"There is no denying that I still had a ton of fun revisiting the genre I fell in love with many, many years ago."
During my time as a reviewer here at RPGFan, I've come to a certain realization: I'm a hard man to please. When I got the opportunity to review Grandia II Anniversary Edition, I was certain this was the game for me. I'm an old school guy, I take cheap shots at Final Fantasy XIII any chance I get, and my rose-tinted, nostalgia-soaked glasses are about as thick as they come. So, a Dreamcast classic like Grandia II should cruise right into the 90% bracket with an Editor's Choice badge proudly shining on its chest, right? Well, not quite. You see, there's something else I realized during my time with Grandia II: I don't miss the old days quite as much as I thought I did.
Grandia II is a fine title, but unlike fine wine, not everything about it has aged well. This is most noticeable in its visuals. While Grandia II boasts imaginative art direction, with major characters and locations all having a distinct look and feel, low polygon models, stiff animations and grainy FMVs don't leave any doubt that this game is almost old enough to drive. Support for higher resolutions and some smoothing options give it a minor facelift, but there's only so much you can do with 15-year old visuals.
Audio fares much better, sporting far fewer wrinkles than its video counterpart. Grandia II offers a rich and varied musical experience. Be it Elena's song, funky hiking music or one of several battle themes, Grandia II delivers a solid soundtrack from start to finish. Voice acting is present, with many familiar talents such as Jennifer Hale, Cam Clarke and Paul Eiding lending their vocal skills for the English dub. However, it's used rather sparingly, as only select parts of major story segments utilize voiced dialog. Quality of delivery varies, and while I have heard better performances from the English cast, nothing stands out as particularly cringe-worthy. For anyone who prefers original Japanese voice acting, the option to switch is available in the game's launcher. The developer in charge of this port was gracious enough to provide separate sliders for different elements of the audio, including footsteps. This seems like a minor thing, but trust me, it's a big deal and you'll be thankful that it's there.
With audiovisuals covered, let's pop the hood and have a look at what lurks beneath Grandia II's aging exterior. In other words: battle mechanics and story. You take on the role of Ryudo, a young, bitter and seemingly unlikable Geohound (mercenary of sorts) as he takes on a new job: babysitting the righteous Elena, songstress of Granas (Grandia II's resident almighty). This seemingly simple mission goes horribly wrong, setting off a chain of events that leads Ryudo, Elena and several allies met along the way on a mission to avert the apocalyptic rebirth of an evil entity known as Valmar. This may sound cliche, but underneath the guise of a typical "saving the world through the power of friendship" plot lies a story of personal growth. Grandia II introduces a memorable cast, and by their journey's end, everyone is at least a little wiser than they were when it all began. The game also features a robust epilogue, giving proper closure to every character and tying up loose ends.
On their epic journey, Ryudo and co. have to do battle with many foes, and this is where Grandia II's surprisingly complex battle system comes in. Chain attacks, interrupting attacks, character-specific skills, magic, items, field positioning... Grandia II throws a lot of tools into the pot, delivering a unique system that offers plenty of strategy. There are no random battles, enemies are always visible on the field, and how you approach these foes determines whether your party starts with an advantage or disadvantage. Despite being turn based, battles almost feel like they're playing out in real time. Characters scurry around the battlefield, with the action only pausing when a player-controlled fighter is ready to be issued a new command. Characters and monsters require time to both take an action as well as to execute it, with well-timed attacks from an opponent capable of slowing or even interrupting these actions. Every character has their own set of unique skills and, on top of that, can also be equipped with sets of magic and passive boosts, which can be upgraded to be more effective. This gives impressive flexibility while still making characters feel unique. However, this comes with a snag in the form of menu navigation. In order to outfit your party, you'll need to repeatedly shuffle from one menu to another. It's an inconvenience that could have been avoided through better use of available screen space. High level magic and special skills often look impressive, and each character has a set of quips that go with whatever type of spell or skill they're using. Unfortunately, the game is missing an option to skip these animations. So, once the novelty has worn out, having to sit through the same, long sequence becomes very tedious. In contrast to its complex battles, Grandia II's dungeons are very straightforward, with very little in the form of branching paths or puzzles. Another potential issue is the difficulty; I opted to play on Normal and felt the game was a little too easy. Fortunately, a Hard mode has been added to the Anniversary Edition, which may help alleviate this problem.
Ports tend to have a bad reputation, and Grandia II Anniversary Edition just so happens to be a port. With that in mind, you may be wondering how it runs. I'm happy to report that during my 35-hour romp, I only experienced a single crash. The game has already been augmented with several patches that both fix problems and add features, including 60fps battles and support for a wide range of gamepads. This kind of dedication is commendable and I applaud everyone involved for trying to make Grandia II the best it can be.
Despite some wrinkles, Grandia II stands firm with its head held high. While the nostalgic tint may be fading from my rosy glasses, there is no denying that I still had a ton of fun revisiting the genre I fell in love with many, many years ago. The team behind Anniversary Edition delivered a good port, and I can only hope they'll do the same for other Dreamcast classics.