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Grandia (PlayStation) artwork

Grandia (PlayStation) review

"The second longest journey"

Every neuron and axiom in my whiskey-withered brain told me I should detest Grandia. "You've slated tons of JRPGs for sticking rigidly to cliches. What's so special about this one? Are you listening to me? Stop enjoying yourself this instant!" My brain makes this compelling argument right as my party sets out to find a rare herb to quell a child's fever, a long established roleplaying trope. Yet, for some reason, I'm more than glad to take part in this quest.

Sadly, that voice in my head never shuts up.

"You always hate ghost ships in RPGs. Why are you smiling at this one?"

"Of course the adorable little girl in your party has a strange, albeit cute, creature as a constant companion. Why the hell not? She may as well have amnesia while we're at it."

"Wow, you mean to tell me that the obviously megalomaniacal villain plans to revive an ancient evil? I've never seen that in a video game before..."

"Oh good, a romantic subplot. I needed another hackneyed thing to not care about."

These thoughts would bubble to the surface and make a little noise, but were ultimately drowned by the sounds of Grandia actually being awesome despite because of its cliches.

Enter Justin, an overly optimistic teen who attempts to save the day with the power of friendship. If you're even moderately familiar with the genre, then you've seen your share of dudes like this. You expect them to be petulant, whiny, angst-ridden or obnoxious, and Justin is sometimes all of those things. However, the devs at Game Arts took care to dial back his more negative traits and give us a young hero who's actually likable. He' s confident in his abilities and so passionately driven to become an adventurer that he's willing to sneak out of his home, leaving life as he knows it in the dust. He never backs down from a fight or a challenge, as he's all too happy to creep into crumbling ruins or tangle with a private army when it invades a tropical village. The guy embodies the "never give up" attitude in a way that's invigorating rather than cringe-worthy. He almost makes you want to chase your broken dreams.

Like Justin, the rest of the tale is pretty well-balanced. Yes, he has a love interest in fellow adventurer Feena, but this subplot doesn't blossom into some "Dawson's Creek"-ish romance, a la Final Fantasy VIII. Rather, the game makes terrific use of simple but beautiful moments, where we watch their bond grow without soap opera-esque drama. During one segment, they walk along a beach at night, stargazing together while the locals celebrate a recent victory. Although this scene has "overdone" written all over it, the lines spoken, interactions between the characters and little touches make it a rather sweet, pleasant moment without going over the top.

Grandia remembers that it's a piece of entertainment, and doesn't try to become some deep, overblown work of social commentary. Admittedly, the game does make some fair comments on human nature, but it never demeans its own entertainment value or sense of wonder with these offerings. It's not above telling a cheesy joke to soften the mood after showing you depictions of legitimate horror.

Most of all, this title remembers why some of us got into this category in the first place: for adventure. The campaign sends you on a long journey across a variety of landscapes, using wisely written and staged cutscenes to sell the world's vastness. Whether we're talking about crossing the sea or climbing a massive wall, the characters speak about places as if they're impossibly large. Sometimes after you get partway through a stage, the entourage stops to set up camp, with some of them discussing how winded they are from the previous day's travel. Hell, one character even suffers from extreme exhausting during a portion of the story and has to remain in a town while you continue exploring.

On top of that, the dungeons you visit never feel drawn out or overlong. Thanks to their design and the presence of non-randomized enemies, they're perfectly paced. You also never get the impression that you're wading through filler content, and each fresh area feels like you're entering a new phase in a wondrous pilgrimage.

The sights you see are spectacular and sometimes rather inventive. The aforementioned massive wall you have to climb comes to mind. After days of ascending, a quick view from the top reveals a whole other world on the other side that our heroes never could've imagined. They crawl through a vast jungle teeming with carnivorous plants and scour dank ruins of a lost civilization, eventually entering a deserted village where reality itself seems to be breaking. Yeah, you'll find your share of familiar real estate, like multiple mountain passes, but even then they offer some strange wonders. I mean, turtle-camel hybrids? Mermaids attached to monstrous angler fish? Even when you're moseying through seemingly mundane territory, the game has ways to surprise you.

Battling these beasties isn't much of a problem, thankfully. Well, okay, the previously described angler monster is actually tough, but almost everything else doesn't present much of a challenge. In fact, Grandia's difficulty rating is well balanced, where if you actually fight most of the battles and only retreat on rare occasions, you won't need to stop and grind for experience or money very often. Not only will you earn enough experience to stay even-leveled, but you'll bolster your weapon and magic skills well enough to topple just about anything. With a high enough sword or fire magic level, you'll learn devastating new techniques or explosive spells that rip the opposition to shreds.

That's not the best part, though. Each skill you strengthen also earns you additional stat boosts, further enhancing your party. In this way, you can tailor each character to your liking. If you want to turn Justin into either a tank or a healer, you can easily do so with some time, planning and customization. Unfortunately, the only drawback is that each character can only use certain weapons, so they're ultimately still pretty limited on what they can do in certain roles. Although Justin can become a decent enough cleric, he doesn't hold a candle to Feena or his longtime playmate Sue.

Yes, we've all seen this content in hundreds of other places. However, few other titles pull off Grandia's trail-worn plot devices with such vigor and finesse. The game handles its familiar content so well that you can't even hear the nagging voice in your head bemoaning the cliches. This title may be a genre exercise, but it's the kind that presents precisely the kind of qualities any JRPG fan would want. No matter how much that voice tries to logically outline the reasons you should dislike the game, you just can't bring yourself to do so.


JoeTheDestroyer's avatar
Featured community review by JoeTheDestroyer (July 19, 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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overdrive posted July 26, 2020:

I like this review. Really hit all the things I like about this game -- or at least the important stuff. You could compare this game to Blue Dragon, with this one being how to do it right and BD being an example of not truly getting it and winding up with overly annoying plucky hero-types when it comes to characterization.
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JoeTheDestroyer posted July 26, 2020:

True enough. The only thing Blue Dragon has going for it is its soundtrack.
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dagoss posted August 10, 2020:

Coincidentally, earlier today I was reading about the differences between the PSX and Saturn versions of this game, and it turns out Grandia is an oft-cited example of the Saturn version looking better.

I noticed you didn't mention much about the presentation on a technical level. How do you think the Playstation faired here in this area compared to other PSX RPGs?
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JoeTheDestroyer posted August 15, 2020:

Honestly, as a whole I'm not big on PlayStation's presentation, and wasn't even big on it when it was a relevant platform. I wouldn't consider Grandia one of the uglier games, to be sure, but it's certainly not one of the better-looking ones, either. I think the main thing I didn't like about it was the lag, even though the textures were sometimes kind of gross, too. Some other games on that system did look decent at the time, though. I actually liked Legend of Dragoon visually, and thought some of the 2D visuals were fine.

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