RPG Retrospective - Grandia, Pt. 1

Grandia - RPG Retrospective

The Basics

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 to for 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.

The Story

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.

Sound

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.

Part 2?

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.

23 Comments
24 Comments
Edited by Sparky_Buzzsaw

Grandia - RPG Retrospective

The Basics

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 to for 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.

The Story

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.

Sound

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.

Part 2?

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.

Moderator
Posted by casper_

i like grandia a lot but i am also willing to admit that it is totally dumb.

its dumb-ness increases exponentially the further you get into it as the jrpg cliches (in story/mechanics) take full effect.

Posted by Sparky_Buzzsaw

@casperhertzog: I'll be writing a fair bit about those cliches in my second part, but you're right - there are a lot of cliches to be found in the game.

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Posted by JasonR86

I tried this recently through PSN and really liked it at first. But it sort of fizzled out at the end. I stopped right at the end because I didn't want to grind enough levels to beat it. But it was fine while it lasted.

Edited by Mento

Yo, full disclosure: How far through are you? It doesn't sound like you've reached Feena yet, or passed over the great wall thing made out of Tetris pieces. The game continues to pick up the pace after each area, so it never really loses steam.

The combat system is fairly novel. Besides the positional factor, there's quite a few ways to mess around with the bar that indicates everyone's turn to act and it's pretty cool how you can see the changes you've made, such as stunning an enemy and knocking their little icon back. FFT did something similar, showing you the order of who's turn is when, but it wasn't really a common thing until after Grandia. Grandia II definitely improves the combat system and then some though (but is a little worse in other respects, in the way sequels occasionally are). However, my favorite thing about Grandia is their Elder Scrolls-esque level up system - it gives me short-term goals and it feels like I earned all these new super-duper attacks by pursuing the right weapon/magic classes.

I can definitely see why you'd struggle with it after a while though. It hasn't aged well graphically, the voice acting is notoriously poor and each dungeon is a little bigger than it perhaps needs to be. It's a loooong game too. You shouldn't feel like you need to finish it if you want to move onto something else.

Moderator Online
Posted by Sparky_Buzzsaw

@Mento: I'm a couple of hours past the Great Wall (or so I call it), and I agree. The further you get into it, the better the overall experience becomes. I'm perfectly okay with the size of the dungeons - they're big, but I like exploration in RPG's. I had to really emphasize the negatives of the combat here in order to be completely fair to new players. I hope to expand on that thought next week, but I apologize if I came across as overly negative towards it. I think it's overall a fine RPG for the time, but it definitely has some issues that I think would affect anyone who hasn't had a lot of experience in the genre.

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Edited by Mento

@Sparky_Buzzsaw: Sure. I have no idea what someone without the nostalgia factor would think of it these days, considering how dated any early flirtations with 3D graphics looks now as well as a turn-based battle system that impressed so much at the time that many games have since borrowed and improved on it, sort of like how it's hard to appreciate John Carter because of the way many of the works it has inspired have since overshadowed it and turned all its novel ideas into clichés. I imagine at some point in the near future it'll be as practically inaccessible as the earliest Wizardry and Ultima games are now.

For me, Grandia will always belong in the holy trinity of JRPGs (along with Skies of Arcadia and Secret of Mana) that really nail the genre's adventuresome spirit. There are probably better JRPGs from either a mechanical or narrative perspective, but they're just not as fun.

(edit: Oh man, I sound really defensive here. I'm really not! I'm going on a tirade hiatus for a spell, it'll do me good.)

Moderator Online
Edited by Alkaiser

Correct me if I'm wrong, but wasn't it the first Grandia that, due to poor translation,

They switched the motivations of the hero and the villain?

Otherwise, I remember the game having fun combat, but its been over a decade since I've played it. One of those games I'll work my way to in my vision quest/psychosis to play every ps1 game that grabs my interest.

Posted by Sparky_Buzzsaw

@Mento: Hey, I don't mean any offense. In fact, I don't think it's inaccessible or bad - in fact, it's quite a good RPG in my estimation. And to let you in on a little tip from next week, odds are, I'll highly recommend it to RPG fans. But I wouldn't be doing this right if I didn't point out its inadequacies as well. I'm not trying to upset you or any other fans of the game and it's not my purpose to ruffle feathers for no good reason. But the point of this series of blogs is to look at the games objectively from a modern standpoint and to determine whether or not they're still playable. I will take pains, as I've done in the past, to point out how the game must have felt upon its release here in the States. But I'm not going to let rose-colored lenses affect any one of these blogs, no matter how good a game it used to be (or still is). Just wait until you see the notes I have on the original text-input Quest for Glory - I'm eviscerating it and I love that game to death.

Mento, I highly, highly respect your opinion here on Giant Bomb and I hope you understand where I'm coming from on all this. I know I didn't do a great job describing some of the elements such as the extra party members or the battle gauge. For that, I'm sorry. But I hope you understand that when I write these things, I'm not looking to douse the games with contempt (well, some of them I will, if I can get my hands on a few of the shittier RPG's on my mind).

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Posted by Mento

Ha, now I feel like a total goon. Absolutely no offense caused, I assure you. I really need to get better at representing myself on the internet is all.

I'd like to read your thoughts on Quest for Glory once you have them all collated. I have no idea how well those RPG aspects have aged. I do recall the RPG combat taking up a little too much time when it was ostensibly about the point-and-click puzzles, sort of like with how Monkey Island's insult fighting took over that part of the game.

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Posted by Sparky_Buzzsaw

@Mento: Oh good. Man, I felt like shit there. Mad love, home skillet.

The point-and-click Quest for Glory has held up fairly well, if you can get it to run (and it runs very well if you download it from GOG). I might review only that one. I've got a text-input version of it, but my fond memories and the cold reality of the impracticality of a text-input game nowadays are clashing harshly. That said, I have to wonder if the text version of QfG 2 is going to suffer the same problems. I can only imagine so, but it's been a while since I've played the second one.

Anyways, I don't want to spoil too much, but I will be doing RPG Retros for each of the Quest games, as I want to at least demonstrate how clever the skills and abilities were back then, but how they've evolved and become more relevant in games like Skyrim. It'll be a long, painful process, I suppose. It won't ever stop me from loving those games to death, but having to look at them objectively sucks big time.

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Posted by Robaota

Grandia is a bizarre game, nostalgia I think is making my current play-through a much sweeter experience than I think it really is, which seems to be the case with a lot of PS1 RPGs that I've recently played through. The voice acting is strange, simply because it appears very sporadically, and sometimes for very short periods (JUSTIN!....YOU TRAITOR!).

Good to see this write-up though, it pretty much nails most of the highs and lows of the game so far.

Posted by Sparky_Buzzsaw

@Robaota: Hey, thanks! I think the game probably could have done without voice acting at all. What's there never adds to the experience, and it's sometimes just painful. It's a shame, too, because the rest of the sound in the game is pretty darn good and completely suits the game.

Moderator
Posted by Morningstar

@Sparky_Buzzsaw: You have peeked my interest with this. Very well written. Just one question: what's the level of challenge? I love me some old jrpgs, but if they are too easy I lose interest fast. =)

Posted by Brodehouse

Dude, I remember fucking Grandia.

You climb that Goddamn Wall, that apparently no one in the history of time has ever climbed, I guess. And then you get to the other side and no one acts like it's a big fucking deal. You meet the girl in the smallest mini skirt ever (when I was 14 that chick was distracting) and a giant fucking lion man who is like 30 levels higher than you and automatically kills anything you look at, and then you fight shellfish in a tower. Also, there's like these three hot anime chicks working for the Dark Emperor, and I think you peep on them lezzing out in the shower. Or maybe that's a different game. ... Man, what the fuck Grandia.

Posted by Sparky_Buzzsaw

@Morningstar: It's really sort of up to the player. I don't find it too difficult at all, but I'm taking my time through the dungeons, and therefore grinding out a bit more experience than is probably necessary. I would say on average it would be fairly easy for most experienced RPG'ers. And thanks!

Moderator
Posted by Marino

@Sparky_Buzzsaw: Bumpin' this on up to the front page of the site.

Staff
Posted by Sparky_Buzzsaw

@Marino: Thank you! That's an honor.

Moderator
Posted by Morningstar

@Sparky_Buzzsaw: Hmm, I have Grandia 2 in my back-log of games, maybe I should give this one a whirl first then. Thank you very much for your help.

Posted by McGhee

This is one of my all time favorite games. I bought re-bought the PS1 version a while ago to play it on my PS2 with a big old tube TV for the perfect nostalgic feeling. Playing these old games on an HDTV doesn't feel right.

Posted by Sparky_Buzzsaw

@McGhee: That's pretty much the way I'm playing it, just on the PS3. No shiny HD television here, just a gigantic tube TV. I've transferred a few of the games to my PSP as well, but for the most part, if something's available on the PSN, I'll be playing it on the console as I prefer the giant visuals of the TV.

Moderator
Posted by Zero_

Dude, great blog. Grandia is one of my favourite games of all time. The gameplay is absolutely fantastic, and the charm and charactes is what really pushes into a fantastic RPG. The cheesy voice over is the icing on top. :) Keep going with it.

Posted by Erk_Forever

This is one of my favorite games.

Edited by Karkarov

I don't know I think you underscore the character of Justin a bit. He is actually one of my favorite all time RPG characters precisely because of how he is at the beginning. The dude is sort of whiny, brags when he has no reason to, is annoying, and practically slobbers like a dog when he first meets Feena. He has a bunch of cheesy ass catch phrases I seem to recall as well. Not to mention the expressions.... oh the expressions...

But as the game progresses he does almost become a different character. A lot of the stupid expressions you see him make in your linked vid he just stops doing, the catch phrases no longer get said, by the end he is actually acting like a dude who has grown up a little. His relationship with Feena at the end of the game is even buyable at that point, in the beginning it was laughable at best and I could never have seen it working out.

He is just a really well done character with what I felt like was pretty solid writing who did develop and change over the course of the game. You almost never see that done well in an RPG, not then, and still not now.

Sue is an annoying little attachment driven freak though despite the fact that I find the little "Puff Puff" thing at the end of battles strangely cute and maddeningly hilarious.