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Grandia II - Review

Game Arts' Masterpiece

By: Howard Kleinman


Review Breakdown
   Battle System 10
   Interface 8
   Music/Sound 10
   Originality 6
   Plot 8
   Localization 10
   Replay Value 8
   Visuals 9
   Difficulty Easy - Medium
   Time to Complete

25 - 40 hours

 
Overall
number
Criteria

Title Screen
 

   The past two years have seen a slew of RPG releases from Game Arts, first we saw the release of Lunar: Silver Star Story Complete in the summer of 1999, then the original Grandia the following fall. December 2000 saw the release of two more Game Arts masterpieces, Lunar 2: Eternal Blue Complete and Grandia II. What is consistent in all of these games is the anime style graphics and music, the great sense of humor, the well-developed casts of characters, the field based, semi-tactical battle systems and the captivating storylines. Grandia II, however was released on the Sega Dreamcast, whereas the other games were released on the trusty Playstation. Getting a Dreamcast meant buying a system that would probably be obsolete within a year, while I loved all of Game Arts' Playstation works, would Grandia II be good enough to feel that my purchase of a Dreamcast was worthwhile? Certainly Skies of Arcadia and Shenmue made me feel secure in my decision, but Grandia II made me happy in my purchase beyond a shadow of a doubt. Put quite simply, Grandia II is Game Arts' masterpiece.

   While the Lunar games both take place on the same world, Grandia II has an entirely independent story from the first game. Don't expect to see any references to Justin, Feena, Leen or the end of the world. Instead, expect to see a much darker story. In time immemorial, Granas, the god of light, and Valmar, the devil of darkness, fought in what was came to be known as "The Battle of Good and Evil." It ended when Valmar was shattered into many pieces, each of which was placed in a Seal of Granas and were kept separate from each other. In the present, the Seals are weakening. Ryudo, a mercenary known as a "geohound", is asked to escort a songstress of Granas named Elena to a revival of one of the seals. As expected, something goes horribly wrong and Elena appears to grow wings. Ryudo is given an assignment to take Elena to the St. Heim Papal State to have the Pope himself exorcise the wings. During the journey, the two are seemingly followed at every step by the destructive woman known as Millenia, who is far more than she seems.


sword
"Hmm, I think the edge is dulling..."  

   The plotline itself isn't the most creative to come out of Game Arts' stables; it mirrors Lunar 2 in many ways. On the other hand, the true strength of a story is in how it is told and Game Arts once again prove that they are master storytellers. All the characters, from Ryudo's sarcastic avian assistant, Skye to the ever-mysterious Melfice are well developed and believable. Furthermore, the plot twists are handled so successfully, that I found myself moved by even the most predictable turns of event. Part of this success is due to Ubi Soft's decision to give Grandia II the localization it deserved. SCEA's translation of the original Grandia was a travesty, turning the game into an E-rated "my first RPG" style adventure and almost certainly eliminating much depth from the storyline for the sake of simplicity. Fortunately, Grandia II is highly literate and respectful of its subject matter. Every character and NPC has his or her own speech patterns and personality, which is simply astonishing for the number of characters within the game. The grammar is almost uniformly excellent with errors that will only be noticed by psychotic English majors like myself. Even better, the voice acting in Grandia II is second to none. Kris Zimmerman, who was responsible for the much praised voice work on Metal Gear Solid, directed a fine voice acting cast which turned out some fantastic voice work. This localization is easily up with the best of Working Designs' efforts and this game had no delays in its localization. I salute Ubi-Soft's localization crew for a job well done.

   The shining light of the first Grandia title was its battle system, and Grandia II does nothing but enhance the quality of an already phenomenal system. Those who have played the original Grandia know largely how the battles themselves work. Basically, an IP bar in the corner of the screen determines actions. Every character and enemy has an icon on the IP bar, each advancing at a speed based on his, her or its agility statistic. As the icon moves from left to right it moves between three sections, wait, command, and act. When the icon reaches the command position, commands are entered and the character's icon begins to move to the act position. When the icon reaches the act position, the character performs his or her command in real time. Because of the time between command and act, timing becomes a major issue in gameplay. If an enemy is casting a spell, you can decide to cancel it by using a critical attack which takes time to charge, but can stop an enemy from using a special ability. If you want to go for more direct damage, you can choose to combo and hit the enemy multiple times for more damage, but running the risk of letting the enemy attack. Every special attack and spell also has a casting time, during which enemies may be able to cancel your actions as well. In addition to timing, field placement is important as certain spells and skills only effect limited areas, and your characters have to go certain distances to attack enemies and might simply lack the range and speed to close distance with the enemy before he or she can't move any farther. This sounds terribly complicated on paper, but it runs quite fluidly in the game itself. This system is absolute genius, is a great deal of fun to play, and requires some genuine strategy to win. While Game Arts chose to err towards easy opponents, this decision is forgivable given the fact that faster and stronger enemies can easily overwhelm and destroy your party. The battles, even in their ease remain among the most entertaining in RPG history.


world
Off to explore the world.  

   The encounter system is also absolute genius. Enemies can be seen on the area map. If they see you they glow red and charge towards your party. If you can touch them before they turn red, you get the initiative in battle. You can also get the initiative by running into the last of a row of opponents. At the same time, they can get the drop on you by attacking the last of your characters in your row. This adds another layer to the gameplay, keeping you constantly on the lookout for enemies and giving the exploration a fun twist. Trying to get the advantage over your opponents becomes a game in itself.

   While battles themselves and the encounter system are largely the same as in the original game, the character growth system has been radically altered. Instead of having individual experience for every spell element and weapon type, your characters earn a pool of skill and magic coins which can be spent in various ways. Skill books give your characters boosted stats and special abilities. Mana Eggs, now work much like FFVII's materia, each containing a set of spells. The characters also each have an individual set of special attacks. Every skill and spell has five levels of experience, each of which you can raise by spending a certain amount of skill or magic coins. While this system is seemingly less realistic than the system in the first game, it is just as customizable and eliminates the need to spend hours casting the same spells and using the same skills to level up you abilities. Now you can fight the battles in any way you choose without the worry of what element needs more levels. In my opinion, this is doubtless a change for the better.

   While gameplay and character interaction are easily the biggest strengths of Grandia II, note must be given to the wonderful visuals and music. Every location in Grandia II has a unique look, depicted with vivid, edgeless polygons in real time. The battles are also impressive with phenomenal animation and great spell effects. Some spells are stored as FMVs, while none last as long as Final Fantasy summons, they are incredibly visually stunning and look VERY painful for your opponents. There is also FMV at certain points in the game which, while excellent, look grainy and poorly animated compared to Square's work in the past two Final Fantasy titles. The music, by Noriyuki Iwadare, is simply phenomenal. Some of the music is bright and cheerful, some is dark and foreboding and all is appropriate. As in the original Grandia, some pieces are performed with a small orchestral set. These pieces are saved for special moments and are used in a wonderfully effective manner.
magic
It just gives you a...magical feeling.  
The battle themes are all excellent, giving a great sense of action and in the case of boss battles, fear. Most impressive are the vocal pieces performed throughout the game. I don't know the name of the woman who provided Elena's singing voice, but it is a voice that is can be alternately haunting and inspiring. In one song, when she evokes a theme from the original Grandia, I was nearly in tears. Iwadare is fast proving that he is among the greatest game composers in the business, and I anxiously await the arrival of my second Grandia II soundtrack CD.

   All in all Grandia II is a tight package, with 25 plus hours of filler free gameplay and a battle system so addictive that I've found myself playing the game over again simply to experience the best battle system the genre has seen, Grandia II is a must, especially with the Dreamcast's reduced price and the availability of such top quality titles as Phantasy Star Online, Skies of Arcadia and Shenmue.





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