Cliched experience set apart by its execution
Grandia II was one of the biggest JRPGs on the Dreamcast (along with Skies of Arcadia). What it lacked was innovation; it made no new waves in a genre notorious for stagnation. What made the experience still satisfying was how the fairly standard pieces came together. The gameplay was simple but satisfying, the combat was challenging but not tedious, and the storyline had no big surprises but conveyed its message well.
Graphically, the game is decent considering its age and hardware; the game still shows the problem of the characters' in-game polygons being considerably more childlike than their anime portraits, but it is not as noticeable as the PS1 JRPGs. Musically, the game is rich in variety and contains a good number of catchy tracks; the Dreamcast version of the game featured a CD that I enjoyed (and was saddened that it only had the first half of the game's tracks).
Combat is fairly simple; the system is basically turn-based with the ability to "cancel" or "push back" each other's attacks during the waiting time between giving a command and watching it play out. There are several "mana eggs" that provide magic and develop by themselves independent of character; in addition to this, characters have their own powerful individual skills that draw from a separate meter, "skill points" or SP, in battle. Although this is a fairly ordinary approach to magic and special attacks, it works and is preferable to, say, Final Fantasy VII's Materia system, because it does not take ages to exchange Materia nor are characters robbed of individual strengths and weaknesses. The game's save points allow for the ability to completely recover at will, thus taking away much of the strategy when it comes to fighting regular enemies; not that it is too necessary anyway since enemies appear onscreen as opposed to being random. Despite this, the bosses are well balanced; each of them provide a decent challenge without the need to grind to win (provided that the player fights a decent amount of enemies on the way to the bosses).
The path the game follows is extremely linear and only provides a few sidequests, usually in the form of minigames or optional areas. The story throws no unpredictable curveballs and delivers some fairly simple messages: "nothing is as black and white as it appears", "think for yourself and believe in the power of the human spirit", and "everything in moderation". But what makes the storyline still enjoyable is how well it is executed. Each of the significant characters, both good and evil, initially appear to be conventional JRPG characters, but each of them mature in a very real, human way by the conclusion. And although the simple moral lessons are nothing new to anyone who has experienced a few good dramatic books or films, the way the game presents its messages are believable and convincing. There is an ability to sit down and have dinner at each inn in a new town; although the animations are simplistic, the dialogue helps to flesh out the characters' personalities and was a nice touch to add depth to their already above-average character design.
If you're looking for innovative gameplay or an unorthodox story, you will not find it in Grandia II. What made it more than just another average JRPG was a linear but solid combat system and a story that was standard, but was exceptional in how it depicted its major personalities and conveyed some average ideas with above-average execution.