Having played through Grandia II for the Sega Dreamcast, I was filled with nothing short of gleeful anticipation when I heard that such a quality title would be released for the Sony PS2. However, the final product proved to be nothing more than a sloppy, third-rate port job of a quality Dreamcast game, and such poor transition is what makes Grandia II for the PS2 an aberration as compared to its Dreamcast version.
Even with such a poor porting job, the game’s core remains intact, and this is what may entice some gamers to trudge through it. In the end, it might even be worth it. The plot follows a mercenary named Ryudo, who is sucked into a huge battle to save the world when he is on a job protecting Elena, a Sister of Granas; as you can guess, it escalates beyond anything one could initially imagine.
Grandia II’s plot is home to the somewhat overused religious debate, which concentrates on the strict interpretation of good versus evil. There are plenty of plot twists, most are character based; however, the game retains a somewhat light-hearted feel, as did the original Grandia, for most of the game. While it’s certainly not the most convoluted or original of plots, Grandia II’s story is certainly one to remember. The amazing cast is what really plays out well and contributes to the plot in one of the best ways: a brilliant love triangle. It’s humorous, interesting, and yet somewhat preachy.
The cast is what really draws the gamer in. Thanks to a near flawless translation and localization by Ubi Soft (Working Designs, eat your hearts out) the characters deliver vibrant, well spoken lines that evoke a true sense of life to them. Ryudo truly is an insensitive jerk, and through the progress of the game, his change is quite the fascinating turn of events. The rest of the cast is equally as represented and just as impressive; mostly due to the excellent voice acting, Grandia II’s cast is one of the best I’ve seen in a console RPG.
You’ve read basically positive thoughts about the game as of yet. When am I going to get to the real problems with the game? If it’s so good, why did it score so low?
The problems begin here.
The soundtrack for Grandia II is arguably Norikyuki Iwadare’s best, in terms of compositions and their overall fit in the game. There are many memorable themes in Grandia II, and all with the Iwadare feel to them; a heavy percussion beat with accent on strings. However, the transition to the PS2 did not fare very well for the sound quality. The music is noticeably quieter and not as clear as its Dreamcast brethren; for someone who has played the Dreamcast version, it was very apparent, and quite disturbing. Why can’t the sound be as clear on the PS2?
The sound effects are even worse. While they were crystal clear on the Dreamcast version, they’re unexplainably dulled for the PS2 game. Even the voice acting has taken a hit. What gives? It may not bother people that pick up this PS2 version first, but it was quite a noticeable loss from the Dreamcast version.
The most noticeable problem with the PS2 version of Grandia II is the graphics, which ultimately hurts the gameplay. The Dreamcast version of Grandia II was a beauty to behold; rich, detailed textures with vibrant colors and excellently scripted in-game sequences. The PS2 version features grainy textures, slowdown, pop-up, distortion, and horrible CG sequences that replaced just about all the in-game sequences.
Initially, the graphics are noticeably grainy; textures do not have the smooth look they did on the DC version. Every so often, object will appear out of nowhere; be it rocks, trees, or treasure chests. Slowdown occurs even when enemies are not on screen; it’s befuddling.
What’s worse than the regular graphics are the battle sequences. Once they were breathtaking, now they are eyesores. Randomly during a battle, the background will fade out into a single color block, or disappear entirely. The ground disappears only inches above where the character is standing, gradually fading into a single color. Battle animations have noticeable frame skipping. Such things are completely unforgivable on a port to a more powerful system. This is truly one of the worst points of the game, and it rather dulls the gameplay experience.
Also, the CG sequences implemented are basically blurred animations that look worse than the in game graphics. This is truly a horror on the PS2.
Gameplay is basically the same as its Dreamcast brethren. I will say that the choppy graphics lessened my enjoyment of the game, even though the core gameplay is essentially intact. All enemies can be seen on-screen, and most can be avoided. This is a refreshing change of pace from the usual random battle nonsense.
The battle system is an advanced version of the Final Fantasy “Active Time Bar”, in which there is a single time bar for all characters and enemies. Once a character’s turn occurs, the timer freezes and allows the gamer to choose a course of action. Depending on that action, whether it be a magic spell, attack, or item use, the character must then wait a certain amount of time before it’s pulled off.
For instance, the action could executed instantly, such as in the case of a normal attack or item use, or in the case of a choice such as casting a spell, the character may have to wait while the spell is “charged”. This time leaves the character very vulnerable to enemy attack; if he/she is hit, it could cancel out the spell, making that turn null. Similar strategies can be used on enemies, making for a very strategic element in a standard RPG battle system.
The dungeon design is also well-laid out; they aren’t overly convoluted, but most contain puzzle elements. These puzzles are very welcome, and the addition spices up the usual “dungeon = battle” style, making it more fun to explore. Check out my Grandia II review for the Dreamcast.
Overall, Grandia II is a bitter disappointment. While the core of the game is essentially similar, it lacks all the polish and finish of the Dreamcast version, and it rendered it nearly unplayable for me. I was shocked that such a poor port was made, and that no care was taken in polishing it up in the slightest.
Considering the price of a Dreamcast is so low, I highly recommend you pick one up with Grandia II for around the same price as it would cost to buy this PS2 one; however, if you simply can’t, I can only recommend this to those who know that they won’t be bothered by the lack of refinement.