Grandia II marries PC and console RPGs
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Ryudo is a sword for hire who takes a job protecting Elena, a young priestess on her way to a very important ceremony to seal the remains of the evil god, Valmar. Before they know what has happened, they are caught up in a battle of good versus evil and the world hangs in the balance. This is Grandia II from Ubi Soft and Game Arts.
Grandia II is a RPG for the computer that looks and plays more like a console based RPG. When I say "console-based RPG," I mean Grandia II is reminiscent of games like Final Fantasy or Breath of Fire.
The story and the characters are the typical cookie cutter fare you have come to expect in most console RPGs. You have the young, brash hero who is destined to put aside his hatred, learn to love, and save the world. The priestess, who is torn between her love for the hero and her duty to the church. The wizened older warrior, the frail youngster who will grow into greatness, and the android striving to achieve humanity. Is that stereotypical enough for you? They are all here, even the villains are stereotypical, but I don't want to give too much of the story away. Anyhow, if you have played enough RPGs, these characters are like old friends and you'll probably figure out the whole story line in about fifteen minutes. Last but not least, like so many others before it, it features a horrible, sugar-coated pop music ballad. This in no way implies that Grandia II was not enjoyable, just a tad predictable.
Like no two snowflakes are alike, such it is with RPG's and their character growth and battle systems. In Grandia II, character growth works something like this: when you defeat an enemy in battle, you earn five things; experience points, special coins, magic coins, gold, and items. The special coins are used to learn and power up special fighting moves and skills. The magic coins are used to learn and power up magic spells. Using this growth system, my characters all tended to be alike or cross character boundaries that some other role playing games would not allow, such as having my main fighter have more magic ability than anyone else in my party. Depending on your point of view of RPGs, this can be nice or a nuisance. If you really wanted to, you could sort of keep your characters into stricter fighter/ magic user guide lines.
Now, for the battle system. This is going to be a little tricky to explain. First off, once initiating combat, on the bottom of the battle screen there is an "initiative meter." This meter has an icon for every character and monster on the 3D battle field. Who moves first depends on how you made contact with the enemy. When an icon reaches a point on the meter called the "com point", you can enter a command (fight, magic spell, defend, retreat, etc.), the action you selected will be performed when the icon travels to the "act point" at the end of the meter. Using this meter, Grandia II's battles are sort of real time except that time stands still while you are deciding your commands.
Having time stop does not give you a great advantage, but it at least gives you the time to scroll through all those spells and potions, plus plan a little strategy. While battle is in progress, all the characters and monsters are in motion either waiting their respective turns, picking a course of action, or executing that action(such as running up to another character and hitting them).
Hence, combat game play is more of a natural melee than the standard cheesy 3 or 4 characters standing on each side of your monitor and staying there until the battle is over. One of the neat things about the meter system is that you can see which of the enemy is getting ready to strike and do a couple of things to thwart them.
One thing you can do is perform a critical attack on a monster before it executes its move and stun it and cancel its attack. Secondly, if you see a monster running over to hit that weakened party member, sometimes you can send someone over to head that monster off at the pass. I don't know if my description does the battle system any justice, but frankly, it is superb. The initiative meter system made for some really entertaining battles.
The graphics for Grandia II are so-so. The characters are done in a cutesy, anime fashion. Big giant eyes, no nose or mouth. While the game play screens were sharp, clear, and alive with color, the cinematic sequences and magic animations were lame and, worse yet, horribly fuzzy. So fuzzy in fact, that at first I thought that something was wrong with my monitor.
The audio was a bit odd at times as well. Sometimes during dialogue scenes you would get the whole enchilada (music, sound effects, and voiceovers), while other scenes you wouldn't even get background music. The sound effect that was used the most was also the most annoying. Who ever picked the sound effect for the footsteps should be fired, or at least verbally abused. When ever someone took a step, it sounded like they had maracas tied to their feet, and the ground was covered with bubble wrap.
Some of the dialogue parts were way too drawn out with no way to bypass them. And with such fine crafted verse such as this exchange:
"She was a fine looking girl, though."
"I don't care for her or the kindness of strangers."
-who would want to bypass it?
At one point I decided to look in the game options for a way to speed up the dialogue but, I couldn't find the options in the game. It turns out that the options screen is not in-game and that you have to open a file somewhere on the computer in order to access it. As I am a simple caveman, this is a pain in the ass.
Okay so the last couple of paragraphs make it sound lousy, but this isn't really the case. The battle system really makes up for a lot of Grandia II's flaws. I would love to see other RPGs come out with the same type of system. It truly is the highlight of this game.
Even though at times Grandia II was a bit too easy, as I carried around all those resurrection potions for nothing, and a little predictable, I still enjoyed it enough to play through to the end to see all the loose ends tied up. Will I play it again? Who knows? Maybe I'll just wait for the next young, brash hero who is too tormented to love again, to come down the pike.