Grandia II (Dreamcast) review
"Do you want to know whatís uncommon? A decent Dreamcast RPG. Do you want to know whatís even rarer? A console RPG with a fun battle system. So many games in this genre have provided us with epic plotlines, lengthy sidequests and memorable characters, but I honestly canít think of any off the top of my head that had enjoyable battles. Now that Iíve played Grandia II I donít have to rack my brain thinking if such a game exists. "
Do you want to know whatís uncommon? A decent Dreamcast RPG. Do you want to know whatís even rarer? A console RPG with a fun battle system. So many games in this genre have provided us with epic plotlines, lengthy sidequests and memorable characters, but I honestly canít think of any off the top of my head that had enjoyable battles. Now that Iíve played Grandia II I donít have to rack my brain thinking if such a game exists.
In the fantasy world of Grandia II, a war between the Granas, the god of light, and Valmar, the god of darkness was waged. The world was rife with chaos and destruction, but eventually the god of light managed to defeat the wicked god of darkness. Heavily wounded and weary, Granas went into hiding to regenerate his strength. Flash forward a couple thousand years. The world worships Granas and prays for his return, while at the same time fear the return of Valmar and the prophesized Day of Darkness. You play as a mercenary named Ryudo who winds up with the profitable job of escorting a kind Granas Songstress, Elena, to an exorcism in which she is vital.
Most RPGs star brooding teens, silent heroes or stereotypical goody-goodies. Ryudo is sarcastic, cynical, and often hilarious. Thereís never any doubt that he isnít a good guy, but the way he insults people and comments on the surroundings is atypical in the genre. Itís hard not paying attention to such a refreshingly unique character.
Things go terribly wrong at the exorcism. Elena ends up becoming possessed by the wings of Valmar, but donít expect to see any creepy moments from The Exorcist. Instead of vomiting all over priests and screaming obscenities, Elena only occasionally turns into the seductive Millenia, a sexy demon with a short fuse, though she definitely has a good side.
Elena is told by a priest that a visit to the Pope should help the Millenia problem. Of course things snowball from there and eventually the fate of the world ends up being in our partyís hands. And thus, the game truly begins. The plot moves along at a fast pace and rarely slows down. For the most part itís the clichťd good vs. evil stuff weíve all seen before, but a few things add a lot to the rather simplistic storyline. Since Elena occasionally turns into Millenia, an inventive and entertaining love triangle develops. Most of the secondary villains are also developed well and remain interesting throughout the game. And finally the translation is excellent and is chockfull of humorous one-liners. The only minor grievance is that parts of the game are predictable, but even so there are still a few unexpected twists and turns to keep you involved.
So the plot is handled well, but the gameplay is really what makes Grandia II shine. You can forget about all those slow-paced snoozefests in other RPGs because the ones here will rock your socks off. There is a little bar on the bottom called the IP gauge that shows a small picture of each character. Depending on the speed of each character, the bar moves towards the end and the character can choose what to do. The game stops completely while you make your choice of magic, moves, items, etc. If you plan your attacks right you can counter-attack the foe. You really have to play the game to understand how fast-paced it is since words are difficult to convey it justly. Thereís plenty intense moments when you find yourself going ďcímon, I can counterattack this guy in just one secondĒ as you eagerly anticipate your next chance to attack. Battles never drag on to the point of tedium. Even after fighting in hundreds of battles I didnít tire of the excellent system. What makes the battles perfect is that you can see the enemies walking around onscreen before you fight them, so you can choose to avoid the battle altogether. I actually sought out battles because they were just so enjoyable.
The customization is another great aspect of the game. After each battle youíre given a certain amount of magic and skills coins, in addition to regular experience points. The skills coins can be used to learn new moves or strengthen the moves that have already been learned. Or you can use the skill coins to add bonuses to your stats. The magic coins can be used for strengthening new spells or learning entirely new spells. Itís all very simple, but it undeniably works. You can do as you please without being bombarded by complex menus and submenus, which is something that doesnít happen too often in the wonderful world of role-playing games.
There are plenty of dungeons in Grandia II to explore and they are pleasantly short. Rarely do you feel like the game is just padding out its length with boring dungeons that add little enjoyment. Theyíre fairly linear with a few branching paths, but then again most of the game is linear. Not that thatís a bad thing though. Iíd rather be moving the plot along then aimlessly wandering confusing labyrinths. While the game clocks in at reasonable thirty hours, there is only one short sidequest to embark on. It would have been nice to have seen more optional quests, just as long as they arenít as long as the monotonous Chocobo breeding in Final Fantasy VII.
The gameplay is so excellent that the graphics can barely compare, and even then the visuals are mostly satisfying. The backgrounds are rendered with plenty of details with occasional lush landscapes and impressive backdrops. Most of the towns look exceptionally striking. The characters also look very distinct and detailed, but for some reason they have no mouths! Itís very distracting when the camera moves in and all you can notice is that they look Keanu Reeves in that one scene from The Matrix. To make up for that there are quite a few CG cutscenes that help flesh out the plot. Also, many of the spells use CG so they look very sharp, though things would be better if you could skip some of the longer spell animations.
The voice acting ranges from great (Millenia) to good (Ryudo and most of the other characters) to barely tolerable (Elena). She sounds far too annoying to be songstress and her dramatic scenes usually fall flat. Fortunately this only happens to one character and the music complements Grandia II very well. The battles keep your pulse pounding with various hard-rock tunes, while the visits to town are relaxing due to the soothing melodies. There are also a few decent J-pop tunes and orchestral pieces that add a lot to some of the more important events.
Itís not often that the battles in an RPG are fun, and thatís just one of the reasons to give Grandia 2 a look, not that you have a choice if youíre looking for good Dreamcast RPGs. Even when compared to games on other systems Grandia II shines. If that isnít enough to convince you to give this game a shot, it comes packaged with a CD featuring remixes of some of the best in-game tunes. Even without that sweet bonus itíd be hard to be disappointed. Hopefully a Grandia III is a possibility in the near future.
Community review by djskittles (April 14, 2004)
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