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Grandia II (Dreamcast) artwork

Grandia II (Dreamcast) review

"Wherein a ninja turtle and a mermaid form a throuple with Avatar Kyoshi"

Grandia II revolves around duality. That's fitting, because it's basically its predecessor's evil twin. Where the original title was a lighthearted adventure with the occasional hint of legitimate horror, this sequel is a mostly dark, downbeat quest meshed with a bit of zany content.

The familiar archetypes we saw in the first outing are gone, replaced by less frequently used characters. The likable, spunky teen protagonist takes a bench this time, giving way to a flippant mercenary named Ryudo. As before, our hero finds himself in a romantic subplot, but this time it involves a love triangle with a Jekyll/Hyde duo of women. Ryudo swears to protect the faithful, demon-possessed songstress that is Elena, but also discovers that he has eyes for her devilish counterpart, Millenia. Their story arc makes up a fair bit of the play time, apparently building towards a polyamorous relationship rather than a traditional monogamous one.

This theme of defying expectations is not only present in the protagonist and leading ladies, though. We also see it in folks like Mareg, a buff, brawny warrior who isn't a blockhead. Rather, he's a thoughtful, philosophical powerhouse who drops pearls of wisdom as often as he crushes monsters. Though this character type is nothing new, it's no less a breath of fresh air, especially from a genre that often provides the same type of material quite often.

This is not to say that the game seeks to entirely defy convention. It is, after all, a pretty straightforward JRPG like its antecedent. For instance, it questions the nature of good and evil, light and dark in ways we've seen in many other roleplayers. As you can imagine, a certain agent of darkness turns out to be kind-hearted, while the self-proclaimed virtuous ones reveal themselves to be more sinister than they first seem. Color me shocked. An early 2000s RPG that says, "What if organized religion is villainous?" Man, if only Square and a handful of other RPG developers hadn't tapped into this idea and run it into the ground...

But never mind that little detail, because this game still mostly delivers on its promise of darker storytelling. Throughout the quest, you'll meet other folks possessed by the same sort of being that plagues Elena, except far worse. Millenia may be hedonistic and sultry, but she's ultimately good natured. In regards to complete evil, she's nothing compared to the murderous monsters and power-hungry men who crop up throughout the proceedings: wealthy gluttons, devious clergymen and defiled protectors who stand in opposition to Ryudo and his crew.

Worse yet, this story doesn't pull its punches. Amid threats of righteous indignation and moments of mass butchery, we also see major characters die. Not "die with an asterisk," where they can be revived later, but perish for good. And horribly, at that.

That being the case, you can imagine why I'd say this game is also quite jarring at times. Here you'll witness a scene where monsters run down and murder innocent bystanders and children cry next to their fallen parents, only to watch an exchanges play out where Millenia cracks childish jokes at her adversaries. At the same time, I can't bring myself to completely denounce these spots because they are a genre standard. One of its many features is to present shades of real life terror, often hidden beneath a veil of jolly content. It's more of a "read between the lines" kind of category, and all Grandia II does in that respect is lift the veil a bit and show you a little more horror mixed with the occasional dab of clumsy comedy to soften the blow.

Wonky dialogue doesn't represent the campaign's only issue, though (and let's face it: the questionable chatter likely boils down to localization and writers toning the script down, as is often the case with RPGs). Worse than Millenia's bad jokes, you'll come across a few segments that are little more than padding. For instance, Ryudo and Elena go on an afternoon date of sorts, culminating in a confusing and pointless mini-games and a handful of boring cutscenes that should've remained on the cutting room floor. To the segment's credit, it was the first time the game brought a possible spark between the two characters to light, but it was handled in the most boring and ineffective way.

If you insist upon throwing characters into contrived, unnecessary moments, you may as well thrust them into a proper dungeon or set up some battles. Spare me the failed attempts at variety and just give me the turn-based brawls I crave, especially since this installment showcases some improvements to its leveling systems. For instance, you no longer spend mana eggs to teach elemental categories to your allies, but equip the eggs to temporarily grant them access to a laundry list of associated spells--a la Final Fantasy VII's materia concept. Using magic coins you earn from victory, you can upgrade spells and even learn new ones. The same rings true for skills (special attacks), where you power those up and acquire fresh ones using skill coins.

Otherwise, fights play out in the same fashion as any other RPG. Each combatant gets a turn, and uses it to initiate basic commands. The only difference with the Grandia brand is that you can either choose to execute a combo attack or a critical strike. The former deals more damage, but the latter can potentially slow down its victim or even cancel its command entirely.

Grandia II dwells in about the same difficulty range as the first title. It's rather on the easy side, but features the occasional boss that can trounce inexperienced players. If you're the type of person who fights every battle and upgrades equipment whenever possible, you won't have to grind too often and should be able to overcome any roadblock. Bear in mind that it's possible to secure numerous nukes that pretty much level any enemy party in a turn or two, plus you can easily double back to save points that fully restore your hit points and magic. This franchise has never really been about testing your mettle, and this entry is no different in that respect.

Give credit where it's due, because this game accomplishes the feat of rehashing a lot of its predecessor's material without retreading overmuch. What you get is a game that offers familiar mechanics and not-so-familiar characters and situations, giving us a medley of well-worn and less utilized concepts. Though it offers an experience with a slightly different tone from its predecessor, there's no mistaking that both of them are just two sides of the same, fantastic coin.


JoeTheDestroyer's avatar
Staff review by Joseph Shaffer (September 15, 2020)

Rumor has it that Joe is not actually a man, but a machine that likes video games, horror movies, and long walks on the beach. His/Its first contribution to HonestGamers was a review of Breath of Fire III.

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