The strong silent type, the kid on the run, the boy attempting to become a man — all stereotypical character roles for RPG heroes not found in Game Art’s Grandia II. Instead, you’re treated to a foul-mouthed lead character, a talking bird, a naive Nun with a demon inside of her, a wise barbarian, and a delightful android, all trying to save the world while trying to get along with each other. Grandia II features a strong cast in a solid story, featuring a phenomenal battle system and fantastic graphics. But is that enough to make this title worth a purchase for a dead console even when it’s found on the PC and the PS2?
Quite simply put, yes. Grandia II is the story of Ryudo, a Silesian Geohound, and Elena, a songstress (basically, a Nun) of the Church of Granas. Just like Rodney Dangerfield, he gets no respect, because his occupation has him killing all sorts of creatures, as a Geohound is essentially a mercenary. His jobs have brought him some recognition as an indiscriminate killer, and because of his reputation as one who always gets the job done, heís hired by the Church of Granas to escort Elena to a ceremonial tower far off in the woods for a ceremony. Well, just like any good RPG, the ceremony goes awry, and Elena and Ryudo are the only living survivors. You soon thereafter learn that the ceremony was to seal in an evil entity, and Elena must now go on a pilgrimage of sorts to protect the remaining seals. Like you might have already assumed, Ryudo is again hired by the Church to protect her along the way.
The first thing youíll notice when playing Grandia II are the characters. Gone are the stiff, boring characters of many RPGs before, you are now treated to a diverse cast of characters. Ryudo curses and argues many previously taboo RPG topics like religion, trying to convince Elena for a good part of the title that religion is a fraud. Elena plays the roll of the naive girl who desperately wants to find her own way through things by utilizing her beliefs. Along the way, youíll meet up with Millennia, the foxy and carefree vixen with a troubled past. Oh yeah, did I mention that she lives inside of Elena? Then thereís Mareg, the lovable beast man in love with an android a third of his size. Together, this motley crew must save the world in one of the best RPGs Iíve played in ages.
Dealing with religion in RPGs can be a dangerous subject for many game makers. Most avoid any controversy that could stem from religious discussion by simply avoiding the subject all together or tip-toeing around it when brought up. Game Arts chose however to dive into the subject, creating a mystical religion not setup too differently from Catholicism. Heck, the basic hierarchy of the church is set up the same, with Nuns and even a Pope, just renamed to prevent…complications. Years ago, the famed God of Light Granas was worshipped by all who traveled the lands. However, soon the influence of the God of Darkness Valmar spread amongst some followers and they began to turn their backs on Granas. Granas was deeply offended by this, and soon fought Valmar in a heated battle none like the world had seen before. The two Gods fought for ages, never ceasing until finally Granas delivered a mighty blow, smashing Valmar into dozens and dozens of pieces, and thereby creating a massive rift across Silesia. Those pieces were locked away, and worshippers of Granas were to maintain them at all costs. This is where Elena and Ryudo come in, years later, and this is where the game begins.
As you venture on your journey throughout the lands, you spend a lot of time getting to know the characters. When Iíve talked to people about this game (being that I sell games for a living and try to sell this one), the only way I can describe it is that you are essentially playing a story book. What I mean by that is you spend a lot of time learning the very deep storyline and a lot about the characters, but youíre never lost or confused because youíre following a rigid and set course — making the game very linear. Usually after a dungeon or an area, thereís a camp fire that everyone sits around or a table in an inn and you can talk to everyone. You learn the characters fears and ambition, and when the going gets tough you can actually sense their inner-struggles.
Of course, it wouldnít be a game without gameplay. While a very linear game, Grandia II is a lot of fun to play. On the world map, you select the next area to go to, and you begin in that area after a quick load. You then wander the area, searching for ways around it. Fortunately, there are no random battles in Grandia II, something that I simply canít stand in RPGs. Instead, creatures wander the environment, openly hostile to you. Sometimes you can flank them and surprise them, other times they surprise you. And then you begin the best part of the game outside of the story and characters: combat.
Combat is quite frankly a blast. Game Arts was able to craft a fantastic battle system that is a mix of both real-time and turn-based battle systems. A small bar on the bottom of the screen shows the order of selections. Once a head representing a character hits a certain bar, the battle completely pauses, and you select from a menu what it is you want to do. You can perform a combo attack, which is an attack of two shots that deal a good amount of damage to your foe, or you can do a critical attack, which delays the attack of the enemy but doesnít do as much damage as a combo attack. You may also choose to perform one of your characters special attacks, that use up your SP but unleashes a devastating attack on your foe. This is an RPG game, so you can use magic attacks that vary per character.
I liked the battle system so much simply because it was fast-paced. Most games, such as the SquareSoft RPGs or the Enix ones (though they are technically Square-Enix now), are too slow paced at times to really get into it. Other Dreamcast RPGs like Skies of Arcadia are slow and time-consuming. Grandia II‘s battles are short, sweet, and enjoyable because they don’t take up so much of the game that you grow sick of battling. The level of involvement in selecting how to utilize your teammates is much more intricate and effective in Grandia II.
The level of character customization is also great. For starters, each character can equip a Mana Egg, and using coins that are gained after fighting, you can purchase different spells from the Mana Egg and be able to use them in battle. More effective spells cost a lot, so constantly battling is a must. You can also purchase additional special attacks, which are much needed for the games challenging boss battles. Boss battles are frequent throughout the game, which took me about twenty hours to get through the first time. The boss battles have you fighting mostly pieces of Valmar in an effort to contain them and help progress the storyline. These chunks are a challenge to fight because each uses a devastating move unleashed exclusively by that portion, thus you constantly have to be monitoring your stats. They also can usually unleash minions to help aide them in their fight against you, making them even harder. And forget about beating them if you’ve been skipping your battles.
The areas you explore are usually fun and filled with little surprises and interactive environmental objects. Sometimes you’ll smash windows, other times you’ll strike down plants in your path, and you even get to explore a ruined building or two. The variety of environments is great, and basically every area is represented, from mountains to majestic cities to distant islands.
On top of the fantastic gameplay and phenomenal battle system, Grandia II features impeccable graphics. The character animations are simply to die for and really aid the battleís free-flowing nature especially. Characters run around the battlefields, chasing enemies and dodging them with incredible choreography. The magical attacks and special moves are all animated well, though some of the magic attacks are done through some grainy FMV. A lot of the games cut scenes take place using the in-game engine, which is great because the graphics are colorful and bright, even if the storyline is not. The areas are spacious, so to help you find your way about them you can rotate the camera in any direction, and sometime this can lead to the discovery of hidden treasures.
Grandia II is also fun to listen to. The variety of music, from electronic to rock, is a refreshing change from the traditional classical-style compositions found in many RPGs. Game Arts took an additional step and packed the games soundtrack as well as some great remixes in with the game, which was copied to my hard-drive for listening purposes outside of play. Occasionally you’ll even be treated to voice-overs, and all of the characterís voice actors did a tremendous job. I especially liked the sarcastic tone in the man who did Ryudoís voice, and the lady who voiced Millennia sounded as sassy and sexy as the character herself. The few sound effects in the game arenít too bad, but most RPG games donít have very good sound effects, or in some instances any at all, so Iíll let Grandia II pass on that.
Overall, Grandia II is a fantastic adventure. Itís very linear however, which may cause fans of games like Morrowind to be disappointed in the game. There arenít any side quests or any bonuses for completing the game, except to be able to look back on a fantastic story that youíll surely want to hear again. I loved Grandia II, and itís easily the best RPG on the Dreamcast. Pick it up today!