You know, good sidekicks are hard to come by. They have to be loyal, brave, useful, resourceful, witty, and all the while still make the hero look better by comparison. Maybe that’s why Grandia 2 wound up sticking the protagonist with a talking hawk who barely does a thing throughout the game. I seriously think more good would have been accomplished had Scrappy Doo costarred in this title. Anyway, partners aside, Grandia 2 is a well made, if clichéd, experience that might just be up your alley. Here’s my review.
Long ago, Lord Granas, the god of light, ruled the world and peace reigned across the earth. Prayer was answered instantly and miracles abounded as man was given the power of creation in their pure hearts. Perfection stretched across the land. But one day, a dark shadow stretched over all of creation…
The dark god Valmar came from the skies, bringing chaos and evil with him, and death followed in his wake. He twisted the souls of men, bringing darkness into their hearts and stealing their souls. The forces of good and evil were split amongst humanity, and sides were formed. As both forces could not coexist in such a world, a battle was waged between the two immortals and their servants, and much destruction ensued.
However, the conflict ended in victory for the light! Granas’ sword tore Valmar to pieces and rocked the foundations of the earth, and the losses were heavy, but good emerged victorious. The pieces of the fallen god were sealed, never to be seen again, and Granas rested following his struggle. The world was hurt, but not lost.
Many, many years later, the church of Granas was strong, and its followers spread across the globe to spread the good news. Countless worshippers praised the goodness of Granas and his bounty and feared the day of darkness that was foretold to be approaching. While life was still hard, it was not impossible, and the world seemed at peace despite its troubles. Well, at least for everyone but Ryudo, Geohound extraordinaire. He is a man who has no faith in any higher power and relies only on his own skill and his trusty but nearly-worthless partner Skye. Little does he know that while he couldn’t care less about the higher powers, they’ve decided to take an interest in him.
Taking on a seemingly simple job, Ryudo accepted the task of body guarding duty for a Sister of Granas on her way to a dark tower to perform an exorcism. While he normally doesn’t do work for the church, money is money, and so Ryudo met Elena, a Songstress of Granas and a generally whiny young girl. Ryudo was instructed to stay outside as Elena and her fellow Sisters performed the ritual, but soon after they entered there was a loud explosion – something was definitely wrong. With his flawless reputation for success on the line, Ryudo decides to enter the tower and thus enter a tangled conspiracy far greater than anything he was prepared for.
Grandia 2 is an RPG with an innovative battle system and a fairy tale feel. The game takes place in several overhead environments as you guide Ryudo and his party across the globe on a quest against the forces of evil (not like we’ve ever seen that before). It’s a traditional village-to-battle-area game and shouldn’t surprise you too much.
Battles are activated by coming into contact with an enemy and are performed in real time. All combat centers around the IP bar. This is a meter with an icon for every character in the current battle displayed on it. As time goes on, the icons move across the bar at different speeds depending on their MOVE stat. Once an icon hits the “COM” point, that character or enemy gets to choose a command, and once the icon completely fills the IP bar to the “ACT” level, then he gets to do the command he chose.
Before I get into that though, let me describe the battleground. You see, all the characters are spread pretty much randomly across the field. Depending on your position, you may or may not be able to take the enemy, or it may take longer than if you were to attack something nearby. For example, imagine you were fighting a pair of enemies, one twice as far away as the first. If you were to attack the far-off enemy, it would take twice as long for your character to reach him than if you were to attack the near one. Also, if your character doesn’t have enough MOVE, you might not even be able to reach the enemy before getting tired and missing a turn (kind of sad that humanity’s only hope can’t jog 20 feet without getting winded). Also, if there are too many other characters in your way, you might have to make a detour before reaching the enemy.
Even before the battle starts though, you can help determine how it will turn out. If you are attacked from behind, the enemy will get a jump on you and start higher on the IP bar, letting them get in attacks first. Likewise, rushing up on them when they can’t see you gives you the first strike, often making things much easier. It’s a small touch, but it helps.
Of course, all that is just the very most basic layout of the battle system. When doing normal attacks, you can choose between Combo, which performs a quick set of attacks, and Critical, which does less damage but sets back the enemy’s IP icon by a little bit. Deciding when to do which is crucial to winning battles, and carefully planning attacks can keep the enemy from laying a finger on you. More in depth are the special and magic attacks. These are selected just like normal attacks, but use up SP and MP. They take slightly longer for your IP icon to go from COM to full, but they don’t require any running about the battlefield and are fired off instantly. There’s a large collection of moves, but sadly most of them are similar. Strategy here isn’t too complex.
Most of the decisions you’ll really have to make move-wise involve choosing which ones to improve. Both magic and specials have their own building process. Each character has their own set of special moves that they come built in with, and each of these moves can be leveled up by spending the Special Coins you earn after each battle. Since all of your characters have to share these coins, you need to ask yourself which abilities are worth building up and which you’ll never use, and occasionally new moves will appear, forcing you to decide whether to stick with your well-trained old move or your brand-spanking new deathblow. Trying to spread everything out evenly is just a waste of points.
Next up is the magic system. Over the course of the game, you collect various eggs that contain a variety of spells. By spending the Magic Coins you collect for killing enemies on the eggs, you can level up spells or learn new ones. However, the eggs can be equipped on any character, so any character can quickly get a new set of moves. Also, each time you spend coins, your egg gains another level, and at a high enough level new spells become available to learn. Because different spells have different coin costs, it might be wiser to learn several worthless spells just to gain access to later, more powerful ones.
Even then though, there are still more options available to you as far as moves are concerned. Along your path you will find skill books, and by investing whatever skill change you have left into here, you can gain stat boosting skills to equip on your characters. These aren’t quite as dynamic as the other moves, but +50% damage bonuses and huge life boosts do make a difference. In short, there are quite a few different ways to customize your characters.
Of course, when you’re not chopping enemies to bits, there are still a few other things to do. Dungeons occasionally will include obstacles like steam blasts and trick walls along with the usual baddies, and there’s even an arm wrestling mini game available where you can challenge the manhood of a creepy Italian guy. To be honest, I was hoping for more as far as sidequests were concerned, but the biggest issue was difficulty. The game’s training curve is so perfect that if you simply fight every enemy you come across, there will be no need to train whatsoever, and there were only two battles in the entire game that required any real thought to beat. It’s a fun battle system though with many kinks thrown in for flavor, so all in all it was a positive experience.
The storyline works in almost the same way, at least for the first half of the game. It manages to be interesting and amusing while at the same time being about as meaningful and thought-provoking as a piece of lint. First, the story is one you’ve probably heard before: an evil all-powerful presence threatens the earth with its revival, and only the reluctant hero can save the day by aiding the “princess” in her duties to stop the oncoming invincible tide. Second, the characters are ones you’ve probably seen before: there’s the sharp-tongued mercenary, the naïve and dainty good girl, the wise savage, the plucky young kid with a heart of gold, and dozens of other overused caricatures. Finally, the plot twists are ones you’ve predicted before: as soon as you see the bickering between Ryudo and Elena, or hear Tio’s horrible fate explained, you’ll know exactly how they’ll turn out.
I will admit that there was a rather interesting religious system set up for the characters though that made the latter half of the story MUCH more interesting, and that there were a few points that truly surprised me. Near the end religion becomes a major part of the storyline, and if any portion of the plot will impress you, this section will. Let me just say that the wrath of God has never been quite so pointy.
Fortunately, there was a near-perfect translation job and the characters, while predictable, just seem to grow on you. Ryudo’s endless waves of insults only made you appreciate his hidden friendliness even more, while Millenia managed to mix airhead with demonic entity wonderfully. I suppose that all of this adds up to a game with just the right amount of charm to keep you interested, though you probably won’t remember half the NPCs you come across. Speaking of NPCs, there are quite a few of them to be found, and all of them have a lot to say. Most random villagers have at least three or four completely distinct lines, and this can lead to quite a bit of back-story. For the person who likes to see everything a game has to offer, this is an excellent point, but it really takes up a lot of time to go back after every story arc to see if anything changed. At least it’s optional in case you get sick of it, and it rarely impacts gameplay at all.
Voice acting managed to help build the mood for certain important cut scenes in the game as well as providing a variety of post-battle cheers, but only for certain characters. Ryudo, Elena, and Roan fit their roles perfectly, and help you get to feel for the character enough to care about what happens to them. Skye made me want to start hurting birds of any kind with large guns. The difference is staggering, but fortunately most spoken dialogue is more of a blessing than a curse. Still, I would have appreciated it if they’d had a larger variety of inane sayings to shout out after winning a fight.
The soundtrack wasn’t half bad either. A good deal of it was orchestrated (and very well too, I might add), and the rest usually had a sort of jumpy, cheerful feel to it. That doesn’t mean that there wasn’t a nice variety of different feelings too. There was an excellent number of tracks included, keeping things from getting stale, although I will admit that few of them were particularly memorable. I enjoyed many of the town themes and the fact that there was more than one battle theme depending on who got the jump on who. While not something I’d listen to in my spare time, I liked it just fine while trekking throughout the countryside.
Sound effects, while not something you can say too much on, really aren’t anything special here aside from the spell effects. Sword slashes and other attack noises can be found just about anywhere, but these magic blasts were something special.
Sadly, the graphics were the only part of the game that was really affected and they took a minor turn for the worse compared to the DC version. The backgrounds and environments are still colorful and vibrant, and the areas are still just as detailed and interactive (knocking over bottles, chairs, lamps, etc. that get in your way), but the cleanness found in the original was just lost somewhere along the way. Character models that were once perfectly smooth now just seem a bit dated in comparison. However, the part that will really bother you will be the FMVs. Due to some of the worst compression I’ve ever seen, every movie cut scene you’ll see will be a pitiful sight. Even worse, many spell effects use FMV in the background. If you played the original and then tried this you’ll really wish for the original quality, but at least it’s not as bad as the PS2 version.
Rounding things up are the controls, which are easily configurable before the game begins and use the keyboard entirely. The only points worth mentioning besides that would be that the menu and skill systems were simple and effective, and the arm wrestling mini game just isn’t the same on the keyboard. Not too shabby.
In the end, should you play Grandia 2? Yes you should. Should you play it on the PC? Not if you have a Dreamcast. Considering that it’s the same game in every way but with reduced visual effects, there’s really no point in getting this version over the others. It’s got a decent storyline though and the battle system will keep you playing, so if PC is the only way you can get it, I’d recommend it.
Hmmmm… I wonder if they’d be interested in hiring a small blue goo ball to help out the hero in Grandia 3…