Reviewed: June 6, 2002
Released: March 12, 2002
Originally developed for the Dreamcast by Game Arts and brought to the PC by Ubisoft, Grandia II is a game that is simultaneously old hat and relatively unique. If you're familiar with console-style, story-driven RPG games, such as the often compared-to Final Fantasy series, you have a very good idea of the type of gameplay Grandia II delivers. The thing is, there aren't really that many games like this on the PC platform, making Grandia II a fresh and possibly alien experience for PC RPG'ers.
One might be concerned that there is no "Grandia I" on the PC. Put your fears to rest. The gameplay and story is relatively unrelated in this "sequel" to the original Grandia, which was developed for the Playstation console. It didn't seem to bother Dreamcast players much when Grandia II made a big splash on that console in 2000. The story overall is fairly standard Japanese console RPG fare; easy to get into and enjoy assuming you like that style.
The story begins with the young protagonist Ryudo, a wandering "trouble-shooter" of sorts known as a Geohound. Geohounds are not well liked among normal town folk, but they are somewhat respected since they do the jobs others are incapable or unwilling to do. Ryudo has a reputation as a competent, if usually broke, Geohound. This reputation quickly lands him a bodyguard duty job for a Church of Granas Songstress named Elena.
Ryudo doesn't much like girls, and he doesn't much like the Church of Granas, but he needs the money. In fact, it seems Ryudo doesn't much like anything at all, with his sarcastic, quick wit, except for his talking feathered friend, Skye. Skye is the only one that really understands Ryudo. The story of Grandia II revolves around Ryudo and his relationships with others, especially with Elena.
The trouble is, Elena isn't really your typical girl with typical girl like problems...
Grandia II looks and plays just like it did on the Dreamcast, which is to say, very well if you like a console-style RPG interface. This reviewer used both the keyboard and a gamepad during gameplay, and switching between them was very easy. The gamepad ended up being the controller of choice for most of the game. Extensive trips through the menus for character customization worked better with the keyboard. The keyboard interface provides the exact same functionality as the gamepad interface and is configurable.
As is typical with most console-style RPGs, you do not create your own characters in Grandia II. Instead, you take control of various characters at different times during the course of the game, with the main character being the afore mentioned Ryudo. What sets Grandia II apart from other console-style RPG games, though, is the extensive options that are available for character customization. You want Ryudo to be a main battle tank? Beef up his melee type stats and skills and give him heavy equipment. Want him to be a spell slinger instead? Concentrate on the magic skills and such. While each character in the game will have a certain tendency to excel at certain types of roles in combat, the game doesn't limit you.
Another good thing about Grandia II's character system is flexible experience spending. You get 4 different kinds of "elements of growth" that are gained from winning battles. Experience points are gained on a per-character basis, and control the character's level, which is the primary factor for their hit points, mana points, and skill points. Magic Coins are gained on a party basis and can be used to improve Mana Eggs sort of like a spell book. These give you access to new spells or more powerful versions of spells. Special Coins are also gained on a party basis, and can be spent on individual characters to learn special moves that can be used with devastating effects in combat. Lastly, Gold is earned on a party basis, which can be used to purchase better equipment at the various shops. Skill Books, which have special upgrades that can be swapped around among the various characters, use both Magic Coins and Special Coins depending on the skill being purchased/improved.
The flexibility comes by allowing interchangeable skills and spells. Skill Books and Mana Eggs are not permanently tied to characters. Equip a different skill from a skill book, or a Mana Egg for different spells. You can swap them around to find the best fits on your current active characters. For this reason, any time your party members change, it's a good idea to recheck your equipment and skills.
The most important element of Grandia II, and lets face it, most any RPG, is the combat system. Here Grandia II really shines, which is good because you'll spend most of your play time fighting monsters for experience. The first great feature of this system is that combats are NOT random like in many console RPG games! Enemies show up on the screen in predetermined locations, and you can sneak around them many times if you are quick with the gamepad. Or sneak up on them and jump on them before they see you for a surprise attack round. Don't let them do that to you!
Time and distance are critical things in Grandia II's combat. The combat is a mix of real-time and turn-based. Each character acts in real-time according to their initiative, but the game pauses when their turn comes up for you to choose their actions. The higher the Agility score of the character the more often they can act, but the higher their Speed, the faster they can cover distances in combat. The further away your target is relative to the character you are setting the action for, the longer it will take for your character to get there. This is important because WHEN you hit is at least as important as HOW you hit in this game.
On a character's turn, there are several types of actions available for you to make. You can do a Special Move, which does a lot more damage and will usually Cancel the opponent's upcoming move, but these use up precious Move Points so use them sparingly. Or you could do a Critical Strike, which does less damage than a normal Combo hit, but which has a chance of doing a Cancel on the opponent's move if you time it right. You can also Defend until a better moment to strike occurs. You can use Items, or use Spells, both of which take a certain amount of time before they take effect. Evade to just run to a better position on the battle screen, or if all else fails try to Escape the combat altogether, for a loss of all experience.
To complicate this even further, like in most console style RPG systems, status effects caused by spells or special moves play a big part of the battle, such as poison, sleep, confusion, etc. It all boils down to some pretty interesting combats, especially against the harder "boss" opponents at key points in the story. For the more mundane monsters, you can optionally turn on an AI auto-move strategy for one or more of your characters, or one for the whole party. This can help reduce the amount of micro management you have to do in the easier fights.
But fighting and stats isn't what RPG's are supposed to be about, right? Well, there's also the interesting NPC dialogues. Talk to the town folk to try and learn more about the history of the world or for hints in your missions. Some of them might even have some items to give you. Then there's the story quests, themselves, which usually involve various other colorful NPC characters. The dialogue is fresh and entertaining, though nothing deep. There are some cheesy parts, and then there are actually a few places that make you think about the characters and their beliefs. Religion is a topic that comes up pretty often since Ryudo is so set against it, although it's treated fairly lightly. The overall plot is fairly typical "save the world," but it has a few interesting twists. Overall, the story is very linear and predictable, but it was written well enough to at least keep you going through the game.
Grandia II has a look that is very unique for the PC and fairly typical for console RPG games. It's artistic style is heavily influenced by typical Japanese anime and manga styles - characters with big eyes, wild hair, and radical choices of clothing and colors. The architecture and the critters are just as wild, not to mention the amazing spell effects. Grandia dazzles, it flashes, it glows in the dark. Do not expect realism in any way. This is strictly an animated comic book come to life on your monitor.
Grandia II was ported from the Dreamcast, and the graphics do betray this in a few unpleasant ways. While the overall resolution of the game can be set to a fairly high 1024x768, the textures do not seem to be very detailed. I didn't notice much difference except for a huge performance hit when choosing between 16-bit and 32-bit color depth. The graphics engine is fully 3D, complete with rotating camera controls. The perspective is fixed at a overhead and to the side looking down on the action type third person view. You can rotate the perspective to look around obstacles, but you can't look up or down. The animations are good and the number of polygons used for each character is also pretty high, but remember that the aim of this game is not to look realistic, but to imitate the anime style. If you hate the anime look, you'll really hate Grandia II.
The pre-rendered movie cut scenes were not redone in a higher resolution, and it shows, badly. The opening movie is so pixilated it's almost not worth watching. TV quality videos just don't cut it on the PC monitor. There are a few cases during combats where a pre-rendered scene was used to animate a special move or spell effect, and those also look grainy compared to the crisp 3D engine at high resolution. Overall these features might have been better left out, but since this is a port, it's the standard operating procedure to pretend it won't matter. Playing Grandia II on the Dreamcast is much more rewarding in terms of watching the cut scenes.
A few of the more critical scenes in the story feature voice acting, but most of the story is told through reading dialogue boxes on screen. More voice acting would have gone a long way to making Grandia II so much more immersive and involving. What was done with the voices is very competent and sometimes very good, especially some of the NPC characters. Characters do pipe up with catch phrases during combats, along with an appropriate taunt or whine at the end of a battle. These are fairly entertaining at first, but start to get monotonous after a while.
Unfortunately the other sound effects of the game are typical arcade style beeps and whistles and buzzes and crashes and so on. Stutters and weird noises abound. No ambient sounds in the inns, no rustling of leaves in the forests? Also, what kind of shoes are these characters wearing?! They sound like giant robot mecha units walking around on a flexsteel highway it's so loud! This was highly distracting, and tempted me to edit the sound files to lower the volume. I don't remember the effects being this grating on the Dreamcast version, so perhaps it's another casualty of the port.
If you are familiar with the music from earlier Game Arts offerings, you may recognize the same composer who did the music in Grandia and the Lunar games, Noriyuki Iwadare, a well respected video game music composer. The style is very much a console flavor of tunes -- upbeat rhythms featuring guitars and horns in most of the battle scenes and dramatic events; slow reflective harps and keyboards for the story scenes, etc. The music did get somewhat repetitive, and it didn't always mix well with what was going on at the time, but it was usually pretty close. Some of the vocal tracks and religious tunes, such as the singing with Elena the Songstress of Granas were quite enjoyable.
Unfortunately, Grandia II's real weakness is it's sound effects, or lack thereof. In the end the good music and the good but sparse voice acting didn't save a very lackluster sound system overall.
A veteran gamer will likely finish Grandia II in 25-35 hours. If you read every single dialogue or go back to places to level up a bunch, you could spend upwards of 50 hours in it. While there could potentially be some replay value if you wanted to develop different characters in different ways, I would still rate the replay value very low. Not enough things are different a second time through to really keep you interested.
The production values for this game are very good, for a console port. Unfortunately that's not saying much most of the time. This game feels like a console RPG, so if you like that style, you might like this. If you have a Dreamcast, though, I'd recommend getting that version of it instead of the PC version, unless high resolution 3D anime characters is just something you can't live without on your computer.
The excellent combat system is this game's main saving grace -- about the only thing that's truly unique and pleasurable. Since PC RPG fans may not have played many console RPG games, this could be a refreshing change of pace from the deeper PC RPG cousins, or it could be a complete turn-off depending on your tastes. Chances are if you didn't like the ports of FF7 or FF8 to the PC, you won't like Grandia II either. The very anime-console RPG style story and dialogue is humorous and entertaining enough to keep you going, but it's no Final Fantasy X.