10 years ago, I picked up Grandia on a whim from a dedicated games shop. I hadn't heard of it before, but I was in the mood for an RPG and the cover/back did enough to sell it to me. I also remember it being £7, so I couldn't really go wrong. I ended up being really pleased with my purchase. I thought it was a fun RPG with a nice storyline. However, as my attitude towards finishing games left a lot to be desired back then, I eventually snubbed it in for favour for another game. I managed to get pretty far with it, too...
...fast-forward 10 years later and I've finally managed to complete it. Given it was so long ago, I naturally had to start from scratch with this playthrough, but that was probably for the best anyway. My opinion on the game has changed slightly compared to my 16 year-old self. While I still think its a very enjoyable game, it's by no means perfect.
The story revolves around Justin, a teenager with the ambition to become a great adventurer (following in his dad's footsteps). He is always followed by Sue, a young girl with a strange creature named Puffy. Justin isn't the brightest Crayon in the pack, but he's very determined. Ironically, Sue is probably the most grown-up out of the two. Early in the game, Justin's curiosity is peaked by the Spirit Stone, a memento of his father. He decides to set off on an adventure to find the secrets of the Angelou civilisation, who mysteriously disappeared long before the events of the game.
The game world is vast and full of variety. While there's no overworld (you can only select set locations on a map once you exit a town/dungeon), it's a really interesting world to explore. You'll come across small tribal villages, bustling towns and ancient ruins. Most of the machines in the world are steampunk-ish, but electronics can be found in certain locations.
One of the things I really like about the story is the sense of adventure it exudes. While the story isn't groundbreaking by any means, it does enough to push you forward. A journey through a location at a certain part of the game feels as epic as you're lead to believe it is.
The combat system is both fun and rewarding. Both your characters and enemies turns are determined by a bar at the bottom of the screen. Once a character reaches the notch, you can select an action. You then have to wait for the icon to reach the end of the bar before the action is performed (although this could be instant, depending on the action). You can delay or even cancel attacks outright by hitting the enemy, but they're able to do the same to you. When you select 'defend', you can choose to endure or evade (i.e. move to another location on the combat field). As you may have guessed by now, the combat system allows for a lot of tactical manoeuvres. While it's not necessarily needed early in the game, it's definitely worth bearing in mind for the later stages.
Levelling for characters, magic and weapon types are all separate. Characters can only equip certain weapons. For example, Justin can only equip swords, maces and axes, while Sue can only equip maces and bows. Once you've equipped to a weapon to a character, they will start levelling with that type of weapon. Different weapons open up different abilities, so it's definitely something to think about (believe me, it's in your best interest!). Not far into the game, you're given the opportunity to buy magic with items called Mana Eggs. There's Earth, Wind, Water and Fire. All the elements have a base spell, but more spells are unlocked as you level them. Some spells require multiple types of magic, making it worthwhile to have as many kinds of magic as you can.
Dungeons are handled in a similar style to Chrono Trigger or Lunar (more so the latter, as Grandia shares its developer). All the enemies are visible while you explore the dungeon. You can choose to approach them or avoid them. However, once a group of enemies are alerted, they will pursue you. If you they catch you with your back to them, you will be 'Ambushed', resulting in the enemies starting closer to the end of the combat bar. Conversely, if you approach them while they're not alert, you will gain the initiative. While this is generally a good system, it can become frustrating when it comes to backtracking or exploring the area for hidden secrets. There are also some areas where avoiding enemies is pretty much impossible, so you're better off approaching them in those cases. Thankfully, enemies don't respawn unless you leave the area completely. You'll also find save spots now and again, where you can recover your characters.
As for items, each character can only hold 12 items at once (you have a maximum of four characters at any time, so 48 items). In addition, items can only be used by a character in battle if they're carrying it. This forces you to think about who should carry what, as a character having the right items could mean the difference between life and death. At certain points (normally in inns), you can put items away in a 'stashing place'. This allows you to store items and pick them up at a later stage in the game. If you're nowhere near a stashing place and everyone has used up their item capacity, you must discard any items you find or choose to discard something that's already in your inventory (or use it on the spot, if applicable). As long as you're smart about storing items, the item limit isn't really a problem.
The presentation has a very 90s feel to it. The style and music are pretty typical of the decade. The Playstation version (the version I played) came out in 1999, but it originally appeared on the Sega Saturn in 1997 (albeit only in Japan), so maybe it's not too surprising. A bad thing? Certainly not, in my opinion. I like a bit of old-skool.
As the cover suggests, the game is done in an anime-style. The characters portraits, sprites and even their appearances in certain cut-scenes stay true to it. A lot of the humour wouldn't look out of place in anime, either. Despite the sprites, the world is polygonal (as are a lot of the cutscenes), which can look a bit odd in parts. It's unnoticeable for most of the game, however.
The music is pretty great, in general. It was handled by Noriyuki Iwadare, who also composed the music for the Lunar games and a variety of other RPGs. There are some really nice pieces, particularly the incidental scores. However, a lot of the locations have short looping music, which don't sound as good as the bigger tracks. Only a small complaint, mind. I'd like to say it was a technical limit from the Sega Saturn version (no changes were made to the Playstation, as as far as I know), but I don't know enough about the console to really comment.
The game is often let down by the terrible voice acting. While it's acceptable in parts, the cast really ends up ruining some of the more dramatic moments. Some of the lines are delivered in monotone, which shatters the believability instantly. The two worst offenders, in my opinion, was one of the antagonists and a playable character who joins later in the game ('Come back with reinforce-ments!'). While RPGs were niche back then (more so than today) and bad anime dubs were commonplace, I think it's still fair to consider it a flaw.
I personally enjoyed Grandia a lot. I had fun with the combat and the story has a lot going for it. If you're looking for something a bit different (and you're willing to ignore the voice acting), Grandia might just be the game you're looking for. For your convenience, it's available on PSN for pretty much peanuts. A physical copy goes for a little bit more these days, but it's certainly affordable if you really insist on it.
What happened to Xenogears?
As you might remember, I said that I was going to tackle Xenogears. However, things didn't go to plan when I tried to play it. The top of the screen was cut off and appears at the bottom of the screen. I tried messing with the screen settings, but they were locked in. I then tried to play with my NTSC PS2's internal screen setting, but still no luck. For the sake of argument, I tried another of my NTSC PS1 games...which resulted in exactly the same problem. From what I gather, it's an issue with my TV, as the channel name also appears at the bottom rather than the top. Short of trying another TV, I don't think I'll be solve the problem. My NTSC PS2 games run fine (that's how I played Dark Cloud), so it's a bit strange.
I'll give you an update on the situation once it changes. I hope it ends up being something stupidly simple...
As I've said, I'm now taking a break from JRPGs. I don't want to burn myself out on the genre. I'll be ordering a replacement 360 unit very soon, so I'll finally be able to tackle a good portion of my games library again. Once it arrives, I'll probably jump back to Enslaved. I'd say I was about half-way through the game when I left it, so it shouldn't be too long before the next blog.
Later this week, I should have my hands on FIFA 13. If you're not already aware, I'm a big footy fan and my favourite team is Everton. I haven't bought a FIFA game since the World Cup release in 2010, but I've played a lot of FIFA 12 whenever I visit a friend of mine. Decided to go for 13 because I want to give the career mode a whirl and I'll be able to play some of my friends online. I won't be mentioning it in my blogs, as I can't imagine a lot of you are interested in football...but if you are, please speak up and I might throw something together. I'd happily cover FIFA if the interest is there.
Decided to do something of a remix special this time. There's a lot of great remixes of game tracks out there, so I want to share a few of my favourites.
Chrono Trigger Theme - Brink of Time Remix
A nice jazzy take on the classic theme. 'The Brink of Time' is a whole album full of reimagined versions of music from Chrono Trigger. I recommend checking it out. There's a variety of styles.
Jazzy NYC Remix #2 (Street Fighter) - DJ Fernando
I randomly managed to find this track one day. I had no idea about the original before I found this, but upon listening to it, I'd say it's an improvement on the source material. Kind of reminds me of 'Summer Madness' by Kool and the Gang in parts.
Those Who Fight Further (Final Fantasy 7) - The Black Mages
I imagine a lot of you are already familiar with the Black Mages, but I thought they were worth a mention. Square-Enix should definitely grab hold of these guys if they ever get round to a remake of FF7.
That's all for now. Thanks for reading and I hope you like new format I've gone for.