System: PS1 (also on PSN’s PSOne classics)
Developer: Game Arts
Despite complaining about it beforehand, I actually ended up enjoying the game after all. For the record I first reached the final dungeon at around 40 hours in, and while it was not a particularly long or difficult dungeon, I had so much fun grinding up the weapon and magic levels for each character. Once I realized what the game truly had to offer was right in front of me all this time, I came to like it quite a bit. Grinding up your magic levels to see what new skills you’d learn is fun, probably the same type of enjoyment I get out of catching and levelling Pokemon.
Grandia’s plot is probably as traditional console RPG as it can get. Our hero, Justin, is a young boy who wants to become an adventurer. Together with his childhood friend Sue, he goes to explore the local ruins with a rock his deceased father gave him, believing it to be related to an ancient civilization, Angelou, from an old myth. At the bottom of the ruins they see the hologram of a girl related to this ancient myth who tells them to travel to the far east and look for a place called Alent. Justin and Sue set off on an adventure to the new continent to the east, hoping to travel to more ruins and unravel the mystery of the Angelou. They are joined by the adventuress Feena (who is actually the main heroine) and some military people are here to interfere along the way.
The plot is, of course, very predictable and consists of many common RPG tropes present in the PSX-PS2 era. What the game was trying to achieve is not an original and exciting plot, but a simple coming of age story for a young boy. Cliches and predictability aren’t really what I have a problem with, it’s the execution of the plot. The game’s script starts off energetic and charming–the interaction between Justin and Sue makes it really seem like a pair of children who like to fool around and dream of adventuring. Then the game goes into long stretches of dungeons, some pointless and some not, before actually focusing in on the main plot and antagonist for the last 10 hours of the game. I’ve played slow games that I actually enjoyed, due to excellent localization and sufficient character interactions. In Grandia, aside from the beginning and the end, most of the game is dungeon after dungeon with a few lines of dialogue in between. The localization isn’t very well done, and the script could have sounded much better.
Some of the dungeons are interesting and important, but a lot of them are just tedious and can be easily cut out. Fetching someone’s horn in a dungeon in order to talk to him so that you can continue the plot? Do not want. I didn’t enjoy Grandia’s dungeon-crawling at all. The battle system, though, was fairly interesting. It’s a mix of real-time and turn-based that I actually enjoyed. Both party members and enemies have icons that move along and action meter of sorts to determine when someone’s turn comes up. Once a character’s icon reaches a certain point, the battle pauses for you to enter a command. However, the command will not execute until the character’s icon reaches the end of the action bar. The time between input and execution is determined by a number of factors, such as the action chosen and your character’s stats. This interval is crucial if you want to play strategically, as hitting enemies when they are close to acting can cancel their turn! On the battle screen, characters will be moving around, and distance will have an effect on how long it takes for a character to execute their attack. On top of that, whenever someone is hit, they will stagger for a bit and their icon on the action bar will briefly pause. A good strategy can make it so that your enemy never acts, and in theory, the same can be applied vice versa. All of the potential strategy in the battle system is pretty much pointless though…
Because Grandia is SO DAMN EASY you don’t need to predict your enemy’s movement or range or time your actions carefully. It’s a refreshing turn-based battle system that has the potential to be great and engaging, but none of that matters because the game is so easy you can pretty much use your regular attacks and murder everything. There was exactly one boss that I actually had trouble against, and that was at the beginning of the game. If you’re looking for a challenge, you won’t get a kick out of the game.
However, there’s another interesting aspect of the gameplay that is addicting as hell. Each equippable weapon and each of the four elements of magic has a level. The more you use the weapon/magic, the more EXP you gain for that weapon/magic, and you’ll gain new skills and spells as you level up your weapons and magic. Seeing my levels go up and learning new skills was the most enjoyable thing in the game. It reminds me of why I really liked the Disgaea series. Levelling up your weapon levels and magic also gives your characters stat bonuses, which breaks the game even further. Justin is the single most broken character in the game, and it is very easy to make him have the highest attack, defense, and above average everything else. He’s also a very good mage, since there isn’t a stat besides magic levels that affect the strength of your spells. Balance? What balance?
The characters started off interesting, but they weren’t fleshed out enough and became dull by the end of the game. Justin is the optimistic hero who starts off mischievous but matures as the game progresses. He gets the most character development. Feena is established early on as a capable adventuress who has more skill and experience than Justin, and keeps it up for around two dungeons before becoming his supporter/fangirl and letting him take the lead. She accepted him way too easily, and it doesn’t help that she falls into the kidnapped heroine that needs to be saved role several times. Sue is a cute and bratty kid who provides some nice and funny dialogue and interaction, and was my favorite character, but she leaves halfway into the story because she’s too “young and weak” to continue adventuring for now (even though she’s quite a strong physical attacker). The permanent party members aren’t as interesting or fleshed out as Sue, being there just for the sake of filling up the remaining two party slot. During the final confrontation with the final boss, they don’t even speak. The game would’ve actually had more of an emotional impact if we only had Justin and Feena as final party members (or if Sue stuck with the party).
I had fun with Grandia due to the fun skill and magic level grinding, but that’s pretty much it. I think if I realized it would be that fun, I would’ve had a much more enjoyable experience focusing on the grinding and not trying to find the magic in the storyline or characters. The script started off charming, but that wore off into dull dialogue. At the 30 hour mark the plot and antagonist are only being touched upon, and the characters weren’t really fleshed out or developed for the most part. The challenge is also non-existent, and there are many, many dungeons you have to go through. I have to give credit for some interesting dungeon designs, like the End of the World (which felt really like an adventure, and reaching the top was satisfying). Grandia is also really linear, and you can’t return to previous continents (and in some cases, dungeons). The battle system is nice, too nice for a game that is this easy. It could have been great and exciting. In short: get this game for a fun levelling system, good battle system not used to its full potential, old RPG charm, and the feeling of adventure. If you’re in the mood for a more modern RPG with a lot of cutscenes and strong character interaction, play something else. Voice acting is present, but not something you’d look forward to since all the characters’ battle lines sound like they’re bored.
It’s $10 on the PSN, and if you enjoy the levelling system then it’s totally worth it as it’s a 50-hour game. I had fun, despite my complaints.