization as well as a really solid performance from every voice actor. Good voice acting might be a given for games these days, but back in 2000, it's still a crap shoot whether or not you have actual voice actors, or just a bunch of QC guys with a script in front of them. The only hindrance the story has is that it is a very cliche story and towards the end you have a lot of contrivances just dog pile on top of each other. I've always felt that story was Grandia's MAJOR weaknesses as each game has something wrong with their plot in one way or another. Grandia II is perhaps the BEST story in the series, but don't expect it to win you over unless you like a lot of cheese with your ham.

Grandia II is an RPG and one that doesn't fuff about with side content at that. The game structure is simply go from a town to a field to a dungeon back to town then to the next field and repeat until your at the end of the game. There is no side quest and there is only really two mini games. So what do you do in this game? Fight a lot of monsters, and that's where Grandia really shines, because they have hands down the BEST RPG battle system ever devised. The battle system is called the Initiative Point system and it works like this. In battle you have a gauge that pretty much depicts the flow of time in combat, every party member and enemy has a cursor on it that goes from left to right. When the cursor hits the COM point, your attack starts (and for party members that's when you choose their action); HOWEVER, your action isn't carried out until it hits the ACT point at the very end, and different actions take different amounts of time to complete, i.e. Attacking is very quick but using special skills take more time and magic takes longer depending on how powerful the spell is and how much you leveled it up. But here is where things get interesting: Each character has a "Critical Attack" which does less damage than their normal attack and takes longer to pull off, BUT it knocks the enemy back on the IP gauge; however, if the enemy is in the middle of an action (or between the COM and ACT points) you can CANCEL the enemy's attack and knock them FARTHER back on the IP gauge. Add to that movement and attacks that hit groups of enemies and you have a battle system that rewards strategy and placement without being unwieldy. Where beating enemies without taking damage is a fun little challenge. But be careful, enemies can cancel your attacks as well.

However, this is a new edition of the game, and it does come with a few bonuses not found in the previous versions. For one, the graphics have been cleaned up a bit, it's no longer as muddy as the original Dreamcast was. For two, you have the option to play through the game with the Japanese voice track. And three, the game comes with an all new "Hard Mode" which gives normal enemies a small HP, Attack, and Defense boost and made bosses far more dangerous.

"These guys where no real challenge."
Unfortunately, Grandia II (even in this version) isn't perfect. While the graphics got a nice facelift, the 2D assets are still blurry as hell (made worse if you play the game in full screen) same with the animated spell effects and the few CGI cutscenes. You'd still have to lower your graphics standards to Dreamcast to endure the visuals. Swapping the voice tracks isn't as easy as you'd think as you'd have to launch the Configure start up as there are no actual options for it within the game. And lastly, the game is a little on the easy side. I played through the entire game on Hard mode but didn't really notice any major difference until I got to the later bosses. Oh and a word of warning, the game is stuck at a 4:3 ratio, the only way to change that is to stretch out the image.

Grandia II is easily the best game in the series, and this version is a really solid way to enjoy the game. I've played Grandia II in it's original Dreamcast version and I can tell you that this is as true to the original as you can get without pulling that old thing out. On a decent rig, it runs like a dream....cast and besides one time it crashed I found no problems with the game. It might not have a lot for replay value, but it is one enjoyable ride. And it's only $20. Highly Recommended.

Until Next Time.

-CRES, maybe with the success of Grandia II, we might see the rest of the series again... Or maybe a new game?

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