Growlanser Generations
Platform: PlayStation 2
Publisher: Working Designs
Developer: Career Soft
Genre: Strategy RPG
Format: DVD-ROM
Released: US 12/07/04
Japan 12/18/03
Official Site: English Site

Graphics: 78%
Sound: 85%
Gameplay: 88%
Control: N/A
Story: 87%
Overall: 88%
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Robert Boyd
Growlanser Generations
Robert Boyd

Take the developers at Career Soft (best known for the Japanese Langrisser series), the localization experts at Working Designs (Lunar, Arc the Lad Collection), toss two games in one case for the price of one and what do you get? Growlanser Generations, a Strategy/RPG for the PlayStation 2.

Rather than using the standard turn-based grid system found in most Strategy/RPG, the developers of Growlanser Generations opted for a more freeform system. Tell a party member to attack a specific enemy and they'll run over and start attacking them until victorious or given new instructions. Spells can be charged up to nine levels, which offers a nice bit of strategy - do you take the time to unleash a truly devastating spell or opt for weaker, but quicker spells?

Aside from a few minor problems such as the computer's preference for walking into characters instead of around them, the battle system works quite well - the battles are fast-paced, but never overwhelming, since the action stops whenever you enter new commands. Story battles are generally well designed and frequently feature additional stipulations, such as defending innocent civilians or having to defeat the enemy before their reinforcements show up. This helps to keep combat from growing stale. Random encounters are present, but can generally be avoided without impairing one's ability to finish the game. In fact, veteran gamers will probably find both games to be a little on the easy side; however optional goals such as trying to get the best rank on each mission are available for those so inclined.

Character progression is fun and offers a good deal of customization. At each level-up, characters gain Master Points which can be used to purchase new abilities. These abilities fall under three categories: spells, techniques (limited use abilities like special attacks), and skills (continuous abilities like stat bonuses or the chance to poison enemies when attacking). As characters progress in level and gains basic abilities, additional abilities become available for the learning. Simple, yet still allows for a good deal of character customization.

Further customization can be accomplished through the ring weapon system. Ring weapons are special items that synchronize with a character's mind to create an energy weapon specifically suited for that character. Each ring weapon offers different stat bonuses as well as a number of slots to equip gems. Gems are basically the game's accessory system and offer a number of advantages: everything from the ability to cast spells not yet learned to dealing more physical damage at the cost of losing MP each attack.

The story of Growlanser 2 is nothing special for the genre: a young man joins the army wanting to become an Imperial Knight and ends up in an epic tale of war and betrayal. The main quest is relatively short and can be completed in under 15 hours with ease, however the game encourages additional play due to a large number of optional scenes (essential for getting each character's special ending) and battles. Especially nice is the fact that at a few key moments, the player can make decisions that take the story in complete different directions, resulting in vastly different endings. These hidden storyline paths are not as long as the main storyline, but nevertheless add several hours of gameplay for players who decide to seek them out.

Growlanser 3 starts with an equally stereotypical plot - a dieing world, a hero with amnesia - but as the story progresses, it adds a number of twists that elevate it beyond its generic beginnings. Due to the smaller cast and longer main quest length, the characters in Growlanser 3 are also better developed than in Growlanser 2. Unfortunately, although the game still features a wealth of secrets and optional scenes, the branching storyline paths of the second game are nowhere to be found.

The graphics for both games are on par for Strategy/RPGs these days: high quality anime style character art along with average 2D graphics and mediocre spell effects. Nothing too special, but then again, Strategy/RPGs aren't usually known for their great graphics. The music is solid enough and the voice acting is generally very good - particularly impressive given the large amount of dialogue in the game (over 10 hours according to Working Designs).

If there is one major flaw with Growlanser Generations, it's that Growlanser 3 isn't really noticeably better than Growlanser 2. In fact, in some aspects, it's arguably worse due to things such as the addition of boring, randomly generated dungeons, more frequent random encounters, the lack of multiple storyline paths, less interesting story battles, and most importantly in my opinion, the inability to control more than 4 characters in battle at once as opposed to Growlanser 2's eight person parties. Plus, I ran into a couple of annoying bugs such as mislabeled stats on the main menu screen and the fact that when a certain character leaves your party for a brief time (about a minute), there's a good chance that they end up losing several abilities.

Despite these problems, I still enjoyed Growlanser 3 for its story, its new magic combo system (combine basic attack spells with another character in order to cast more powerful spells), and the new gems and abilities (particularly appreciated was the technique that reveals enemy weaknesses), but it was hard to not feel at least a little disappointed that Growlanser 3 didn't do a better job at building on Growlanser 2's strengths.

Faults aside, Growlanser Generations offers a good 30+ hours of entertainment the first time through and many additional hours for those players who want to discover all of the many secrets and see the various endings. Working Designs did an excellent job of localizing the game, not only providing a quality translation, good voice acting, and an informative full color manual, but also adding new options like the ability to mute out individual charactersí battle cries if they get too annoying and the ability to use the L & R buttons as shortcut keys in battle for quicker gameplay. Hopefully, they'll translate future games in the series; Growlanser is a series worth playing.


© 2004 Working Designs, All Rights Reserved.

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