Long ago, in ages past, man lived in a different world. However, a massive solar flare on their original world made it such that living there became impossible. Left with no alternative, Humans and their winged counterparts Fezarians collaborated in a massive effort to create a rift to a new world for their inhibition. With Human magic and Fezarian science, people in the old world managed to escape to the new world that they now inhabit.
However, on this new world the basic substance for magic power, Growshu, became inaccessible to the humans, leaving high level magic spells out of their grasp. Growshu-infused humans, now called Growsians, came into being only on the days when the sun was aligned properly with the moon for an eclipse to occur. Children born during this time became able to channel the Growshu from their old world into their own bodies, making them bona fide magicians from birth! Their level of Growshu power came to be dependent on the type of Eclipse they were born under, with Lunar being the weakest, and Dual (Solar/Lunar) allotting the greatest amount of Growshu channeling.
This new world, however, was not all safe. An alien entity named Gevil appeared and put the world into danger. Impervious to physical attacks, Gevil was only defeated by the magic of the Growsians, and soon after the once prosperous Growsian culture came to vanish as well.
Many generations have passed and this has all become the stuff of myths and tall tales. You, PLAYER (You probably want to change your default name) are an orphan raised by a high magician. Now that you've reached the age of 16, your foster mother asks that you find your own destiny and see which of the two futures that has been foreseen for you that you will choose to follow: The one leading to the destruction of the world, or that leading to its salvation.
A major plus to Growlanser is the beautiful CG that is in the game. With art by Urshihara Satoshi, the graphics in Growlanser are beautiful to look at. While there is little CG aside from the character profiles that pop-up during conversations, his touches remain prevalent in the character designs in each character as well.
Growlanser uses a rather original system for the battles called the Real-Time Mission Clear System. This is an active turn based system (similar to all the Final Fantasy games since FF5) that takes place right in the overworld map. Yep, no separate battle screen, all the action takes place right then and there. This approach has both a good side and a bad side. On the bright side, this system allows for much more interesting battle scenarios. For example, you might be held responsible for protecting the civilians in a city while raiders try to trash the place as much as they can, or maybe you have to intervene in a battle between two armies. The unorthodox mission structure makes the battles in Growlanser more strategic than the usual "Press fight until you kill 'em all" battles in most RPGs.
However, having the battles take place on the overworld map does have a number of bad side effects. One is that Growlanser draws the sprites in different sizes depending on the area, with the characters being very small in the regular overworld map, and getting bigger in dungeons and castles. While the battle system works fine when the characters are of decent size, they become a little hard to see in the overworld map, which annoyed the heck out of me. And since the battles involve the characters moving around the map to attack, the poor pathfinding didn't alleviate my frustration at all. In fact, once 2 characters collided into each other while both trying to enter the door at the same time, and I had to manually move them one at a time in order for them to get through.
You also get a number of ability points each time you level up, which you can use to buy numerous skills and spells in the game, such as Attack Up, Anti-Death, and Meteor. While it is nice to get the ability to fine tune each character to your liking by giving control over the skills they learn, there is little variation in the fighting animation even when they do use them, which sometimes makes the battles a tad on the dull side. This is probably a conscious decision by Career Soft in order to give a more realistic environment to the game (after all, can you imagine a person actually performing special attacks in a fantasy world?), it would've went a long way to make the battles more interesting if they did.
Your party makeup is your decision as well. While you have a number of characters that you must travel with, such as yourself, you can fill the remaining spots in your 5-member party with members of your choice. Will you get Misha the Magician, or Karen the healer? Zenos the Fighter or the Jurian the Imperial Knight? It all depends on your style of play, and each character is sufficiently different from each other for you to try them all and decide on your optimal party.
There is no set heroine either. Instead, you decide on the person (male or female) that you want to pursue an ending with by triggering events throughout the game, with most of these occurring in the vacations you earn by accomplishing the various missions that the king sends you out on. If you want to get a 'perfect' game, you have to beat the game numerous times, something that tremendously adds to its replay value.
With all these open ended parties and heroines, it would be logical to assume that the characters themselves wouldn't be fleshed out. While this holds true to a certain extent, the characters in Growlanser all develop throughout the game, and thanks to high quality voice acting, they each have a distinct personality that is hard to miss.
Nobiyuki Iwardare, who has composed for past classics such as Lunar and Grandia, returns in Growlanser, but I found the music to be a mix of hits and misses. There isn't a particularly bad track in the game, but with the exception of a few tracks, I found the music in the game to be mostly average. The sound effects are forgettable as well, with the spell and battle sounds sounding very similar to the ones in the Langrisser series.
The story of the game, however, is a bit of a sore point of mine. It's very slow in building up, which will force you spend a good 5-10 hours on the game before the story builds up and the truth is, the story is rather similar to previous Career Soft games. This is not to say that the story is bad, it is in fact an excellent fantasy world story with lots of background...but people who have played the Langrisser games will probably feel an odd deja vu that I got as I got further into the game.
Control also needs a bit of fine tuning. While it is fine for the most part, there are times when the game refuses to let me scroll the screen up during battles, which forces me to make battle decisions for characters who are fighting outside the screen by looking at the little status bars instead of actually looking at the characters. This doesn't happen very often, thank god, but it is still annoying when it does.
Yet another sore point that I have with the game is that the you're often asked to do a lot of miscellaneous stuff in order to go somewhere. For instance, if you want to go to a neighboring country, first, you'll need permission from the King, then a pass to get past the check point, and finally have to show the pass once you get there (it's not automatic). To say that this gets annoying after the first few times you have to do this is an understatement.
Growlanser is a top notch RPG that is sure to please any long time fans of the Langrisser saga but, overall, suffers due to its various quirks. I would be hard pressed to recommend it to anyone that has not already played the other top notch games that have been coming out recently, such as Chrono Cross, Valkyrie Profile, and Wild Arms Second Ignition. Play those first, and I'm sure you'll find the world of Growlanser a fresh change of pace.