Growlanser: Heritage of War


Review by · August 16, 2007

Note: This review is based on the Japanese version of the game.

When Growlanser V: Generations was released in Summer 2006 and Weekly Famitsu awarded it the underwhelming score of 25/40 (7/6/6/6), I wasn’t surprised in the least. I’ve played through them all, and honestly, Growlanser has become the mentally unstable, seemingly bi-polar girlfriend of the Japanese RPG market; attractive at first glance, but ultimately unsatisfying once one gets to know her. This time around, her emotional baggage is a little excessive, and similarly, the flaws present in the latest Growlanser outweigh any positive traits by a reasonable margin.

Growlanser V: Generations begins with the tale of an island continent of several nations. These nations are at war due to *gasp* political conflicts, but even more serious is the threat of the “Screapers,” an aquatic race of monsters that have come from the sea to terrorize humans, presumably as a food source. The focus of the story is a little more on the fantasy side than previous installments in the series, which were largely political. There are 56 missions in the game (with some optional ones on the side) divided into five chapters. There are four characters and their parties who are controlled across the first 16 missions, and after that, the player meets the silent protagonist, Zeonsilt, who is controlled for the remainder of the game. This is a multi-role system similar to Wild Arms or Suikoden III, although there is no choice involved regarding the order in which these sub-stories are undertaken.

The story, honestly, is nothing to write home about. The character cast is relatively uninspired, and the game features some of the most banal dialogue I have ever come across. Within the first two hours of the game, players can be treated to dramatic conversations such as:

“Who are you? You look like an adventurer.”

“You’re right, as you can see, I *am* an adventurer!”

The game scenarios don’t fare much better. Every RPG cliché is present in full force. Bandits who assault merchants on the road, lengthy soliloquies on how “war is such a terrible thing, because it steals the lives of our loved ones,” and so forth. All it needs are a couple more dragons and the resurrection of an evil god, and Growlanser V: Generations will have successfully ripped off of every single stale tradition in the genre. To be fair, the story improves substantially towards the latter half of the game. There are also interactions to be had and relationships to cultivate with your companions; these can influence the ending scenes, but there is only one actual ending. Multiple endings would have been nice, considering the amount of non-linearity the game presents.

This time around, gameplay has seen some dramatic changes. Enemies in Growlanser V: Generations are all visible on the screen and when encountered, the protagonist can begin auto-attacking them with a simple press of the circle button. Aside from the protagonist, all other members are computer controlled, although specific commands (such as casting spells, attacking a different target, moving to a certain location, etc.) can be issued to them through the main menu. It’s fun, it’s fast-paced, and it’s more action-oriented than the previous installments. The transition to real-time combat was a solid evolution.

Also making its debut is the “Plate Flow” system, which replaces ring weapons/skills from the previous installments. Weapons, armor, and accessories can be purchased at various stores, and these equipment pieces provide “skill plates,” such as a spell, a technique, or a latent ability to the player. These plates can be assigned to a large grid, and the player selects a certain line to have “flow,” which means that ability points earned from defeated enemies will be invested in those particular skills. The connected plates will eventually gain experience as well, and thus characters can become more useful on the field. Placing plates should be done carefully, because it is a semi-permanent decision; later in the game, items become available that can change flow or plate positioning. Of course, they come at a price.

Growlanser V: Generations’ graphics are, in a word, an anachronism. And I mean that in the most scathing sense of the word. Everything about the aesthetic presentation screams “low budget.” The character/enemy models look like something straight off of the Dreamcast and their animation doesn’t fare much better. The main character, when encountering another model on the screen, occasionally passes directly through him/her without collision detection. When the collision detection triggers properly, the other character is pushed around on the screen. When I say “pushed,” I don’t mean, “the other character is forced to walk in the opposite direction.” I mean, “the other character’s model is literally /pushed/ around on the screen, sans animation.” The model simply slides around, as if ice skating on the hardwood floor, and it looks extremely unnatural.

Also unnatural are the anime character portraits. Designed by Satoshi Urushihara, one of my favorite artists in the industry (and known, in particular, for his extremely… well-endowed female characters), it was disappointing to find that the lip movements often completely out-of-sync with the dialogue. During pauses in the spoken sentences (in the case of an ellipse, for example) their mouths continue moving, and this too stuck me as a careless oversight on the part of the developers.

I’m usually not one to emphasize graphics over gameplay/story, but in Growlanser V: Generations, the production values are so low that it significantly detracts from the experience. Even the menu graphics are simply terrible; the background in the Plate Flow screen is a simple blue/green gradient that a 12 year old could construct in Adobe Photoshop in less than 30 seconds. The transition from 2D to 3D was done in a rushed manner, and all of the cut corners are painfully obvious. This is simply inexcusable for a game developed in 2006.

Thankfully, the voice acting is a solid offering, but the musical score itself fails to rise above “average” in my book. The Growlanser series has seen composers come and go over the years; Noriyuki Iwadare, who headed Growlanser I, definitely made the best contributions. Hiroshi Fujioka was responsible for Growlanser II and III, while Tomoyuki Hamada was at the helm in Growlanser IV. They were all decent soundtracks. Kenichi Tsuchiya (who has previously worked on the Shin Megami Tensei series) provides music in Growlanser V: Generations, and most of it is extremely forgettable. The opening theme, “Those Who Make History,” is your standard Growlanser “Japanese boy band” track that importers have come to expect. “Big Battle” and “Final Battle” are decent battle tracks, I suppose, but most of the town/exploration tracks are so standard that they blend in seamlessly with the rest of the mediocrity comprising this game. Perhaps opinions will vary on the quality of the music, but I, for one, was not particularly impressed. Mr. Tsuchiya can do better.

Growlanser was created as a spiritual sequel to the magnificent Strategy RPG series, Langrisser, but its success has been inconsistent at best. The first and fourth installments were excellent titles. As fate dictated, however, only the second, third, and fifth games will see domestic releases. It’s unfortunate, because they truly pale in comparison to the aforementioned “good ones,” in this reviewer’s opinion.

Growlanser V: Generations will be called “Growlanser: The Heritage of War” (due to a name conflict with Working Designs’ “Growlanser Generations,” a package containing Growlanser II and III) when it comes out in a couple months. Save your money (or spend it on Persona 3, Atlus fans!) and skip this mediocre mess. Like with a crazy girlfriend, the best way to end the relationship is to never start it in the first place.

Overall Score 65
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Ryan Mattich

Ryan Mattich

Ryan was part of RPGFan's reviews team from 2000-2008. During his tenure, Ryan bolstered our review offerings by lending his unique voice and critique of the world of RPGs, with a focus on reviewing Japanese imports that sometimes never received localizations.