Grandia II
5 - Grandia II  excelente

     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 touches.

   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.

Epic Battles

   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 into both.

Review by Jeff Davis, GIA.
Grandia II
Developer Game Arts
Publisher Ubi Soft
Genre Traditional RPG
Medium GD-ROM (1)
Platform Dreamcast
Release Date  08.26.00
E3: Grandia II confirmed for PS2
10 exclusive screenshots
7 very, very high-resolution character designs
PlayStation 2 version ads, box art