Alright, I'll be honest with you. The reason I woke up in the middle of the night, drove in the rain to my local EB store and queued up with an assortment of geeks, freaks and hardcore gamers to receive my little gray Dreamcast was for one reason, and one reason only - fighting games. At the time, RPGs were the furthest things from my mind. With games like Soul Calibur and Virtua Fighter 3tb available at launch, could you blame me? I, of course, was vaguely aware of RPGs further down the track, but I wasn't too excited.
Of course, this was before I played Grandia.
After experiencing that wonderful masterpiece of a game, I had only one thing on my mind - the sequel. Sure enough, after biting my nails and pacing my bedroom floor for over a year, Grandia 2 was released. Kicking DoA2 and Street Fighter cases away from the TV, I fired up the gray beast and prepared myself for a long sitting. The verdict? Great. Really, really great.
TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA…GEOHOUNDS?!?
Okay, maybe I should elaborate.
Grandia 2 sees you playing the role of Ryudo, an arrogant young Geohound, or mercenary-for-hire. Called upon by a Church of Granas, he is paid to escort an innocent, naive songstress by the name of Elena for a coming ceremony. As you may have already guessed, it doesn't quite all go to plan. What begins as "just another job" soon escalates into a journey that the fate of the world hinges upon.
Doesn't sound too original, does it? Well, in all honesty, it's not. It's a tale told many times before, and doesn't stray too far from "small group of people journey to save the world" mold. The game is also incredibly linear, up to the point where you are forced in the direction the story takes you.
That's not to say that it's not thoroughly enjoyable, however. While somewhat predictable, the storyline offers a few surprising plot twists and the occasional tear-jerking scene.
The focus in Grandia 2 is more on character development, and the interaction between characters. As the story progresses, we are made aware of the internal conflicts between characters, and their struggles through life.
The affinity we gain for Ryudo, Elena and his rag-tag bunch is helped along by the excellent translation and voice-overs. Cam Clarke, of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Akira fame, lends his experienced voice to Ryudo. With the help of Cam and the rest of the cast, the game attains the professional feel of a high budget film.
MMM, EYE CANDY…
Making use of the Dreamcast's graphical muscle, Grandia 2 looks stunning. It's perhaps not quite up to the standards of the programming geniuses behind Shenmue or Skies of Arcadia, but the environments never cease to amaze. Each town has it's own distinctive charm, and the land of Silesia feels like a living, breathing world. Though not incredibly high in polygons, the characters themselves are wonderfully textured, although noticeably absent in the mouth department.
Like the towns, the dungeons in Grandia 2 are varied and interesting. They are, however, lacking in puzzles. They feel more like straight "point A to point B" affairs. When you finally reach a puzzle, it hardly causes the brain to twitch, and could probably be completed by retarded chimpanzees on valium. This oversight on behalf of Game Arts can easily be overlooked when it's time to perform in a bout of fisticuffs.
LET'S GET IT ON!
The battle system in Grandia 2 is hard to describe. Part real-time, part turn-based, it takes into account variables such as timing, distance, powering up and formations. It takes its main cues from the (already magnificent) Grandia battle system, and translates it into the glorious 3rd dimension. The tedium commonly caused by battles in other RPGs is gone, replaced by almost childish excitement.
The level of customization in Grandia 2 is impressive, with magic spells equipped using Mana Eggs found throughout the game. Attack boosts, evasion power and the like can be bound to characters though the attainment and use of Skill Books, also located within the gaming world. To top it all off, armor, accessories, weapons, mana eggs and skills can be equipped and removed on the fly, during battles.
The gods at Game Arts have utilized a unique method of displaying attacks, that being through the use of interlaced FMV. During particularly devastating moves, FMV is superimposed over polygonal characters to create an unusual effect. Sometimes this is really cool, other times it…isn't.
The problem is that Game Arts have compressed the FMVs to the point that they can become fuzzy or pixilated, ruining the whole effect. This does little to diminish the fun of the battles however, and the battle system remains my favorite of all time.
GAMERS, LEND ME YOUR EARS!
Following the trend of all other aspects of this game, the sound in Grandia 2 is exceptional. Whether it be leaves rustling, birds chirping or Carros squeaking annoyingly, the sound effects are naturally produced, to the point that you hardly realize that they're there.
Which brings us to the music. Although constantly changing, it is best remembered as being consistently brilliant. Living legend Noriyuki Iwadare has run the gamut in terms of musical style, with rock tunes playing side-by-side with more traditional, classical pieces. The music is also used to good effect, whether it be to induce anger, or to stimulate sadness during the occasional tear-jerking scene.
On a side note, I heartily recommend that game music aficionados check out the soundtracks to this game. Magnifique.
BUY IT. BUY IT NOW.
It's hard to capture on paper (or in this case, an electronic medium) just how good this game is. Grandia 2 has the unusual honor of being a game that is able to satisfy hardcore RPG fanatics and inexperienced newbies alike.
Though the story is unoriginal and predictable, the gameplay extremely linear and the dialogue occasionally corny, Grandia 2 has an indescribable allure. The characters are great, the battle system tremendous and the musical score phenomenal. It's also something that many RPGs aren't, nowadays - FUN. And that's what all games should be, dagnabbit!