In ages past, Granas, the god of light, granted the people on Earth his protection. Mankind prospered with the power bestowed unto them by Granas.
However, Valmar, the god of darkness, aimed to take this prosperity away from the people. Granas thus engaged in battle against Valmar in order to protect mankind from the darkness.
After numerous battles, Granas proved to be the victor and succeeded in sealing Valmar. However, Granas' blade left a horrible wound on the very planet he tried to protect.
Dubbed the Grana Cliff, this wound divided the world into two continents. And so, We dubbed this new continent "The Cursed Continent." - The Legend of the God Wars.
In the beginning...
"Me? I'm a Geohound."
Your name is Ryudo. With your traveling companion Skye, you spend your days taking on various odd jobs; killing monsters, finding treasure, your all in one mercenary for hire. The life of a Geohound pays well, but of course, there is a small trade off...
"Here...take your reward. Now get the hell out of my sight!"
Of course, given the nature of the work that Geohounds go through, it shouldn't come to a big surprise that you're not well viewed upon by other villagers. Not only do they curse at you behind your backs, even your own clients would as soon as spit on your grave than let you get too close to them. But the pay is good, you don't have to put up with other people, and it keeps your mind off any unpleasant memories you might've had.
It all starts on a special day when...
"Huh? Why in the world would the Church of Granas want to hire a Geohound?"
The Church of Granas hires you to take Elena, one of their Priestesses, to a special ceremony...but when that ceremony goes awry and a piece of Valmar's body gets infused into Elena, killing all other priestesses in the process, you get suckered into taking Elena all way to the main church in order to figure out what do with her.
So what about the game?
As one of the first second generation RPGs for the DC (yes, I am aware some of you do not think so...just bear with me), the graphics in Grandia II have been talked about in the numerous previews because they were, simply put, gorgeous. The polygonal characters look sharp, well modeled, and are all texture mapped as well. Some of the designs of the monsters are particularly interesting, since many of them are made of multiple parts, each having its own animation sequences.
If I were to complain anything about the graphics, they would be mostly minor things. First is the fact that most of your characters don't have mouths. Yep, they shouldn't be able to talk. This is a rather minor point since the mouth is not a major thing in battles and I somehow got the feeling that the character models would've looked rather odd with the mouths, much like how some of the other characters in the game looked with them, which is to say unimpressive in the least. Another is the tendency to overtexturize on some places and not enough on others. This gave some parts of the game very bland textures (the sea in Grandia did not look pretty) and it was very odd to see entire outfits texture mapped onto a small number of polygons.
In addition to the regular in-game graphics, worthy of particular note are the spell effects. Most spells are actually FMV scenes integrated into the battles, and this works rather well in some cases, and not so well in others, mostly depending on the quality of the movie that is being played. Some of the movies that go along with the spells are a bit pixelized while others look quite realistic. While I'm not too sure why this is the case, you lose your sense of disbelief when you see pixelized spells, thus ruining the whole mood of the battle. There are spells that rely on the in-game graphics engine of course, but even these spells tend to have a few seconds of FMV sequences before switching back.
The gameplay of Grandia II is very similar to that of the first game. You don't move in the overworld map at all, only using it in order to go to other sections of the world. All enemies are viewable on the screen at all times, meaning that if you try hard enough, you can avoid a good number of the battles that come your way. If you do end up in a battle, the way you came into contact with the enemy becomes the deciding factor as to how you start the battle. If you sneak up to the enemy without them noticing (if the enemy notices your approach, they start flashing red and rush up to you), you'll start the battle with you getting the initiative, if they sneak up on you, not only do you start off surrounded, the enemy gets first strike as well.
Once you reach the battle screen, you have a number of choices. You can execute a combo attack, go for a critical attack, use a special skill (including magic), defend, move, etc. Unlike most RPGs, you can affect the initiative of the enemy for each attack you perform. The battle initiative is decided by Initiative Points, and once this reaches max, you can execute attacks. The speed at which attacks are performed is completely dependant on your IP level and your proficiency with that attack. For example, a level 1 spell will be weaker and be cast slower than if that same spell was leveled up to level 5 (Max). It is also possible to slow the enemy down by performing certain attacks that will decrease their IP, such as critical attacks.
This however does lead to a number of cheesy attacks from both sides. It is possible to keep decreasing an enemy's IP so much by attacking to the point that the enemy will rarely if ever get a chance to fight back. If it weren't for the fact that most bosses are made of multiple parts, this would make the game a walk in the park. Of course, this rule applies to both sides. You may find yourself in similar circumstances when you are in a battle with more than six or so enemies...you'll die in a frustrating manner because your healer takes 45 seconds to execute the mega-heal spell. In addition, if an attack that decreases IP hits while the opposing side is getting ready to execute a move, not only will the decrease in IP be bigger, the move will be canceled as well.
After each battle, you receive Skill Points and Magic Points in addition to the usual EXP and Gold. You use these points to both learn and improve your skill levels for various special moves and magic spells. Higher levels at a particular skill/spell means faster execution rate and improved effectiveness. In fact, Ryudo's basic skill, Ten Sei Ken, will execute immediately afterward the command is input, which proves very useful when you need to cancel an enemy's attack.
You use the Magic Points you receive into improving your Mana Eggs. Unlike the original game in which you improved your proficiency in spells by repeated use, you now learn and improve spells by allocating Magic Points into them. There are eight Mana Eggs in the game, each with a certain elemental slant that makes whoever equips a certain Egg a specialist in a few elements. For example, Whoever equips the Holy Egg will have mainly healing spells backed by a few earth attack spells, while the Star Egg is focused on high level attack spells of all types.
Aside from spending these points on skills and spells, you can also opt to spend them on Skill Books. The eight skill books in the game act as statistics boosters, allowing you to fine tune your characters to your liking. You'd want to give your fighters skills such as Strength, Life Up, Stamina, and Special Power, while your magic user would get all the magic power ups, elemental proficiency skills and the like. As with Mana eggs, you can use your SP/MP to level up your skills as well. Since you can only equip 1 skill per 10 levels (2 skills at level 10, 3 at 20, etc), you have to be careful of your choices, for they may be the difference between life and death for your characters.
The voice acting and characterization in Grandia II is top grade as well. While none of the characters can be said to be very original in terms of personality types, each do have a special spin, which helps to set them apart from many other characters of similar nature. Shoutarou Morikubo's (Of Orphen and Lodoss War fame) efforts of doing the voice of Ryudo are done nicely, with him coming off at times both cold-hearted and thoughtful. The voices for the two heroines, Elena (Hiroko Konishi) and Millenia (Miwa Yanagihara) are pulled off nicely as well.
While each character is in essence a caricature of the traditional Good Girl, Bad Girl roles we see so often, they each have an edge that gives the impression that there is more to that character than meets the eye. Maleg (Daisuke Gouri) has the type of the voice that sounds beastly at times, exactly like how the character himself appears. Tio (Junko Iwao) and Roanne's (Kyoko Tsuruno) voices are good as well, but were a bit more dry than the others. I was a bit disappointed that Junko Iwao's voice for didn't seem as convincing as it was for Key in Key: The Metal Idol, but this may be due to the characterization of the character, not the VA work.
We see a return of Noriyuki Iwadare as the composer for Grandia II, and unlike some of his recent works, the quality of the music is truly memorable. In particular are the two vocal tracks, Cancao do Povo and A Deus, both sung by Kaori Kawasumi. The songs are in Portuguese, and this actually gives a very mystical feel to the world, that this fantasy world is something more than that those of most cut and dry worlds of other RPGs.
Aside from the vocal tracks, most of the other tracks are solid, if not good. In particular, the battle theme and the overworld themes stick as some of the best tracks on the game. In addition, we see the return of a number of songs that have been used in the previous game, something that will surely please fans of the original.
Another thing that is sure to please fans is the limited edition music CD that came included with the game if you got the collector's edition. The first 2 tracks are remixes of the two vocal tracks and the rest are remixes of music that is used in the first game, such as Gadoin's Pad and the Digital Museum Radio Drama Opening. While these songs from Grandia 1 aren't the best tracks the game had to offer, they are sure to nevertheless satisfy players who are feeling a bit nostalgic.
You are allowed to use both the analog and the digital pads on the DC controller, and while movement around the map is sure to be easier with the analog control, the menus are another matter. The menu system in Grandia II is set up in a way such that it's very easy to switch over to other commands. There are two "rings" of commands and you can access each one by pressing a directional button. While this is a very novel idea, it does create problems due to the sensitivity of the analog controller. I found myself running away from battles often because I pressed lower left (Run) and not left (Skills). After the first dozen or so times this happened to me, I switched to digital controls and it was all cleared up.
All in all, I must say that Grandia II is one of the finest traditional RPGs to come out this year. I was quite impressed by how fun they managed to keep the battles while keeping the story and characters interesting enough to keep playing to the end. While the game itself is more linear than its predecessor, the story is well paced and the game is still satisfying to play. Now that 2 of the biggest RPGs this year lived up to the expectations, let's see how Dragon Quest VII will fare...
O Praise! The sunrise, the beautiful spirits, the dance of earth.
O Feel! The breeze which gives us the courage
O Overflow! The milk of earth, the kiss from heaven, the joyful rain.
The tiny seed, the great, great hope...
O Cultivate! The one path, the new path
-Cancao do Povo (The Song of the People)
O Celebrate! Let us clear the land!
The million stalks of grain, the wheat of fate
O Sing! Convey our gospel! The gospel of the people
That is the loving power, the gate to salvation...