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Game Profile
FINAL SCORES
8.1
Visuals
5.0
Audio
9.5
Gameplay
10
Features
9.0
Replay
6.5
INFO BOX
PLATFORM:
PlayStation 2
PUBLISHER:
Ubisoft
DEVELOPER:
Game Arts
GENRE: RPG
PLAYERS:   1
RELEASE DATE:
February 06, 2002
ESRB RATING:
Teen
IN THE SERIES
Grandia III

 Written by Ilan Mejer  on October 01, 2002

Full Review: This game looks like it came from the port-o-potty, but looks aren't everything!


Ahhhh, Grandia. A cult favorite, particularly amongst the Sega crowd. Game Arts treated Japanese Sega Saturn owners with a magnificent RPG known as Grandia, back around the time Final Fantasy VII debuted. Surprisingly enough, the game actually managed to hold its own against Square's behemoth of an RPG. Unfortunately, the American crowd was left high and dry, and the Saturn's eventual demise sealed the game's fate. Or so we thought. Eventually, the game would be ported over to the PlayStation, localized, and released on our shores, only a few years too late. Unfortunately, the port was exceedingly shoddy, and what resulted was an almost broken version of the game, though while still magnificent, simply could not hold its own against the original; not that American gamers had a choice, of course.

This time around, Americans do have a choice, for Grandia II was released originally on Sega's Dreamcast, both in Japan and locally. However, once the Dreamcast's early demise was secured, Ubi Soft began making plans to port the game over to the next best thing in their eyes; the PlayStation 2. Once again, Sony's audience would be treated to a substandard port of an otherwise brilliant game. While Grandia II might make a questionable purchase for PS2 owners who have access to a Dreamcast, obviously, those of us without Sega's last great white hope will once again have to make do. Well, at least the situation is not as bad as it was with the last game.

Grandia II essentially has nothing to do with the first game, as it takes place approximately 1000 years later. Those not exposed to the first game in the series can easily pick this one up and understand everything without a hitch. The religion is essentially the same, the story of the struggles between Lord Granas and his evil counterpart, Valmar, is explained, in more detail, in Grandia II. This game tells the tale of a Geohound (i.e. mercenary) named Ryudo, an unhappy, troubled young man, and his involvement with the religion of Granas, a Songstress of Granas named Elena, and an otherwise memorable cast of characters whom are provided ample reason and motivation for being present. The scope of the game's story will eventually encompass the attempted reemergence of Valmar as a physical, g-dly entity, hell-bent on enslaving the world. True, it sounds a bit clich?, but Game Arts excels at story telling, as evidenced by their Lunar games, and Grandia II is no exception.

It does not hurt that Grandia II marks the return, in significantly improved form, of Grandia's battle engine, hailed as one of the greatest semi-real time battle engines in the genre. Grandia II's adaptation of that battle engine allows it to run in a much faster, much more streamlined manner. Much like the Lunar games, the movement ranges and positioning of all active combatants is taken into account, in a battle system that prompts the input of commands in a turn based order, but executes those commands (and any in between) in real time. Overlaying the bottom right hand of the screen is an IP gauge, populated by an icon representing each party member and enemy currently in play. The character icons will flow from left to right, at a speed that is reflective of their respective characters' statistics, progressing until they hit the point on the gauge from where they will be able to choose a command. Once a command is chosen (the game and IP gauge halts for player command inputs) play will resume and characters who have chosen commands will progress further to the right on the gauge, towards the actual moment of activity, when they are actually able to proceed with their action. For this portion of the gauge, the icon's speed is determined not by character statistics, but by the length of preparation the chosen command takes up.

The action flows quickly, and smoothly, and the engine's ability to differentiate between characters who are preparing to attack and those who are actually attacking, allowed the developers to incorporate an added element of strategy. Should you time your attacks to coincide with the beginning of an opponent's action, you will be able to score significantly boosted damage by scoring a ?counter.? Additionally, certain special attacks and skills, though slower to execute, can be timed to ?cancel? enemy attacks, literally stopping their victims' actions in their tracks and pushing them back on the IP gauge. Additionally, when attacking normally, you will have the option to perform a concentrated attack, which is slower to execute, but inflicts more damage and has the capacity to cancel, or a ?combo? attack which will hit between two to four times (depending on equipment and strengths.) By timing your characters' attacks properly, you can even chain other members' attacks, spells, and skills into even larger combos, not only inflicting more damage, but holding up the victim's progress on the IP gauge. It is a system that sounds rather complicated on paper, but the game's various optional tutorials early on brilliantly explain and demonstrate just about every aspect of this versatile combat engine.

A combat engine is only as good as the characters that participate, and Grandia II does not skimp in that department either. The game is 100% linear, so your party will always be predetermined, but the engine goes against modern conventions by allowing up to four party members in combat at once. These characters, of course, gain experience points for every battle won, which will eventually advance their levels. However, the character development system features much more depth than this. Along with experience points, most enemy encounters will net you magic coins and special coins; the former can be expended on Mana Eggs, the latter on Skill Books. Mana Eggs are items that can be equipped, one per character, which allows that character to wield a mesh of magical spells. Magical Coins must be expended on these Eggs in order to level them up, thereby unlocking more spells. Additionally, each spell and skill in the game can be leveled up to five times, these levels also add to the total level count of the Egg, thereby unlocking even more spells to power up. Skill Books work similarly, though you spend Skill Coins, and do not assign entire books to party members, but must parcel out individual skills to each, skills which can affect base statistics, speed up the IP gauge progression for certain commands, or award a slew of other combat related bonuses. Additionally, each character in the game is capable of learning and eventually mastering their own set of personal special attacks, which too must be upgraded by expending Coins on them. This system allows you to literally customize your fighting force however you see fit. There are many possible branches to take when powering up your characters, the decisions you make will dictate whether your unit will be primarily composed of physical fighters, mages, specialists, healers, or whatever combination thereof you deem relevant.

So the game features remarkably developed and robust combat and character customizing systems, but Game Arts has put together a believable world that is a joy to explore, at least the first time. The game's story and exploration are linear, with no branching plots or optional exploration. Knowing this, they put their efforts in designing intelligent layouts for the myriad locations you will be exploring. Your explorations will not be straightforward and will require an unusual amount of dedication in order to find all of the items and secrets that they included. Game Arts also wanted to focus on exploration, not random wandering, and to that end they completely eliminated random combat encounters. Much like the game that pioneered the concept, Chrono Trigger, all enemy encounters will be visible on the main exploration screen, to be challenged or avoided as you see fit. However, the game will reward dedicated fighters with an increased capacity to upgrade their characters.

From a conceptual standpoint, Grandia II sounds like an extremely solid game, perhaps even a brilliant one. However, as ambitious as the vision is that drove the creators, so to were they limited by the hardware they originally worked around. Game Arts traditionally has been known for their inventive combat engines, epic stories, memorable characters, and their colorful aesthetic design. Grandia II is no exception, except for the fact that the visuals simply did not survive the port from the DC original. Sadly, up close and in motion, the glaring graphical problems immediately leap out. The texture quality and frame rates for the game have dropped significantly from the original Dreamcast version. Combat still looks fine and runs quickly, and the spells are still magnificent as ever, but now the occasional glitch will pop up to mar the images.

The real-time rendered spells, composed mostly of layered two-dimensional textures, tend to warp strangely or even partially disappear mid-spell, particularly when the camera begins to pan and zoom cinematically. However, the brunt of the spells are actually depicted not with real time special effects, but with beautifully animated, yet horribly compressed FMV sequences. Unlike other RPGs out there, these cinematics are short, brief, powerful, and generally accurately overlaid on top of the action, not instead of it. Nevertheless, the graphical hiccups remain, both in the real time sequences and even more jarringly, during the cinematics, in the form of heavy artifacting.

If there is one aspect aside from the story that survived the transition to the PS2 intact, it is Mr. Iwadare's magnificent soundtrack. Already famous for his works in the Lunar series, Iwadare once again proves himself a master of tying emotion, passion, and ongoing events into truly epic and powerful melodies. From the various combat themes, to the dramatic event music, to the pseudo-vocal Church hymns, and even the beastly, tribal choir beats, the soundtrack simply does not disappoint. The sound effects are a bit of a mixed bag, as is the voice acting. Most of the sounds sound like they were ripped directly from a common stock FX CD, and the voice acting, while featuring big name talent, simply is over-acted and remains somewhat ineffectual. Ryudo, when he still acts selfishly and close-minded, comes off as distinctly powerful. However, when he, or others, starts sharing a more tranquil, bonding moment, the dialogue, and subsequent voice acting that follows is high on the ?cringe? factor.

Bottom Line
Grandia II is, without a doubt, a remarkable RPG, that has reappeared on a system that quite honestly is not overflowing with quality role-playing games. The port, while not perfect, is relatively intact and should not deter those without access to a Dreamcast from experiencing the rich experience and mature story Game Art's latest effort offers up. At the very least, it would make a worthy rental to refresh and prepare for the up and coming Grandia Xtreme?


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