Grandia HD Remaster (PC) review
"A classic JRPG that seems to be a victim of the time it was made in – it’s too long for its own good"
Grandia – A classic JRPG that seems to be a victim of the time it was made in – it’s too long for its own good.
Grandia, originally released for the Sega Saturn in Japan, and later ported to the Sony PlayStation seeing a North American release is considered to be one of the best JRPGs of the 5th generation. It was met with critical praise and is usually commended and remembered for its unique turn based battle system.
As far as JRPGs go, especially to a casual audience, I feel that classic turn based JRPGs really do have to stand out from the competition to be liked, especially if you’ve played a few great ones before. Many classic JRPGs tend to have the same gameplay, and plot elements, and if the game doesn’t amaze you in some way with the graphics, story, character, music, gameplay or whatever, it can become more of a chore to finish than it is fun. For a casual audience, especially with the variety of choices available today the bar seems to be set high.
I played Grandia 2 for the Dreamcast before this game, and ended up not enjoying it, mostly since it was a game that ultimately didn’t know what it wanted to be and had a silly plot about a pseudo-pope, and what seemed to have elements of a simple fetch quest though concurrently a somewhat non-sensical story. By most accounts I heard that in terms of story, and characters that the original Grandia would be the better game. Grandia started kind of slowly, but it became enjoyable for its sense of adventure and exploration … did it manage to maintain this throughout the entire game and escape being generic? … not so much. (This review is based on the HD Remaster Steam release)
Justin, our protagonist (something like a young teen), wants to be an adventurer, like his dad before him, and will do whatever he can to become one. When he inherits a magical stone, he and his younger friend, Sue, decide they want to find the long-lost Angelou civilization and discover its secrets. To do this they must cross the mythical stone wall at the End of the World. They set sail, from their hometown of Parm, and encounter Justin’s idol, a seasoned adventurer his age called Feena, who joins their party. Through a series of events, they encounter the evil Garlyle forces, under the command of General Baal, who also want to discover the secrets of the ancient civilization and use them for some malevolent purpose.
The first part of the game mainly involves exploration and adventure, occasionally running into and fighting the Garlyle forces, with more of the story slowly coming together. After they successfully cross the wall that separates one side of the world from the other, several team members eventually leave while others join the party. In a way this is kind of annoying since some of the characters are generic and hard to make any connection with and one of the more memorable characters leaves the party.
Towards the middle of the game there are so many tasks based on side stories that must be done, for various villages, for example, that it becomes quite tedious to go through it. It feels like fluff just added to extend the length of the story. It’s ultimately up to our heroes to stop General Baal’s evil scheme and save the day. Although this does seem to me to play it safe by not making a silly plot like in Grandia 2, it feels like the game ultimately became “generic” in the JRPG sense. I have to agree with other reviewers of the game in that the first half with Justin and company just exploring the world was better than the second half.
I won’t post spoilers but will say that the ending, although happy, feels a bit sappy and generic, especially for an adult. This does seem to be a game that is targeted towards younger adolescents and children, more than the second game that tried to be more edgy, and appeal to a teenage audience with more mature themes. So, although in the plot I feel like it plays it safe, the story could have been cut down and made less generic.
One of the biggest strengths of Grandia, the game, and Grandia, the series, and its redeeming features is the unique, interesting, and innovative battle system. There is an IP meter that runs along the bottom of the screen and moves from left to right with a logo for each character from waiting to preparing an attack. Different attack types are possible: combo which deals more damage, and critical. If you use a critical attack while your foe has their moving indicator in the active preparing attack range, you may cancel their attack. In this way, if timed properly you may receive no damage whatsoever in a battle.
Of course, you can also acquire new weapons, and upgrade your skills like in other JRPGs. You can also collect Mana eggs and get magical skills, that you improve with repeated use. The problem is that it takes a very long time to sufficiently level up these magic stats and earn new moves. And as in other JRPGs you have spirit points that you can use to do powerful attacks. You also have the option of escaping during all, except boss battles, and defending against, and dodging attacks. All of these various combat options combine to make for some interesting strategies during boss fights.
One of the good points of the game is that you can actually see where the enemies are and there are no random encounters, many can be avoided but several are practically unavoidable. Generally speaking, most encounters in a dungeon, or forest, or desert are easy, and you can win most of them just by hitting “combo” for every character in your party repeatedly without much thought. However, the boss fights, as in the second game, can be challenging, especially if you are underpowered, and don’t have the more powerful attacks accessible.
It is a good battle system, and a redeeming feature but as far as being a main gameplay device, it does get fairly repetitive. The structure of the first game is similar to its successor, in that it follows the dungeon, village, boss fight pattern, and this also gets repetitive. It is a linear JRPG, I suppose in some ways it could be good for beginners.
Graphics, Music, and Tone:
The tone of this game is generally child friendly, and seems to be targeted towards a young adolescent, and child audience. The colours used are usually nice, warm, and bright, and the characters tend to be cute, anime/Saturday morning cartoon inspired, and likeable, although fairly simple as you’d imagine for children and young teens. There is an interesting element to the story in the growing relationship between Justin and Feena, though like the rest of the game it is quite juvenile.
The graphics for the Steam HD version are based on the PlayStation port which is inferior in some ways to its original Saturn incarnation. Overall, they are better than I expected, and have a cartoonish quality, though obviously worse in quality than the graphics of Grandia 2 on the more powerful Dreamcast hardware. The music is typically nice and sometimes catchy, as in the second game, with some orchestral pieces. I especially enjoyed the music that plays in their hometown of Parm and the spacey music that plays in some sections.
There are quite a bit of interesting and varied environments to explore, from the forests to the hills, to the airship bases, to magical caves. There is also a lot of NPC dialogue in this game, which can get very tedious. If you read through it all it’ll tack on several hours to the game. Finally, there are several animated sequences to help tell the story which I enjoy since I like cartoons and animation.
Grandia is a game that probably touched the hearts of many of its generally younger audience when it was released and appealed to a sense of exploration and adventure. The cast were mostly cute kids and some older teens exploring the world to become adventurers and unexpectedly (except for those that play JRPGS) saving the world along the way.
It had the benefit that there were no random encounters, and you could see and frequently avoid your enemy, or escape during a battle. Its innovative battle system, one of the best of that time, meant that you could cancel enemy attacks if they were timed right, and that along with the usual magic, and spirit point attacks made for some engaging and strategic boss battles. However, there is a large disparity in the difficulty of the regular battles and boss battles. Also, it takes a lot of grinding to increase the magic skills to learn new ones. Having to grind so much artificially increases the length of this already lengthy game.
On the other hand, this was a game made in a time where I suppose its length was advertised as a selling point. It advertised something like over 80 hours of gameplay and featured a few optional dungeons (as in “You get your money’s worth”). Without those optional dungeons but including reading of most NPC dialogue it took something like 50 hours to beat this game. The problem was that much of the story in the middle seemed like unnecessary fluff, that wasn’t necessary to tell the story in an engaging way. The sense of exploration and adventure in the first part of the game is somewhat ruined by the more generic “stop the bad guys from taking over/destroying the world” plot in the second half.
As far as gaming philosophy even for JRPGs I’ve always been a believer that length is not equal to quality and that even an under 20-hour game can be fun, engaging, tell a moving story, and be very memorable to a lot of people rather than something bloated just to extend its length. This is one of this game’s failures: repetitive gameplay and a story longer than it needs to be. While I won’t say that that plot is bad, it does seem rather generic, especially in its execution in the second half of the game. Although the ending is nice, and happy it does feel like this was geared towards a younger audience.
Grandia seems to get many things right, but several others wrong. Overall, I would agree that it is better in its story than Grandia 2 although mainly for the reason that the ending of Grandia 2 was bungled so badly. Grandia is a good game considering its merits, but it has too many flaws to make it a great game, or “timeless” game with its pacing issues, and repetitive gameplay. I’d recommend this game more to fans of the genre rather than the causal crowd, which may be better served by a more iconic JRPG of that era.
Score: 7.5/10 Good
Honest Gamers Score is 4/5 as I round up from 7.5/10 to 8/10, which is 4/5.
Featured community review by Tailz (June 08, 2022)
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