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Grandia (PlayStation) artwork

Grandia (PlayStation) review

"Grandia is one of the most clichéd RPGs ever made. It’s also one of the best. The key is execution. "

Grandia’s an easy game to hate.

It’s easy to look at its simple graphics, see the pixels and the jagged edges, compare it to modern standards and scoff. It’s 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. You’ll 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. You’ll be guessing plot twists hours before they happen. A few surprises here and there, but only a few.

Grandia is one of the most clichéd RPGs ever made. It’s also one of the best. The key is execution.

Take Justin, Grandia’s hero and wearer of the world’s worst hat. He starts the game as nothing more than a young one; brash, bold, longing for an adventure…obviously destined to save the world. He’s 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. He’s loopy, as you would be if your mother constantly thwacked you with a frying pan. He’s not some sword-swinging badass, he’s a little guy in big situations. He’s naïve. 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, you’re with him. You’ll know that fate didn’t put him in his place; he’s not fulfilling some age-old prophecy about a kid with a bad hat saving the world. He wasn’t 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, it’s a given that they’ll end up together. But Grandia doesn’t force it. Instead, the relationship takes its time. They don’t 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 don’t laugh. This isn’t a contrived love like Tidus and Yuna or Cloud and Aeris; saccharine it may be, but Justin and Feena belong together. It couldn’t 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 who’d look more at home in the mall than in the army…but they’re 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 head…but she’s mature for her age and not half-bad in a fight, so it’s 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 don’t control the characters directly. Everything is decided from menu commands and stats.

Like real-time, there’s no uniform to the fight; the characters don’t 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.

It’s 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. That’s 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 don’t. 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. It’s customization without the confusion you’d expect; it’s just a matter of picking and choosing from a clear list. Only takes a few minutes.

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

It’s intense, it’s hectic, but it’s never boring. You can’t 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 you’re 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 don’t, it will be.

And you’ll 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, you’ll love it.

That’s Grandia; it’s 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 it’s held together by one of the finest fighting systems ever devised.

Yes, Grandia is an easy to hate. But it’s easier to love.


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

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