Grandia II (PlayStation 2) review
"Two women. "
First one’s a sweet girl, simple and clean. Not an evil thought under that blonde hair. The kind you’d bring home to mother. However, she finds your way of life disgusting and is convinced that you’re an uneducated mongrel not worth two looks. She’s religious to the point of stupidity, and while she may sing like an angel, most of the time she’s using her voice to tell you how dumb you are. Half of her likes you, really likes you, but it’s being overwhelmed by the half of her that thinks you’re a disgusting, barbaric, hellbound douchebag. Religious fanaticism = Turnoff.
Her name’s Elena.
Second one’s a woman of loose morals, to put it nicely. Great body, with the clothes to show it off and the intentions of showing it off to you. Amazingly amorous, she likes to touch you in all the places your mother wouldn’t want her touching. She does the kind of things that only Prince would sing about. Problem is, she’s a being of pure evil and a crucial part in a plot that will kickstart the end of all mankind. That includes you, stud. Armageddon = Huge turnoff.
Her name’s Millennia.
Over time you come to know, care for, and even love…both of them. This presents problems, even more problems than it usually would. You see, the way you treat these women will have a direct effect on the survival of the human race and the suppression of one extremely pissed-off god. And, because I know someone’s thinking it, there’s no chance for a threesome here.
Your name’s Ryudo. You’ve got to save the world. Fast. And you’ve got to do it while tied up in a love triangle.
Your life sucks.
Grandia II’s plot is revolutionary by no means; the dark-god-rising thing’s been done to death and resurrected countless times. It takes place in your standard fantasy world, made up of a superstitious and cowardly lot of people and the monsters that are constantly trying to eat them. Flying eyeballs and burrowing sandworms abound, and while the enemy variety rises as the plot thickens, it’s never anything too far from the norm.
But Grandia II knows what its strengths are, and it sticks to its strengths. Sometimes-sometimes-all an RPG needs is one thing to glue the whole piece together. That’s the case with the Elena-Ryudo-Millennia connection.
Elena and Millennia go at it, pointing out each other's weaknesses, ignoring each other’s strengths, learning and forgetting and learning all over again. They do something that should be expected but often goes neglected in RPGs: They change. With every little development, with every challenge they meet and overcome, they change. New parts of their personality emerge, old ones fade. Faith is questioned, beliefs are broken, but the game always makes sure to keep a gray haze over it all; it never makes Elena right and it never makes Millennia wrong. You’re left to interpret that on your lonesome; the question is always open. See their principles, compare them to yours, and decide.
It’s not an easy decision to make, and Ryudo struggles with it just as much as you will. His changes are the most radical; you can honestly tell that he doesn’t care about anyone but himself near the start. He’s not one of those heroes with a heart of gold, he’s not trying to show the world a gruff exterior to protect his creamy insides; he just does not give a damn. And right when that starts to go from being badass to being cliché, something happens and he picks up a whole new dimension.
Not a single change feels forced, his motivations are always clear and realistic. When the final battle comes and it’s his time to stand up and fight, it doesn’t simply happen because it’s supposed to happen. It happens because that’s who Ryudo is and that’s what Ryudo does. You know him.
Good character development turns a mediocre plot into an awesome one.
But Grandia II isn’t just about story; it’s about advancing the story. And while most RPGs would do that with cookie-cutter dungeons and turn-based battles, Grandia II gives old concepts new spins.
Each dungeon feels completely different from all the others, no déjà vu to be had. No blocks puzzles to push, no codes to memorize; there’s the occasional puzzles, yes, but they’re few, far between, and never contrived. Walking through a factory feels like walking through a factory and making your way through a god’s intestines is as complex as you’d imagine it to be. There’s nothing to keep you holed up in a single room, the only real obstacles are the enemies. It’s just a matter of getting from A to B. Simple.
But even if the dungeons were boring puzzlefests, it wouldn’t be much of problem. Dungeons have monsters. Monsters mean battles. And Grandia’s battles kick ass.
It mixes action and turn-based battles; you need ruthless reflexes and expert timing to nab the win. Each character, enemies and allies alike, has three stages for attack, a stiff pattern that gives fluid results. Their icons move down a meter at varying speeds, each one reaching the Act point. Once there, time freezes as you pick which attack to use and who to bring the pain to. You select and time melts as your character begins to charge and prepare, striking after a few seconds.
It sounds complex because it is; no illusions there. But the system isn’t as far from the norm as you’d think. It’s still turn-based. The character’s still attack from fastest to slowest. Grandia is just taking the logical step that most RPGs don’t. You’ve got to take more into account than just damage, you’ve got to consider the time each attack takes to execute, you’ve got to smash your opponent before your opponent smashes you. Counter moves. Block attacks. Anticipate, then dominate.
And you do it all in style. Grandia II sports some of the finest attack animations I’ve ever seen in a RPG; even some of the most minor spells conjure up massive light shows. Meteor showers, lightning bolts, divine beams of power piercing the sky, and the game’s not afraid to do a cutscene in the middle of battle. Your mind stay’s sharp, your fingers stay tapping, your eyes stay watching. Grandia II makes you want to fight, and while the graphics are far from Square’s more recent offerings, they’re still enough to keep your gaze locked; what they lack in looks, they make up for in scope and variety.
But, solid as the characters are and fluid as the graphics get, there is a flaw: Grandia II has the worst slowdown I’ve ever seen…in any game…period. It’s the reason I’m giving it a six instead of a nine, and while slowdown might seem like a petty thing to subtract three points for, you have to understand…it’s bad.
You don’t notice it near the beginning, when you’re only visiting one-horse towns and fighting off mutant crows, but the first time you visit a village with any decent size to it, the game…slows…down. I’m talking one-quarter speed here, and it’s not just when you’re walking through towns, either; any cutscene that happens outside will get doubled in length, simply because the characters have to make movements before they speak and it takes them so damn long to do it. It sucks the enjoyment out of enjoyable scenes, and though you may get used to it in time, you never really forget. It’s the gray lining around Grandia II’s silver cloud.
Grandia II rocked the Dreamcast long before the Playstation 2 had its shot; the same game without any of the slowdown. If you’ve got a Dreamcast…well, you’re damn lucky, but you’re also better off getting that version, the version I’d happily give a nine to if I still had it. Hard to find, worth the trouble. But if you don’t have the choice and you can turn a blind eye to the slowdown, Grandia II for the PS2 is still a worthy buy. It won’t be your final fantasy or anything like that, but it will give you a solid ride, from minute one to hour fifty.
Featured community review by lasthero (September 23, 2005)
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