Grandia was, in my opinion, an over hyped game that could have been much better. It wasn't terrible, but lacked many things needed for a complete RPG experience. Grandia II addresses all these issues and more, serving up one of the most memorable RPG experiences. Finally, a truly great RPG has hit the Dreamcast!
The plot in Grandia II revolves around Ryudo, a mercenary (known as a Geohound) who ends up getting hired to act as a bodyguard for a Granas nun, Elena. Granas is essentially God, while Valmar, whose resurrection the game is spent trying to prevent, is Satan. Ryudo despises getting involved with religious matters but does so reluctantly.
The plot involves a few interesting twists and an interesting yet tired religious corruption and evil theme. It's interesting but sometimes becomes too preachy. It's also fairly predictable. However, it's a lighthearted romp done right; unlike Grandia, the plot is never stale. It's deeper than the plots found in the Lunar series, and it's just as entertaining. Add to that a very clever love story that plays out with three people (the love triangle is brilliantly executed). All in all, it may get too preachy, but this is definitely a tale that will not be soon forgotten.
The characters in Grandia II are one of the game's shining areas (though there are quite a few of those). First, the character design is excellent; cool, colorful, with a strong anime influence. The cast surpasses the Lunar casts in every way, with quirky personalities and tons of character development. The superb localization by Ubi Soft adds to the characters, with excellent use of slang and such to make them really breathe.
The main character, Ryudo, is a cold, hardened mercenary that really doesn't care about much but making some good money and staying alive. During his journey with Elena, Millennia, Mareg, Roan, etc., the player sees Ryudo undergo a change while facing his dreary past. The antagonists, though not as excellent as the main cast, are developed well. Another example is Mareg, one of my favorite characters. He is a large, powerful man who is more beast-looking than man. However, unlike most stereotypical physically strong characters, Mareg provides very wise and insightful comments the whole game through. What a refreshing chance of pace! All in all, Grandia II combines the best parts of the personality found in Lunar series characters with solid character development to make the players deeper than expected. By combining these two important aspects so well, Grandia II has one of the best casts I've encountered in a console RPG.
Grandia II features the work of Noriyuki Iwadare, who scored the first Grandia as well as the Lunar series and Langrisser series. Though Grandia's soundtrack had its highs and lows, Grandia II's magnificent score is almost totally amazing throughout. Not only is the music clear, with many tracks utilizing real instruments, but the melodies and rhythms are amazing. Some Grandia themes return, but for the most part the game features new pieces, such as the great battle themes, and one of the most astounding tracks, "Cancao do povo", which is sung in Portuguese by a female with a wonderful voice.
The percussion loops in the dungeons have improved from the uninspired ones in Grandia, and the melodies are more prominent and much more catchy. The town themes are filled with emotion and reflect the area perfectly. Grandia II's soundtrack is easily on par with some of the best game music ever made, and is just about as good as Iwadare's most amazing work in Lunar 2.
The sound effects are equally as impressive; different clashes and clangs and explosions rocked my sound system with the utmost clarity. The voice acting is also very good, aside from a few cheesy battle cries, and the recording quality is excellent. Grandia II really delivers a one-two punch in the audio department!
The gameplay in Grandia II is very similar to Grandia, except the awe-inspiring graphics make it even more of a treat. The battle system rarely fails to bore, and even at the end of the game, the battles are fun. Let me comment on one thing first: there are no random encounters! This alone shoots the gameplay up, but the fun battles make it even better.
The battles are twists on turn-based battles and the ATB system of the Final Fantasy series. There is a general time bar at the bottom of the screen, and each character, whether friend or foe, has an icon that travels up this bar, until they can perform an action. Depending on the action, the more time it takes to do, so casting a very powerful spell not only requires that it be that character's turn, but it may take some time to cast.
By winning battles, points are gained that can be distributed to different skills and such to raise spell casting power and speed or special attacks. The dungeon design is also good; they're not overly convoluted and they rarely get monotonous, due to the awesome textures and the good puzzles. Grandia had great gameplay, and Grandia II's is just as good, if not better.
The graphics in Grandia II are astounding. The game is in full 3-D, in a polygonal world. Never before on the Dreamcast (or even my PC!) have I seen such texture quality. The towns are vibrant in color and the textures look so rich and deep, it's breathtaking. The character models are just as detailed, with everything down to the tiny buttons on Ryudo's shirt. Though the characters don't have mouths (don't ask me why) that is not a big enough complaint in my eyes to take off a whole point.
The world is simply wonderful. Even the CG cut scenes, which are infrequent, aren't as good as the awe-inspiring in game graphics. There is yet another awesome part to this game's great visuals. In battle, some of the special attacks and spells have anime-style animations! That's right, anime! Some are complete anime sequences that flow perfectly with the battle, some are just anime on the polygonal backgrounds. Both never fail to amaze. The anime quality is excellent and I was pleased to see such an original idea. Grandia II is a visual feast, besting, even with its own graphical prowess, Skies of Arcadia, another excellent Dreamcast RPG.
Finally, someone has dethroned the almighty Working Designs. Though Working Designs has always delivered some of the best localizations for console games, they usually take forever; this isn't really a problem, but when you consider that Ubi Soft can do a job just as good in about four months (whereas it takes about a year or two for a Lunar) I think you'll be forced to agree. The dialogue is amazing, with almost no spelling or grammatical errors. What's more important, it flows like perfect English, and each character has a distinct manner of speaking. It's just as good, if not better, than a Lunar game. The character interaction is second to none due to this. Ubi Soft, I hope you get a hold of more RPG's, because if Grandia II is any indication, you can do it just as good as the best!
Unlike the first Grandia, I have virtually no complaints worth mentioning about Grandia II. The game is average in length, lasting anywhere from twenty to forty five hours, depending on if you play the secret areas or how fast you breeze through. I must dock one point for being so easy; the game was terribly easy, much easier than even Final Fantasy VII. This really doesn't detract much, but seasoned veterans will speed through the "tough" battles. The analog control is excellent in responsiveness, and the button mapping was done perfect; finally, the Start button is used for something besides pausing (Menu screen). Overall, Grandia II is truly a treat. Every RPG fan should have this one in their collection, and fans of the original Grandia have even more to be happy about.