Grandia II is the sequel to the Saturn/PS1 RPG classic, Grandia. The orginal title is remembered by many as one of the best RPGs to ever grace a console. Consequently, Grandia II had some ‘Grand’ shoes to fill indeed. Fortunately, for fans of the first game, a worthy sequel it is, even if it falls short of its predecessor’s greatness.
Grandia II Features A Solid Tale With a Great Cast
Grandia II’s story isn’t terribly original. The background of the story tells us that many aeons before the start of the tale, the world was salvaged by a huge war between good and evil. At the end of the Battle, Granas (The good god) pierced Valmar (The evil god) Valmar fell into the world in pieces, these pieces created the Granacliffs (which are huge scar like cliffs that divide the planet.) and Granas presumably injured went to sleep and since then has gone missing.
The story starts with Ryudo, a Geohound (A Mercenary) hired along with his parrot companion/sidekick Skye to escort a sister of the church of Granas (Elena) from the village of Carbo into a Dark tower located in the forest nearby to perform a ritual. The Ritual is supposed to keep the pieces of Valmar sealed so that he cannot awake again and wreak havoc into the world, Elena is trying to prevent Valmar’s resurrection so that the “Day of Darkness” or the “Day of Judgment” never comes.
But the ritual is a failure, and Elena in turn is possessed by Millenia “The Wings of Valmar”. Ryudo helps Elena escape the tower and brings her back to the village, everything seems to be fine until Millenia appears and unleashes her fury upon the village. However, even though you could say she is the incarnate of evil herself, Millenia takes a liking to Ryudo and leaves.
Ryudo, intrigued by this whole situation between Elena, Millenia, and the promises of gold made to him by Father Carius (the village church’s priest), accepts the job of escorting Elena to the Cathedral in hopes that Pope Zera will be able to help Elena exorcise Millenia out of her.
That is the setup to Grandia II’s story.
The story itself takes hard jabs at Christianity, and throws hard power punches at the Roman Catholic Church. The whole setup of Granas’s Church its very similar to the Catholic Church’s set up. So, if you are offended by atheists and intolerant of other people’s beliefs you might not like this game. I am a Catholic, however, I don’t care whether you are an atheist or a Buddhist, if you are a good person, you are good person regardless of your religion. Therefore, I enjoyed the story throughout the course of the entire game because the theme of this game is really that the human heart is good, and that is what ultimately counts.
However, the ‘church is corrupt and evil theme has been done before in other games, even if they weren’t as obvious about it. So, original this story is not, even if it does shine with some surprising plot twists. In the end, I didn’t think this story was as ‘grand’ or as special in terms of creativity, as the first Grandia’s story was.
What kept me playing, however, were the characters. Out of all the cast members, only Ryudo has a complicated past, yet all of the other characters are entertaining as well. Ryudo is an atheist, a jerk, a frustrated and depressed bastard. Yet, unlike Squall from FFVIII, he is very likeable and very easy to role-play. His smartass comments that constantly anger Elena help his cause.
Elena is a nun, so she is naïve, goodhearted, kind and has an unshakable faith her god Granas. You can see why she doesn’t get along well with Ryudo.
Millenia, however, is my favorite character in the entire game. She is hot, sexy, evil in a good way and very hotheaded. Unlike Elena who tries very hard to hide her feelings from Ryudo, Millenia right out says what she has on her mind. Including the fact that she has the hots for Ryudo. However, besides Ryudo and maybe Roan she doesn’t seem to give a damn for the rest of humanity.
Roan is a little boy about 13 years old, for some reason his design makes him look even younger. Yet as young as he is, he speaks with a higher degree of… should I say education? Than the rest of the crew. He is very bright and optimistic; the kind of attitude that drives Ryudo nuts.
Mareg is a huge beastman, he very kind hearted and very honorable. He is like a philosophy master. He is likable to everyone in the group; his reason for joining Ryudo is to hunt for Melfice.
Melfice is Ryudo’s brother and one of the game’s villains, he is the reason Ryudo is so miserable and he has earned Mareg’s hatred, by destroying his home. However, as cool and cold as Melfice is, his character is not playable.
Tio is the last playable character; her appearance is human yet, she is often described by other game characters as a puppet with no heart.
I have described some of the most important characters in the game, with a purpose. All of the characters, by the time the credits roll, will have undergone a visible change in the way they act and think.
The characters developed and grew throughout the journey in a way that was extremely believable and satisfying. I will use Ryudo as an example, at the beginning of the story he was a selfish jerk by the end he turns into a righteous hero. A big change indeed had occurred in him in less than forty hours of playtime. Yet, the change was never forced by the writers (Squall in FFVIII is a perfect example of a forced change of personality.) Instead, Ryudo’s change occurred gradually and naturally. Is very impressive this does not only happens to Ryudo, but to the rest of the cast in the story.
Millenia’s and Elena’s love triangle with Ryudo was well written, with each of the two girls having a chance at the spotlight even if Elena had more screen time than Millenia. I wish Grandia II had an option at the end for the player to pick which girl he wants to stay with. An option like the Granstream Saga offered would have more than sufficed.
In some games like Final Fantasy X, obviously, an option in which you could had picked anyone other than Yuna would had ruined the story, but in Grandia II’s case this was an option that would have added to the story. Both female leads were built up in a way that led the player to believe that he/she was going to get to choose some one in the end.
The game’s ending, however, leaves up in the air, or up to the imagination the answer to the question that I had in the entire game, ‘Who will Ryudo choose?’
The fact that the love triangle never reached its conclusion is disappointing. That said, the ending as a whole was not. In fact, it was long and like the rest of the story; very well told. I was very satisfied with Grandia II’s tale even if it was not as good as Grandia’s.
The game just didn’t feel as epic as its predecessor, perhaps because the game was about half the length of the first title. You will still get about 40 hours of great storytelling and solid adventuring.
A Visual Showcase on the Dreamcast
Graphically, Grandia set the bar high for PS1 RPGs. Its brilliant graphics and artistic design left PS1 and Saturn owners at the time breathless. Grandia II did the same in 2000 when it debuted on the Dreamcast. (Note: the PS2 version looks terrible and the frame rate is poor. The textures look like they were taken from a PS1 game. The Dreamcast version looks leagues better.)
The game’s backgrounds look colorful and even if most of them lack the artistic originality of the settings found in the first game. They are very well done and ahead of most other RPGs on the market. The textures are super smooth, and detailed.
The game is a testament to the graphical power of the Dreamcast. The game would have won more accolades in the graphical department back in 2000 had Skies of Arcadia not been released at roughly the same time. The fact of the matter is that Arcadia’s free roaming camera and lush environments made Grandia II’s visual package look a tad outdated.
Grandia II’s overhead camera and smooth but plain environments fall short of Arcadia’s graphical splendor, and I dare say to Ocarina of Time’s too. For an overhead Dreamcast RPG Grandia II looks very good, but I think now, in retrospective, specially after playing Arcadia, that Game Arts could have done better.
The character models in Grandia II are fully polygonal now, and they look their part with good details in their clothing, but they fall short from Arcadia’s and the N64 Zelda ones, in terms of facial detail. The characters are a bit blocky but even with that they could have looked much better had they had a nose and a mouth. All you get from the models is a plain face with eyes.
This isn’t that big of a deal because when the characters talk the game shows hand drawn pictures of their faces just above the text. These images show different facial expressions that mimic the dialog, this is a nice touch, but a primitive one that was used in PS1 RPGs simply because the hardware back then wasn’t powerful enough to correctly show facial expressions in real time on the in game models.
The graphics in the battles use the same character models that are present in the rest of the game, they still fight on flat arenas that seem a bit simplistic when compared to other games’ battle graphics, but the important thing is that they do the trick. The enemy models still look a little silly and blocky but their textures are smooth.
Now for the Spells some of the minor spells are done with real time graphics, while the major spells are done in FMVs that are almost seamlessly integrated with the real time graphics. I know it sounds confusing, but you will understand when you see them. Some of them are impressive and long, and this creative technique works well here.
Talking about FMVs, there are some FMVs scattered through the game, they are not of FF quality and look a little grainy but they look good nonetheless.
When the game first was released it looked good, but now in 2004 its just looks solid, nothing special in the visual package here.
Iwadare’s Best Work?
Aurally, the game the game surpasses its older brother, but not by much. The musical compositions are still great, if you buy the Dreamcast version you will get a soundtrack bundled with the game. Noriyuki Iwadare remains a prime time composer. I was pretty much pleased with the entire soundtrack. The game has it all: sad songs, and cheerful songs. In short, it had anything that was necessary for the music to accompany the story of the game.
The game surpasses the first Grandia in vocal talent too. While Elena doesn’t sound quite right and neither does Roan, the rest of the cast delivered a powerful and moving performance. Ryudo and Millenia, in particular, were moving and believable throughout.
I retract what I said about Xenosaga, Grandia II has the best voice acting in any RPG period. It just doesn’t have enough of it. Yep you heard right not all of the dialog is spoken, only key parts in the story feature voice acting. Shame.
The environmental sounds are good, you can hear water flowing, birds chirping, and even enemies that are nearby.
The Best Turn Based System
The Gameplay is where Grandia II shines and in some aspects is also bland. Let’s get to the good part first. The Battle and leveling up system is flawless, the enemies’ difficulty is peerless too.
The battle system works this way: There are no random encounters, instead you are able to see the enemies on the environments. So you can either avoid the enemies or fight them. Avoiding the monsters of course is not recommended because like in every other RPG, success in Grandia II, largely depends on how high your level is, and the only way to gain levels is by fighting monsters.
If you run into a monster and touch him from behind (without the monster noticing you) you will have a tactical advantage in the battle. In other words you will be able to attack first. In the other hand, however, if the monster/s surprises you, the enemy/s will have the first turn at attacking your party.
Once in battle there is a gauge on the bottom of the screen called the IP gauge. In the gauge you can see an icon for each one of your party members and for each one of your enemies. The icons will move toward the right side until an icon reaches the COM point in the gauge at which point the battle will freeze and a menu will open up allowing you to chose a command for the character that has reached the COM point. After the command is selected the icon will move towards the end into the ACT point at which point the character will perform the attack.
This adds incredible strategy and depth because you can see what the enemies are doing and performing a critical or a special move on an enemy that is traversing the gauge between the COM and ACT points will result in the cancellation of that enemy’s move. This will give you either more time to breath or a chance to attack or cure depending on how far the characters in your party are in the gauge.
The enemies of course can also cancel your attacks, when you choose an attack you can actually see in a small menu how much life and enemy or boss has left. The best way to describe Grandia II’s battle system is as a turn-based/action hybrid system.
Depending on how well you play your strategy you can finish up some enemies before they have a chance to attack and in boss battles you can get many hits in before the boss can get a turn. It all depends on how you use the gauge system.
This battle system has been since the first game, the best Battle system in the industry.
Now, moving onto how to get skills. Leveling up alone in this game doesn’t do the trick. You will need to equip a Mana egg (which allows you to use different kinds of magic) and Skills from a Skill book (Allows you to learn skills such as: Higher HP-MP, higher vitality, More attack power for fire/wind/earth/explosive magic etc.)
After battle you EXP will raise allowing you to reach new levels. You also will get SC (Special Coins) which are used to upgrade your special moves and your skill books, MC (Magic Coins) which are used to upgrade your Magic spell in the eggs and G (gold) which are used to buy items and weapons from shops.
The skill and magic upgrade system is simple and easy to learn, I assure you that as long as you take your time to fight every enemy out in every area you will be more than ready for any boss that crosses your path. I was at level 53 when I finished the game in 37 hours my first time through.
A big complaint I had from the first game was that the boss battles were amazingly tough and that leveling up took too much time. Grandia II fixes these small, yet bothersome quirks by making it easier to gain levels and by considerably lowering the difficulty of the bosses.
The exploration aspect of Grandia hasn’t changed much. I think the stages in this game are smaller and easier to get through. The problem with them is that they are too linear, there are really no secrets and side quests in this game and the mini game (the arm wrestling one) its nothing but a joke. In other words, Grandia II, like the first game, does not offer any incentive to keep playing after you have finished it. You will only want to play it again if you want to replay the story, but not because of side quests.
The Exploration is very limited and linear like in the first game. There is not real world map. Instead, you go trough what I like to call environmental railways to get to your destination. Railways because there is no way that you can stray from your path to explore other areas. The dungeons are very uninspired and very straightforward, lacking any significant puzzle. These dungeons get boring and repetitive pretty quickly. At least they are shorter than the ones Grandia had.
The save points which are also use for recovery are scattered thought the environments, this makes the game even easier. Not that I mind that the game is easy, after all, I play RPGs for Story foremost and then for exploration, unfortunately the exploration aspect in the Grandia II is missing.
Grandia had better and bigger environments to explore. By contrast, Grandia II is the kind of game that I would no doubt recommend to beginning RPG players.
Grandia II is a Game That No RPG Aficionado Should Miss
In the end, Grandia II succeeds on the strength of its characters, story, and amazing battle system to reach the worthy sequel status to Grandia, which was one of the greatest RPGs ever made. Buy the Dreamcast version if you can for it is better than the PS2 port. That said, the PS2 version only suffers visually, as it tells the same story and it is pretty cheap these days, a safe buy for RPG fans.
Gameplay: 7.0-The Best Battle System in the market, the exploration aspect of the game, however, was left unattended for some strange reason.
Graphics: 8.0-Dreamcast Version has smooth textures and animation plus a steady framerate even if the graphics are a little bland by today standards. Some settings have very good artwork. As for the PS2 version, lets just say that it would be lucky to get a 4 in a review. The frame rate is so bad that it kills off the smoothness of some of the more mundane gameplay features, such walking around town and stuff.
Music: 9.0- Iwadare is not yet on Uematsu’s league, but he is still an upper echelon composer. The DC version includes a Soundtrack free!! Great Voice Acting!!
Story: 9.0-A Clichéd story with some original twists. At best it would have received an 8, but thanks to the fantastic translation and character development it reaches the 9s territory.
Addictiveness: 4.0-Plummets in this category thanks to the lack of side quests, open exploration and mini-games. Only replay value the game has is the story, which might be worth playing twice, if just to re-live some of the most touching moments.
Overall: 9.0-A very good RPG for as long as the story lasts, a great choice for beginners due to the low level of difficulty that the game presents.
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