By Sparky_Buzzsaw 24 Comments
Grandia - RPG Retrospective
When it was announced that Grandia was on PSN's PS classics, I was pretty stoked. I had never played the game, but I remembered it getting fairly great reviews from gaming magazines. I bought it and put it on the back burner for quite some time, and I'm sort of glad I did, as it's the perfect sort of game for this series of blogs. Though there have been multiple entries in the Grandia series, it's never achieved quite the fame of games like Final Fantasy or Dragon Quest (at least here in the States).
Playing this game today is sort of a trip in and of itself. It should be said straightaway that this is very much a dated RPG. Now mind you, that's not a criticism, as in fact, I don't mind games with dated natures. But it is a statement through and through about how the game feels, looks, and plays, both for good and bad.
Grandia is a fairly straightforward turn-based RPG. Enemies are visible on the field, and you'll get a traditional breakaway fight scene when you encounter them. Each character on the screen, good or bad, can appear at several different locations on the screen, depending on if it's a normal or surprise encounter. Pretty normal stuff there. Turns are determined by the position of character portraits on a battle gauge - it's similar in theory to Final Fantasy's active battle gauge, but with a slightly different look. When a character's portrait hits a certain mark on that guage, he or she can take several traditional actions, such as a vanilla attack, spells, or using items. Characters will also need to move in range for attacks and spells to be successful, a nice touch given the relative simplicity of the combat. Battles are usually fairly speedy, with the exception being the obvious boss battles.
The game world is huge. After learning the ropes of the combat system, I expected to blow through this game in no time at all. Instead, I found myself exploring town after town, dungeon after dungeon. Exploration is fairly simple. The world is three-dimensional, with characters in 2D. You can rotate the camera to help in exploration, but sometimes, the camera angles are immensely frustrating no matter which way you're facing.
One great thing about the game is the weapon and skill system. Each character has a number of different weapon classes they can use, and they can level up with those weapon types. Skills are learned by meeting requirements. It's not a terribly in-depth system, but it is curiously rewarding in a carrot-on-a-stick fashion. And in regards to experience, although the game definitely can be made easier by extensive grinding, simple exploration of dungeons should provide plenty of opportunities to keep your party at the necessary strength.
Thanks tofor pointing out some things I missed in the comments below! You obtain various party members at different areas throughout the game. These characters really help flesh out the story quite a bit more than just Justin and Sue's antics, with the highlights being Feena, the adventuress and Justin's (questionable) love interest, and Gadwin, a gruff mentor to Justin after he enters a new area of the world (to Justin's people).
Also, see Mento's comment below for more on the battle/character gauge. He gives it its proper due.
Grandia's a real mixed bag when it comes to its story elements. Simply put, it's slightly childish in delivery and execution. The game follows the exploits of a young teenager (really just a kid) named Justin and his sidekick Sue. They're wannabe adventurers, who in trying to escape their normal lives get swept up in a world-spanning plot. It's pretty much cut-and-paste stuff from your RPG 101 textbooks. Justin has a magical stone, passed down to him by his missing adventurer father, which is apparently an artifiact of great power. He must travel to a distant land in order to ascertain its true impact, which apparently couldn't be done in one of the many dungeons Justin visits along the way. Of course not, or else what excuse would we have for wandering the world, visiting tons of villages, and earning lots of loot?
That very basic plot actually becomes a bit more involving. Although Justin and Sue are very much cookie-cutter RPG material at first, their personalities, especially Justin's, become pretty likable. He's a bit of a bull in a china shop when it comes to his adventuring antics, and though I'd hesitate to call the characters he meets endearing, they can be surprisingly delightful at times. If you can last through the intial ten hours or so, the characters begin to evolve and adapt while still maintaining a sense of goodness and childish wonder at the world around them. It's really kind of a pleasant jaunt through the countryside, all told, and once you get the "big reveal" of Justin's stone's power, the plot picks up pace.
The enemies are pretty great, too. The Garlyle forces are appropriately mysterious and menacing, with a fairly diverse cast of characters among their own lot. While most of the waves of generic enemies are forgettable, the boss battles are reasonably tough and fairly colorful.
The Graphical Style
Having played this right after something so graphically stylish as Tales of the Abyss, I was almost stunned by the simplicity of Grandia's graphics. Pretty, she ain't. Everything has a bit of a generic look to it, ranging from the 3D blocky world to the uninspired combat effects. I'm not particularly fond of the character portraits either, but part of that is my bias towards using kids as protagonists in world-saving RPG's.
It's not all terrible. Certain areas, such as Parm, are chock full of little details in the backgrounds. Each of the areas you visit feel fairly distinct. I don't particularly mind the animations. The whole game has a certain sort of character we just don't have in RPG's nowadays, like an ugly friend wrapped up in a brightly colored poncho. I get the sense that, despite its ugliness, the designers really wanted to make this game their own, and worked really hard at what they could and did accomplish.
Here's an early gameplay video that gives a good look at what I'm talking about.
If it wasn't for the combat, I'd say the sound in this game is pretty good. The music's lively and fairly catchy, with some real high points towards the latter third of the game. Sound effects are fairly sparse by our modern standards, but what's there really adds to the flavor of the game.
But where the sound falls apart is in its battles. Some of the fight sound effects are great, but those are unfortunately the minority. Fights lack any sort of oomph to them. The real annoyance though is in the lines delivered post-battle. Just watch that video above and you'll get an idea of how aggravating they can get. Sue in particular is cringe-worthy.
So on paper, Grandia's sort of hit-and-miss so far. It's colorful, traditional, and has a great deal of charm, but will that be enough? Will its Japanese-ness hurt it or help it? Is it worth your cash? All that and more hopefully next week. Of course, the last time I thought that, my laptop suffered a catastrophe, so here's hoping I didn't jinx it.