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Growlanser Generations (PlayStation 2) artwork

Growlanser Generations (PlayStation 2) review

"Growlanser Generations is a two disc collection that features Growlanser II: The Sense of Justice and Growlanser III: The Dual Darkness, both belonging to the hit series from the land of the rising sun. "

Growlanser Generations is a two disc collection that features Growlanser II: The Sense of Justice and Growlanser III: The Dual Darkness, both belonging to the hit series from the land of the rising sun.

Considering that the strategy side of the RPG spectrum has never really appealed to me much, and taking into account that I had never even heard of Growlanser before Generations came along, it is a small miracle that even I picked this up in the first place. If it wasn't for Working Designs being the team responsible for U.S. translation, I probably never would have given Generations the time of day. I have been a fan of Working Designs for many years, and it is a very rare party that gets pooped on by these legends of localizing.

Apparently, I missed out on the whole fiasco behind the release of Generations. It didn't take very much research for me to find that, in true typical American fanboy fashion, there are those that claim that Growlanser II and III are the weakest of the series, and that I and IV are where the true innovation and depth lie. You know, that very well might be true. I doubt it, though. I recall a time when there were plenty of Americans that claimed that Final Fantasy V had the best storyline in the series. Now that FFV exists in the U.S. market, all I hear from their previous general direction is the deafening sound of a million chirping crickets. Does this scenario apply to Growlanser Generations? I don't know. Ask someone that has played I and IV and can prove that they can actually read Japanese.

The other part of the "Growlanser Generations fiasco" doesn't surprise me too much: multiple delays beyond the release date. The gaming press at large seems much more eager to complain about Working Designs' tendency to put their games out a bit behind schedule than they are to praise the beauty of being fortunate enough to revel in a game that actually feels complete. Call me crazy, but I certainly won't be handing out any demerits for satisfactory quality assurance.

Upon starting The Sense of Justice, I was initially put off by the very obvious lack of interactive elements. An easy comparison would be Final Fantasy Tactics, in which travel is achieved by "clicking" destinations on an overview map. At each location you are given various options such as shopping or interviewing locals, but you are never given the freedom of movement or interactive exploration. I have never been fond of similiar systems in the past, but I eventually became comfortable and satisfied with the Growlanser II interface. A large part of the exception is due to great care that has been infused into the overall presentation. It did not take long at all for me to appreciate the personality and stylized output of the narrative, and I eventually reached a point where I could not imagine the story being told in any other way.

The Dual Darkness has the more immediately accessible presentation of the two. It feels much more like a standard RPG than it's elder brother, with considerably more emphasis on exploring and interacting with NPCs. Moving immediately from Growlanser II to III is actually a little disorienting at first, perhaps comparable to living the first half of your life with only the ability to see and smell and then mystically gaining the ability to touch, hear and taste. The new senses would surely be welcome, but you might not know exactly what to do with them right away. Ridiculous analogies aside, Growlanser III really takes the experience to a new plateau.

The most prominent similarity between the two games is the battle system. It looks and feels about the same, with only a couple obvious differences. While it is a strategy-based system at its heart, the first thing that sets it apart from the majority of the console strategy games that I have played, is that the battle maps are free from anything resembling grids. I have a kind of animosity for grids, so this is a huge point of joy for me. Other than that, on the surface, the Growlanser battle system feels pretty typical of the genre. However, lurking just below the surface is a very well balanced concept based upon "ring weapons". Ring weapons are used by every playable character in both games. The idea is that the rings take on the physical manifestation of the bearer's aggression. Ring weapons with various parameters can be obtained by destroying enemies quickly and looting treasure chests, and each one has three numbered slots where gems of equal or lesser value can be placed. Gems serve a variety of purposes such as stat increases and special abilities, so a carefully customized ring weapon can make your party much more than meets the eye. It is a pretty cool structure, but it took a few ass beatings (I was on the receiving end) before I understood the absolute importance of diligent ring and gem maintenance.

The strangest difference between the battle formats of the two games is that Growlanser II gives you control of up to seven party members at once, while Growlanser III sticks you with a much less efficient party of four. Another very noticeable difference is the experience system. Growlanser II rewards experience points based on character-specific battle actions, and the random battles usually provide enemies that are on par with your current levels, for leveling up purposes. Growlanser III distributes the points evenly upon completion of each battle, and the foes in each area always stay at the same level. These differences seem to indicate that Growlanser II was intended as a strategy game with slight RPG elements, while Growlanser III is more of an RPG with strategy elements.

Political landscape seems to be the popular means of expression in strategy games, and these don't break that rule as much as bend it. Instead of littering an incoherent storyline over a foundation of politics, Growlanser II and III utilize political undertones to tell a much more meaningful tale.

The Sense of Justice has a gracefully humble narrative, almost subtle at times, but always effective. It uses the concept of war to illustrate a story that revolves around friendship, opposing ideals and general human error. There are symbols of evil throughout the game, but ultimately it would be incorrect to say that there is a true physical villain. Every opposing force in story is motivated by a personal sense of morality and justice. The true enemy in Growlanser II is human flaw itself, and the outcome can only be tragic when you are up against that type of foe.

While the active narrative of Growlanser II mostly dwells on people and government, there is a sense of lore to the distant backstory. There are small pieces of information that tell of the forgotten past, when humans lived on another planet in another dimension. A race known as Featherians, much more intellectual than people, developed a space/time fusion project that allowed a small group of lifeforms to escape from their dying world to repopulate on the current planet. The Dual Darkness drives straight into that legend, and fully answers any questions that may have been raised from Growlanser II's backstory. Taking place on the "dying planet" long before the events in The Sense of Justice, Growlanser III maintains the same sense of political importance but focuses much more on fantasy elements. It also attempts to establish a more traditional type of megalomaniacal "bad guy", which I found to work rather well in contrast to the more abstract evil of Growlanser II. There is a lot of razor sharp and often hilarious irony between the two chapters, and it fits together perfectly although these games really couldn't be any more different in scope.

My only gripe about the story in Growlanser III is that there are these great characters that are so full of potential for depth, but it doesn't spend quite enough time fleshing them out. It is a big tease. The story never really hits the G-spot in the way that it seems to promise from the outset. The climax is fun, but not the kind of "holy f'ing shit" good time that it could have been, had their been just a tiny bit more complexity. Oh well.

The visuals are purely adequate, unless you are a graphics whore. The Dual Darkness is a lot more gorgeous than The Sense of Justice thanks to a lush color palette and finer attention to detail. There are some "snazzy" spell FMVs, but I usually skipped them in order to speed up the flow of battle. Both games look like they could have easily been done on PlayStation for the most part. There is nothing state-of-the-art here, but hey, it works.

I totally adore the character designs that are conveyed through larger than life avatars. The designs are sexy and edgy for both male and female characters. Without the avatars and reasonably decent voice acting (much better in III than II for some reason, although many of the same actors were used), these games could have surely ended up lacking much of the existing appeal.

Premium localization is what is to be expected of Working Designs, and they have once again delivered. Both games are very well written, but I think that they had a little more fun with The Dual Darkness, most logically due to the fact that there is a lot more NPC interaction. There is plenty of humor within the main narrative, but for the truly laugh-out-loud moments, you absolutely must talk to everyone that you meet.

Musically, the two games stand out against the pack. There is a lot of diversity in the score. There is some traditional sounding fodder sprinkled about, but there are also some great themes of electronic and even industrial persuasion. The Dual Darkness provides some truly haunting (I swear that the title screen music was ripped straight from the End of Days score) and innovative original tracks, as well as some remixed tunes from The Sense of Justice. Basically, Growlanser II's music managed to stand out to me a few times, and Growlanser III's score made me want to own the soundtrack.

Both games have multiple endings, some kind of new game + option that I have not tried out yet, and an appealing amount of unlockable content including voice-over outtakes, picture galleries and even a type of epilogue quest (unfortunately, I have not unlocked it yet as of writing this review, but it sounds pretty promising). The overall value of this collection is staggering, and the addiction potential is almost frightening.

The only way this deal could be any sweeter is if dancing llamas were involved. Don't ask.

atra_vortex's avatar
Community review by atra_vortex (April 08, 2005)

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