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Grandia (PlayStation) artwork

Grandia (PlayStation) review

"Grandia is one of the most clichťd RPGs ever made. Itís also one of the best. The key is execution. "

Grandiaís an easy game to hate.

Itís easy to look at its simple graphics, see the pixels and the jagged edges, compare it to modern standards and scoff. Itís easy to look at its story, the tale of boy with a funny hat and a sword saving the world, put it against a behemoth like Xenosaga, and claim its nothing more than stupid storybook fodder.

The hero is young, brave, and innocent. The villain is old, vile, and crafty. Youíll be able to figure out who the final boss is from the first scene, and you know the love interest from the first little squeal she makes-courtesy of the hero copping a feel in the dark, of course. Youíll be guessing plot twists hours before they happen. A few surprises here and there, but only a few.

Grandia is one of the most clichťd RPGs ever made. Itís also one of the best. The key is execution.

Take Justin, Grandiaís hero and wearer of the worldís worst hat. He starts the game as nothing more than a young one; brash, bold, longing for an adventureÖobviously destined to save the world. Heís your typical heroic archetype. But you notice things as the story progresses. He acts like he looks. He gets into trouble with his neighbors. Has little make-believe adventures. Heís loopy, as you would be if your mother constantly thwacked you with a frying pan. Heís not some sword-swinging badass, heís a little guy in big situations. Heís naÔve. But he gets stronger, wiser. He develops and changes; you see it and understand. When the moment of truth arrives and Justin makes that final, fateful stand, youíre with him. Youíll know that fate didnít put him in his place; heís not fulfilling some age-old prophecy about a kid with a bad hat saving the world. He wasnít born to become a hero, he just is.

Grandia is the story of a boy becoming a man. An idiotic, moron of a man, but a man nonetheless!

That same care extends to the whole adventure; it even makes the love subplot work. When pretend-adventurer Justin meets real-adventurer Feena, itís a given that theyíll end up together. But Grandia doesnít force it. Instead, the relationship takes its time. They donít just fall in some whirlwind romance; they talk, learn to fight and depend on each other, become partners in many ways. When the relationship finally becomes so obvious that even they see it, you donít laugh. This isnít a contrived love like Tidus and Yuna or Cloud and Aeris; saccharine it may be, but Justin and Feena belong together. It couldnít have been another way. It makes sense.

Grandia strives for personality, for making unoriginal concepts feel original again. You can see it with the trite villainess trio of Saki, Nana, and Mio; a group of color-coordinating bad girls whoíd look more at home in the mall than in the armyÖbut theyíre funny and they lighten the mood, so they get away with it. You can see it with Sue, the achingly adorable little girl who tags along with Justin and has a Pokemon reject called Puffy floating above her headÖbut sheís mature for her age and not half-bad in a fight, so itís okay. Grandia excels at making old things better. Even the battle system.

Like turn-based, the fastest character attacks first, going down from there. You donít control the characters directly. Everything is decided from menu commands and stats.

Like real-time, thereís no uniform to the fight; the characters donít line up in a neat little line and strike from there. They. move around. Circle. Dash. Strafe. Retreat. You can even make them move to certain spots to avoid certain attacks, factoring range and timing.

Itís all decided by a meter on the bottom of the screen. Little heads, representing you and your opponents, move steadily along the bar, but they stop on the point marked ACT. Thatís when you choose. Normal attacks do decent damage, but you could always go for a critical strike; those knock your enemies back up the meter, delay them. Magic and special attacks tack on the heavy damage, but those take charging time, valuable time, time your enemy could use to hit you harder than you planned on hitting him.

Some pre-fight tuning is required, too. Getting stronger takes more than leveling up; Grandia takes the logical step that most RPGs donít. Points gained after battles can be towards new spells and special attacks, whichever ones you want. Adventure books let you graft skills onto any character, making them what you want them to be and screwing defaults. Characters meant for slashing can be turned into magical powerhouses. Weaknesses can be nullified. Strengths can be strengthened. Itís customization without the confusion youíd expect; itís just a matter of picking and choosing from a clear list. Only takes a few minutes.

Itíll save you. Going into a boss battle with the right abilities equipped can make all the difference.

Itís intense, itís hectic, but itís never boring. You canít just go into some random battle, tap X X X, and expect to collect your experience. Pay attention, or the easiest enemies can pile on damage when youíre not looking. Mistakes have to be at a minimum; little kids can only take so many smacks from a giant squid. Switch skills, find out who works best with what. Fight every battle as if it could be your last, because if you donít, it will be.

And youíll love it. Because the battles look like battles, because it has the immediacy of real-time and the strategy of turn-based, because it lets you characters develop by your design, youíll love it.

Thatís Grandia; itís the kind of game that wraps you. The plot is simple, never insulting your intelligence with religious overtones. But, for those who look, there is depth. There is a world. There is a story. And itís held together by one of the finest fighting systems ever devised.

Yes, Grandia is an easy to hate. But itís easier to love.


lasthero's avatar
Staff review by Zack Little (February 28, 2007)

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