Review by Psycho Penguin
"The only thing grander than the name were the expectations.."
It really did come close.
I expected a lot out of Grandia. Praised as being a Final Fantasy 7 killer, it was hailed as being the best role playing game to never come out in America. Of course, it eventually did come out in America, as Game Arts decided to bring it out for the Sony Playstation. It sold fairly well, and for good reason. Grandia is a great game. However, does it live up to the lofty praise being given to it? Well, for the most part, yes. But it also has some annoying weaknesses.
The storyline in Grandia was called revolutionary by a lot of people I talked to, but I didn't see what all the fuss was about. You play the role of Justin, a child adventurer who decides to investigate some old ruins with his friend Sue. Once they get to the ruins, they run into Lt. Leen and fellow companions who think that Justin and Sue are looking for the same thing they are. So, all hell breaks loose, and the adventure is just beginning for Justin, as he will soon become what he has always wanted to become.
Now, that's wonderful and all, but there's a major problem. The storyline never really develops the way you want it to. Numerous dialouge scenes are plagued with bad voice acting which really makes the story feel like it's developing at a snail-like pace. The game has an interesting premise, but instead of building on it, the developers decided just to have the party do random acts at towns. Now, you can only save so many towns before the whole thing becomes boring. The main storyline only develops in certain spots, and most of the game seems like useless fluff as a result.
Fortunately, the game controls pretty well. The menu system is easy to adapt to and will never get in your way. You have several menus to wade through, ranging from skills to items. You can easily find what you are looking for. Battles are tricker to figure out, but you'll get used to the oval battle menu for commands quickly. Running around towns are simple enough, but the camera really can become a liability from time to time. It never really sets up correctly, as you will always be blocked by something, and it's hard to walk around and find a destination if you need to keep moving the camera around.
Grandia may have a crappy storyline, but the gameplay more than makes up for it. This may be the most complete role playing game ever released when it comes to gameplay. I'll get all the flaws out of the way first. One, the enemy AI sucks a lot. They'll never use their strongest attacks, and some enemies tend to use stupid ''support magic'' every round. I don't know exactly how using ''Move +1'' six times in a row is going to help an enemy defeat me, so the game definitely could have used an upgrade in that area.
The second main complaint I have is that some of the magic is worthless. Hell, most of the magic is worthless. A majority of the spells in the game were simply not needed and seemed to be just added as to annoy you by making you have to level up a worthless spell ''just in case''. Some of the spell animations take way too long, as well, especially the cure magic, so leveling up magic could get a little tedious from time to time.
That's about the extent of the complaints I have, though. The rest of the game is just terrific and innovative. For the three of you that don't know, Grandia introduced the best level up system ever, the ''level up everything'' . Yes, you can argue that Final Fantasy 2 started this, and Grandia improved on this, but Final Fantasy 2 did it so horribly that it shouldn't even be mentioned in the same sentence as Grandia.
Basically, you can equip four different kinds of weapons with each character. As you use that weapon, your weapon level goes up. Let's say Justin has an Axe equipped. As he uses the Axe, or a skill, he gets experience points in the Axe weapon level. Once he gets enough experience points in the level, it levels up. An added bonus is that each time a weapon levels up, your statistics also increase. Each weapon makes a certain statistic or two increase dramatically, so you can develop your character any way you want. See, you don't need a ''sphere system'' just to have character customization. The magic system works almost identical. As you use a magic spell, you gain experience in the type of magic spell you used. There are four types of magic: fire, earth, water, and ice.
As you gain levels in weapons and magic, you can gain new skills. As you gain skills, the more you use them, the faster you get to cast them. For instance, a Level 1 skill will take a long time to charge, but a Level 5 skill will take significant less time to cast. This can be the difference between life and death in some battles. Magic spells also work the same way, the more you use them, the faster they become.
The battle system is so fun, that it would be one of the few role playing games where a high battle rate wouldn't be such a bad thing. Of course, they're not random, as they can be seen on the dungeons, but that's not too bad. The main thing about the battle system is that it has a little meter in the bottom right hand corner that determines who goes next. When a character reaches a certain point, they can determine what they are gonna do, and then once they reach the next point, they will be able to do what they chose to do.
Countering attacks has never been such an integral part of a role playing game before. You can see what the enemy is going to do before they actually do it, so you can plan an attack to counter what they are going to do. If they chose to do a magic spell, attacking them would lead to a higher attack than normal, because casting a spell means your defense is weakened. Also, attacking an enemy as they are ready to attack makes your attack do more damage and completely cancels their attack. It leads to a lot of strategy that is not seen in many role playing games.
Grandia relies a lot on making the players go through dungeons, so of course, a majority of the dungeons are long and boring. There are few puzzles, and the ones that are present are so easy to figure out. They usually involve just walking around until a ? mark appears over your head and a beep sound occurs. The dungeons rely on exploration solely, and you will find yourself getting bored with the whole concept quickly. I hate to say it, but the game could have used more variety when it comes to town/dungeon placement. Going through 3 hour-long dungeons in a row won't help anything.
Graphically, Grandia won't impress you all that much, but it does have its good points. The graphics are colorful and vibrant, more so than any other role playing game on the console. The battle graphics are great, the enemy designs could have used some work but they're still solid. At least there are some different designs, not the same old designs repeated four hundred times. Your main characters look like crap, though, except on the portraits, and I hate the overall look of the game, as the camera really does nothing but frustrate, and the ''3D view with 2D sprites'' idea has never been pulled off effectively.
I loved the music in Grandia. All 3 songs I remember. The music is so forgettable, but I enjoyed the music while I was playing through the game, and that's all that matters in the long run, since the Final Fantasy games and Legend of Legaia have enough music for me to remember. Sound effects are absolutely horrible in the game, especially the voice acting, which does nothing to add to the game but frustration level. Thankfully, you can skip over most of it, and I advise doing so.
Sadly, Grandia doesn't have a ton of secrets, and it's so long and boring that you probably won't find a second trip through to be quite as appealing as the first time through. There are few secrets, the main secrets are two dungeons which can be found the first time through the game. The only main reaon to keep playing is to get all your magic and weapon levels up to 99, but that can be accomplished in the first play through.
In most role playing games, your party can become so overpowering in such a short period of time that the game becomes incredibly easy. Sadly, Grandia is another game to add to the growing list. Once you level up your magic and weapons enough (Hint: Get the Axe level to 99), your party will become so badass that the final bosses won't be a problem at all. I don't even think the final boss hit me at all. The secret dungeons weren't even that challenging, just long...
I wanted to love Grandia, and I wanted to give it a higher score. It has so many positives going for it, but they all come in form of the gameplay. The replay value is laughable, the challenge level is lower than usual, the music is forgettable, the graphics are disappointing, the camera is screwy, and the story is so boring and predictable. There's no reason to play this game twice, but you can spend 60 hours of your life far worse than playing this great game. Just don't expect to find much besides an awesome level up system, though.
It's just lucky the battle system and level up systems were so great, because this game sucks otherwise.
Reviewer's Rating: 3.5 - Good
Originally Posted: 07/10/02, Updated 07/10/02
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