While the original Saturn version never
made it to the U.S., one of the most notable entries in Sega's
32-bit library was GameArts' 1997 epic, Grandia. Though it
would not be until 1999 that the the game was released in North
America on the PlayStation, the game was still praised by many
for an epic storyline, large environments, and one of the best
battle engines found in any RPG. Now back on a Sega system, the
sequel jettisons some of the original's most signature elements
while still retaining the same sense of storytelling charm and
joie de vivre that GameArts' titles are known for.
Red bombshell flaunts her stuff
The game's storyline revolves around an
apocalyptic battle that occurred ages ago when the gods were at
war. Granas gave the world the holy Light, while Valmar
attempted to destroy the light and usher in darkness. The world
was ultimately divided as nations rose against each other in the
name of either Granas or Valmar until, in a last-ditch attempt
to end the war, the Sword of Granas was used to slay Valmar.
The blow shattered Valmar and made a deep gash on the planet's
surface, a chasm that came to be known as the Granacliff. Time
marched on and soon this history eroded into either religious
belief or fable.
The protagonist, Ryudo is a bounty hunter
of sorts by trade and a cold, cynical swordsman. He's
accompanied by Skye, a quick witted eagle. Despite the overuse
of the animal sidekick, Skye ranks as one of the best with his
intelligent and comedic antics. Ryudo is hired by the sleepy
town of Carbo to protect Elena, a Granas Songtress on the way to
a ritual ground to prevent Valmar's unsealing. Other central
characters in the game include Millenia, a curvaceous vixen with
a penchant for magic, Roan, a boy on a mysterious pilgrimage,
Mareg, a beastman seeking retribution and Tio, a robot
searching for the meaning of humanity. Each character is laced
with nuances, backstory, and their own personal ideals. The game
does an excellent job in intertwining these relationships with
the ongoing storyline.
Environments are adorned with detailed textures
While the plot isn't a dramatic shift in
RPG storytelling, its light-hearted storyline and well-developed
characters are engaging enough to be enjoyable, especially with
the game's dramatic presentation. In a distinct change of pace
for GameArts, the company has crafted a mood tinged with
despair, one certainly darker than any of their previous games.
Even so, fans of GameArts should still find plenty of familiar
From beginning to end, the cast is
extremely likable thanks to a three pronged measure. The
characters were designed by famed manga artist Yuushi Kanoe, and
their character emotions are depicted via anime style portraits. Designs aside, characters are only as good as their
dialogue, and Grandia II has plenty of quality conversations.
Ubi Soft's localization team should be applauded for a
sophisticated translation that brims with a sly wit.
After the voiceover debacle in Grandia, new
publisher Ubi Soft hired Kris Zimmerman of Metal Gear Solid fame
as Voice Director. Dramatic moments are captured perfectly with
numerous well acted voiceovers, all from an all-star cast: Cam
Clarke (Metal Gear Solid, Lion King II), Jennifer Hale (Baldur's
Gate), Jodi Benson (Little Mermaid, Toy Story 2), and Paul
Eiding (A Bug's Life, Diablo II).
What makes all this fun to play is arguably
one of the finest overall game designs in any RPG. The same
acclaimed design of the original largely returns, with sprawling
real-time towns and dungeons seen through a freely rotatable
camera. Like the original, there are no random battles, and the
always-visible enemies can be evaded or engaged at the player's
discretion. However, enemies will charge at you once in their
range. If an enemy is caught from behind, the player has the
advantage, and the player can be ambushed in the same way.
The battle system is once again focused
around the IP bar, a much more complex version of Final
Fantasy's Active Time Battle system. Both the characters in your
party and the enemies are represented on the time gauge via
icons. All icons move along the gauge depending on their speed.
Once one of your characters hits the COM (Command) point, you
are given a bevy of battle options: Combo, Critical,
Moves/Magic, Items, Defend, Escape, Evade and AI. From then on,
the respective icon once again moves through the gauge until the
end of the bar which is the ACT (Action) point. At first blush,
the system's simplicity belies its complexity. There is no
button mashing or repeated attack and heal commands. The nature
of the battle system is fully realized during boss fights, as
certain options in the game can either cancel out attacks or
reset the IP bar position.
Though back in an upgraded form, Grandia
II's magic system should prove somewhat familiar. Battles earn
you not only experience points, but also Special Coins (SC) and
Magic Coins (MC). These can be used to either upgrade or learn
new attacks and spells, as well as increase character stats.
Graphically, along with Skies of Arcadia,
the game's environments are head and shoulders above any RPG.
Each locale is astonishingly lush. Large environments and
textures are painstakingly detailed and believable. Part of the
reason to play an RPG is to be fully immersed; Grandia II's
interactive world allows this better than most.
Gorgeous Spells abound
The battle graphics are also superb.
Characters and enemies are well-modelled, though the playable
characters do lack mouths. And while flashy battle
effects are nothing new, Grandia II uses both FMV and real-time
spells impressively. The FMV spell effects are seamlessly
integrated into battles, with no loading time and smooth transitions between real-time and rendered action.
Additionally, FMV is used smartly and augments the storytelling
rather than just drawing attention to itself.
Grandia II's soundtrack is magnificent, as
Noriyuki Iwadare -- whose works include the soundtracks to
Grandia, Lunar and Lunar 2 -- returns with pieces that run the gamut
from quality synthesizers to orchestral and piano pieces. Aiding the
game's poignant moments greatly are the album's two vocal
themes, both sung in Portuguese by Kaori Kawasumi. Ubi Soft
should be commended for including an extra music CD with twelve
selected tracks from the game.
Despite all the things the game does
right, some followers of the original may be disappointed that
both the story depth and sense of adventure of Grandia is now
gone. What was once an detailed narrative of a boy's coming of
age is now a solid story about grown-up ideals and humanity.
Another slight blemish is the game's linearity, as this is one
of the more linear RPGs to come out in recent memory.
Grandia II should be a welcome arrival for
most gamers, adding to GameArts' rich tradition of storytelling
with elegant characters, industry-leading visuals, a gorgeous
soundtrack, addictive gameplay, and a standout localization
effort. Grandia II is a must-buy for GameArts fans and Dreamcast
owners, and might be good enough to turn any remaining skeptics
Review by Jeff Davis, GIA.
|| 08.26.00|| 12.08.00
|E3: Grandia II confirmed for PS2
|10 exclusive screenshots
|7 very, very high-resolution character designs
|PlayStation 2 version ads, box art