Aren't surprises nice? For me, Grandia 2 was such a positive surprise. It received high ratings on both sides of the Pacific, even earning a platinum award from mighty Famitsu Weekly. My only problem was, that I experienced a similar case in form of Lunar Silver Star in the past, which made me cautious about highly rated RPGs, especially when they are not from Square.
First of all, this game is graphically quite impressive. Sure, anyone who plays RPGs mainly because of graphics has yet to understand what this genre is all about. Still, I will never complain about a visually top-notch RPG that can also boast solid gameplay and a nice story. Grandia 2's characters are very detailed, with the exception being the faces. This, however, is intended since the style is somewhat reminiscent of the super deformed characters we have seen in games like FF7. Yet that applies only to the faces of Grandia 2's characters, the rest of the character models are done in an impressive level of detail. The same goes for the dungeons and towns, which aren't pre-rendered. Instead they are done in the same fashion as Code Veronica's locations, consisting totally of polygons.
The dungeon design differs from most other RPGs, while you will stop by many colorful villages and run and fight through the typical nature dungeons, in the very end you will have the joy to move your characters through veins and other biological tunnel systems. I suppose there isn't a lot more to say about the visuals, the rating above says enough about this game's excellent graphics.
When it comes to music, the game does anything but disappoint. Yet, the standards set by Square's composers are extremely high, I would say. The tunes of Grandia 2 will never bother you, on the contrary, but still there are other soundtracks that offer more depths and variety. Where Grandia 2 scores is in the voice-acting corner. Ubi Soft has handled this particular localization issue very well, the voices really fit the characters. You don't need to buy a soundtrack for this one, since a soundtrack disc is included in the package.
The gameplay is definitely one of the game's highlights. It's a bit more action oriented than Final Fantasy's ATB system we all know and love, but this is no disadvantage at all. Each character has three different attacks, a defense, and an escape command, as well as an item command at her/his disposal in battle. The combo attacks is a simple 2 hit combo. The critical attack, on the other hand, while weaker, is capable of canceling an enemy attack. Third, there are a number of special attacks for each character, which enables you to do larger amounts of damage. To use magic spells in Grandia 2 a character must have a Mana egg equipped. Each of the six eggs you will find in the game contain a set of spells. Additionally there are spell books that offer strength, vitality, etc. improvements for the character who equips the respective spell.
After each battle you obtain the standard experience points for leveling up your characters as well as a certain amount of money for the shopping spree in the next village. Yet this isn't all, you also gain SCs and MCs, which you need to power up your eggs, books and special attacks. In the beginning the eggs don't offer you any or only one spell, the rest need MCs to be unlocked. Each spell in Grandia 2 has - similar to Final Fantasy VII - five levels, illustrated through five stars; the higher the level the faster the action is executed and the more powerful it gets. MCs are also needed for some spell books, yet not for all, the reason being that the other spell books - as well as the special attacks - need SCs to be powered up. The system here is the same as described above with the Mana eggs. One last remark on the books: Each books contains several spells, and hence you don't equip the book, but rather the different spells to each character.
Weapons and accessories are handled as in most other RPGs, buying and equipping new stuff, selling the old, so that the poor characters don't have to carry around tons of useless equipment.
Last, but not least, a little insight in how you fight a typical battle in Grandia 2: just as in Chrono Cross your enemies are moving around in the dungeons, so it's up to you whether to fight or not. This game isn't extremely difficult and the dungeons are more or less straightforward with a save spot (where you can also recover from prior battles, you might call it a tent for free) waiting for you before each boss. However, if you don't fight, you gain no experience, so don't take the system as an excuse, otherwise the game's last bosses will make you pay.
When you enter a battle the enemies will be lined up depending on whether you surprised them or they surprised you. In the right hand corner of the screen, you have a time bar featuring two significant points: command and action. As soon as a character or enemy reaches the command point he/she/it is free to enter a command, depending on what level the spell is, it will take more or less time until it reaches the action point, which is when the command is executed.
You will see small faces running up the time bar, each representing a character or enemy. And here the critical is so important: let's say an enemy prepares a magic attack, when his "face" reaches the command point it will actually prepare the magic attack and then as soon as the face reaches the end point of the time bar, the command point, it will unload its nasty attack on one, two, three or all of your characters. You can prevent it from doing any harm to your characters by canceling its attack. With a good deal of timing, your critical attack is capable of not only canceling your enemies' attack, but also pushing them back in the time bar again. Quite nice, isn't it? I suppose, the Big Foot that wanted to kick my butt earlier today, will still curse around, after I cancelled his attack and afterwards sent him and his compatriots to hell with my Burnflame spell in exchange.
Let's proceed to the story and characters. The game's main character is a mercenary named Ryudo. He is a Geohound, someone who does anything for money, at least it seems that way in the beginning of the game. We all know that every RPG protagonist has a good core, regardless how cool (Cloud) or stupid (Squall) he acts at first. What is different in Grandia 2 is the actual script. I have played quite a few RPGs over the past few years, but this guy's remarks are just too bittersweet. Even good old Cid back in Final Fantasy VII could be called a saint compared to the trash talk of Grandia 2's Ryudo. He and his pet, a crazy bird called Skye, team up with Elena, a Granas songstress, Roan, a little boy, Mareg, a rather old beastman and Tio, a robot girl.
Grandia 2's story surely isn't the best out there, and sounds quite cheap at first, but overall you can't complain. Basically the focus on Grandia 2's story is the fight between good and evil, Lord Granas and the evil god Valmar. Even though their legendary battle is long over, exactly now the evil forces are popping up again in an attempt to take over the world, and only you can stop them (surprise, surprise). The game offers the usual character-specific side stories (no need to worry, love story included), all in all not mind blowing, but still interesting.
Well, what should I say again: the game was quite a surprise for me, since it offers solid gameplay and great audiovisuals in combination with an appealing story. Game Arts has surely done a great job with it, if you are looking for a Dreamcast RPG this game should be your top choice.