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Grandia- Review

By Jeff Davis, RPGamer Writer


Review Breakdown
   Battle System 9.5
   Gameplay 9.5
   Music 9.5
   Originality 9.5
   Plot 9
   Replay Value 8
   Sound 9.5
   Visuals 9
   DifficultyMedium
   Time to Complete

50-80 hours

 
Overall
9.5
Criteria

Grandia
Grandia  

   Once in a blue moon, a game is released that transcends, what it is to be an RPG. It is a game that revolutionized the genre, through its genuine feeling and imagination, rather than today's now shallow FMV theatrics. It is a game that hopes to succeed in the face of titans: Final Fantasy VII and VIII, in their respective time frames. But more so, it is a game that defines how compelling it is to play one of the best of its breed. That, rare breed of an RPG is called Grandia.

    At the end of 1997, Grandia was released in Japan for the Sega Saturn and competed against Final Fantasy VII for the spotlight. While the masses poured into FF VII, the elite few chose Grandia. It was a game hailed by critics to be the quintessential RPG game. Furthermore the much reported disappointment with FF VII, drove most critics to hail Grandia as the better of the two and indeed best 32 bit RPG. At the same time Grandia's ever growing fan base heralded it, as if it were the second coming of RPGs. It was the game that set the high bar for RPGs. And even after almost two long years, every other RPG to come was to be judged against the harsh lurid light, that was the "masterpiece" known as Grandia.

    Semantics aside, Grandia's US release for the Playstation is marred once again by another titan, Final Fantasy VIII. The other factor was the localization hoopla as Sony won the US Publication rights, rather than the heir apparent, Working Designs. Many were quick to point out that Grandia might not succeed, especially after Sony's "bland" translation of Star Ocean 2. Not to mention the fact that Grandia is almost two years old.

    The first question, evidently is, "how did the US port of Grandia fare?" The answer would be an unequivocal, Very Well.

    Grandia's story begins and ends with the intertwining events of its present and past. Long ago, the Spirits presented the selected people of the world, the Icarians with a symbol of their glory, the Spirit Stone. Under the Spirit Stone's light that shined across the corners of the globe, the world was guided into an age of peace and prosperity. The peace was fleeting, however. As the desire for power and the greed of the human heart ended the peace which conduced the pinnacle of human existance. The light of the spirit stone that guided the world soon faded. The stone shattered into seven pieces and scattered across the land. At the same time, humanity lost their bond with the Icarians and the Spirits.


Garlyle Forces
Garlyle Forces Building  

    Time progressed and bore a world army, the Garlyle Forces. Led by General Baal, his security force seeks out anything from the ancient civilization that would be of aid in his secret quest.

    The simplistic opening, starts you off in the port village of Parm. The focal character of the story Justin, emerges. Justin is a wide eyed, naive, capricious, adventure loving boy and a son of a great adventurer. He endeavors to emulate his father and hopes to one day surpass him as an adventurer. Tagging along, is Justin's long time childhood friend Sue and her pet Puffy. The journey begins as Justin, Sue and Puffy travel the continent to learn more about his father's memento, the Spirit Stone amulet. In time the interests of the Garlyle Forces and Justin's cross paths and thus begins the saga.

Something
 

    While the story is not as mature as the latest Final Fantasy games, Grandia offers one of the most endearing stories to ever grace an RPG. Despite the caveat of a seemingly cliche storyline, the promise of the game is, what it does have, it executes extremely well. The majesty of the game is in its inspiring story telling and character interaction. It is this, in which the story revolves around, rather than vice-versa. The character interaction is wrought with drama, love and the main theme of the game, the spirit of adventure. The player will undoubtedly notice the spirit of adventure theme, as time and time again you are returned to experience the hopes and dreams of Justin. It is in these two elements: the story and character interaction that will lure any RPG gamer into its charm. Grandia's storyline progresses at a fairly even clip. In that I mean don't expect extravagant plot changes. The main focus of the story is sometimes lost in the theme of Justin's Adventure, but isn't that the point of adventure? Perhaps it's realism more so than fanciful drama? In any event, it is noteworthy to mention that its story ends in a crescendo of emotional charm.

    Grandia has a solid story...What else? The much debated translation. Despite the allegations lodged against it, Sony has done a far superior job on Grandia; compared to their last work, Star Ocean 2. Sure the localization effort isn't as detailed as what Working Designs or Atlus could do, but it's a first step up. Sony has done a better job than what it has been credited for. In this reviewer's estimation, the US port is textually competent. In fact, unlike Star Ocean 2 there are a number of hilarious overtones that occur in the game. The other segment is the voices to go along with the game. All the characters have speaking parts, with true blue dubbing. How did they fare? Not as good as its japanese counterpart, but that isn't surprising. It is however well done. The only primary problem is the sometime awkward pauses in the dialogue that lends to the idea that the voice acting is bad. Two characters do stand out however as having strange voices. Guido, the first one, has a very strange "fake" italian accent. The other character to suffer this problem is Milda. Her voice is a cross between a Hillbilly and a Southern Belle. If the contention is to stick with accented characters it perplexes me why they come off as a fake or mixed imitation. Whatever is said about the text and voices, at the very worst is a caveat that does not damage the charm of the game. One of the few exceptions to the rule though is Sue's Special Attack voice for "Rah-Rah Cheer" which is not only annoying, but very embarrassing.

    Grandia's gameplay is solid. The item and weapon system is similar to Lunar's, very simple. Each character gets a very limited 12 slots to fill with items,weapons,armors or relics. Though there aren't a whole lot of weapon and items to choose from. It's standard Game Arts fare. Where the gameplay does shine though is how the battle system and level/spell up system work. The battle system uses what is called an Initiative Point (IP) system. Similar to Square's Active Battle System, there is a bar that shows the progression of both your characters and the enemy for an attack turn. As soon as a certain character hits the end part of the bar, then you are given the choice of what to do. Options include combination or critical attacks, magic, item, escape, defend and look. Reinforce that with the level and spell up system and what you have is a gem.

   The level up system works better by fighting more and distributing experience points via changing weapons or using different spells. Each time you attack or use a spell you gain experience for the weapon or spell you use. Each character can equip about three weapons, and each weapon gains a certain amount of experience points per use. For example, if you level up your sword, each time it gains a level you gain a bonus of HP + 1 and Agility + 2. What that means is you will have to switch your weapons often to make sure you don't become deficient in certain attributes. The spell system works similarly to the weapon system. First you exchange Mana Eggs that you find in dungeons for a base spell in the weapon shop. There are four main magic elements: fire, wind, water, and earth. Every time you use a spell from one base element you gain experience for it and soon a level for that spell. Not only do you get bonus attributes like HP or strength from them, but as magic levels increase, you learn stronger spells and stronger spell combinations with other spells that the character has. The other thing characters can learn are weapon and magic combination attacks. The key really in Grandia is fight as much as you can and level up your myriad of weapons and spells. While it sounds a bit complicated at first glance, clarity comes after you actually sit down and play the game. I typically find levelling up in other RPGs to be a chore, but Grandia is one of the few to break that chain. I can remember battling for seven hours in one of the dungeons, trying to gain Justin's strongest weapon/spell combination.

    What more can be said? The battle system is innovative and executed flawlessly. Undeniably it is one of the better aspects of the game.


Parm Fountain
Fountain of Parm  

    Although the graphics are a tad dated by today's standards they are still lush, colorful and unique. The field is displayed in a 3D-Polygonal-360 degree Camera Rotation view, similar to that of Xenogears and Breath of Fire 3, while characters are displayed in 2d sprites. What sets it apart from other RPGs is the sense of being in the environment. For example you can bump objects in given scenes and they respond with motion and sound. An example is when you knock down a broom stick to the floor and at the same time it makes the clanking noise as it falls to the ground.

    Battles are graphically well done for the most part. The only disappointment is that the battle fields are at times a bit drab in color and sometimes blurry. Grandia's spells are done quite well. There are a number of them and they are animated fairly well also. Grandia takes the old school approach with fast executing spells, unlike in today's fashionably long and drawn out spell casting. Spells are executed fast and take no time at all. While they are short on the spellbinding factor, they do their job.


Justin
Justin on a cliff  

    Another feature to the game are the FMV sequences. While they are short, and not numerous, they are spread evenly throughout. The cinemas are brought to life by their highly detailed presentation of a CG/Anime mix. But more importantly they offer a heightened experience to the storyline as well as a better sense of the world of Grandia. Despite the fact that few things look as good after experiencing FF VIII's, Grandia's proof is in the pudding. In today's All-You-Can-Produce-And-Eat-CG-Culture, there are many games that suffer one flaw -- without the CG's the RPG experience of such a game is damaged. In there is where Grandia shines. Grandia's FMV is there for one purpose, to aid the game and story presentation. If this modern cachet is removed from the game, the core of the game would remain unscathed.

   If there is one pitfall in the graphic engine, it's a minor one. The frame rate during battles or when you rotate the camera in a complex scene at times slow down. And like Xenogears it suffers from the pixellated or blocky graphics in various scenes.

Golems surrounding Justin
Golems surrounding Justin  

    The game's music is from Noriyuki Iwadare, famed for his musical prowess from the Lunar and Langrisser series. Like his other works, genius is no stranger to the soundtrack of Grandia. Grandia's music is more like Langrisser than Lunar in many ways, but there are a number of trademark Lunaresque style songs. The soundtrack to the game is a mix of very high quality orchestra and synthesized music. At the core of the music is the unmistakable classical origin, but other tracks infuse other styles such as new age, rock, and fusion. A soundtrack that has spawned three different music albums is unmistakably good, but it's not just in quality or melodies where the music shines. The key is how the elements of melody, quality and instruments gel with the many emotional scenes. Truly Grandia is one of the few to offer such captivation. Two music inherent scenes stand out in particular: "The Sandy Beach of Ganbo" and "Farewell to Sue" which both use amazing piano and violin instrumentation. Emotional, heart-tugging and brilliant music, what more could you ask for? Grandia's soundtrack as a whole is stellar, but it's not without its problems. There are a number of extremely boring and plain songs in the game. A number of dungeon and town music pieces in the game scream with mediocrity.

    Game Arts spared no expense with the sound effects as well. It uses an ambient sound effect system. For example the closer you get to a river embankment, the louder the water rushing sounds get. From crackling fire, howling winds, to seagulls' cry, and every character having a different battle cry voice for every spell or attack, it's all in here.

    The madness to its greatness doesn't end yet. With 50-80 hours of gameplay what more could you ask for? As a side note, in my experience with Grandia I found the game short, even though I sped furiously through the game with a total of 45 clocked hours....I found the game passed in a blink of an eye. Isn't that a testimony of what a great RPG is? When you as a player become engrossed, so much so in the story and in the game that time becomes irrelevant.

    But what makes Grandia so special? If one answer had to be given, it would be in the perfect infusion of its elements and the perfect emotional, if not sometimes cheesy, story and character interaction and then all this is accompanied by a grand soundtrack. Despite the fact that the game has some flaws, it is in the game's strength where its highlights supercede its minor flaws. There just is a certain magic to the game that you'll have to experience for yourself.

    Lastly is the question, "is Grandia the RPG of the Year?" Well...let's just say as good as a game Grandia is, I can't say it is the RPG of the Year and conversely I can't say it isn't either. At the very least, in my opinion Grandia is at the top tier of this year's RPG crop. This is a game for the ages, marked by its innate, alluring charm and elegance. It is a game that defies convention, but more importantly it is one of the better reasons to play games of this genre. A truly classy game from a classy company. Bravo Game Arts! I expect an exquisite encore in Grandia 2.
 

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