At the beginning of the year Atlus delighted a number of PSP owners by announcing the release of two G-titled RPGs for the system. Having previously looked at Gungnir, now it's time to turn our attention to the second game, Growlanser: Wayfarer of Time. Despite the initial similarities from the announcement teasers—both are tactical RPGs and the fourth main games in their series—the two games are very distinct, creating the ideal situation of both complementing each other and standing out on their own. As a result many PSP owners should have cause to look forward to the summer.
"Many PSP owners should have cause to look forward to the summer."
Growlanser: Wayfarer of Time is a remake of Growlanser IV, which was originally released on PlayStation 2 in Japan in 2003, but never made it to the West. The PSP remake features a number of new characters and story routes, which may see the player facing off against possible comrades from the original routes. Wayfarer of Time is set on the continent of Noievarl, home to four nations on the brink of war. Humanity had in the past achieved great advances in science and magic. However, a battle against powerful angels left them devastated and close to extinction. Since then humanity has rebuilt to an extent, and the battle with the angels has been relegated to the status of legend and folklore. During the course of the game it becomes clear that the legends are true and humanity is once again in danger.
Players are put into the role of a mercenary who is the key to defeating the angels, at least according to his group's captain after they witness one appearing. The protagonist's name is freely entered by players, although other areas such as his appearance and gender are set. Wayfarer of Time is stated to contain over forty possible ending scenes, depending on the player's choices and character relationships. Character relationships also have a chance of influencing key events and may decide whether a certain character lives or dies in that playthrough. Interactions with characters have a lot of dating-sim elements to them, including a holiday system where the protagonist can spend his rest time with comrades. Players will be able to keep an eye on how their relationship with a character is progressing by how happy that character's portrait appears.
The game is split into a large number of individual battles, with players using the time between to explore the various towns and fields and otherwise advancing the story. Missions in the game have different objectives, such as rescuing an NPC or discovering possible ambushes, and as long as the entire party is not defeated it is often possible for the game to continue even if the mission objective is failed. The Growlanser series has a unique equipment system that is carried over into Wayfarer of Time. Each character gets two equipment slots, one for a magical "Ring Weapon" that transforms depending on its user's personality. Ring Weapons have a number of slots, into which stat-boosting gems can be placed if the gem meets the proper requirements.
Four party members take place in battles and, instead of using a traditional grid-based system, each character has a circular area they can travel within each turn. Turns are taken per character rather than per side and combat plays out in real-time, in a way reminiscent of Final Fantasy's active-time systems. The result leaves an impression of mixing tactical RPG and real-time strategy, with characters acting automatically according to their orders and players able to interrupt the action to issue new orders should they wish. Physical attackers will always need to be within range of an enemy to attack, while magic has a casting time that enables it to be used on targets considerably further away. Area of effect magic is possible, but requires two magic users working together in order to cast. Each character also has access to special moves that cover a variety of uses. There are a number of potential pitfalls with this system and things are likely to hinge on whether the correct difficulty balance has been achieved to make the game friendly to less experienced players, but also to retain the need to change tactics as battles progress and keep them involved.
Wayfarer of Time contains distinctive character art by Satoshi Urushihara, who has also worked on the Langrisser series. This should lend a lot of character to the cast and is easily the most defining part of the game visually. The isometric views used for the gameplay don't seem particularly special. The level of detail seems a bit lacklustre compared to what other PSP titles have achieved, but it shouldn't detract much from the overall experience. Some RPGamers may be disappointed to learn the English voice acting will be limited mostly to the fully animated cutscenes, and that licencing cost issues mean the original Japanese voice acting will be absent altogether.
Growlanser looks likely to provide a considerably different experience to Gungnir, which is by no means a bad thing. Between them, both games have the potential to catch the eye of a large number of PSP owners and compare favourably with the already solid RPG lineup, although Gungnir does look initially to have a much greater amount of polish. Even if the system finds that its releases dry up afterwards as developers and publishers move to the Vita, it shouldn't be a bad way to go out. Growlanser: Wayfarer of Time is due to be released in North America on PSP on July 24, 2012. It will be available as both a physical UMD and as a download on the PSN.