With both its original Saturn release in 1997 and its PlayStation re-release in 1999, Game Arts' Grandia was met with innumerable comparisons to the Final Fantasy series. First billed as a “Final Fantasy VII Killer” by Saturn fans looking for a beacon of hope, Grandia later became an ironic nail in the system's U.S. coffin when it was never localized. While the game finally did arrive on our shores courtesy of SCEA's PlayStation port, it did so in the considerably long shadow of Final Fantasy VIII, bringing the two series' competition to the forefront again. For better or worse, however, these years of comparisons have revealed Grandia to be a most non-Final Fantasy way of making an RPG.

The adventure begins...

   More than anything else, Grandia is a distinctly Game Arts production – rather then having a major conflict that drives the plot, the game is begun around one person's quest for self-fulfillment. This delicate method of pacing a game can charm if done correctly, but Grandia waits far too long to introduce any real conflict to drive these characters further into the game. For nearly 30 hours, most new objectives are either "fetch quests" or generic explorations of the local mountain range/hillside/forest/gigantic wall. The conversations that made the cast interesting at first begin to feel less like character development and more like mere character interaction.

   Grandia certainly tries hard enough to win over the player, boasting high production values and impressive design. The towns are exquisitely detailed, all the way down to the ability to knock objects off shelves, although the towns' size and 3-D nature create some slowdown problems while exploring. Dungeons and other outdoor environments have a fairly simple look, with the notable exception of the ruins which feature prominently in the story. The acclaimed graphics of the original Saturn version are largely intact here, with some new special effects thrown in for good measure.

Enhanced visual effects

   The battle system in particular is extremely well done, with both party members and enemies moving along a time bar in the corner of the screen. When either reaches a certain point on the bar, they prepare to attack, executing their command only when they've reached the end of the bar. If a character is hit while preparing to attack, they are susceptible to greater damage or having their attack cancelled entirely. This lends a strategic timing element to battles that not only keeps your attention in random battles but is also required to compete against many bosses.

   Unfortunately, the world's most engrossing battle system does little good when the game's heroes are given very little reason to be battling in the first place. Gamers who thought they were tired of clichés and melodrama in their games will find themselves desperate for a corrupt empire, a god-like monster, or anything else worth fighting against. Instead, at least for the first half of the game, they will be buried in an avalanche of happy woodland creatures, happy townspeople, and happy quests for happy items to help those happy townspeople stay happy.

Every location is filled with detail

   Disc two, reached after 30-some odd hours of gameplay, is said to institute a meaningful plot into the game. Honestly, I couldn't make it that far. I tried playing on, hoping that some of the exotic landscapes and epic battles shown in the introduction were soon at hand. But all I found was another forest, another mountain, another dungeon that led to nowhere but the same overly happy environs that I had already tired of. This brutal cuteness, voiced by equally brutal voice acting, wore down my will to continue until I finally hung the controller up for good.

   While the game features characters that are more interesting than their stereotypes and a quality score (Skywalker Sound appears in the game's start-up sequence), neither is used all that well. For instance, we see townspeople constantly point out how young Justin is, a nice change from the strange ease with which most fictional populations accept teenagers as their heroes. But we soon come to understand their skepticism as Justin randomly prattles on about becoming a Dragonmas… no, wait, an “Adventurer.” The music is of a very high quality in most places, but the central tracks are repeated far too often.

   Grandia ultimately leaves you watching the characters as they gaze out over their local mountain range/hillside/forest/gigantic wall, describing the wonderful adventures they will be going on and how wonderful it is that they'll be going on them together - all with the game's sweeping main theme everpresent in the background, and all while you sit and wonder when exactly those adventures begin. For those of you with the patience to play through an extremely happy disc-long character study, those adventures may be grand. For the rest of us, finishing Grandia represents an amount of time better used to play back through our other 4 or 5 favorite games.

Review by Ed McGlothlin, GIA.
Developer Game Arts
Publisher SCEA
Genre Traditional RPG
Medium CD (2)
Platform PlayStation
Release Date  06.24.99
Grandia delayed
89 demo screenshots
New phone cards
North American packaging, disc art