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Grandia II - Review

Another very good effort from GameArts

By: Jimmy Avistetto


Review Breakdown
   Battle System 9
   Interface 5
   Music/Sound 9
   Originality 3
   Plot 6
   Localization 9
   Replay Value 2
   Visuals 9
   Difficulty Very Easy
   Time to Complete

20-30 hours

 
Overall
Someone get Hamish Sinclair on the phone.
Criteria

Grandia II
 

   Three years ago this month, GameArts released the original Grandia in Japan, for the Sega Saturn. As one might expect from the creators of the Lunar series, Grandia set itself apart from other RPGs with its incredible graphics, anime-like characters, and innovative battle system. While the game wasn't particularly original in terms of storyline, it was fun to play, and charming enough to ensure its success. Nearly two years later, Sony released the game in North America for the PlayStation, complete with some of the most widely-panned voice acting in recent history. Overall, though, the original Grandia was a very enjoyable game, with interesting characters and an overall sense of adventure that most other RPGs have failed to approach.

    After two-and-a-half years of effort, GameArts recently released Grandia II in Japan, for the Sega Dreamcast. It wasn't long after the game's original announcement that publisher Ubi Soft (Evolution, Evolution II) picked up the rights to publish Grandia II in North America, and now, a mere four months later, Grandia II is here-- and while it's a game that any Dreamcast RPGamer will snap up immediately (and rightfully so), it doesn't live up to its predecessor. Nevertheless, it's still very good.


Around and about in town
Around and about in town  

    Perhaps the most amazing thing about Grandia II is its graphics. The level of detail in each dungeon, each town, each house, even each room, is amazing, and some locations in the game are simply breathtaking. Nothing here is drab or unimaginative-- this is a vibrant and radiant world, complete with mountains, canyons, rivers, lakes, temples, cathedrals, and more. Not just the detail in each area, but also the architecture of each building, the atmosphere of each small village... it's quite amazing. Without a doubt this is the most graphically-rich RPG on any system right now.

    Complementing the rich atmosphere is an excellent soundtrack by composer Noriyuki Iwadare (Lunar, Grandia). The best, most noteworthy songs from the original game make reappearances here, but the rest of the soundtrack is completely original-- and it's Iwadare's best work to date. The battle music is particularly outstanding; following that, many of the town themes are addictive in their own right, and the game's vocal pieces are simply beautiful. Ubi Soft deserves a nod of respect for including a soundtrack CD with Grandia II, which contains selections from the full soundtrack along with remixes of the game's most prominent tracks.

    It is hardly necessary to have played the first game to enjoy Grandia II. While the combat system is different enough to disorient some RPGamers, an extensive set of tutorials is always at hand for those unfamiliar with Grandia's battle system. For fans of the first game, little has changed; the battle system has undergone few revisions, which is a good thing-- Grandia's battle system was one of the most fun and enjoyable turn-based combat systems to date, and Grandia II brings it back in style.


Nice spell effects, mate
Ryudo's Purple Lightning attack  

    There are no random encounters in Grandia II. Enemies can be seen on the screen before you engage them. Try to run around them, to avoid them, or run right into them to engage in combat. Run into them from behind, and gain the first attack; likewise, the enemy can sneak up from behind and launch a surprise attack. Timing is everything in Grandia II-- the timing of an attack can swing the balance of a battle. Combat moves quickly, with a timing meter at the bottom right-hand side of the screen illustrating the current sequence of attacks, with a small icon representing each character. A character's icon progresses along the meter to the command stage, during which commands can be selected; following that is the brief Action stage during which the character waits to attack. At the end of the Action stage, the attack is executed.

    The timing of the attack is what matters. For normal attacks, two options are available: Combo attack, and Critical attack. While a Combo attack can do the most damage, if the character hits an enemy with a Critical attack while that enemy is in the Action stage, the enemy's attack is cancelled. Enemies can likewise strike characters in the party and cancel their attacks. Magic attacks and Special attacks are also available; Special attacks are unique to each character, and many of them can cancel an enemy's attack. However, magic spells do not stay with a character.

    Each magic spell is contained within a Mana Egg. Different Mana Eggs will hold different spells, and new Mana Eggs will be received throughout the course of the game, granting new spells. To give a character access to the spells within a Mana Egg, simply equip the Mana Egg. When a spell gains a level of strength, it remains at that level no matter which character is using the Mana Egg, though some characters are stronger with certain types of magic than others.


The girl was never there... it's always the same
Lost in a forest... all alone  

    The Skill system provides a way of making characters more proficient with magic, for example. Throughout the game, new Skill Books will be received, each of which-- like Mana Eggs-- contain different Skills. Like Mana Eggs, Skills must be equipped, though unlike Mana Eggs each character can hold more than one Skill at a time. Some Skills allow a character to double his/her hit points, for example, or to increase profiency with fire magic. As Skills gain levels, they become more effective.

    Gaining levels for Skills, spells, and special attacks is a much simpler affair than it was in the original Grandia. At the end of each battle, Special Coins and/or Magic Coins are received, the amount received dependent on performance in the battle. Special Coins are used to power up Special attacks and some Skills; Magic Coins are used to power up spells and magic-related Skills. While this simplified system works much better than the leveling system from the previous game, the overly-generous amount of Special and Magic Coins received at the end of a battle serves to make the game incredibly easy.

    The most unfortunate weakness of Grandia II is, undoubtedly, its storyline. Grandia II's storyline is both a clichéd fantasy tale and an attack on religion, and in neither area does it succeed particularly well. As short a game as this is (the average RPGamer will finish it in around twenty to twenty-five hours), it grows fairly boring by the end, and throughout the entire game the sense of adventure found in the original Grandia is painfully absent. Worse, the linearity of the game is appalling; a game as driven by story as this one should feature a more interesting storyline than what Grandia II provides. As linear a game as Grandia II is, the replay value is almost completely nonexistent; all that the player is allowed to do in the game hinges on the storyline and never strays from it. As with the first game, there is a "secret" bonus area, but it's nothing more than a repeat of one of the game's earlier areas, and includes nothing new or useful. In the face of all this, Grandia II's saving grace is its character lineup.


At the dinner table
At the dinner table  

    Not only does Grandia II feature some of the most interesting characters to grace an RPG in some time, the interaction between them is unparalleled. As in other GameArts titles, each character is represented by a small anime drawing of his/her face, showing his/her expression-- jovial at happy times, angry or anguished at others. Characters will often respond when talking to townspeople, rather than remaining static; this, combined with the game's often-humorous dialogue, serves very well to draw the player into the game and keep him/her interested.

    Ubi Soft deserves a hearty commendation for sparing no expense in the game's localization. None of the intrigue provided by the characters has been lost in this translation, due to both an excellent script and fantastic voice acting. Concerned with the quality of the voice acting in the original game, Ubi Soft hired Kris Zimmerman (Metal Gear Solid) to oversee the voice talent for Grandia II, and her effort shows here. The rare lapses in the game's voice acting are far outweighed by the quality of the rest, particularly the work done by Cam Clarke (The Tick, Akira, Metal Gear Solid), who voices Ryudo, the protagonist. Animation fans may recognize the voice of Jodi Benson (Toy Story 2, Thumbelina) in the role of Elena, the game's female lead. The rest of the cast is also excellent and their work adds much to this game.

    Grandia II is not a bad effort from GameArts. The graphics are amazing, the battle system is very enjoyable, the music is outstanding, and Ubi Soft's work on the North American version has only added to what was already a very good game. Unfortunately, the severe lack of difficulty and lackluster storyline keep this from being a great game. Nevertheless, what's here is an RPG that's at once both beautiful and enjoyable, if extremely linear. Dreamcast owners won't want to miss this.




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